Food waste – a dire consequence of load shedding! | Infrastructure news

Food waste – a dire consequence of load shedding in an already food insecure country!

By Kate Stubbs

Loadshedding has led many households, businesses as well as the entire supply chain in the food and catering industry, having to dispose of more fresh food than usual due to refrigerators and cold storage units being unexpectedly off for several hours per day compounded by the ability to move produce quick enough to meet quality standards. The only alternative is to invest in alternative energy sources or expensive generators and then pay for fuel to keep meat, fresh produce, fish and dairy products fresh and fit for use or sale. The consequence of this is that not only are we facing a power crisis but similarly, we are facing a food crisis in a country that is already largely food insecure!

A recent study by Debt Rescue revealed that 93% of South Africans have been forced to throw away food which spoiled in refrigerators during  loadshedding, while 38% have had to replace their fridge due to damage caused by power outages. These numbers are concerning as they come at a time when two-thirds of the population can no longer afford three meals per day, with 41% saying their monthly grocery budget is no longer enough to feed their families. Similarly, we are seeing an industry wide impact of load shedding such as the chicken shortages, reports by the dairy industry of the impact, as well as recent rumours of pending egg shortages.

The long-term quality and safety of food depends on accurate and consistent temperature control throughout every stage of the supply chain, including in consumers’ homes. If this is interrupted, quality and food safety can deteriorate quickly. In the case of retailers, they then have a choice between discounting and discarding – the consequence? An economic catastrophe.

As a matter of urgency, therefore, the country needs to find alternative solutions to power generation to not only preserve the food supply chain in South Africa but essentially to curb economic impact beyond control.  The waste management industry is continuously making efforts to find alternative strategies to manage food waste, including technologies to divert it from landfills. Much of the waste produced has some value. Similarly, food waste has the potential to be transformed into alternative resources such as energy through anaerobic digestion, another crucial area for local discussion. Composting, animal feeds and black soldier fly solutions are additional sustainable methods for recovering and renewing food waste.

But in the short term, while we wait for government’s energy solution, there are things that the everyday South African households can consider to preserve their food.

Here’s how!

Consider surge protectors

Get an electrician to install a surge protector on your electric main board, or use anti-surge plug adaptors on individual appliances. These will divert excess energy into the grounding wire built into the protector unit when a surge occurs, which often happens when the power comes back on after loadshedding. This way, you will avoid damage to your fridge (as well as other appliances) – and the cost of replacing it.Invest in a thermometer

According to food safety experts, as long as the power is not out for longer than 4 hours, the fridge door is kept closed, and the interior temperature was no higher than 4°C when loadshedding began, your food should be safe. Keeping a thermometer in your fridge can help you monitor the likelihood of your food going off, and also help ensure that you have your fridge set correctly.Freeze your food

As you go into loadshedding, move leftovers such as milk, chicken, and fish to the freezer which will stay cold longer than the fridge, helping to keep the food fresh.Buy food in smaller quantities

Cook and consume food sooner rather than buying in bulk and having food sit in your fridge for a long period of time.Buy long-life products

Consider buying more long-life goods such as UHT milk and canned goods that have a long shelf life outside the fridge while unopened.Frozen ice packs

Keep frozen ice packs around perishable foods in the fridge to keep them cold for as long as possible.

While following these tips can certainly help, it will not completely eliminate the risk of food going bad. In the event that you have fresh food that has spoiled, consider composting it rather than simply throwing it away.

Fruit and vegetables that you cannot eat will decompose to form nutrient-rich fertiliser for feeding the plants in your garden. In addition to reducing food waste, composting also helps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It helps to mitigate climate change through carbon sequestration and improved soil health, reduced soil loss, increased water infiltration and storage, and reduction in other inputs.

You can even create your own ‘circular economy’ by using compost as fertiliser for an organic vegetable patch which will save you from having to buy as much fresh produce in the first place.

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