Food Loss & Food Waste

Seasonality in Portugal as a strategy to fight food loss and food waste

How innovation in microbial research can combat food waste

Food waste is one of the major economic, social and environmental sustainability problems of our time, as between 33%-50% of all food produced globally is thrown out each year. The issue has attracted special attention in recent years, due to its substantial contribution to global warming, as rotting food produces large amounts of the powerful greenhouse gas, methane. To combat this issue, governments, businesses, and consumers need to work together to raise awareness and reduce the millions of tons of food wasted each year.

Food waste commonly refers to food that is not eaten, however, there is a distinction between food loss and food waste. Food loss corresponds to eatable food that is discarded in stores, transportation, or even food that is left in crops, among others. On the other hand, food waste is a category within food loss that refers to eatable food that is consciously rejected at the retail or consumer level, in other words, this corresponds to food that for example, is left on the plate at the restaurant.

Image 1. Food Waste

Food loss and food waste are sustainability problems because when we discard food for no logical reason, we are not just wasting the food itself, we are wasting all the resources that were used to produce the food, like water, land, energy, labor, and capital. In reality, food waste is one of the biggest market failures, because around 33-50% of all food produced globally is never eaten, and this waste costs over $1 trillion. Furthermore, food waste and food loss represent one of the biggest causes for climate change, because, for example, food that ends up in landfills decomposes in an anaerobic environment (without oxygen), creating methane, which is 23x more deadly than carbon dioxide. To put it in perspective, according to OLIO “if food waste were a country, it would be the third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases after China and the USA”. Besides the economic, social, and environmental aspects of food waste, we should also look into this problem with a moral and social justice view, because for example, 1 in 9 people on the planet are starving or are malnourished, while others waste it.

With this problem in mind, the United Nations has in the UN Sustainable Development Goal number 12 “Responsible Consumption and Production” one target for global food loss and waste. SDG Target 12.3: “By 2030, halve per capita global food waste at the retail and consumer levels and reduce food losses along production and supply chains, including post-harvest losses”.

Image 2. Sustainable Development Goals

In 2016 in the European Union, around 88 million tonnes of food were wasted annually, this corresponds to 20% of the total food produced. And of those 88 million tonnes of food, 1 million tons were wasted in Portugal. As stated by a study made by PERDA in 2012, food waste corresponds to 17% of the annual total food produced in the country, which corresponds to around 1 million tonnes of food. However, there is not a lot of data regarding food waste in Portugal, and with this in mind, recently, a public survey has been approved in order to truly measure and address this problem.

According to the 2021 report from the Comissão Nacional de Combate ao Desperdício Alimentar (CNCDA), in 2020 it was avoided the waste of more than 12,300 tonnes of products, an increase of 17% compared to 2019.

There are already many companies and associations fighting food waste in Portugal or directing the waste of some to others that most need it, for example, companies like Zero Desperdício and Refood. Producers, governments, and companies have the responsibility to fight food loss and food waste and change their production and transportation strategies in order to minimize it or even re-direct it to other industries, however, most of the food waste occurs in households, hence, being educated about strategies to combat food waste is most important. Meal prepping, being more conscious about the food quantities that we actually eat, choosing the “ugly” vegetables and fruits from the supermarket, storing properly food, understanding how to read the expiration stamp accurately, adopting a FIFO (“first in first out”) system in our fridge and cupboards, and eating seasonally and locally are among the strategies that everyone can adopt in order to fight food waste.

The climate in Portugal is temperate, the winters are usually rainy and cold and the summers hot and sunny, however, due to the Atlantic Ocean, the coastal areas are usually quite humid. Thanks to this, Portuguese agriculture is quite rich, with a big variety of vegetables and fruits throughout the year.

Regarding fruit, the winter is characterized by a lot of citruses, like oranges (best ones from Algarve), lemons, tangerines. Bananas, kiwis, walnuts, almonds are also fruits typically from winter. In spring some berries start to appear, like gooseberry, strawberries, blueberries, however, the majority of them are in season in the summer. In the summer you can find in markets and supermarkets a wider variety of berries, like raspberries, blackberries, cherries, but also, nectarines, peaches, melons, watermelons, figs, grapes, plums. Autumn usually has a lot of persimmons, hazelnuts, chestnuts, pomegranates.

Image 3. Supermarket

Portugal also has a lot of variety regarding vegetables, however, usually, you can find the same vegetables, like different kinds of cabbage, kale, onions, carrots, broccoli, lettuce, turnip throughout the year except in the hottest months. On the other hand, eggplants, courgette, garlic, peppers, corn, tomatoes are more typical in the hotter months.

Portuguese consumers are truly fortunate to have a big variety of vegetables and fruits throughout the year because they are able to make delicious meals that use food when it has the most nutritious. Moreover, by eating seasonally and locally, a percentage of food loss can be avoided in the transportation from the producer to the consumer, but more importantly, less carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere because food does not have to be transported between countries, or even within the country.

A partnership between companies, associations, and the government, but also raising consumers’ awareness for the impact of food waste and food loss in the environment, society, and the economy is needed because it is the only way to fight this problem.


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