19th May 2022

Food Wastage – Why it is an Obstacle to Food Security

SUSTAINABILITY  By Guest Contributor

According to the National Environment Agency (NEA), the total amount of food waste generated in Singapore in 2020 amounted to a whopping 665,000 tonnes!


What is Food Waste and Where Does it Come From?

Food waste refers to the discarding of food that is appropriate for human consumption. While most of the food waste in Singapore originate from commercial companies, a study by the Singapore Environment Council (SEC) revealed that 26,000 tonnes of food is thrown away from households annually. This is equivalent to 68.4 million plates of Nasi Lemak wasted every year!

Food wastage that stems from the household level is mainly due to the confusion of “Best before” and “Use by” dates on the packaging. According to the Singapore Food Agency (SFA), ‘‘Best before’ dates are for food with a longer shelf life and show how long the food will be at its best quality, while ”Use by” dates are used for highly perishable food which should not be consumed beyond the stated date. “Best before” and “Use by” dates are not interchangeable. Aside from the confusion of labels, the top 3 reasons why food is also discarded at the household level are: the overpreparation of food, buying too much, and forgetting about food that is at the back of the refrigerator.

At the commercial level, apart from improper handling which results in spoilage, food wastage that comes from supermarkets is also often due to the practice of cosmetic filtering which discards edible produce that are blemished. Another cause of food wastage from supermarkets and F&B establishments is difficult food inventory management where sufficient supply needs to be maintained to cater to unpredictable demand. F&B establishments, especially buffet restaurants, often generate a high amount of food waste every day. In order for buffet restaurants to maintain the freshness of the food in the buffet lines and ensure that there is enough food for their diners, buffet restaurants often replace dishes way before they are empty.

In 2019, the Ministry of Sustainability and the Environment (MSE) announced the “30 by 30” goal which aims to enhance the resilience of Singapore’s food supply. Apart from increasing local food production, reducing food wastage is also crucial as it can effectively increase the availability of food, thereby decreasing our reliance on imports.


Why Does Food Wastage Get in Our Way of Food Security?

Food wastage at a personal level leads to large-scale wastage at a commercial level as it encourages companies like supermarkets and F&B establishments to order more than what’s needed, which in turn generates large amounts of unnecessary food waste every day.

Ultimately, food wastage reduces the amount of food that’s available for actual consumption, thereby affecting our food security.


How Can We Reduce Food Wastage?

Everyone has a part to play in reducing food wastage to increase our food security. This can be done by buying local produce which have a longer shelf life, finding creative ways to utilise ingredients and leftovers, storing food properly, composting food, donating unused food to charities, and buying ugly food which would otherwise be discarded.

1. Buying Local Produce

Purchasing local produce is optimal for reducing food wastage because without the need to transport food over long distances, locally-farmed produce are fresher, retain more nutrients and stay fresh longer, thus reducing food wastage through spoilage. Besides having a longer shelf life, local produce also generate less transport-related carbon footprint.

So, look out for the iconic red ‘SG Fresh Produce’ logo when shopping for local produce in supermarkets and online at e-SG Farmers’ Market on RedMart. Let’s help to reduce food wastage and contribute towards Singapore’s food security by choosing local produce.

2. Using Our Creative Juices

Expanding our knowledge by experimenting with an ingredient can enable us to use the same ingredient in more than one way. Aside from finding creative ways to use an ingredient, we can also use our leftovers to come up with innovative recipes to not just reduce food wastage but also to address fussy eating.

For example, an ingredient such as Barramundi (Asian Sea Bass), one of the fish reared locally in our fish farms, is a source of lean protein which can be prepared in many different ways. It can be baked, pan-seared, steamed, cooked in a claypot, used in soups and even as pasta fillings!  And while everyone knows that leftover rice is commonly used to make fried rice, we can change up our fried rice by adding other leftover ingredients in our fridge to this very versatile dish.

For more ideas on creative ways to use local produce, please check out the “Recipe” section in SAFEF’s Blog.

3. Proper Food Storage

Practising proper food storage can help to reduce food waste. Here are 4 easy ways to waste less and save more:

Firstly, households should adopt the “First Expire First Out” (FEFO) principle by using older food items in the refrigerator first before they expire. In doing so, households can avoid having to discard food that have gone bad.

Secondly, fruits and vegetables should be stored in the crisper drawer in the fridge to prolong their freshness.

Thirdly, raw meat, poultry and seafood, if not stored in the freezer, should be placed on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator so as to prevent spillage and contamination of ready-to-eat and leftover food items which should be stored on the upper shelves.

Lastly, leftovers should be cooled down before being stored in the fridge to avoid sudden changes in temperature which can increase the rate of bacteria growth in the food and lead to food spoilage.

4. Food Composting

Composting food scraps and adding them into the soil as soil additives can turn waste into a resource. Instead of throwing away items like leafy vegetable scraps, households can give such scraps a new lease of life through composting, which is beneficial for plants as the addition of compost into soils can help to improve drainage, increase the organic matter in the soil and help plants to grow better.

5. Donating Unused Food to Charities and Buying Ugly Food

By donating surplus food to charities like the Food Bank Singapore (FBSG), food that is beyond our consumption capacity can be put to better use instead of simply being discarded. FBSG is a local charity that collects food donated by individuals, small businesses and large global companies, and redistributes them to 360 member beneficiaries. This not only reduces food wastage, but also makes more food available to those who need it.

Other than local charities, we can also support organisations such as Ugly Food which sells “ugly” produce that are just blemished but not spoilt. By buying blemished foods, we can reduce the food wastage generated by retailers that practice cosmetic filtering of edible food.


Reduce Food Wastage to Increase Our Food Security

Food wastage is an obstacle to food security. A key step to increasing food security is reducing food wastage.

So, let’s take the first step towards reducing food wastage by buying local produce, as local produce have a longer shelf life which reduces food wastage through spoilage.

To buy local produce, simply shop at SAFEF’s e-SG Farmers’ Market – the one-stop shop for local produce from our own farms: bit.ly/e-sgfm


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Article contributed by Ginn Tan and edited by SAFEF.