Food loss and waste currently causes an estimated $1 trillion in economic losses globally each year, according to Lux Research, a Boston-based tech and advisory company. This constitutes not just an economic crisis but also a major humanitarian one. It has led the United Nations to set a goal of reducing global food loss and waste by 50% by 2030. A report by Lux Research, Preserving the Food Chain, now outlines key protection and preservation technologies.
Global food loss and waste amount to between one-third and one-half of all food produced globally. This occurs at all stages of the food supply chain. In low-income countries, most loss occurs during production. Some crops are unharvested or spoiled, some are eaten by pests or spoiled by infections. In developed countries on the other hand, much food is wasted at the consumption stage, about 100 kg per person per year. Food loss and waste pops up as a problem especially in times of supply chain disruptions or demand variability. We have seen some of that during the Covid-19 pandemic. This has put a focus on resiliency in the food value chain. Technology is the key to addressing this problem, says Lux.
Technological solutions to food loss and waste
The company identifies six areas in which technological innovation is important: pre-harvest, post-harvest & storage, formulation & processing, packaging, distribution & retail, post-retail & in-home. In each of these segments, Lux identifies best-in-class protection and preservation technologies. It also highlights emerging technologies in the field of preservation tech. Among them novel natural preservatives, edible coatings, and active packaging technologies.
In the pharmaceutical and pesticide industries, the importance of preservation and shelf life extension has been recognized for a long time. There, innovations like cold chain management and shelf life-extending formulations have been well-developed. This now spills over to the food industry. Among the new solutions, biological and digital tools dominate. Digital tools will be important in the pre-harvest stage, with good observation of the crop and software to process these observations. In product distribution, digital tools will be applied in smart supply management. Within homes, consumers’ concerns about the safety and reliability of purchased products will promote the use of point-of-use sensors, that indicate whether the product can still be consumed.
Biological solutions will become popular in packaging. Like ‘active packaging’, dominated by antimicrobial agents. So far, packaging solutions have been mostly ‘passive’, for instance where the packaging will contain the food product in a nitrogen atmosphere, thereby reducing decay. Now researchers are looking for ‘active’ solutions. Here, packaging controls the respiratory metabolism of fruits and vegetables, by absorbing or emitting certain gases, controlling moisture levels or reducing microbial activity. The EU-funded program NanoPack focuses on flexible plastic food films. These contain antioxidants and antimicrobial compounds intended to delay food spoilage. Such materials can also be combined with sensors. These track the quality of perishable food products, and communicate the data to external receivers.
Food loss and waste is a serious problem for a world that intends to feed 10 billion people. We need not just to increase food production, but also minimize losses.