How enhancing freshness can help fight food waste

The amount of food wasted in the developed world can be staggering. In industrialized countries, consumers annually throw away 286 million tons of cereal products, a category that includes bread. And unfortunately, when looking at totals by weight, bread tops the list of avoidable food waste.

As you might expect, as much as 25-27% of that loss occurs at the household level. However, consumers aren’t the only ones who waste food — cereal products such as bread are wasted in varying degrees throughout the supply chain. While about 2% may be lost in distribution (supermarkets and retail) in Europe and North America, 11% can actually be lost solely in processing & packaging. 

But to better understand these statistics, let’s look at the top reasons why, from a consumer perspective, bread winds up in the trash.

Why does bread go to waste?

According to a survey among 4,000 people in Denmark, the Netherlands, Spain and Russia, the top three reasons consumers throw bread away are:

  1. The bread is mouldy.” (30%)
  2. The bread has become too dry.” (23%)
  3. The bread has become too hard.” (17%)

That same survey found, perhaps unsurprisingly, that the ideal bread would not only have a softness and springiness, but would also have a long shelf life and an enjoyable aroma and taste.

Studies show that consumers often decide between these ideal sensory characteristics — how it feels, smells and tastes — and shelf life. The result may be that consumers are not buying their ideal bread, or that they are buying their ideal bread knowing that it could be stale before they’ve finished it. After all, compared to other foodstuffs such as meat and fish, bread is inexpensive, and so many people are willing to accept the monetary loss in order to have fresher bread.

Minimizing waste through policy

Around 88 million tons of food is wasted in the European Union every year, which equates to 173 kilos per person. The Netherlands tops the list of member nations with a whopping 541 kilos of food waste per person annually, while Slovenia rounds out the bottom with “just” 73 kilos per person.

To combat these alarming numbers, the European Parliament is taking steps to cut food waste in half by 2030, with a goal of setting up binding reduction targets by 2020. Making food donation easier and making changes to the “use by” date marking on food are just two of the options being explored.

Meanwhile, individual countries are taking steps independently. France has enacted a wide range of policies, from a ban on the destruction and throwing away of edible food to the adjustment of portion and package sizes. In the U.K. —  where retailer Tesco estimates that 44% of bread is thrown away — the Love Food Hate Waste public education campaign helped reduce household food and drink waste by 21%. And, the U.S. has also set a goal of reducing food waste by 50% by 2030.

Extending freshness through biology

But making changes to the food itself will be another part of the solution. Using enzymes — natural processing aids produced by bacteria, yeasts and moulds — producers can extend bread’s freshness, enhance its appearance, and provide a fine, elastic crumb structure. 

And, these enzymes can reduce the need for chemicals, which is especially important as consumers become more health-conscious and ethical in their purchasing decisions. Enzymes, in fact, can help make baked goods, including both artisanal and industrial breads, healthier and longer-lasting in the most natural way possible.

In truth, it will likely be a combination of government initiatives and industry innovation that, together, will result in meaningful change. This means that producers are currently in a position to meet customers’ demands for better tasting, long-lasting baked goods — and reduce food waste at the same time.