What do you think of when you hear the words “surplus food”? If you’re like many Australians, you probably think of misfigured carrots and food donation banks. However, more times than not, surplus food looks identical to the big name, branded items you buy at your favourite supermarket. So, is surplus food safe to eat? How can we help reduce the amount of surplus food that happens?
In this blog, we’re busting three myths you may have heard about surplus food and why it’s important to clear the air in our fight to eliminate commercial food waste.
Myth: Food waste and surplus food are the same thing.
While food waste and surplus food are conceptually similar, their distinctions require drastically different solutions in the fight to combat food waste. Therefore, it’s worthwhile to clarify their differences.
According to The Global Food and Water Crises Research Programme, “Food waste is the deliberate wastage of food fit for human consumption, generated at the latest stage in the supply chain.”
While the Waste Framework Directive defines food waste as “….any substance or object which the holder discards or intends or is required to discard….”.
Food waste can include the misfigured carrots that are thrown away at the farmer’s market or the leftover food on your plate that you toss into the bin. It’s essentially any food that could have been eaten, but wasn’t. We use the concept “food waste” when it too late to fix the problem (for example the product is already in the bin!)
Surplus food is a subset of food waste. It occurs when too much food is produced or grown, is considered “imperfect” for cosmetic reasons,, or when it is too close to the best before date to be sold on its usual channel (for example supermarkets need on average over 50% of the shelf life of the product for it to be ok to be placed on the shelfs). While leftover food on your plate cannot legally be supplied to food charities or sold to discount grocers, surplus food can.
According to The Australian Government, the cost of food waste to the Australian economy is estimated to be around $20 billion each year. Australian consumers throw away around 3.1 million tonnes of food—that’s close to 17,000 grounded 747 jumbo jets.
Surplus food occurs all across the supply chain but the majority of all the food waste occurs in the commercial sector (primary production, manufacturers and wholesalers).
Myth: Surplus food is“ugly” food that customers won’t buy.
This brings us to surplus food myth #2: surplus food is ugly food.
Not always. In fact, not usually.
As stated above, surplus food exits the commercial food chain before the point of sale or at the point of sale for a variety of reasons. For example, if a farmer has a bigger crop than expected, the excess production becomes surplus. Many commercial contracts are made in advance of harvest and based on exclusivity. This means that food produced in excess of the contract becomes unsellable. In this case, the surplus food is aesthetically identical to the food that makes it to supermarket shelves, only it falls outside of contract quantities.
This is not the only scenario. Food also becomes surplus when the packaging is not printed correctly or becomes damaged in transport.
Other times, food retailers cancel or reduce an order after the producer has completed production.
We’ve even seen large commercial food quantities cancelled at delivery because they arrived outside of allotted delivery hours!
These are all common examples of surplus food. In the commercial sector, large volumes of food are wasted due to contractual break downs, logistical issues, imperfect packaging, and overproduction, rather than issues with the food itself.
Myth: We can solve our surplus food crisis if we stop throwing food away.
The idea that we can solve Australia’s 7.3 million tonne food waste crisis by using up what’s in our refrigerators at home is sadly a myth. While we can (and must) do our part to reduce food waste at home - i.e. avoid overbuying, eat your leftovers, use everything in the refrigerator, buy imperfect carrots - it will not be enough to drastically impact our surplus food crisis.
We must also address the large-scale food waste that occurs higher up the supply chain.
55% of all food waste in Australia is associated with primary production, Manufacturing and Wholesale sectors. This food, produced by Australian farmers and manufacturers, is wasted even before it reaches supermarkets, restaurants or homes.
That’s over half of the overall food that goes to waste every year in Australia before it even reaches consumers.
So, what’s being done about it?
While there is not yet a one-size-fits-all solution for preventing commercial surplus food, we are part of an ever growing community of social enterprises, nonprofits and innovative food startups that have set out to combat surplus food at various points along the commercial supply chain.
Here at Yume, we built a commercial food solution to help redistribute and reuse the 4.1 million tonnes of surplus commercial food that goes to waste each year before it reaches consumers.
Leading Food Suppliers such as Huon, Unilever & Kellogg’s can use our commercial food solution to on-sell their surplus food to industrial caterers, restaurants, hotel chains, airlines and more at a cheaper, discounted price. They join over five hundred food manufacturers, wholesalers, primary producers and importers that sell quality stock through our online marketplace.
Other organisations fighting food waste in Australia include GoTerra (they use robots collaborating with insects to solve waste), LeanPath (which focuses on reducing food waste in the kitchen) and Ywaste (which connects restaurants with surplus food at the end of their shift with people who could buy it)!
For more information about surplus food in Australia or the Yume Food marketplace, you can continue reading more on the Yume Food website.