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The Role of Food Processing Technologies and Packaging in Reducing Food Loss and Waste

By Lebo Mothobi-Tilo, Marketing Director, Tetra Pak South Africa

In 2019 alone, one third of all food produced globally was lost or wasted. That’s 1.3 billion tons of food worth R18 trillion according to estimates from the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization). If food loss and waste (FLW) were a country, it would be the world’s third largest greenhouse gas emitter.

Packaging is key to reducing waste because according to the FAO, 73% of FLW occurs at the stages of distribution, retail and consumption by consumers. Each of those major contributors to FLW can be significantly reduced by packaging that preserves the contents longer.

Of that percentage of food waste, 27% occurs during distribution and retail while 46% happens during the consumption phase, predominantly uneaten in households and going into the bin or compost.

This food ‘waste’ differs from food ‘loss’. The latter is brought about by inefficient growing, processing or preservation — in other words, food from the front end of the supply chain that fails to ever make its way to retail. This is the lesser component of FLW accounting for 27%. Consequently, processing solutions and technologies during manufacturing can make an important contribution to the reduction of FLW.

Such technology is Tetra Pak’s core involvement in packaging solutions for food manufacturing. It serves to keep food safe and available and can significantly contribute to reducing FLW in the food chain. Though food and beverage manufacturers have limited control over what logistics operators, retailers or consumers do downstream, they can select optimal packaging for their products, including packaging solutions which extend shelf life and increase chances of food being consumed.

Such packaging can protect the quality, integrity and taste of the product to ensure consumers don’t throw it out. For instance, foods that require refrigeration are susceptible to spoiling if not refrigerated at any point up to consumption. Tetra Pak’s founder, Dr Ruben Rausing, pioneered the development of aseptic technology, allowing perishable food and beverages to be kept safe for a shelf-life of at least six months, whilst maintaining colour, texture, taste and nutritional value without the need for refrigeration.t

On top of early technologies, modern automation systems considerably reduce food waste in larger production systems. For instance, Tetra Pak® PlantMaster enables food and beverage manufacturers to track all product movements within their facilities. This data allows them to build a baseline to understand where and why food loss occurs, and where appropriate actions and investments can be made for improvements.

Implementing a methodology such as Total Productive Maintenance (TPM), which is a holistic approach to working and equipment maintenance that aims to reduce stops and breakdowns, is an important means of understanding and reducing food loss at the plant.

Waste can also be reduced through transforming food waste into value-added ingredients. One innovation Tetra Pak is working on is a system to convert large volumes of acid whey produced from fresh cheese into value-added ingredients such as fibre. The same principle applies to waste from brewing. We have developed a circular processing solution that enables brewers’ spent grain (BSG), a side stream of the brewing process which previously ended up in landfill or as animal feed, to be used as an ingredient for other food applications like breads.

Another innovation we’re pioneering is our Dairy Hub Model. This helps build sustainable value chains by training smallholder farmers and creating a link to our customers so the latter can source higher-quality milk. We have helped 54,000 smallholder farmers in 16 dairy hubs to expand their yield per cow by providing technical support and on-farm training. For example, in Bangladesh smallholder farmers involved with dairy hubs have seen their cows’ milk yield increase 143% and their monthly income consequently rise from USD100 to USD144. Dairy processors commit to buying all the milk from smallholders in the hub, investing in collection and transport, collecting data and establishing long-term relationships with smallholders. These hubs formalise the value chain for milk thereby reducing food losses throughout the dairy supply chain and ensuring safe milk reaches consumers. There are other dairy hubs in Kenya, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Rwanda, Senegal, Sri Lanka and Uganda.

The above are a selection of our innovative packaging and processing technology solutions, illustrating how innovation and technology can protect produce during its journey from the farmer to the consumer.

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