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Experts identify packaging solutions to address food waste

Experts identify packaging solutions to address food waste
60% of food waste is a result of reaching the coded expiration date and spoilage. Source: Sealed Air Corp.

Food packaging experts from Nestlé, University of Guelph and Sealed Air explored packaging solutions that play a role in reducing food waste during a March 23 webinar sponsored by PAC FOOD WASTE, an initiative of PAC, the Packaging Consortium.

It didn’t take long for #AvocadoGate to come up in the food waste and packaging webinar. In fact, it was the first thing mentioned by lead-off speaker professor Keith Warriner of the University of Guelph’s food science department. In referencing the social-media-fanned over-packaging frenzy about a prepackaged, prepeeled avocado, Warriner pointed out that the packaging provides 50 days of shelf life to a product that typically only lasts 2 to 3 days.

“While the packaging does a tremendous job in reducing food waste, what people focused on was the amount of packaging,” opined Warriner. “It just goes to show [to what degree] consumers are confused about food waste and the role packaging plays.”

From Warriner’s view, packaging role is to provide an efficient way to extend the shelf life of packaged foods using active and intelligent packaging. He described the latter as packaging that sense the environment and can react to changing conditions of the packaged food.

He identifies reducing food waste as the #1 trend related to food, followed by Food Fraud (including mislabeled food), Just-in-time Manufacturing and Food Safety.

 “Food waste is not a new problem,” Warriner pointed out, citing a figure the current 30% figure attributed to food waste compared to 40% 10 years ago and 50% 20 years ago and pointed to packaging as factoring into that reduction and the newer use of intelligent packaging. Practical solutions to reduce food waste are to increase efficiencies and, more importantly, using intelligent packaging to focus on increasing shelf life."

Next: Sensors, IoT and smartphones

“Whereas models and estimates have been used to determine foods’ shelf life in the past, now measuring of spoilage byproducts of those foods can be correlated to shelf life in real time,” Warriner said. Small sensors that add a few cents to costs are available now to do just that in monitoring temperature or enzyme levels. That information can be sent to a smartphone, he suggests, adding that the Internet of Things (IoT) makes this all possible via the cloud. “Within five years’ time 30 billion devices will have web access,” he adds.

And add in smart refrigerators and smart ovens and there will be more avenues to help reduce food waste.

In one current example, he says all of the information from the ovens for Walmart’s rotisserie chickens are fed to a central database.

An easy place to start is…

Ron Cotterman, VP sustainability, Sealed Air, identified three areas packaging can help reduce food waste by 20%:

  1. Modified and active atmosphere packaging;
  2. Active barriers that use oxygen scavengers or other technologies integrated into the packaging; and
  3. Odor scavengers for meats, poultry and other protein products that eliminate odor complaints and returns. “This technology shows a 15 percent reduction in spoilage,” Cotterman said.

Cotterman also pointed out a dilemma that brand owners face.

“Consumers see the packaging, but they rarely see the environment impact associated with food waste,” he said. “We need systems for dealing with food waste and with packaging after use. Sometimes these systems can increase the amount of packaging, but sometimes they can significantly reduce the amount of food waste.”

He also pointed out the confusion over date coding as another source of food waste. “Whether use by or sell by date, we’re seeing strong movement globally to provide better dating of foods and educate the consumers what those dates mean. That’s a pretty easy place to start to address waste.”

Next: Nestlé on food loss vs. food waste


Angela Dennis, director, technical packaging & environmental officer, Nestlé, who provided a brand owners perspective, pointed out that her company has been working on reducing food waste since 1938 in Brazil when Nescafe was developed to do just that in capturing and preserving surplus coffee production.

Dennis distinguished between food loss and food waste:

Food loss sources include: spills, spoilage and reduction in quality due to wilting, bruising, etc.Food loss typically occurs in developing countries along the value chain due to lack of resources including infrastructure and packaging.

Food waste refers to food that is of good quality and fit for human consumption but does not get consumed because it is discarded either before or after it spoils. Developed markets like North America have a problem with food waste.

Other points:

Nestlé has been working with producers to reduce losses through the supply chain;

The company is involved in FLW, the Food Loss and Waste Protocol, a multi-stakeholder initiative.

“The goal of the FLW is to enable countries, companies and others to measure and estimate in practical  and consistent manner the extent of food loss and waste and identify where along the supply chain where this is occurring that we refer to as “hot spots,” said Dennis.

As part of the FLW protocol, Nestlé volunteered to look at milk loss in Pakistan with the assistance of Deloitte to capture all the relevant information (as seen in the graphic above) in looking from milk production through consumption. The study revealed a lot of loss just in getting the milk to its production plants. Nestle’s reaction was to invest in 900 milk centers in villages where farmers could take milk, which helped reduce losses to 1.4%.

Packaging plays a huge role in preventing food waste: A product that is underpackaged can result in damage and food spoilage and all the effort that went into it; on right, overpackaging can lead to additional costs, but increased material weight can have a negative impact on the environment.

If designed right, packaging will provide more time in the supply chain to keep the products on the shelf longer, maintain a sportive appearance and encouraging purchase by the consumer.

Nestle is focused on zero waste in all factories by 2020; by 2014, it has 72 factories that are at zero waste. “This means no packaging or product is leaving our facility to landfill,” Dennis says, also noting:

  • We have 22 Nescafe factories around the world where we recapture all the coffee grounds and reuse them for renewable energy.
  • We are also trying to inform our consumer of what the right portion size is and are looking at an app that you would put in what leftovers you have in your fridge and would respond with some recipes you could use.
  • We have doughs in Europe that were created to be used with leftovers.
  • We also have internal programs for reducing food waste.

“No one’s going to pay more for packaging, there has to be a cost-benefit associated with that packaging,” said Dennis. “Brand owners really need to look at an Life Cycle Assessment and share that information on the pack with consumers. There’s an opportunity to educate the consumer and share why you’ve done what you’ve done.”

For more information, visit PAC FOOD WASTE


Interested in food waste? Do you have any ideas what can be done? Please share your thoughts in our 4-question poll, it’s quick and anonymous: Food Waste & Packaging Poll


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