Reducing food waste a matter of compliance, expert

By Jess Halliday

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Food, Shelf life

Huge volumes of food waste could be diverted from land-fill sites
and back to the table, if only there was proper attention was paid
to processes and compliance with regulatory safeguards, according
to an industry expert.

At a time when food prices are on the up and parts of the world are facing shortages of food staples, huge volumes of food are still going to waste. According to Defra, UK commerce, industry and households generate some 10m tonnes of waste, most of which ends up in landfill. Speaking at the International Union of Food Science and Technology (IUFoST) at FiCEE, Professor Geoffrey Campbell-Platt, president elect of the union, pointed out that, in addition to exacerbating food supply problems, the waste culture in which we live is posing environmental problems since countries like the UK simply do not have much land to fill. In addition Defra points out that biodegradable waste in landfill creates methane, a powerful greenhouse gas. Meat and processing ​ Campbell-Platt said that problems can start with selection of raw materials and processing. For instance, use of poor quality meat and processing errors can result in a product being deemed unfit for human consumption and ending up in the bin. Labelling ​ Labelling regulations are set to become even more stringent in the next year or two with the new European Food Information Act, currently under debate. But where errors are made in labelling - for instance omitted to mention the presence of the soy - that can result in whole batches of product being discarded. While issues like the presence of soy may not be critical for most people, for allergy sufferers they can be a matter of life and death. Food safety scares ​ Detection of foreign bodies in a food product can trigger a food safety scare, as can high than acceptable levels of contaminants like dioxins. Recently dioxin has been detected in cheese and in guar gum. Although in the latter case EFSA deemed that the contamination did not constitute a direct threat to health, the incident still led to the withdrawal of products from supermarket shelves throughout Europe. In addition, the EU is especially sensitive to genetic modification. Instances of GM rice from the US and China turning up in products on the European market have also led to recalls and the tightening of checks. Distribution centres ​ Campbell-Platt said that poor temperature control in a distribution centre could lead to products being discarded. While they could still be safe to eat for some time, being kept in unsuitable conditions could affect their shelf-life, so that if someone were to eat them when the best before date is approaching they may encounter problems. Agency standards ​ On a regulatory level, simply failing to meet the standards of a control agency can lead to product being thrown away. Again, although the product may be perfectly fine, it comes down to a question of de diligence. Food processors and manufacturers need to show they have done everything possible to make food as safe as possible, said Campbell-Platt. "'Are you adopting best current practice?' That is your defence,"​ he said. Retailers ​ Finally, huge volumes of food can be discarded because of mistakes and common practices when products have already reached retail outlets. For example, poor product rotation can mean new batches are placed in front of older ones on the shelves and therefore sell first. When the old batches are finally discovered, the best before dates may have passed and they are unfit for sale or consumption. Excessive pack sizes and promotions also promote waste - since consumers often simply cannot eat all the food they buy. According to the Love Food Hate Waste campaign, consumers in the UK throw away one third of the food they buy. "Buy-one-get-one-free marketing is running contrary to the idea of safe and available food, and anti-obesity measures,"​ he said.

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