Reducing food waste in European households
Proper food storage in households is important to reduce food waste in Europe. A survey in Germany found that although consumers have a high awareness of food safety, they lack knowledge in handling advanced technological features of household refrigerators.
A recent study by German researchers analysed food waste in households as a complex interaction of consumer behaviour, food characteristics and technological development.
- Food waste related to chilled storage in European households.
The authors reviewed literature on food waste in European households. In 2017, the average household food waste per capita in Europe was 79 kg. Figures vary across European countries depending on the size of the household. For instance, in the UK, large households were found to waste less food than households comprised of 1 or 2 persons, while smaller amounts of food were wasted in smaller households in Germany, Finland or Norway.
Several European studies have reported that fresh fruits and vegetables account for the largest share of food waste (30–50%), followed by prepared foods (15–30%). Although fresh meat and fish account for only 4% of food waste, this figure should not be neglected given their contribution to foodborne diseases. Overall, studies have found that proper food storage conditions and processing in households are crucial for food quality retention and sustainable food management.
- The behavious of European households with regard to conservation in refrigerator.
The International Electrotechnical Commission standard IEC 62552-2:2015 specifies the essential characteristics of household refrigerating appliances. Basic temperature definitions in chilled and frozen storage areas and more specific performance definitions of chilling compartments provide for a storage area with temperatures from −2°C to +3 °C.
The maximum recommended storage temperature is 4°C, namely for food safety reasons. Yet, European consumers' knowledge of the correct storage temperature for refrigerators varies, with 71.6% in Ireland, 44.4% in Greece and 13% in the UK. Studies on consumer behaviour have found that maximum storage temperatures range from 10.0°C and 21.3°C, with averages of 7.0°C for consumers in southern European countries and 6.1 °C in northern European countries.
- Storage performance in European household refrigerators.
Nowadays, storage performance in refrigerators is enhanced by various additional features that either improve storage climate parameters, such as temperature, humidity or gas atmosphere, or storage hygiene, such as odour control, antimicrobial air cleaning or surfaces. It should be noted that freshness and hygiene features are not further specified and regulated by the International Electrotechnical Commission standard. Studies in the UK since 2016 have shown that only 25% of respondents were interested in technologies improving food freshness retention. Furthermore, many of these technologies, such as humidity control, were not well known to consumers.
- German consumers’ behaviour with regard to food storage
Studies have shown that less than 50% of German consumers adjust their refrigerators at recommended temperature settings. German researchers conducted an online survey to identify German consumers’ storage behaviour for highly perishable and chilled stored food categories (e.g. fruits, vegetables, meat and fish), focusing on storage place, storage time, food waste and the main reasons for waste.
The researchers found that consumers are conscious of food safety as they store highly perishable food only for short periods of time. 51% of respondents never waste meat, 62% never waste fish, 22% never waste fruit and 25% never waste vegetables. However, the results also revealed a lack of knowledge about various parameters influencing food safety and quality. For instance, aside from temperature, humidity control is crucial for the preservation of fruit and vegetables. Maintain a high relative humidity of about 85–95% after harvest reduces desiccation and thus texture loss. However, only 26% of respondents were interested in humidity-controlled compartments.
Since improving the storage performance of domestic refrigerators requires consumers to know the correct way to handle them, the researchers suggest that active guidance would ensure that the features are used properly. They further suggest that manufacturers could implement measures such as pre-set features or colour guides. One key element in the future may be smart appliances, providing consumers with information on the refrigerator content and related information such as shelf life data.
Wucher, H.; Klingshirn, A.; Brugger, L.; Stamminger, R.; Geppert, J.; Kölzer, B.; Engstler, A.; Härlen, J. Tackling Food Waste: Impact of German Consumer Behaviour on Food in Chilled Storage. Foods 2020, 9, 1462. https://doi.org/10.3390/foods9101462