October 26th, 2020

Portion of food waste happens at home

By Mabell, Dave on November 29, 2019.

Environment Lethbridge executive director Kathleen Sheppard answers a question after her presentation on food waste at the Southern Alberta Council on Public Affairs. Herald photo by Ian Martens @IMartensHerald

Dave Mabell

Lethbridge Herald


Around the world, millions of families face food scarcity and famine. But in Canada, more than half the food we produce is wasted.

And more than one-fifth of that waste happens in the home, the Southern Alberta Council on Public Affairs learned Thursday – due to issues like “best before” dates and over-packaging.

Add that to the food products wasted in manufacturing, restaurants, retail and on the farm, and Kathleen Sheppard said that’s equivalent to a mountain of more than 35 million tonnes of waste.

Executive director of Environment Lethbridge, Sheppard said much of that is avoidable.

What we’re all wasting could feed every Canadian for five months, she pointed out.

While producers lose an estimated six per cent of Canada’s crops – blamed on adverse weather, crop disease, collapsed market prices or other factors – Sheppard said 23 per cent is lost at the manufacturing or processing level. Not all production processes work perfectly.

But it’s in the home where Canadians can make a real difference, she suggested.

That’s where about one-fifth of all food waste occurs, for a variety of reasons.

Most Canadians don’t understand the “best before” date stamps, she said – and dump perfectly good food as a result. Infant formula and meal replacement products are the only items where the dates must be heeded, Sheppard said. Dairy products may be safe after the package dates as well – it’s easy to tell when they’re not!

Planning meals and buying perishable foods like cucumbers just when you need them will also reduce waste. So will learning the best way to store different foods.

It’s vegetables and fruit that Canadians throw away most often, she said.

One reason for that, an audience member stressed, is the way supermarkets plastic package three cucumbers or other produce. If a shopper needs just one, the others may end up in the garbage.

Canada’s restaurants, hotels and institutions like hospitals are responsible for about 13 per cent of the waste, Sheppard said. If restaurant servings are too large, she suggested guests should say so and operators will likely pay attention to that feedback.

Retailers have been wasting another 12 per cent of the nation’s food, she reported, but some are regularly donating foods that are close to their “sell by” dates to soup kitchens and food banks.

Sheppard said others are “very close-mouthed” about what they do with time-sensitive groceries when new stock arrives.

But some stores are now offering bargain-priced “flash food” packages of food that should be taken home for prompt use, she noted. And others feature lower-priced “perfectly imperfect” fruit and vegetables that may be oddly shaped or slightly bruised – but still highly nutritious.

“Talk to the produce manager” if your retailer is not meeting your needs, Sheppard urged.

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