As much as one-third of all the food produced globally is lost or wasted, according to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Estimated at more than US$ 940 billion annually at a time when one in nine people are malnourished, the sheer scale of this crisis is not only unquestionably unsustainable, it’s extremely hard to stomach.
We are all responsible. Indeed, largely due to its wealth, the EU is one of the biggest contributors to the problem with the European Commission putting the bloc’s annual food waste at 88 million tonnes with associated costs at €143 billion. The average Flemish person throws away between 15 and 23kg of food every year, which brings the yearly total in Flanders to between 94,000 and 142,000 tons. And these figures only account for individual consumers; the total amount in Belgium is 3.6 million tons of food waste.
It may come as a surprise, but 5% of all unrecycled waste in Flanders is food that needn’t go to waste. At the top of the list of most discarded products are bread and pastry, followed by fruit and veg, prepared meals, meat and fish.
The figures for the whole of Belgium and its neighbouring countries France and Germany are similar: our easterly neighbours needlessly throw away 11 million tons of food. France is the first country to instate a law against food waste. There, every supermarket throws away approximately 20kg of food each day. This being said, individual consumers remain the biggest food wasters.
These and the many other startling statistics have not gone unnoticed by food supply chains. Today, there’s an increasing number of leading players looking at ways in which they can tackle food loss and waste; many of whom are finding that addressing the issue also makes financial sense too – hundreds of millions of dollars are now being saved across the retail and foodservice sectors in multiple markets through recent food and packaging waste reduction measures. And the general consensus is that much more can be achieved.
While the complexity of the food waste challenge means there is no silver bullet solution to fix all food supply chains in all markets; there are nevertheless several options open to the waste-conscious. One of the best and simplest ways to reduce food waste is to buy or source frozen products. Not only is this true at a household level with frozen food estimated to generate more than 40% less food waste in the modern home than non-frozen food – it is also responsible for equal or better levels of savings in commercial areas.
In addition to having a much longer shelf-life, the many commercial advantages of frozen food include offering improved price stability, better portion control and year-round availability. As a consequence, more consumers are opting for frozen in retail and more caterers are selecting frozen ingredients and dishes for their menus.
FROZEN FISH ADVANTAGES
As well as helping reduce food waste and building food security, there’s growing evidence that frozen food can be just as nutritious as fresh. Frozen fish is one of the best cases in point; this is because all seafood is at its absolute best immediately after being caught. Therefore, freezing products as close to the point of harvest as possible is not only the best method of preserving them, it also locks in all their flavour and healthy nutrients. Plus, if properly carried out, freezing fish can give a storage life of more than one year.
Freezing is therefore widely practiced both on shore and on board many fishing vessels. For the latter, it enables catching fleets to remain at sea for long periods, and allows products to be stockpiled during periods of high catch rates, as well as widening the market by providing access to a broader range of high-quality fish products.
To ensure the best quality product, it is imperative that freezing is accomplished as quickly as possible. The two most commonly used frozen formats used by the seafood industry are single and double frozen.
Single frozen fish are virtually indistinguishable from fish eaten the day they were caught. This is because the products are often harvested at peak season, quick-chilled, carefully processed and then rapidly frozen – all within a few hours of leaving the water and using state-of-the-art technology. As a result, they retain their freshness until the point of being consumed.
Double-frozen products tend to be the result of longer fishing trips, where whole fish are frozen very quickly after capture and then stored in freezing chambers for the duration of the voyage. On reaching the processing plant, they are thawed or partly thawed, processed and then re-frozen ready for the consumer market. Only fish that were initially very fresh are subjected to double freezing.
TICKING BIG BOXES
With one of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals agreed upon by the 193 member states of the United Nations committing to “halve per capita global food waste at the retail and consumer level, and reduce food losses along production and supply chains by 2030″, there’s little doubt that frozen food will have an increasingly important role to play in the future. At the same time, innovation and new product development is ensuring there is just as much variety to satisfy consumer demand in the frozen seafood channel as there is in fresh fish – a win-win for people and the planet.
At Pittman Seafoods, we strongly believe that seafood is essential to a healthy diet, with equally important contributions made by fresh products that support local fisheries, and frozen products that guarantee the necessary volume, variety and quality that consumers seek year-round.