How Frozen Food Can Help in the War on Food Waste

The UK’s food industry generates around 15 million tonnes of food waste each year, 1.7 million tonnes of which is generated by food manufacturers alone.

The ‘Love Food Hate Waste’ campaign run by the Waste & Resource Action Programme (WRAP) has highlighted that households throw away 7 million tonnes of food and drink every year at a cost of £12.5bn annually.

In catering the issue is equally serious. In its 2013 report “Overview of Waste in the UK Hospitality and Food Service Sector” WRAP calculated that in 2011 £2.5 billion of food was wasted by the UK’s hospitality and food service (HaFS) sector. This figure was estimated to reach £3.0 billion per year by 2016.

Awareness of the issue of food waste has been highlighted by a number of celebrities. Most recently, celebrity chef and campaigner, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall raised the issue in his BBC programme “Hugh’s War on Waste”.  In addition, Jamie Oliver has been campaigning to find a use for odd shaped vegetables which until recently were rejected by supermarkets.

Every night, one billion people around the world go to bed hungry, a statistic that should be keeping those who can influence food waste awake at night. It is time the food industry, along with politicians and opinion leaders, to take a stand on food waste and start to make a real impact.

Thankfully the food industry is starting to address the situation and recognise the role we can play in reducing waste in the UK. The recent Waste Not Want Not campaign launched by The Grocer magazine is a good example of the type of industry-wide action that’s needed.

Clearly concerns about food waste are closely linked to broader concerns about our impact on the environment and climate change. We have long believed that the ability freezing to preserve food in peak condition for extended periods of time could play a key role in helping reduce greenhouse emissions and help the UK achieve food security.

BFFF has worked with a number of leading academic institutions to establish the facts. In 2015 we worked with Cranfield University to produce the “Frozen Food and Food Security in the UK Report”.

This study calculated greenhouse gas emissions (GHGE), consumer cost and waste production for four of the most common shopping list items – cod, carrots, broccoli and potatoes – and compared typical fresh and frozen supply chains throughout the year.

It concluded that increasing the amount of food that is frozen could significantly reduce edible food waste in the supply chain and lessen the impact of that food waste. In addition, it calculated a potential waste saving of between 25% and 79% if the entire supply chain for these four products was shifted to frozen.

The researchers found that any waste produced in frozen production occurred higher in the supply chain where it has less impact due to reuse and recycling options compared to fresh products wasted in the home, which often ends up in landfill.

The report also found that frozen food can significantly reduce GHGE production for foodstuffs not produced in the UK year round:

  • By increasing the use of frozen broccoli, the UK could be 100% self-sufficient in production reducing GHGE production by 15%
  • Fresh Atlantic cod produces at least 50% more CO2e than frozen because the extended shelf life offered by frozen food enables more efficient transportation methods.

In addition, BFFF Chef’s attitude survey 2014 revealed that 94% of chefs agreed that frozen food reduced waste as it offered better portion control and 82% claimed that frozen could help with long term menu planning.

Chefs have found the long shelf life and easy portion control of frozen very appealing. These factors are also very beneficial in reducing food waste.

I believe that frozen has a significant contribution to play in help reduce food waste and building food security. This combined with growing evidence that frozen food is as nutritious as fresh, will see more consumers opting for frozen in retail and more caterers selecting frozen ingredients and dishes for their menus.

Overview of Waste in the UK Hospitality and Food Service Sector Key findings:

  • The total amount of waste, including food, packaging and other ‘non-food’ waste, produced each year at HaFS outlets is 2.87 million tonnes, of which 46% is recycled, sent to anaerobic digestion (AD) or composted.
  • Of this, 920,000 tonnes of food are wasted at outlets each year, 75% of which is avoidable and could have been eaten.
  • The amount of food that is wasted each year in the UK is equivalent to 1.3 billion meals, or one in six of the 8 billion meals served each year.
  • On average 21% of food waste arises from spoilage; 45% from food preparation and 34% from consumer plates.
  • 12% of all food waste is recycled.
  • In addition to this a further 130,000 tonnes of food waste are generated from the preparation of ready to serve food items and meals for the HaFS sector, at food manufacturing sites.

By Brian Young, British Frozen Food Federation chief executive

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