29 September, International Day of Awareness of Food Loss and Waste

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Are you one of those "I do not eat yesterday’s food”? Have you ever caught yourself choosing the most "beautiful" apples from the super market? Or have you thrown away a closed package of spaghetti that had "preferably consumed: (… yesterday)"? All of us, more or less, think of stuff like that when we go shopping. Is it time to review some things? Let's look at the numbers, about 1.3 billion tons of food, worldwide, end up in the trash every year, with 1 in 3 food being thrown away. 30% of the fruits and vegetables produced, are discarded due to appearance, while 28% of the cultivated agricultural land is exploited for the production of food that is simply wasted. An average European wastes 179 kilos of food every year and 17% of the Greek population does not consume the food left over in the following days. All this, while 868 million people on the planet are suffering from starvation.

September 29 has been designated by the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) as the International Day of the Awareness of Food Loss and Waste (IDAFLW), with the aim of to sensitize and inform the world population about the impact caused by the tons of food discarded, economically, socially and environmentally. Its main goal is to reduce food loss and waste by 50% by 2030, according to the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

It is a fact that the loss and waste of food undermines the viability of food systems. When food is lost or wasted, all the resources (including water, land, energy, labor, and capital) used for the production seem like a waste of effort. This food is usually disposed of in landfills, leading to greenhouse gas emissions and environmental pollution.  

Loss and waste aren’t the same thing? Yes, the term "loss" refers to the supply chain, from the production-collection of products to their placement on the shelves of supermarkets, while "waste" to cases of retail sale and individual consumption.

Losses can be observed at all stages of supply chain:

  • During the production and harvesting of food,

e.g. mishandling, temperature conditions

  • During storage,

e.g. inadequate facilities or storage

  • When processing and packaging products
  • During the transport and distribution of products

And waste can be seen:

  • In stores, where it is usually associated with limited shelf life, the need for food to satisfy consumers’ eyes (color, size, shape), but also with the demand variability of each product.
  • At home, where they are usually associated with buying excess food, confusion about labels (shelf life), but also improper storage of products at home.

The question that arises is how we, as consumers, could step up this effort and reduce food waste.

The answer is simple:

  1. Organize your purchases smartly. Weekly planning of your meals can prevent the purchase of extra products or excess quantity that will probably not end up in a stomach and, at the same time, help you save money.
  2. Choose the "bad" fruits and vegetables. 30% of fruits and vegetables are discarded due to appearance, without lack of taste or nutrients!
  3. Get information about the dates on the packages. Up to 10% of food waste caused annually in the European Union is related to "use by" and "best before" dates. The "consumption by" date informs about food safety, ie if the indicated date has passed, there may be a risk of poisoning, so the food must be thrown away. The "up to" date is found mainly in cold dairy products, cooked foods or ready-made sauces. The date "preferably consumed before" informs about the quality of food and concerns their taste and texture, but not their safety. This means that the food is safe to consume at the end of the indicated date, but may have a different taste or texture. The date "preferably consumed before" is found mainly in long-lasting foods, e.g. canned, frozen or dried foods.
  4. Set the refrigerator at the right temperature, 1-5 oC, and the freezer at -18οC. Food labels always inform about the proper storage conditions of each food. Do not forget to check the maintenance instructions on the label of each product, in order to optimize its life expectancy.
  5. If you think that the portion you will order, in the tavern or restaurant you will visit, is excessive, ask for a smaller portion or make sure to take the surplus with you to consume it later or offer it to someone who might actually need it!
  6. Do not throw away leftovers from the previous day. Consume them the next day or adapt them to a new recipe if possible or offer them to someone who needs them!
  7. Learn about composting, a natural process by which you can make your own compost for your pots or garden from organic kitchen waste! By using, ie vegetable or fruit peels, egg shells, seeds, stalks, etc., which under normal conditions would end up in the landfill and would burden the environment, you can create organic fertilizer, thus contributing to the reduction of chemical fertilizers.

..small steps, for big changes !!

Tsiaka Anastasia, Dietitian