Use it, don’t lose it: how we’re tackling the food waste problem

ARTICLE

Use it, don’t lose it: how we’re tackling the food waste problem

Timed with the 2018 edition of Gulfood, Sethu Menon, Senior Vice President Operations at Dubai World Trade Centre examines the global food waste problem and explores how the entire chain needs to work together to find solutions to the growing crisis.

Today hundreds of millions of farmers feed 6.7 billion people – a number expected to rise to 9.7 billion by 2050. All the while land scarcity, the effects of climate change and other pressures on resources mean that we must urgently re-assess how food is grown, distributed and consumed.

We must also address the fact that each year one-third of all food that is produced globally – equivalent to 1.3 billion tonnes with a value of $990bn – goes to waste.
Farmers can see loss due to poor handling of products, lack of sufficient storage, pests, drought or any number of other environmental and economic factors. In distribution, underpowered or underdeveloped transport infrastructure and logistics offerings can speed food spoilage. And when the journey from farm to fork reaches its culmination, individuals are responsible for a huge amount of wastage, whether throwing leftovers or leaving food to languish and expire uneaten in the fridge.
We know we can do better, and at every link of the global food supply chain, efforts are being made towards greater efficiency. One of the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals aims to halve per capita global food waste at the retail and consumer levels by 2030, and reduce food losses along production and supply chains. If achieved, this will bring huge economic benefits: currently, food loss and waste amounts to roughly $680bn and $310bn in economically developed and developing countries respectively, while the annual global cost of discarding food waste is approximately $410bn.

How Dubai is tackling the problem

In the UAE and in Dubai in particular, there is a growing consciousness of the issue. The value of wasted food in the UAE amounts to around AED13bn ($3.5bn) each year, while the cost of discarding food in Dubai alone totals AED282m. As a consequence, we are now witnessing innovative and impactful efforts to address the problem.
In January last year His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, launched the UAE Food Bank, with the ambition of making Dubai the first city in the region to achieve #ZeroFoodWaste.
Over the last year approximately 97,000 people have received 604 tonnes of food collected by the Food Bank, with beneficiaries including workers and families in need across the country.
If the food it receives is unfit for human consumption, then the Food Bank is looking to use it for energy or fertiliser – something that is already happening at some of the emirate’s top hotels. Gardeners at the splendid Mina A’Salam hotel in Madinat Jumeirah, for example, use compost from food waste to fertilise the hotel grounds.

How DWTC is helping

At Dubai World Trade Centre (DWTC) we know that although we’re just one small part of one small link in the global food supply chain, it’s still our responsibility to do everything we can to ensure that the chain becomes more efficient. For more than a decade we have been actively involved with local charities to ensure that any post-event food that is in a suitable condition for consumption goes to those who need it. And since its launch we have been working closely with the UAE Food Bank to further optimise this process.
Our chilled or dry post-event food is collected via truck and taken to the Food Bank’s centralised storage facility in nearby Al Quoz. Hot food items, meanwhile, which account for the bulk of the excess, are stored in warmers that are maintained above 60°c. They are picked up by the Food Bank or by affiliated charity organisations such as Emirates Red Crescent, at which point our kitchen and service teams will assist in repacking the items into food containers, and then loading them onto the trucks. These items are delivered directly to the poor and needy, and are served immediately.
Last year in 2017, approximately 3 per cent of our total production of food – 27,000 covers out of a total of 893,000 covers – went to the Food Bank, weighing more than 8 tonnes.

Thinking smart, saving more

There are other ways we can make a positive impact on the chain. We always try to buy our products from local vendors, supporting the local economy as well as ensuring that all the products are certified to Dubai Municipality’s high standards. This means we ensure that the food received is the right temperature and quality and to food safety and hygiene standards, and that we very rarely reject food once it is delivered on-site. This ensures that wastage is minimised, as every member of the team knows what he or she needs to use up.
Once the food is inside our kitchens, one of the most important people on our teams is the butcher. If the butcher can get a cut of meat right to the bone, they can maximise on yield, and save on cost.
Our chefs play a vital role in preventing spoilage and expiries. We make sure that they are trained to avoid overstoring, that they practice ‘first-in first-out’ turnover, that there is continuous rotation, and that they can see into every corner of their freezers and chillers. The fact that they are not cooking for a franchise or a chain means they have the flexibility and freedom to tweak menus to cut down on wastage.

So, how well are we doing?

We apply these controls across our three sectors: events, restaurants, and weddings. Waste from events today sits at around 10 per cent, with ordering tightly controlled. The team will look at data from the last year’s edition, as well as consumption analysis data, and use this information to plan the menu accordingly.
Restaurant waste currently stands at between 3 and 5 per cent, which is a result of very tight controls. If you go to one of our restaurants or cafés you can guarantee that each item on the menu will be there for a reason – the demographics of a particular show, the season, and other variables all come into play. And at the end of the day at 4pm, pre-prepared fresh food goes on a ‘Happy Hour’, where it is discounted. The objective is that by 6pm, at actual close, there shouldn’t be any food left.
We cater for more than 200 weddings a year and we have found that customers and guests are ever more supportive of our vision of preventing wastage, and usually insist that any excess be given to charity.
Individuals as well as organisations are changing their attitudes to food wastage. It’s a culture shift that we must all play a part in, a journey towards greater responsibility and accountability. At DWTC we’re already on that path, and are excited about continuing to make our link in the chain as efficient as it can be.

Topics

  • Sustainability
  • CSR