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Half of All Food Produced Worldwide is Wasted

September 11, 2008 | 19,721 views
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food, refrigeratorTremendous quantities of food are wasted after production. Edible food is discarded in processing, transport, supermarkets and kitchens.

A brief authored by the Stockholm International Water Institute, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, and the International Water Management Institute argues that the current food crisis is a crisis of waste.

The brief states that, "More than enough food is produced to feed a healthy global population. Distribution and access to food is a problem -- many are hungry, while at the same time many overeat." However, it says, "we are providing food to take care of not only our necessary consumption but also our wasteful habits."

"As much as half of the water used to grow food globally may be lost or wasted," says researcher Dr. Charlotte de Fraiture.

In the United States, meanwhile, as much as 30 percent of food, worth some $48.3 billion, is thrown away.
 

Dr. Mercola's Comments:

Millions of people across the world are facing hunger and starvation due to the current food crisis. Yet, dwindling food supplies may not be to blame this time. Rather, massive problems with our food supply system, along with astounding amounts of waste, may be directly responsible for why some people don’t have enough to eat.

In poor countries, food waste happens before it ever reaches those most in need. The policy brief, "Saving Water: From Field to Fork -- Curbing Losses and Wastage in the Food Chain," found that depending on the crop, an estimated 15 to 35 percent of food may be lost in the field. Another 10 percent to15 percent is discarded during processing, transport and storage, the brief states.

In rich countries, however, production is more efficient but the waste is greater because of waste in restaurants, schools, hospitals and people’s kitchens.

"People toss the food they buy and all the resources used to grow, ship and produce the food along with it,” the report states.

It’s estimated that half of all the food produced worldwide is wasted!

How This Impacts Global Water Supplies

You may be wondering why a report on food waste has been released by prominent international water institutes. Well, as the authors state, food waste is water waste.

In the United States, for instance, 30 percent of food is thrown away.

"That's like leaving the tap running and pouring 40 trillion liters of water into the garbage can -- enough water to meet the household needs of 500 million people," says the report.

And just as there’s a global food crisis going on right now, a global water crisis has been brewing for several decades. Currently, more than one out of six people lack access to safe drinking water, and another two out of six lack adequate sanitation, according to the World Water Council.

Yet, as with food, it seems the problem isn’t about dwindling supplies so much as it’s about proper management and reducing waste.

According to researchers, up to half of the water used to grow food around the world may be lost or wasted.

How Much Food Waste is Acceptable?

The problem of food waste is clearly a large-scale one, with urgent changes needed to reduce spoilage in the field, during processing and during transportation. One part of the problem is that food is now being transported all over the world before it gets consumed, whereas food produced and consumed in a local setting has less chances of spoiling.

However, vast amounts of food are wasted, particularly in developed countries, in restaurants and schools and simply because we buy more than we can consume -- or put too much on our plates when serving ourselves in cafeterias.

In fact, the report mentions a 2008 article in the New York Times that found an average family of four people in the United States throws away 112 pounds of food every month!

Yet, it’s been estimated that at least half of the food thrown away in homes and restaurants across the United States isn’t bad and could easily be consumed.

So, aside from purchasing less food in the first place, and therefore having an easier time eating it before it goes bad, it seems clear that knowing when a food is actually bad, and when it’s still perfectly safe to eat, would help to curb some of this excessive waste.

I believe it is important to understand many of these global issues so you can avoid being confused or deceived the next time you encounter a media report on this topic. However, these are issues that most of us will not be able to influence so it seemed appropriate to provide you with some information where you actually can make a difference in food waste -- your own home.

Food Expiration Dates: When Are Foods Really Spoiled?

Many processed and canned foods will last indefinitely due to the massive amounts of preservatives and processing they’ve undergone. In order to be healthy, though, you need to purchase fresh, unprocessed foods for yourself and your family. Unfortunately, these are also the foods that will go bad the fastest.
 
Knowing when a food is still safe to eat, and when it’s not, is not as simple as going by the expiration date though. In fact, expiration dates on foods are completely voluntary (except for those on infant formulas and some baby foods, which the U.S. government requires). And the varying terms have very different meanings. For instance:

Sell by: This is a guide for retailers to know when to take the product off the shelf. A food will lose peak freshness after the sell-by date, but it will still be safe to eat for some time after.

Best if used by or before: Consuming the food before this date means it’s at peak freshness and flavor, but it is not a measure of safety. In other words, it’s safe to eat foods past their “best before” date.

Use by: This also refers to quality, and foods are still often safe after this date has passed.

Expiration date: This is the date after which a food may no longer be safe to eat.

In your own kitchen, you can greatly cut back on food waste in the following ways:

1. Only buy small quantities of perishable foods. If you’re not sure you’ll get to it before it goes bad, don’t buy it.

2. Freeze foods that are nearing spoilage. I generally believe you should eat foods fresh, not frozen, but if you find yourself with, say, two pounds of grass-fed beef that will go bad in a day or two, and you can’t eat it in time, putting it in the freezer will extend its shelf-life.

3. Get the air out of your produce bags. Using a vacuum seal or even just pressing the air out of the bag thoroughly can double the shelf-life of your produce.

4. Keep your refrigerator at the right temperature. 25 percent of U.S. refrigerators are kept too warm to keep your food safe. Your fridge should be kept at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or 4 degrees centigrade.

5. Avoid refrigerating leftovers in a big lump. This promotes bacterial growth because the center of the “lump” cannot cool down quickly enough.

6. If a food is slightly moldy, it doesn’t mean you have to throw it out. It’s perfectly safe to just cut the spot out and eat the food.

7. To maximize how long foods stay fresh, be sure to leave enough space between refrigerated items (if your fridge is too packed, it may make it harder for the cold air to circulate).

Of course, the fresher your foods are to begin with, the longer you can expect them to last as well. Ideally, choose the freshest foods you can find, and eat them as soon as possible, as some foods, particularly vegetables, lose nutrients after they’re harvested.

[+] Sources and References

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