Picky, Picky

Fresh from the UK comes this food waste horror story: European Union sizing requirements required a British wholesaler to throw away 5,000 kiwis. Here’s a slightly less sensationalistic view of the story.

An inspection of the fruit found that a number of the batch weighed 58 grams, with 62 grams the low-end limit. photo by David Prior (via Creative Commons)Tim Down, the kiwis’ owner, estimated that the diameter of the offending fruit were 1 millimeter too small.

Even worse, EU law prohibited Down from giving away the kiwis, and he faced a fine of several thousand pounds if he did. (He was allowed to ship them back to the importer or turn them to juice.) Down echoed my thoughts on the matter:

They are perfectly fit to eat. These regulations come at a time when rising food prices are highlighted and we’re being forced to throw away perfectly good food.

I understand the need for inspections and regulations, but this rule seems ridiculous. The BBC piece reports that the European Commission (the EU executive branch) is looking into relaxing its rules on shape and minimum size. How about changing the one that prohibits donating these fruits and vegetables?!

Taking a step back, heterogeneous waste happens all the time with produce. Harvesters won’t pick certain crops that are the wrong size or shape, while other crops are weeded out post harvest. These occurences don’t make the news because the loss occurs at the farm or packing plant, not after it reaches wholesalers (hence, no opportunity for a convenient photo shoot).

Both articles alluded to commonly culled produce: curved cucumbers and straight bananas. I occasionally see a straight banana, but I can’t remember seeing a curved cuke. I suspect that if I grew my own or went to the farmer’s market (more than once every blue moon), I would.

What’s fueling this waste by uniformity? Is it a trickle down from consumers’ buying habits? Is it the food industry’s perception of consumer behavior? Or is it due to supermarkets’ desire for uniformity and perfect produce displays?

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