Enlisting freshness in the fight against food waste

Upon hearing that an estimated one-quarter to one-third of all food produced for human consumption is wasted, many people instinctively point to industrialized nations, and not emerging markets, as the culprits. But in fact, while the reasons for those losses can be different, the amount wasted by each is roughly the same.

It’s an issue that’s only growing larger by the day. By 2050, global food production will need to ramp up by 70% to feed the increasing global population. And in regions such as the Middle East and Africa, the need to produce more with less is especially urgent. Since water and arable land are scarcer here than in any other region, regional population growth will only intensify the demand on these scant resources.

Given that much of that waste is cereals such as bread, is there an opportunity here to both reduce food waste and give consumers a better product? And if so, how can we, in the baking industry, help tackle this global problem? 

Where (and why) bread is thrown away

Let’s first look at where, in the supply chain, food typically finds its way into the trash. In Latin America, North Africa and West and Central Asia, anywhere from 10 to 12% of food is thrown away at the household level. Then, another 4% is lost at the distribution (supermarket and retail) stage, along with 9% in processing & packaging.
Together, that’s almost a quarter of all food in those regions — after those precious resources have been harvested and delicious food products have been prepared. Half of it could have even made it to the dinner table. 

Much of that waste can be attributed to a hot, often humid climate, as well as poor distribution systems and the available infrastructure. Being able to keep fresh food chilled during storage and transport would make a huge difference, but many places do not yet have the technology, infrastructure or the money to set up a network of refrigerated trucks and storage facilities.

In terms of bread in North Africa and the Middle East, flatbreads are a particular concern, as they very quickly lose freshness and go dry, cracking when folded. As a result, uneaten bread is discarded rather than saved for the next meal. With the cost of bread in the region rising, this wastage also puts a burden on household and government finances.

The freshness opportunity

Without making vast changes to infrastructure and distribution networks, solutions do exist that can reduce food waste and cut costs not only for the consumer, but for those further up the supply chain as well.

Using enzymes — natural processing aids produced by bacteria, yeasts and moulds —  the bread industry can extend bread’s freshness as well as enhance its appearance. And, these enzymes can reduce the need for chemicals, making baked goods both healthier and longer-lasting in the most natural way possible. 

Let’s not also forget that in these markets, the populations are growing, sometimes rapidly. And with this growth comes a rising middle class that, surveys show, is increasingly asking for convenient, prepackaged products. Enzymes can help industrial bakers and formulators who want these breads, cakes and biscuits to retain their freshness for longer periods of time, despite suboptimal storage conditions.

Taking on such a complex issue purely by keeping baked goods fresher, longer? Now that sounds like a solution everyone can get behind.

1Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2011


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