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Guest Columns

Perspective:
Packaging Sustainability

Packaging, digitization can fight waste

Jorge Izquierdo

Jorge Izquierdo is vice president, market development, for PMMI, the Association for Packaging and Processing Technologies. He is a guest columnist for this week’s issue of Cheese Market News®.

Reducing food waste can cut greenhouse gas emissions, feed the hungry and save billions of dollars. In 2015, the United States set a goal to cut food loss and waste by 50% by 2030. A report from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), “From Farm to Kitchen: The Environmental Impacts of U.S. Food Waste, Part 1,” estimates about 35% of the food produced in the United States is wasted at a cost of $408 billion annually. A 50% reduction in food loss and waste would cut greenhouse gas emissions by 24% between 2020 and 2100 and could help feed more than 150 million people annually, including all food-insecure Americans (an estimated 35 million).

Food waste occurs at every level of the supply chain from farm to kitchen, and the impact increases as food moves toward the consumption stage. Homes account for 37% of food waste, more than any other part of the supply chain, according to Roadmap to 2030, a report published by ReFED, a national nonprofit dedicated to ending food loss and waste. Consumer-facing businesses (i.e., retailers, restaurants and foodservice operations) rank second at 28%, followed by farms at 21% and manufacturing at 14%. What can food producers do to help combat these numbers?

• The role of dairy packaging

Although some cheese products are shelf-stable, most require refrigeration and have a shelf life that ranges from a few weeks to a few months if unopened. Minimizing product waste depends on quick delivery for processing or sale, consistent refrigeration and optimizing pack sizes so the product is consumed before it must be thrown away. Smaller package sizes minimize waste while addressing retailer demand for a case-ready product. They also meet the growing consumer desire for single-serve portions as cheese gains popularity as a nutritious snack option.

Freshness-protecting cheese packaging relies on high-performance barrier films that ensure seal integrity throughout the product’s shelf life. For multi-serving products, once the package has been opened, zippers, peel/reseal features or friction-fit lids provide reclosability and help maintain product quality.

Other packaging design improvements support food waste reduction efforts, according to ReFED’s report.

Beyond adopting smaller sizes and resealable packaging, other options include creating designs that are compatible with both foodservice and retail supply chains and improving instructions for use. Date labeling should be standardized and extend dates as far out as possible to prevent premature disposal of the product.

Education is needed so consumers understand a cheese product still may be edible even if it no longer looks perfect.

Consumers also should be aware that the shelf life for some cheeses, especially harder cheeses, can be extended by freezing. Cheese may be frozen in its original (unopened) packaging, should be thawed slowly and used quickly post-thawing. Cheese that has been frozen is unlikely to slice well and may exhibit some changes in texture but works well in recipes where it will be melted.

• Digitalization for greater transparency

Producers should devote attention to avoiding over-production, expediting time to market and monitoring the remaining shelf life of products on retail shelves. They can also take steps to quickly sell or donate any product approaching the end of its shelf life. Greater digitalization of the supply chain can support these tactics, according to researchers at Lund University in Lund, Sweden. It also opens doors to closer communication with consumers by providing real-time data about when and where the product was produced and can potentially offer a history of some of the ingredients.

• Finding solutions

It is more important than ever that the packaging and processing industries come together to share insights and innovations. Pack Expo International, set for Oct. 23-26 at McCormick Place in Chicago, is the most comprehensive packaging and processing show in the world in 2022. From connecting with colleagues and hearing from experts, to seeing new technologies, materials and machinery in action, Pack Expo is the most efficient and effective way to discover packaging and processing solutions for more than 40 vertical markets.

For more information, visit packexpointernational.com.

CMN

The views expressed by CMN’s guest columnists are their own opinions and do not necessarily reflect those of Cheese Market News®.

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