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Understanding Food Safety and the Hierarchy of Waste

The food we eat contributes directly to our health. Whilst it is important that it contains all the nutrients we need, it is equally necessary for it to be safe for us to eat. This is where understanding food safety (and how food waste services can help) becomes important.


What is food safety?

Before food can be eaten, it needs to go through various processes. These include farming or harvesting, processing, packaging, storing etc. Food safety is ensuring that the food products are handled safely and properly at every step.

Managing food safety means understanding exactly what could affect the food item’s integrity and stability. For example, temperature or contamination with other food groups or toxins could render the food unsafe to eat.

Food contaminants can be biological in nature. So, if you leave raw meat out on a warm day, it will start decomposing due to the action of microorganisms. Or, you may find flies laying eggs in it. That is an example of biological contamination.

You can also have chemical, physical, or radiological factors affecting the safety of your food.

What is Food Safety Week?

In order to promote food safety, for both personal use as well as for businesses, the UN general assembly declared the 7th of June to be the World Food Safety Day. This day marks the beginning of World Food Safety Week, which is from the 7th to the 14th of June.

The first Food Safety Week was observed in 2018, and its theme was ‘People who keep our plates safe’. This year’s theme is ‘Safer food, better health’.

We should be consuming food that is safe to eat, not only to get the best nutrition out of it but also to prevent the spread of diseases. That is how we can ensure our own health and the health of our families.

Why is food safety important?

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), contaminated food causes 600 million cases of foodborne illnesses each year, leading to around 420,000 deaths. Unfortunately, nearly 30% of these are children under five years of age.

These deaths are wholly preventable by maintaining food safety. This is why food safety is important for everyone. However, businesses that handle food also have a legal requirement to ensure that the food they sell is safe to consume.

Importance of food safety for businesses

When people store or prepare food incorrectly at home, it affects them and their families. However, when businesses do the same, it could impact hundreds, maybe thousands, of people.

This is why they have to follow government regulations to ensure that the food they sell to their customers has been handled, stored, and prepared properly. If not, they could face legal repercussions.

As a business, you want to make sure your customers get the best possible product.

However, you also want to minimise wastage as that adds to your cost of operations. Additionally, disposing of the food waste has to be done properly and as per regulations, which also adds to your expenses.

So, how do you balance food safety and food waste management?

Understanding the hierarchy of waste

As we mentioned earlier, food goes through many stages of processing. If, at any point in that process, some of it needs to be discarded, it becomes food waste. This includes discarding inedible parts of the food, like peels or seeds. As such, any food or parts of the food that are no longer safe to eat also constitute food waste.

Ensuring that food is safe for consumers means getting rid of any materials that may not be safe for people. But, businesses also have a responsibility to dispose of the food waste they generate responsibly.

The main reason for that is food waste has an impact on the environment. In fact, it is a major factor in climate change, due to the gases released as it decomposes.

The other reason is to stop the spread of disease. Animal-based foods can carry microbes, so it is especially important to manage animal by-product (ABP) food waste properly.

By understanding the hierarchy of waste, you can reduce the environmental effect of food waste.

What is the hierarchy of waste?

The hierarchy of waste lays out a set of guidelines where the most important outcome is to use the waste in some manner before getting rid of it.

The main principles of the hierarchy of food waste are:

  • Prevention
  • Recycling
  • Recovery
  • Disposal

Prevention

Prevention, very simply, is ensuring that there is no, or minimal, food wastage. This might mean keeping your inventory to levels that can be used up in time. It could also mean making sure that the food is stored properly to slow down its degradation.

Moreover, you can donate the food that will soon start going bad to people in need. You might not be able to use it but someone else will. In short, the food will not go to waste.

However, prevention also includes making sure the food products are not wasted, even if they aren’t consumed by people. So, you can also send certain food products to be used as animal feed.

This step in the hierarchy of waste requires the food waste to be used as food in some form, whether for people or for animals.

Recycling

If the food cannot be donated or used as animal feed, your next order of priority should be to recycle it. Recycling can include composting or anaerobic digestion.

Composting is the process of using bacteria to break down organic material to make a conditioner for the soil. This can then be applied to farmlands, feeding the soil and reducing the need for chemical fertilisers.

However, the government recommends anaerobic digestion instead of composting for food waste. In this process, the food waste is first broken down into a liquid porridge. Then, it is put inside an anaerobic digestion chamber.

As the name suggests, anaerobic (without air/oxygen) digestion takes place in a sealed container without any air. Again, the process requires bacteria to break down the material, producing biogas as a byproduct.

The biogas can then be used as fuel to produce energy, reducing the need for fossil fuels. Also, the remaining digestate undergoes pasteurisation to kill any harmful microbes so it can be used as a biofertiliser.

Both these methods reduce the impact of food waste on the environment as well as offer eco-friendly alternatives to fuel as well as soil improvement methods. So, this step in the hierarchy of waste allows the food waste to be put to use, even if it is not consumed as such.

Recovery

Recovery is not recommended for food waste, but it refers to the process of incinerating waste and using the resultant heat as energy. By burning waste, you can reduce the load on landfills.

Recovery is a step in the hierarchy of waste that is designed to extract some value from the discarded items.

Disposal

Disposal refers to sending the food waste:

  • To be incinerated without recovering the energy from it,
  • To the landfill, or,
  • Down the sewer.

This is the last resort, where the waste cannot be used in any other way and has to be thrown away.

How can BioteCH4 help you in your food safety journey?

Food waste services like us can help you manage your food waste efficiently and effectively. We customise our service by first carrying out a food waste audit. This helps us determine what your business needs and the best course of action for you.

As such, we will undertake the disposal and recycling of your food waste. Since we convert food waste into renewable energy, your food waste costs will go down. If you wish to learn more about our services and how we can help you, contact us and let us know what you need.

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