Latin America and the Caribbean

Good Practices for Food Loss and Waste Reduction

2021-01-29 15:02:11 sisd 45

Food waste in the world can cause about U$ 750 billion/year of financial losses. According to FAO, 54% of the food waste occurs in the initial phase of production - in post-harvest and storage handling and 46% in processing, distribution and consumption steps. Developing countries suffer more food losses during agricultural production. In Brazil, according to research carried out by Embrapa Agroindústria de Alimentos, the losses in the fruit and vegetable reach 30% and 35%, respectively. Among the main causes are the inadequate handling in the field, non-standard classification, commercialization of bulk products, improper packaging, excessive manipulation by consumers, inadequate vehicles, poor roads and the accumulation of products in retail sales counters. Transportation is possibly the main cause of mechanical damage, whose intensity varies with the distance to be covered. In this scenario, Embrapa Agroindústria de Alimentos has been working for the last 20 years with several initiatives for reducing food losses and waste, through out good practices of manipulation and distribution.

Objective of the practice

The promotion of good practices in the handling and distribution of fruits and vegetables has the ultimate objective of achieving the significant reduction of the losses in the harvesting and post-harvesting of perishable products, as well as the reducing the food waste in industrial kitchens, homes, restaurants, schools and charities. The reducing of food waste generated can increase the supply of fruits and vegetables, reducing the environmental impact and bringing more economic returns from agricultural activity, benefiting all actors in the supply chain, from producers to consumers, through traders, processors and food distributors. There is in Brazil the idea that there is always plenty of food, which leads consumers to neglect the food losses and waste. Added to this the lack of information by farmers on good harvesting practices and the advantages of good quality boxes for packaging of perishable products, the non-implementation of the benefits of the cold chain along the transportaion and distribution, and the lack of handling and form of exposure, disregarding the inherent fragility of perishable products. Specific actions, not articulated, are being developed in research institutes, universities, public agencies acting in citizenship, social development, environment and agriculture to increase the technical quality of employees who work in the wholesale and retaile markets. From these actions, public policies have been and are being developed and implemented. These public policies must be increasingly valued and disseminated, because only the objective of reducing losses and waste can be achieved by adopting specific good practices where each person has his own role defined in the production chain, distribution and consumption. The objectives of those practices are to measure total food losses and waste, as well as to know the main factors that promote them at each step: the field production; distribution and consumption chain. After that it is possible to recommend and implement appropriate technologies and procedures for the conservation of the nutritional and commercial quality of fruits and vegetables, maximizing the benefits expected from production planning. To fulfill this strategic objective, Embrapa Food Technology, has been working with several private and public institutions. Its activities are carried out through research projects, technical charged services, agreements and contracts of technical cooperation, providing knowledge and technologies. Courses, lectures, field days and practical training are held. Texts are developed for the various media, such as: magazines, journalistic materials and technical notes. Finally, technical actions are also carried out in the revision of normative instructions and draft laws.

Key stakeholders and partnerships

A portion of the food insecure population, low-income population, small and medium-size farmers, wholesalers and retailers, charities to support children, the elderly, dependents and disabled people, food banks and consumers in general. Implementers: public research and development agencies, state and municipal secretariats related to social and environmental causes, ministry of social development, non-governmental organizations and social organizations of public interest.
Donors: farmers, retailers and wholesalers

Implementation of the Project/Activity

Research on post-harvest losses of fruits and vegetables at Embrapa Food Technology began in 1992 and addressed the identification and reduction of losses. These researches was possible with the arrival of Prof. Steven Sargent from the University of Florida who stayed in Brazil during a year. The project "Post-harvest Losses - Strategies for its reduction" was elaborated and counted on the participation of numerous Embrapa Units and Universities with expertise in the post-harvest area. In 1994, Prof. Adimilson Bosco Chitarra from the Federal University of Lavras was hired as a consultant to consolidate the post-harvest area of fruits and vegetables of Embrapa Food Technology. At that time was submitted and aproved the project "Evaluation and quantification of post-harvest losses in the fruit and vegetable production chain”. From these projects, Embrapa Food Technology hired and formed its own team of researchers in the area of Post-Harvest of Fruits and Vegetables. Those researchers conducted a series of other projects using technologies such as minimum processing, passive and active modified atmosphere, controlled atmosphere and climatizattion, always aiming at the preservation of quality, the extension of the shelfl life and the reduction of losses. In 2004, the Embrapa Food Technology post-harvest specialists undertook, through an agreement with the Ministry of Social Development of the Federal Government, the diagnosis, training and equipment acquisition according to the specific needs of 13 food banks in several Brazilian cities. After that, it was possible to provide and training them to: dehydration process, preparation of jellies, juices, sweet and minimally processed, according to best practices to ensure the safety of donated foods. Through research projects, edible coatings and specific packaging were elaborated that extended shelf life, reduced the occurrence of post-harvest diseases and maintained the quality of strawberry, papaya, guava, palm tree, mango, persimmon, tomato, corn green, coconut, banana and different vegetables. Through field days, hundreds of small farmers were trained in good harvesting, fruit and vegetable selection and classification and packaging practices, fruit and vegetables at exhibition retail counters, minimally processing, environmental and personal hygiene, postharvest facilities for handling fresh fruits and vegetables and minimally processed.
The III Brazilian Post-Harvest Symposium on Fruits, Flowers and Vegetables was held and the IV National Meeting on Minimal Processing of Fruits and Vegetables was organized in 2011. In this event, 24 lectures were given and 366 scientific papers were presented about recent advances in knowledge post-harvest physiology and technology of whole and minimally processed products and offered technical excursions to participants.
Recently, the technical staff of researchers has participated in committees and government agencies, such as members and in technical audiences in the Federal Senate, in order to subsidize public policies. There was an active participation in the review with suggestions for improvement in laws and normative instructions for the Federal Government, such as: "DRAFT SENATE LAW No. 738, 2015 - which deals with the terms of shelf life for sale and establishes the period of shelf life for safe consumption. "," DRAFT SENATE LAW No. 672, 2015 - which deals with donations by establishments dedicated to the marketing or manipulation of foods, industrialized or not prepared or not, such as industries, supermarkets, small markets, restaurants, kitchens, free fairs and in places with more than 200 square meters of constructed area. "," SENATE LAW No. 675, 2015 - Establishing the National Policy to Combat Food Waste and other measures. "


The estimate of 30 to 40% of the losses of fruits and vegetables in Brazil is based on the data obtained in the projects conducted in the 1990s by Embrapa agroindústria de Alimentos. After this study there was no other systematic study. Therefore, this is the percentage that is considered until today and that coincide with the FAO data for developing countries. However, the studies and charged technical services performed by Embrapa Food Technology between 2004 and 2018 have made to reduce losses in some productive chains from some partners / clients. For example, in a case study involving the marketing of bananas and papayas by a supermarket chain from Rio de Janeiro, it was possible to reduce losses from 10% to 4% by adopting good harvesting and post-harvest practices, the exchange of the place and adjustment of the Distribution Center. Another relevant applied research was the remodeling of Packing-house and acquisition of machinery for selection and classification of persimmon, which provided the reduction of losses from 16% to 6%. In addition, there was an increase in the operational capacity that enabled the increase in the sales from 37,402 to 78,816 boxes of persimmon/year, allowing the farmer to send persimmons to more distant regions. The development of edible coatings for guava, persimmon, strawberry, palm trees, and tomato promoted a reduction of losses to around 10%. This level is the same observed in developed countries. In another relevant project: "DEVELOPMENT OF VALUABLE PACKAGING FOR THE CONDITIONING OF FRUITS AND HORTALIÇAS", performed in partnership with the National Institute of Technology (INT), Institute of Macromolecules - IMA-UFRJ and Embrapa Food Technology, were devloped packgings for persimmon, mango, papaya and palm trees, using in part biodegradable compounds, which reduced the loss levels from 10% to less than 5%.
Regarding public policies, the almost 30 years of expertise in post-harvesting of fruit and vegetable has allowed the recognition of the national legislative power, since several ilized in invitations were made to lectures in public hearings and contributions to at least 3 federal senate bills projects.

Enabling factors and constraints

Embrapa Food Technology have many research & delopment projects financed by various sources (Embrapa, CNPq, CAPES, FAPERJ, BNDES, MDS, etc.). Besides, there are some different activites as: the productive sector's own interest in seeking training, interaction with extension agencies, municipal secretaries of agriculture , associations and cooperatives of producers. All activiteis allowed for the union of efforts to carry out a series of actions of research, development, transfer of technologies and knowledge exchange. Primarily, the focus on basing any and all actions on the reality of productions and traders, allows the adoption of products and processes in a feasible way.

Sustainability and replicability

Embrapa's own website ( can be obtained news, information and technical publications on the subject of losses and waste, as well as the technologies that contribute to its reduction. At this moment, Embrapa is increasingly promoting and encouraging interaction with the productive sector, through research and development projects aimed at market demands. In the specific case of Embrapa Food Technology, there are several information and publications for increasing the competitiveness of domestic farmers / exporters keeping the quality of fruit and vegetables for a longer time and reducing losses..


Gradually, the degree of awareness of the population and those involved in the production chain increases. Embrapa considers itself as one of the agents that fosters this transformation both through the research and technology obtained and made available, as well as through the collection and interpretation of data on losses and waste, obtained with partners, or even through the dissemination of problems and solution proposals in lectures, seminars, meetings and field days. Today, the end result is loss reduction. Therefore, technologies, products and processes are the means to achieve the goal of keeping quality and extend the shelf life of food for as long as possible, thereby reducing quantitative and qualitative losses. And the benefits / impacts occur in the social, financial and environmental economy. The reduction of losses for the farmers and exporters result in gain of competitiveness for the traders and consumers increasing availability of products with quality and durability.