• Friday, July 19, 2013

    Land of Plenty and Plenty is Wasted.

    Janeal Stephens Yancey age 5
    Me at Vallie's age. Living in bliss.
    We live in a country of plenty. I was blessed to have been born into a family that never worried about hunger or where our next meal was coming from. As a kid, I’m sure I crossed paths with kids who didn’t know if there was going to be supper for them that night, but I was oblivious to their problems. I wish all children could live in the bliss of a childhood I had, but unfortunately, that is not the case.

    In the US, 1 in 5 children are food insecure, meaning that they lack access to enough food to maintain a healthy lifestyle. I look at my daughter and it breaks my heart to think about the parents in my neighborhood who don’t have the means to provide enough food for their children.

    Globally, the numbers are even grimmer. Hunger is the #1 risk of health in the world. More people die from hunger than AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis, combined. Every 7 seconds, somewhere in the world, a child dies from malnutrition. I could go on and on about hunger, but that is not the topic of this post.

    By the year 2050, it is estimated that the global population will rise to somewhere between 9 and 10 billion people. As people live longer and more enriched lives, more people will enter the middle class and will demand more food. It is estimated that the world will need to produce 100% more food than we do today to feed those people. We are already using most of the land and resources that we have for food production, so most of that increase in food production (about 70%) will have to come from finding ways to produce food more efficiently.

    Food may become a scarcity.

    It is estimated that one third of the food produced today in the world is wasted. That is about 1.3 billion tons of edible food wasted or lost every year.

    Last summer I attended a conference and a whole session was devoted to food waste. Three speakers from the meat industry presented some really eye-opening facts about food waste and what can be done about it. They included Dr. Brian Smith from Hawkins, Inc., Dr. Brad Morgan from Pfizer Animal Heath (now Zoetis), and Dr. Benjy Mikel from Mississippi State University. I wanted to share some of their information in a post.

    In developing countries, edible food is lost mostly during the early and middle stages of food production, largely due to corruption and lack of infrastructure. The challenges in those countries are in getting the food to hungry people in a wholesome manner. Consumers in the developing world waste very little of the food that reaches them.

    In developed countries (USA, western Europe), food is largely wasted at the consumption stage. Tons and tons of food in these countries is discarded even if it is still wholesome and edible.

    Cooper siblings
    My grandmother (in pink) with some of
    her brothers and sister. Part of the
    Greatest Generation, they did not waste food.
    In the USA, food waste has increased 50% since 1974. That doesn’t surprise me when I think about my parents’ and grandparents’ attitudes about food waste compared to those of my generation. My grandmother was the youngest of 14 children and was born in the first year of the Great Depression. Do you think she wasted food? No way.

    A few more facts about American food waste:

    ·         People in the USA waste approximately 1,400 kcal/person/day

    ·         3,000 lbs of food is wasted every second in America, enough to feed 650 Americans

    ·         50% of leafy vegetables are wasted

    ·         33% of bread is wasted

    ·         12% of meat is wasted

    ·         22% of vegetables are wasted


    The US could save roughly 2% of its total energy consumption in one year if we stopped wasting food. That’s roughly equivalent to 300 million barrels of oil.

    Spending on food
    In developed countries, we waste food because we can afford to. In my grandparent’s time, they didn’t throw out food because it wasn’t as cheap and accessible as it is today. In the US, only about 6.9% of our disposable income goes toward food. In China, they spend 32.9% of their disposable incomes on food, in Brazil, 24.7%. Some countries are spending over 40% of their disposable income on food.

    If we were spending 6 or 7 times as much on our food, we would probably be much less likely to waste it, but increasing the cost of food in this country is not the answer. When you look at individual food stuffs, you see that cheap foods, such as cereals, have much higher total waste and much more waste at the consumer level than more expensive foods like oilseeds and meat. You wouldn’t just forget about those $30 steaks you bought and let them go bad in the fridge, but a $3 box of cereal is more easily forgotten. Of course, shelf life plays a big role in food waste, too. Dairy products are overwhelmingly wasted at the consumer level. I can’t count the times I’ve poured 1/3 to ½ of my gallon of milk down the drain because it spoiled before we drank it.

    Not only do we lose resources that were used to produce food that was eventually wasted, wasted food creates another problem in that all once-food, now garbage must be transported and disposed of somewhere. Food waste in landfills contributes to methane production and greenhouse gas emissions. According to a story by NPR, food accounts for 20% of the waste created in New York City. It costs $100 million per year to haul it away.

    What can be done?

    Dr. Mikel told us that the world produces enough food to feed everyone, even the 9 or 10 billion people that will be here in 2050. We can work through programs like Heifer International and USAID to help people in the developing countries to have access to enough wholesome food.

    AND, there are lots of ways to change our habits in this country and be conscious about how much food we are wasting.

    ·         Controlling portions and minimizing food waste at home is the first step.

    ·         Make a shopping list based on what you ate since you went to the store last.

    ·         Know how much you can eat at restaurants and don’t be afraid to share a meal. In the US, we tend to control our intake and overeating by leaving food on the plate.

    ·         Make it a habit for small kids to share a meal, either with you or each other. (This has been a new challenge for Vallie. She is very opinionated about her meals.)

    ·         Understand use-by and expiration dates. Most of the time these dates are just about food quality and not food safety, meaning that the food may lose a little taste, but it is still safe to eat. (For meat and dairy items, I would still stick close to the freeze-by dates.)

    ·         Do some research on proper handling and storage times for perishable foods. The internet is full of good advice.

    What is being done on a corporate level?

    ARAMARK – a company that supplies meals to students in dining halls has eliminated trays from its dining halls on several campuses. Remember that students pay to eat at dining halls by the meal, not by the food item, so there is not a financial incentive to limit the food they pick up. When they were not provided trays, students picked up less food. They were probably still free to go back for seconds. Sounds like a small change, but at the University of Alabama, they saved 6,000 pounds of solid waste per week by eliminating trays. ARAMARK has implemented the program at 300 universities and saved over 15 million pounds of food waste. They also saved water and energy by not washing all those trays.

    TESCO – a grocery store chain in the UK has taken several steps to help reduce food waste. They changed the buy-one-get-one-free coupons to a buy-one-get-one-free next time coupon. Same savings for the consumer, less likelihood of food being wasted. They have also implemented a ‘fresh indicator’ label on some of its food products to help consumers know when the food is ok to consume. This label is based on time, temperature, when the food was opened, and several factors and lets the consumer know whether the food is fresh or not based on a traffic light label of green, yellow, or red.

    Some countries are taking an active role in helping to reduce food waste.

    ·         South Australia has included food waste as a big part of their Zero Waste SA program.

    ·         The United Kingdom has website to help consumers control food waste called lovefoodhatewaste.com as part of their Waste & Resources Action Program (WRAP)

    ·         South Korea is the world leader in lowering food waste. They accomplished this by taxing people for food waste. Consumers are required to pay a fee for food waste. This measure has reduced food waste by 20% and saved $4.3 billion in US dollars.


    When we think about food waste on a global scale and we see figures like 1.3 billion pounds of food wasted, it seems overwhelming.

    When I open my fridge and see forgotten leftovers, a wilted bag of salad, and expired milk, I feel like a failure.

    I am trying to approach food waste like I do any bad habit. Little by little, I try to get better.  Some days, I will falter, but tomorrow, I will try to be better. Just being conscious of the issue will be a big help.

    What are some other steps we could take to waste less food?


    I have a few more great links and figures:

    My friend, Dr. Jude Capper, of Bovidiva wrote a great post just yesterday on this same topic. Her insight is great.

    The Food Network did a great special on Food Waste called The Big Waste. It is definitely worth watching!

    Jonathon Bloom wrote a book called American Wasteland. His website is full of great links.

    I thought several of the figures from Dr. Mikel’s talk about where food is wasted were very informative, so I’ve included them below:

    Food waste by countryFood waste by country and point of loss
    Fish and seafood waste by country
    Dairy waste by country

    Tuesday, July 9, 2013

    What Temple Grandin wants the world to know: How clean is the slaughter plant?

    One of the keynote speakers at a meeting I attended last month was Dr. Temple Grandin, world renowned animal welfare expert. If you haven’t heard, Dr. Grandin's story (frankly I don’t know where you’ve been hiding). She uses her unique perspective as a person with autism to help the livestock industry better understand animal welfare. Her life story has been made into an HBO movie.

    Dr. Temple Grandin's bookDr. Grandin spoke for over an hour and gave us lots of advice, one piece of which was to tell more of our story in the meat industry. She said that consumers want to know basically two things about their meat:

    1. How did you kill it?

    2. Is it clean?

    I think Dr. Grandin does a great job of addressing question 1 in the beef and pork slaughter videos she made with the American Meat Institute. I will warn you that these videos are graphic, but they are definitely worth watching if you have questions about animal welfare in slaughter plants.

    Dr. Grandin encouraged us to share what we know as meat scientists about the answer to question 2. I really felt like she was talking directly to me.

    The week before my meeting, I was part of a research team that collected some samples in a beef slaughter plant in Arkansas City, Kansas. (Since I posted this, the plant I visited, Creekstone Farms was featured in a story by the New York Times. Check it out and be sure to look for the pictures from inside the plant.)  As I was watching the process, I found myself in awe of the amazing number of steps that were taken on each and every animal to keep the meat clean. I have spent time in countless slaughter plants, and I have seen these steps in action. When I eat meat and when I feed it to my family, I know that the meat is safe and wholesome because I’ve seen what is done. I’ve learned about it in class. I’ve visited with the researchers who validated the steps. But, to stand and watch it all in action is awe-inspiring.

    One of the most amazing facts about these slaughter facilities is how fast they operate. Some may operate as fast as 300 to 400 cattle per hour. The plant I worked in last month operated at about half that speed, but even at the slower speed, that means a new beef carcass rolls past every 24 seconds. If you watch Dr. Grandin’s videos, you can get an idea of how fast the carcasses move through the plant. Another great video to watch is from the Oprah Winfrey show. Reporter, Lisa Ling, toured a beef slaughter plant in Colorado. You can see several of the steps to transform a steer into a beef carcass and eventually, ground beef.

    So, these animals are moving through the plant at pretty fast rates, and they roll on a sort of disassembly line past dozens of workers. Each of these workers has a specific job to do. The first few steps in the process have to do with humanely stunning and bleeding the animal and hanging up its carcass on the rail.

    Then the disassembly begins.

    Skinning a carcass
    Skinning a carcass
    (It is hard to get permission to take
    photos in a slaughter plant. These pics
    are courtesy of my friends at Texas Tech
    from a plant in Latin America. The process
    is pretty much the same as the US.)
    Removing the skin. The hide (skin) must be removed. Some plants will wash the animal’s hide to help lower the dirt and bacteria on it, but all plants have to treat the outside of skin as dirty and the meat as clean. Dirty and clean are not allowed to touch. Most of the employees involved in this process will make a few quick cuts with their knives to remove part of the skin from the carcass as it goes by, and then the carcass rolls on to the next employee. When they are cutting the skin, their knives may get dirty. After they make their cuts on each carcass, the employees will wash their gloves and dip their knives into a sterilizer bath containing 180°F water before the next carcass comes to them. That way each carcass is processed using a clean knife.

    I would say that the workers spend as much time cleaning themselves and their equipment as they do actually cutting on the carcasses.

    Removing the internal organs - Eviscerating
    Removing the internal organs.
    He is not on a moving conveyor,
    but you can see how clean his
    boots and aprons need to be.
    Removing the internal organs. In the videos, you may have seen the workers removing the stomachs and internal organs from the carcasses. These workers are some of the most highly skilled in the plant. This is a very important job because the contents of the stomach and the intestines can be just as dirty as the outside of the hide, and one slip of the knife can result in the contents of the stomach or intestines spilling on the carcass. If that happens, all the meat with gut contents on it must be trimmed away and sent to inedible products. Because this job takes more time and skill, there are several workers doing the same job at once. They actually stand on a big conveyor belt and travel down the line with the carcasses. You may have noticed that the guts and organs are in very close contact with the workers boots and aprons. Once they are finished with a carcass, they will walk back up the line to their next carcass and in the plant I recently observed, they walked through a foot bath with 180°F water and wash their aprons, gloves and knives. So they are essentially sanitizing themselves every few seconds all day long.

    All the little details. You may have noticed in the videos that large pieces of equipment are used to remove the feet and huge saws that split the carcasses. Those are also sterilized in 180°F water between carcasses. The tail is often wrapped in a plastic bag to keep it from touching the meat. The large machine that removes the hide is constantly being washed with 180°F water. Places on the carcass where the initial cuts were made are the most susceptible to contamination, so the plants have a steam vacuum machine to sterilize those areas and vacuum any possible contaminants away.

    Final carcass prep. The last step in the slaughter process is a final cleaning of the entire carcass. It is actually passed through a steam tunnel or a wash cabinet to kill bacteria that may have found their way onto the carcass. Some plants spray the carcasses with an organic acid rinse to kill bacteria on the surface. Then, the carcass is moved to a very cold room (called the hot box because the carcasses are hot when they go in there) with high air velocity to chill it as fast as possible. It is actually below freezing temperature in the hot box because meat freezes at 28°F. The cold temperatures control the growth of bacteria.

    Meatingplace.com has a great spotlight of Greater Omaha Packing and the steps they take to ensure the meat is as clean as possible.

    Cleaning the slaughter floor. Large slaughter plants may operate as many as 16 to 18 hours per day (two 8-hour shifts). At the end of the work day, the slaughter floor is usually a pretty dirty place. That’s when the clean-up crew comes in. Each and every night, a third shift of workers will come to the plant and clean the entire place from top to bottom. Every piece of equipment, every surface, every knife, even the floors and the walls are cleaned with soap and 180°F water and sanitized. Every day. Before operations begin the next day, quality control workers will inspect and swab areas of the kill floor to ensure that the cleaning was thorough. USDA inspectors also evaluate the cleanliness of the facility prior to start up. Similar procedures are used to clean the rooms in the plant where the carcasses are cut up, too.

    If you ever have the chance to visit a slaughter facility, beef, pork, or lamb, take a few minutes to notice all the steps and procedures that workers use to help to ensure that the meat is processed as safely and cleanly as possible. It is really awe-inspiring. I learn something new every time I visit a facility.
    I’m sure this post has generated lots of questions, please feel free to ask. If I don’t know the answer, I’ll find someone that does.