• Manufacturing, Waste

Packaging protects food and prevents waste – that’s why it’s an essential part of the food value chain

Food must be protected all the way from farm to factory and from supermarket shelves to consumer kitchens. This is to ensure that the food remains safe to eat and that none of it spoils and goes to waste. For Sami Pauni, EVP Corporate Affairs and Legal at Huhtamaki, protecting food becomes increasingly important when a crisis hits and prices increase.

Urbanization and the growth of the middle class are global megatrends, resulting in more and more people living farther away from where food is produced. Food must be transported across long distances, processed and stored before it ends up on a consumer’s plate.

“These changes are challenging our entire food system. Food must be protected across the value chain to guarantee food safety and prevent spoilage and waste,” says Sami Pauni, EVP Corporate Affairs and Legal at Huhtamaki.

“Food safety and security of food supply are global issues. So is food waste. Every year, 600 million people fall ill after eating contaminated food. In 2020, up to 811 million people suffered from hunger. At the same time, around a third of all food produced ends up as waste. We can cut these numbers with food packaging.”

Russia’s attack on Ukraine has increased awareness of how crises like war can impact the prices and availability of fuels, fertilizers, raw materials and agricultural products. Disturbances in logistics chains increase prices because transportation costs grow.

“The value of food and drink is increasing, and protecting these resources is becoming ever more important.”

Packaging prevents food waste

Packaging protects food at every step of the production chain, therefore preventing food waste.

“Food can be damaged by bruising, dirt, temperature, smell or light, for example. Packaging keeps food safe and in good shape all the way to the consumer’s home,” Pauni says.

“Packaging also helps consumers to find portions of the right size at the supermarket. Restaurants, on the other hand, can sell takeout in right-sized containers. The right size means no leftovers go to waste.”

Emissions from packaging are only a small part of food’s climate footprint

Food waste accounts for ten percent of global carbon emissions. “We need to cut all possible emissions heating up our climate – and most food waste can be prevented. Climate change is another threat to our food system.”

According to Pauni, packaging is surprisingly good at protecting food from spoilage.

“The shelf life of a food product can be multiplied with good packaging. This is especially important when the food item has a high carbon footprint. Only around five percent of the carbon emissions of packaged food are attributable to packaging. Around 80 percent of the emissions come from production. There’s no sense in wasting food that’s already been produced.”

For example, the carbon footprint of one kilogram of chicken or pork ranges from five to ten kilograms carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e), while for beef it can be 20 to 30 kilograms CO2e.

“Ham packaged for self-service keeps well three days longer than ham wrapped in packaging at the in-store service counter. The vacuum skin in beef packaging can double the preservability of the meat from one week to two weeks, as opposed to meat packaged at the service counter. Therefore, we should opt for functional, sustainable packaging that uses as little raw materials and energy as possible.”

Cost savings through packaging

Reducing food waste and loss is also smart because it saves costs. When it comes to food, many consumers are primarily interested in the price.

“The share of packaging in the retail price of food is very small. However, we can save costs in the whole supply chain by eliminating waste throughout the food system. These savings will eventually benefit the consumer. On the other hand, good packaging in food production and manufacturing helps to transport food efficiently. Packaging must endure stacking and take as little space as possible.”

The biggest share of food waste comes from households. In other words, consumers throw away both food and money. From Pauni’s perspective, packaging can help here, too.

“Through packaging, manufacturers can tell consumers how the food should be stored and how it can be prepared. With this information, consumers can make better choices.”

This article is part of a series where different stakeholders discuss the challenges we are facing now and in the future regarding food availability, safety and distribution chains. The articles are published following of our virtual roundtable.

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