A food industry authority answers questions about what can be done about reducing food waste in food packaging operations, regardless of company size.
Waste not, want not. The wisdom and relevance of that proverbial saying from hundreds of years ago continues today through industry initiatives to reduce food waste.
Packaging Digest has reported previously on waste-reducing methods that rely on applying various technologies to the primary packaging, for example, to increase a container’s barrier properties to extend shelf life (see most recently, Packaging and food waste: Insights and advice; other articles can be found here).
At a recent industry event, I sat in on a presentation for another approach to food waste—reducing it during food packaging production. The session was led by long-time industry expert Jeff Chilton of Alchemy Systems, a consultancy that conducts facility audits among a number of food industry services it offers. In this Q&A, Chilton answers 11 questions about reducing food waste in production.
1. How much attention is there to reducing food waste today vs. say 5 to 10 years ago?
Chilton: Food waste is a major area of focus for companies today. In recent years, companies have made great strides towards developing and implementing sustainability programs that include addressing food waste. Progressive companies recognize that reducing waste benefits the company, the population and the environment.
2. What role do packaging operations play?
Chilton: Packaging operations are essential to controlling food waste. This area is the last line of defense to assure customers receive acceptable products and help the companies meet their yield and waste objectives. Packaging managers must work closely with their personnel to assure product specifications and weight requirements are met without having an excessive amount of waste from their department. It is a key balancing act, and great managers learn to optimize the best of both sides.
3. What’s the role of packaging equipment? What about personnel?
Chilton: Proper design and use of equipment plays a major role in reducing food waste. It is imperative to design both stationary and mobile equipment in a way that prevents food material loss on the floor during product transfers and processing. Often times, additional guarding can be added to prevent this loss and help companies increase their product yields. Operators and managers play a vital role as well. Employees on the front line have the opportunity to see where food waste comes from and contribute ideas to reduce it. Management plays a key role in soliciting and acting upon employees’ ideas to drive changes necessary to reduce waste.
4. How does automated inspection fit in?
Chilton: Automation can play a key role in reducing labor costs and increasing product yields. We have advised companies to install automated inspection equipment. This equipment can be used to measure product dimensions and weight to assure conformance to specification and remove non-conforming product from the process flow by diverting it to a substation for inspection. This method of control is far preferable than paying labor to inconsistently grade out product before packaging.
5. What are the distinct challenges for larger companies vs. smaller ones?
Chilton: Both large and small companies can benefit from reducing food waste. Large companies have the resources to implement engineering improvements to reduce waste, and more capital expenditures are available for automation and equipment redesign or replacement.
Small companies also have plenty of opportunity to reduce waste. In many cases, it just takes attention to the issue to generate action and improvements. Raising awareness through training for all employees is a good first step. All companies can establish a Food Waste Reduction Team to focus on the problem and measure improvements.
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