Food Waste Reduction

CBC reports that France is in the midst of a push to cut their food waste in half by 2025, from the current level of 20-30 kg per person, or as much as $27 billion per year total. Other efforts include targeting school cafeteria waste, educating students about reducing waste at home and eliminating best-before dates on non-perishable items.

Last December, a study reported that Canadians waste $31 billion worth of food annually, with 10 per cent of that coming from grocery stores. An investigation by APTN last year called “Wasting Away” revealed that this even happens in Nunavut, home to some of the highest food prices in Canada. Controversy erupted after elders were spotted scavenging for food at the Rankin Inlet dump.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that Americans’ annual food waste was worth $161 billion in 2010, or 133 billion pounds total. Ten per cent of that was attributed to grocery stores.

Canada doesn’t have legislation like France’s ground breaking new law, but the Real Canadian Superstore and No Frills grocery store chains recently announced they are trying to reduce food waste by selling “Naturally Imperfect” produce at a 30 per cent discount. This is similar to French chain ‘s Intermarché’s “inglorious” fruits and vegetables which are sold at a similarly reduced price.

France to Require Large Grocery Stores to Give Unsold Food to Charities

One way to reduce this waste at the retail and supermarket point of sale is to reduce the damage caused by light sources. In recent times it was hoped that LEDs would reduce this through eliminating UV but the main damage is still due to photo oxidation and thus even with LED lighting there is considerable food wasted at the point of sale, says Mark Granfar, president of Promolux Lighting International, a firm that has for over 30 years pioneered less damaging light sources for food display.

Over 50% of grocery sales in the USA are for perishables that are subject to shrinkage, discoloration, photo oxidation, and changes to the food’s taste and microbial content, making the food unsafe or unlikely to sell. This represents over $260 billion in grocery sales annually.

There is clear evidence from independent studies by the US government, FMI, universities, international agencies such as the FAO, and others that lighting has a damaging effect on the quality, safety, and shelf life of all perishable foods.

Radiation from the choice of lighting has been proven to have an effect on product surface temperatures, directly and exponentially accelerating microbial growth and leading to unsafe foods.

In tests conducted by Promolux, the return on investment for low radiation lighting in seafood departments can be a matter of weeks, while deli departments with packaged and processed meats can show a longer payback.

The choice of lighting has been proven to have an effect on surface temperature and radiation that can directly and exponentially accelerate microbial growth, leading to unsafe foods. The cost of such food borne illnesses in the USA represents between $5 and $6 billion a year (University of Kansas), not including insurance & liability costs and the reputation and good will equity of the supermarkets involved.

The cost to the industry varies from 3% for some categories to 15% in seafood department shrinkage in US supermarkets (FMI, 1987). Even a conservative average of 5% results in over $13 billion in shrinkage in those departments.

Other products such as beer, wines, and glass packaged foods, which appear to be non-perishable, are clearly affected by exposure to lighting.

According to the National Cattlemen’s Association in 2002, “US retailers failed to capture at least $1 billion annually from fresh beef sales due to product discoloration.”

Based on the evidence and published reports, we can estimate the damage caused by lighting to perishables in retail display at over 33% of this shrinkage, which represents over $4 billion a year in the US alone. This estimate is a conservative one when we consider that according to the National Cattlemen’s Association in 2002, “US retailers failed to capture at least $1 billion annually from fresh beef sales due to product discoloration.” This estimate does not include other meat products besides beef, nor processed meats, fish, poultry, dairy and all other perishables.

Of the estimated shrinkage costs to US supermarkets of over $4 billion due to lighting, and a significant portion can be saved by reducing the radiation of the light sources and by eliminating certain wavelengths of visible and nonvisible radiation that are particularly harmful to food safety and shelf life.

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