Food Wastage Reducing Food Loss in Manufacturing Processes

By Swetha Sridhar, Manager, Life Science Advisory, Sathguru Management Consultants

Food is lost in large quantities throughout the production phase, which is costly for businesses. Apart from the raw material cost, disposal-related charges also need to be included. Reducing food loss and waste may also have intangible benefits for food firms. With the increasing rise in consumer awareness, food manufacturers are increasingly expected to include sustainability in their operations.

Food loss and waste (FLW) is a major issue plagues the food industry. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) estimates that food losses in the post-harvest and pre-retail supply chain phases (farm storage, transportation, processing) account for around 14 per cent of total food loss yearly (amounting to over $400 billion). Moreover, approximately 17  per cent of food is wasted at the retail and consumer levels (UNEP 2021). As all the resources needed to produce, manufacture, distribute, and prepare that food are also squandered, food loss and waste have a significant negative impact on the environment. 

Discarded food alone has a carbon footprint of 4.4 GtCO2 eq per year or about 8 per cent  of total anthropogenic GreenHouse Gas (GHG) emissions and is the third-biggest carbon dioxide emitter in the world, behind the United States and China (Food Wastage Footprint & Climate Change ( 

A significant amount of food is lost throughout the production stage and comes at a high expense to enterprises. In addition to the cost of the raw material, there are also expenses related to the disposal. Food companies may benefit intangibly from reducing FLW as well. Consumer awareness has been rising rapidly and nowadays they expect food manufacturers to integrate sustainability into their operations. By striving to eliminate loss, food manufacturers can enhance their stakeholder connections and brand perception.  

The different actions food manufacturers can take from prevention to recycling stage to reduce food loss and waste are indicated below: 

Different actions from prevention to recycling stage to reduce food loss and waste:

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  1. Conduct loss/waste audits: This involves examining the production processes and identifying areas where food loss and waste is occurring. By conducting an audit, manufacturers can identify the types of loss/waste they generate and evaluate strategies to mitigate or eliminate it. 
  2. Eliminate paper-based process checks: Food producers can gather all pertinent information from several locations on the factory floor by digitising the still-persistent paper-based production checks. This provides real-time and all-encompassing visibility.
  3. Embrace technology: Manufacturers can monitor and control waste in real time with the use of technology. Thanks to IIoT (Industrial Internet of Things) sensors, manufacturers may now automatically collect data that would have otherwise required manual labour from employees. By immediately stopping production operations when IIoT sensors are connected to a digital production system, production errors can be practically eliminated before costly batch errors or violations of food safety arise. By using location awareness technologies, it is possible to reduce the possibility of presenting incorrect data entries by triggering mandatory staff actions depending on the staff member’s position and the current production process or step. For example, sensors can be used to identify quality problems such as underfilling or overfilling on production lines. Because of this, manufacturers may be able to locate the primary source of loss and promptly implement solutions.
  4. Improve forecasting and analytics techniques:  Reducing FLW in the manufacturing process can also be accomplished by optimising production planning. By lowering batch sizes and basing production schedules on demand, manufacturers may prevent overproduction and cut waste. Using just-in-time production methods can also aid in cutting waste and inventory. Manufacturers can use digital reporting technologies to enhance their forecasts, which will enable them to implement strategic ordering strategies, such as reducing excess ordering. 
  5. ‍Application of digital lean practices: By identifying operations that do not provide value, digital lean manufacturing strategies help food businesses enhance their handling, production, and storage processes. For example, real-time data analytics from automated monitoring and smart manufacturing software can be used to locate and remove bottlenecks. Manufacturers can detect and get rid of loss in their processes, including extra inventory, waiting, needless transportation, overproduction, overprocessing, and faults, by putting lean manufacturing methods into practice. Food loss and waste can be significantly decreased as a result, and money can be saved.
  6. Improve packaging: Food waste in homes and the distribution system is decreased when food is packaged well, extending its shelf life. During the production process, selecting the appropriate packaging can extend shelf life, minimise handling, increase productivity, and cut down on waste. It’s also critical to weigh accurately and consistently because even a small excess of grams in each bag can add up to significant amounts of money.
  7. Review quality control systems: Maintaining standards and food safety depends on quality control, yet excessively strict standards run the risk of discarding perfectly good foods. Similarly, food that is overcooked or undercooked, or that has extra trims or off-cuts increases quality rejections thereby increasing wastes.
  8. Educate employees: By creating awareness around waste reduction, waste identification and reduction techniques, and the effects of waste on the environment and the company, manufacturers may foster a culture of waste reduction.
  9. Help reduce food waste at consumer level:  Date marking on food labels is linked to food waste.  Food producers can help consumers cut down on food waste by standardising the dates on the labels of their products. Confusion about date labels, such as those indicating “use by/ expiry” (as an indicator of food safety) or “best before” (as an indicator of quality) dates accounts for 20 per cent of food waste at the consumer level.
  10. Rework: It is the use of food that has been diverted from the normal production flow with the intention for “subsequent use or reprocessing” in the same product or an alternative without compromising the safety aspects. Examples of food rework can include: reprocessing bread dough left over from a previous production; repacking mislabelled or miscoded product; reforming broken or underweight product; reprocessing product due to equipment malfunction; mixing product into a batch from a previous day; incorporating materials into another product ; reusing product removed from the process and stored due to abnormal stop in production
  11. Upcycle inevitable waste: Despite the efforts, some waste is inevitable. The best course of action for handling this would be to increase its value or usefulness. These disposal alternatives can be considered: Redistribution to people (within the best before date); Use as animal feed; Anaerobic digestion; Composting; Incineration with energy recovery; Certain products may also be able to be used in creative ways; for example: Turning vegetable oils and animal byproducts (ABPs) into biodiesel.

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