My name is Leah White, and I work for Second Harvest as their operations lead for Newfoundland and Labrador.
Second Harvest is Canada’s largest food rescue charity, and we work across the supply chain to capture surplus food before it ends up in landfill. In Canada, we waste 58% of all food produce annually. Of that food loss, 32% is perfectly good, perfectly edible food that anyone would be happy to purchase in store. To put this into perspective, that rescuable food could feed all Canadians for about five months.
Not only is this food waste absolutely heartbreaking when 1 in 7 people are facing food insecurity to some degree in Canada, but it is also detrimental to our environment.
If we compare food waste to countries as greenhouse gas emitters, it would be third only to the United States and China. In Canada, avoidable food waste generates over 34 million pounds of greenhouse gases yearly.
Our mission at Second Harvest is No Waste; No Hunger. We are working to tackle our mission through outreach, education, and our Second Harvest Food Rescue App (which I will talk about in my next blog).
Education is a huge piece of addressing the food waste puzzle.
Pre-Covid, our team in Ontario would host training seminars in person on various topics. Now, we can host people across Canada in a virtual setting. We have trainings available on our website and plenty of content on YouTube. Our most popular training (and my favourite one) is called Demystifying Food Date Labels in Canada.
I encourage anyone who can attend one of these events to do so, but I am going to touch on a couple key components in this blog today.
To start off, there is a lot of confusion surrounding best before vs. expiration dates. There are only FIVE products that need to be labeled with an actual expiration. They are:
- Baby formula and other human milk substitutes
- Nutritional supplements
- Meal replacements
- Pharmacist-sold foods for low-energy diets
- Formulated liquid diets
The information above comes from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and is readily available on the Government of Canada’s website. So the question remains: why are we so afraid of best before dates? Best before only anticipates when the product will be at its peak freshness. Once a product is opened, this date has virtually no meaning, and we must rely on our senses (like we have done since the beginning of time).
Have you ever had cashew milk go bad on you? Well, I have, and the smell is shockingly rancid. The date on the carton was months out but because it was opened in my fridge, that date was null.
To give another example of understanding best before dates, I had a food rescue here in NL for eggs where the best before dates on the cartons were fast approaching. The producer confirmed with us that eggs are safe to consume up to TWO WEEKS after the best before on the carton. We have a wonderful Food Consumption Timetable that has great info on stuff like this (with information from the CFIA and Toronto Public Health) that you can find here: SH Best Before Timetable Consumer.pdf.
We waste so much food because we assume it is not fit for consumption because of an arbitrary date and a whole lot of fear mongering. So much of what we waste is perfectly edible. On a household level, we waste 5.14 million metric tonnes of food yearly in Canada. Although that number is difficult to wrap one’s head around, needless to say… it is a lot. To give you a better idea of what this means on a household level, on average we throw away $1,766 worth of avoidable food annually.
This post is not meant to shame anyone. We are all trying to do our part to protect our planet and not waste food. No one is perfect.
To quote Anne-Marie Bonneau (the Zero Waste Chef), “We don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly, we need millions of people doing it imperfectly.” By sharing some information on best practices for saving food, we are all actively helping the planet and our wallets too.
For more information on our online training, visit www.training.secondharvest.ca! It’s completely free to sign up to learn more. If you have questions about any of the content in this post or to get information on sources, please feel free to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org
BIG thank you to Food Producers Forum for including me on your amazing platform! There is a wealth of knowledge to be found here, and I’m honoured to be a small part of what these folks are doing.