Surplus is an amount that is more than what is needed. It’s an excess of supply over demand. Surplus food then, based on this definition, is the quantity of food that we grow or make that exceeds the demand. It is an abundance of food. In a perfect world, we would make just enough food to feed everyone. Any unexpected extra food would be eaten. But in Canada, only 4% of surplus edible food is rescued before it goes to waste and is redistributed to feed the millions of Canadians who do not have access to enough food for a healthy, balanced diet.
Today, you’ll learn:
What surplus edible food means
The difference between food loss and waste (when it comes to surplus food)
How much surplus edible food is wasted (spoiler alert: ~96% in Canada)
Why this is a social and environmental problem
What you can do about it
What is Surplus Edible Food?
Not all food surplus is alike. Some excess food isn’t edible or avoidable. For instance, unavoidable surplus food includes things like animal by-products, like bones, shells, or husks, and the expected or planned food waste that happens often because we don’t eat every part of some foods. If you make stock and throw out the cooked vegetables, that is planned surplus.
Avoidable food loss and waste is surplus edible food that could have been eaten but for various reasons it was wasted. It’s surplus edible food that is still good, healthy, and nourishing to eat. This could be unsold food like unharvested produce, items past their best-before date, or food left to go bad.
Examples of Surplus Edible Food Loss
By now, you may have noticed that we say food loss and waste. That’s because there’s a difference, even though they’re often lumped together as simply food waste. Food loss happens during production, post-harvest, and processing and manufacturing. Some of this is unavoidable, like mentioned earlier, but some of it is avoidable.
Some examples of avoidable surplus edible food loss are when too much milk is produced and there isn’t a market or demand for it and so it goes down the drain post-production. Or if orders are cancelled after farmers already planted and grew the crops—and they can’t find a last-minute buyer for it—that food is lost on the farm. If a manufacturer makes too much of a product and exceeds their contracted amount with distributors, that food is now surplus edible food loss. Same with unexpected labour shortages that result in produce going bad before it could be harvested or processed.
Examples of Surplus Edible Food Waste
Fast-forward along the food chain are distributors, retailers like grocers, and hotels, restaurants, institutions, and consumers (ie. homes). Food waste happens here.
An example food waste is perfectly good day-old bread or pastries that don’t sell and go to waste. Blemished and imperfect fruit, wilted greens, “ugly” vegetables, or items that were too close to or past their best-before dates are other examples. Good food that goes to waste by anyone, from distributors, delivery trucks, grocers, restaurants, or us at home, is avoidable food waste.
How Much Surplus Edible Food is Lost or Wasted?
In our 2022 ground-breaking report,Wasted Opportunity, Second Harvest discovered just how much surplus edible food is being lost and wasted.
Canada’s food industry produces 3.2 million metric tonnes of surplus edible food each year. Of that deliciously edible surplus food, only 4% is rescued before it goes to waste and is redistributed to people who need it.
That means that 96% of surplus edible food goes to waste in Canada. This surplus food isn’t rescued or redistributed to help feed the millions of Canadians who experience food insecurity every day.
Mind you, 96% is a conservative estimate based on what 127,177 surveyed could-be surplus food donor businesses believe is edible surplus that they might donate. This is not necessarily what is actually edible but they are not inclined to donate to food rescue. The reality might be worse still—and this is just in Canada.
And we now know that 96% of that edible surplus food produced by the food industry, goes to waste—it doesn’t even make it to those thousands of food charities across Canada. Wasting surplus food is a major social issue. Instead, it can be a miraculous part of the solution to eliminating hunger in Canada.
Wasting surplus food is a waste on multiple levels, including wasting all of the energy and resources that went into growing, producing, manufacturing, processing, distributing, marketing, and selling the food. It’s bad for business, resources, people, and the planet. Canada creates 56.5 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent emissions every year from food waste.
For more reading on the environmental impact of food waste, check out:
There is hope yet, if we all do our part. In Second Harvest’s most recent report, Wasted Opportunity, we dove into food loss and waste in the food industry specifically. We looked at the types of surplus edible food, where it comes from, and the opportunities or solutions to curb waste. Based on all that we now know, here’s what you can do:
As renowned Canadian environmental activist David Suzuki said, “In a world of more than seven billion people, each of us is a drop in the bucket. But with enough drops, we can fill any bucket.” The climate crisis feels overwhelmingly huge, and it’s easy to get discouraged, apathetic, grief-stricken, or scared. But taking action—with courage and love for ourselves, our future, and our home —helps counteract all of that. Together we can do this, especially if we act now.
In honour of Earth Day on April 22, 2022, here are 7 things you can do as an individual and community member about the climate crisis.
7 Ways To Make A Big Impact This Earth Day
1. Reduce Your Food Waste
The food supply chain accounts for approximately one-quarter of all worldwide GHG emissions, according to a University of Oxford study. This is due to many factors, including deforestation to make more farmland and the freshwater used to grow our produce and grains that animals (cows, mostly) eat. But it also includes the resources—most often fossil fuels, ie. gas—necessary to power the processes of harvesting, manufacturing, processing and packaging, transporting and distributing our food. If that food is lost or wasted along the food chain, all of those resources plus the food go to waste.
It may sound simple, but talking about the climate crisis is an important place to start. Talk about your fears and concerns with your family, friends, loved ones, colleagues, peers, community members, social followers, politicians, and so on. Voicing your concerns is the first step toward taking action. It’s the first step toward finding solutions and joining together with others to make real change happen! It all starts from a seed of an idea and the willingness to have an important conversation.
3. Use Your Voice to Hold Politicians and Policies Accountable
How can you take action? Ask governmental leaders those hard questions. Sign petitions, go to climate rallies, write emails, hold politicians and their promises and policies accountable. Demand action, including greater protection and care for our natural ecosystems and resources and investments toward green and sustainable energy solutions.
4. Get Active and Get Moving Outside
According to the David Suzuki Foundation, transportation in Canada accounts for 24% of climate-polluting emissions. That’s a close second to the oil and gas industry. If we all do our small part, we can make a big difference. How you choose to get around every day makes a big impact on the planet and our climate—as well as your health, wellness, happiness, and wallet. The emphasis here is on consumer choice.
Instead of driving everywhere in your gas-guzzler car, see how long it will take to bike or walk there. Get outside! If not for the vitamin D and fresh air, it will help remind you of what you’re fighting for (or against). Or, see if you can make that one-off meeting a Zoom chat and save yourself the trip. Spend that commuter time outside.
5. Practice Smart and Fuel-Efficient Driving
For those times when you do have to drive to get groceries, commute, or drop the kids off somewhere, keep your carbon footprint in mind. If you have two cars, take the smaller, more fuel-efficient car (or electric car, if you have one).
Or, consider carpooling, taking public transportation, or carsharing with others. When you are driving, take your foot off of the gas wherever possible. If there’s a stoplight ahead, why not cruise to a stop? (Ignore the honks behind you—you’re just doing your part!)
6. Fly Less—and Make a HUGE Impact
We all need a vacation every once in a while. Our changing climate requires us to practice sustainable travel, until we have another option for powering planes, we must be mindful of our extraordinary footprint when flying. This coming Earth Day, take a moment to consider your upcoming travel plans and find a way to lessen your environmental impact. That could be combining trips that require flying and/or exploring greener ways to travel and get around once you’ve arrived.
According to a Goodside eBook on reducing carbon footprints, “an economy-class return flight from Los Angeles to Sydney emits about 3.36 tCO2e per passenger. That’s more than 20 percent of the average American’s annual carbon footprint (and more than double our target footprint)… One surf vacation down under could mean the loss of about 10 square meters of Arctic ice—that’s more than 100 square feet.”
7. Make Your Home More Eco-Friendly
Your home is where you hold the most power and influence. Plus, that’s where little changes can make a big difference to your footprint and monthly bills. There are a million ways to make your home more efficient, green, and eco-friendly—a significant one being how you fuel and power your home.
To name just a few smaller upgrades, swap your light bulbs out to energy-efficient ones. When your old appliances need upgrading, opt for the most eco-friendly ones. Use energy-efficient settings, such as cold water washes rather than hot. Turn off the lights and heat or air conditioning when you’re not home or in the room—or use good old-fashioned windows and natural light.
Together, We’ve Got This!
Together, we can take these steps at home, in our communities, or at work in order to protect our beautiful blue and green planet and all those living here. Millions of people are taking action in small and big ways. Be kind to yourself and make an impact when and where you can. After all, it’s Earth Day every day.
Decades ago, we had an idea. What if we rescued fresh food from local grocers, farmers, manufacturers, and distributors beforeit expired or went to waste? Then, we could redistribute that surplus food to our community food banks, agencies, soup kitchens, schools, and other organizations that needed it! Since 1985, Second Harvest has rescued and delivered more than 177 million pounds of food, preventing over 75 million pounds of greenhouse gas equivalents from entering our atmosphere.
What started out as a brilliant idea at a grassroots non-profit organization in Toronto has since expanded to meet the growing need across the country, changing the lives of (and inspiring action from) millions of Canadians. Second Harvest has proudly become the largest food rescue organization in Canada and a global thought leader on food recovery, food waste, and hunger relief.
Our original grassroots mission hasn’t changed, but our national and digital scale and vision have given it a renewed sense of purpose. In the spirit of renewal, Second Harvest is thrilled to announce the launch of our brand refresh!
“This has been an important journey,” CEO Lori Nikkel says, “starting from our humble roots serving the Toronto community and now to a national organization serving over 900 communities. This is an exciting time – a time to share Second Harvest to all Canadians with a new look that represents the organization we have become, a unified brand that clearly showcases our values, mission and vision of a Canada with No Waste and No Hunger.
Introducing Second Harvest’s Brand Refresh
As we’ve expanded to help communities across Canada and online with our food rescue app, our logo and brand name have been invaluable. Second Harvest is synonymous with our vision of No Waste. No Hunger. Even the words Second Harvest remind us every day that we’re reviving—or renewing—the original and sole purpose of food: to eat it! Not to let it go to waste, as so much of the food grown in Canada and worldwide does (and is expected to).
Our Second Harvest Logo Renewed and Refreshed
We’ve chosen to add three green interlocking circles to our logo to symbolize growth, just like plants and crops that come to life in the spring and grow toward the sun through summer until harvest. But more than representing the growth and harvest, the interlocking circles are a trinity of real change.
Each circle of growth is unique and connected to the next. Together they represent the important aspects of Second Harvest’s mission:
Introduce new ideas and innovative ways of thinking.
Create and build the tools to affect change and transform how we care for the planet.
Seek people who are inspired to find ways to rescue and renew food and avoid waste.
Our new logo font is a modern font in lower case that we believe is open, friendly, welcoming, and reflects our growing position on the world stage.
National and Bilingual Identity
What started out as rescuing food in local communities in the GTA, has quickly expanded across the country as increased food insecurity and waste demanded it in the wake of the pandemic.
Second Harvest now redistributes surplus food to a broad network of over 3,000 agencies. Hundreds of communities from PEI to BC and as far north as Clyde River, Nunavut receive rescued food from Second Harvest. This was only possible because of our incredible partnerships with over 4,500 food donors, not to mention the army of workers and volunteers at non-profit organizations.
Now that we’re working on a national scale and representing Canada’s food recovery efforts worldwide, we redesigned our logo to reflect our English and French identity.
A Brand Refresh That Reflects our Mission and Vision for the Future
Everything about Second Harvest’s brand refresh is meant to reflect our growth and our renewed vision (and hope and drive) for a sustainable future for Canada: No Waste. No Hunger.
For example, our primary colour palette is green to represent growth and sustainability. Our secondary colour palette is inspired by fresh produce, that we hope stays on our plates (and into our bodies as nourishment so that we can flourish and thrive) and out of landfills.
Likewise, our brand voice aims to inspire change for the better and attract passionate, like-minded people and partners who share our common goals. That voice is clear, caring, kind, and informative.
We have created a brand that represents a secure and sustainable future we—as Canadians and local and global community members—are all working towards. We hope that our brand refresh will continue to inspire and attract ideas, tools, and people to make real change for good.
Spring is a time of new beginnings. It is a time of renewal. In the natural world, Spring is marked by the first buds, blossoms, and sprouting growth that breaks ground and begins life anew. It is also a time for us to reflect on what we have and forget to cherish wholeheartedly all too often. We must renew our perspective and appreciation for all that life has given us.
Like spring cleaning or opening our windows and letting in a little fresh air (and perspective), renewal isn’t about having an unsustainable “out with the old and in with a new” outlook. It’s not about taking more. Instead, renewal in today’s climate means (or should mean) to take stock of what we have and give it new meaning, life, and purpose. It means that we appreciate and love what we have—the bird in the hand—, rather than always wanting more or something else and tossing out the rest.
Renewal can apply to too many topics today. But we’re specifically talking about renewing three topics, all of which are related: renewing our food systems, renewing the original and sole purpose of food, and renewing our brand to reflect and unite our nationwide efforts. It is time that we renew our relationship with and our respect for food.
Renewing our Relationship With Food in Canada
The first is our broken food systems in developed countries. When it comes to food production in Canada, there is an unsustainable overproduction mentality. It is expected that there will be a considerable loss and waste of food on both the pre- and post-production side of our food systems. These systems require radical overhauls from legislation to methodologies at all levels of production, distribution, retail, and consumption to make real impactful change.
The second is renewing our relationship with food, especially surplus food that already exists but will likely go to waste. Because we cannot change our broken food systems overnight, there needs to be a stop-gap. Millions of pounds of food that would have been sent to waste in landfills must be rescued, redistributed to those who need it, and the original purpose of the food must be renewed. A carrot, for instance, that wilted is still a carrot that should be eaten. Put it in a soup and its sole purpose to nourish our lives and bodies has been restored.
At Second Harvest, we asked: What if we could restore the original purpose of produce by rescuing the food before it goes to waste, or dies on the vine or in the ground, and redistributing it? What if we could renew food’s original purpose: to be eaten and to give healthy nourishment to our bodies and minds? After all, we grow plenty of food in Canada and still millions of Canadians struggle to put food on their tables—one in seven Canadians are food insecure since the pandemic, to be precise.
The third is Second Harvest’s own renewal. Since our grassroots beginnings in 1985 in Toronto, we have expanded across the country to become Canada’s largest food rescue organization, rescuing and redistributing surplus food to millions of Canadians every day. As we tackle Canada’s growing food waste and hunger—and represent Canada as thought leaders in food recovery on the global stage, we knew that it was time for us to renew and refresh our brand and unite our national identity.
The 4th R in Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle is Renew
The 3R’s of recycling is to reduce, reuse, and recycle. As kids, we learned to reduce our waste, reuse what we can, and then eventually, recycle it, breaking it down into smaller parts. This can also apply to our food systems, not just plastic waste, objects, and other material stuff.
When it comes to food, we must reduce our overconsumption and overproduction. We can reuse foods that we already have by eating our leftovers and getting creative with what we have in our kitchens. And we can recycle our food waste, breaking down scraps into compost or using the coffee grains as nutrients for acid-loving plants, such as blueberries, for instance.
What if There is a Fourth “R” as it Relates to Food: To Renew?
If a shipment of lettuce is starting wilt in transport to the retailer, it will likely go to the landfill as food loss and waste either by the distributor, the retailer, or the consumer. That has a high environmental price, not only the loss of the resources (including time, water, soil, nutrients, fertilizers, sun, labour, and money) that it took to grow that lettuce and ship it to the distributors and grocers, but also the harmful greenhouse gases it emits when it all goes to waste.
But, if Second Harvest intercepts that food waste, rescuing the lettuce that is still deliciously edible, healthy, and nutritious, and delivers it to folks who can renew its purpose of being eaten, then that is a blessing. It’s a second chance. It gives us a bit more time to fix our broken food systems that overproduce and undervalue food in the first place. Plus, we can feed the growing number of people who don’t have access to healthy food choices.
That is exactly what we do at Second Harvest. We take perfectly healthy and delicious surplus food and save it from going to waste. We ship millions of tonnes of rescued food across Canada to communities in need. Once it’s arrived, our agency partners, such as soup kitchens, community kitchens, schools, programs and other nonprofit organizations, turn that food into prepared meals that feed the community. Food’s purpose is renewed.
Renewing Second Harvest’s Brand to Reflect our Expanded Mission
Second Harvest doubled-down during the pandemic. With the help of over 4,500 dedicated food donors, 900 communities and over 3,000 not for profit organizations, we were able to expand across the country to support 350 communities through over 2,300 social service organizations, and launch our food rescue app.
Today, Second Harvest proudly supports the entire country as Canada’s largest food recovery organization. It is in this spirit of renewal, that Second Harvest launches its new, united, and national brand. It is important that we represent Canadians and inspire real change as we fight food waste and hunger in our country from the ground up to the legislature and policies.
Introducing Second Harvest’s New Brand Refresh
The new brand is a refresh of our existing Second Harvest logo, alongside three green icons that represent our growth. Each circle of growth is unique and connected to the next. Together they represent the important aspects of Second Harvest’s mission:
Introduce new ideas and innovative ways of thinking.
Create and build the tools to affect change and transform how we care for the planet.
Seek people who are inspired to find ways to rescue and renew food and avoid waste.
Our new logo font is a modern font in lower case that we believe is open, friendly, welcoming, and reflects our growing position on the world stage as we renew our collective relationship with and respect for food.
The first thing that you need to know is that best before dates are about quality, not safety. It quite literally means that the food was best, or in its finest form, before said date. After that date means that it’s beginning its slow decline in quality.
In Canada, only five types of food have true expiry dates: baby formula, meal replacements or supplement bars, meal supplement drinks, formulated liquid diets and foods used in low-energy diets (the last two both require a prescription). These foods should not be eaten past their expiry date.
This blog post talks about everything else. All of the forgotten canned beans and soups in the back of your cupboard or frozen and packaged pizzas stuck to the back of your freezer.
Canned goods: Last up to one year past the best before date
Dairy (and eggs): Lasts up to two weeks past the best before date
Poultry pieces: Last up to six months in the freezer
Meats (incl. beef, lamb, pork and whole poultry): Last up to one year in the freezer
Dry cereals: Last up to one year past the best before date
Packaged snacks (incl. popcorn, granola bars and bagged snacks): Last up to one year past the best before date
Prepared and frozen meals: Last up to one year past the best before date in the freezer
Unopened, shelf-stable condiments: Last up to one year past the best before date
Unopened drinks (incl. juice or coconut water): Last up to one year past the best before date
Your opened ketchup in the fridge is only safe to eat for up to about six months after the best before date—not six years. Your yellow mustard, one year. Mayonnaise, three months. Only your hot sauce will last an extra three to five years when stored in the fridge (Sriracha only two years).
3 Simple best before date checks for packaging and storage
1. What temperature was the food stored at?
Regardless of the best before date, perishable food items must be stored at the correct temperature. Two to four hours in a bad temperature zone (4-60 degrees celsius) is enough to spoil the food.
For example, if you accidentally left yogurt, milk or meat out of the fridge overnight, it sat in the “danger temperature zone” for too long and is not safe to eat.
2. How does the packaging look, feel and smell?
Check canned goods and food packaging for bulging, tears, rips, water damage or signs of insects. Look for mould, foul smells or discolouration. All of these may be signs that the food has gone bad and is not safe to eat, regardless of what the best before date says.
One exception to the rule, however, comes to mind with hard cheeses and mould. If there’s a little mould on one corner but the packaging wasn’t damaged and it long before the best before date, it’s probably safe to cut it off and eat the rest. This does not apply to soft cheeses, however.
Use your senses and instinct.
3. Was the food frozen properly and how is the packaging?
When meats, fruits and vegetables are safely stored and frozen at the proper temperature (at or below -18 degrees celsius), they can usually be consumed between six months to one year later regardless of the best before date and depending on the food. (See the poultry and meats sections in the list above.)
If the frozen items have freezer burn or icicles formed on them—or if the packaging is ripped—they may not be safe to eat.
Use your senses and instinct, along with this as a general guideline, to help you lessen your food waste impact and make the most of your groceries.
Why is understanding the best before date important?
Too much food goes to waste because of a lack of awareness and education. Consumers throw out or avoid purchasing good food because it was too close to the best before date. Grocers dump milk and dairy products (that we now know are good for another two weeks!) for this very same reason.
But if we all made the commitment to understanding best before dates, think of the food that we could divert from landfills.
Second Harvest has free e-learning modules for you to try, including training on food date labels, like best before and expiry dates. Visit training.secondharvest.ca to create your free account and get started!