Food waste is a fundamental aspect of everyday life and detrimentally affects almost everyone. Unfortunately, in the Arab World there is a considerable lack of data about food waste. Essential information such as causes, volumes, use and reuse are missing, as are other details that fuel the problem. For this reason, Dr. Mohamad G. Abiad, associate professor at the NFSC and project PI, has investigated during the past three years, attitudes and behaviors of Lebanese consumers that lead to food waste generation in an effort to better understand the wastage throughout the food supply chain, and to mitigate and reuse applications.
Dr. Abiad and his research team devoted their research efforts to conducting preliminary assessments and investigating food waste and its management, focusing on Mediterranean cuisine in the Arab region. The research offers insightful and diverse perspectives through a collaboration with Dr. Imad Saoud (Biology Department, FAS) on the conversion of food waste into fish feed, and with Dr. Ali Chalak (Agri-Business Program, FAFS) on public policy and the economic consequences of food waste.
The investigative research approaches the topic along the supply chain, studying the interlocking industries and sectors contributing to food waste generation. The research vision tackles the diverse levels of food waste; starting with the consumers at the household level, as well as dining out, the food industry, and, finally, food waste generation in general. At the household level, data was collected through household surveys and food diaries to track food waste; this was followed by the assessment of lost energy and nutrients such as protein and carbohydrates. The paper summarizing the study was submitted and is currently under review. Another manuscript on the topic was published in the Journal of Cleaner Production (2018) and relays the results of a collaboration with Drs. Lama Matar and Hussein Hassan from the Lebanese American University entitled: Attitudes and Practices Shaping Household Food Waste Generation: Lessons from a Developing Country. In addition, in collaboration with Dr. Ali Chalak, Dr. Abiad conducted a cross-country analysis on the regulatory and economic determinants affecting food waste generation. The work was published in Waste Management (2016): The global economic and regulatory determinants of household food waste generation: A cross-country analysis.
When it comes to dining out, Dr. Abiad is collecting data on the behaviors and attitudes of consumers in restaurants. The research looks into the cultural aspect of food waste generation. Dr. Abiad explains that in the Arab world, the norm of hospitality is a considerable contribution to food waste in restaurants. Unfortunately, the research shows that, when dining out in this region, individuals ordering the Mediterranean Mezza tend to order more than they are capable of consuming. Preliminary research data indicate waste of 200 – 800 grams of food per person per meal at restaurants serving traditional Lebanese/Mediterranean cuisine or “mezza”.
In terms of the food industry, Dr. Abiad is leading an ongoing project looking into the quantity of food waste generated at different outlets. This involves examining food processing facilities/industry, wholesale/retail outlets such as supermarkets, hotels, restaurants, cafeterias, and catering services, among other sources. A recent paper entitled “Food waste generation in the hospitality and food retail and wholesale sectors: Lessons from developed economies” was accepted in Food Security. It analyzes data from 33 developed countries to help generate policy and guidelines to mitigate food wastage. The results allude that well-defined regulations, awareness campaigns and fiscal incentives can be effective measures in controlling food waste generation in the hospitality industry. The current non-legally binding initiatives by governmental agencies and other entities do not seem to be effective on food waste generation quantities. Moreover,Food waste is generated during transportation, handling and storage where many factors contribute to increased quantities, including expiry dates, long storage, abuse of storage temperature, contamination and cross contamination, recall of products, over packaging, and improper use of packaging. Dr. Abiad suggests looking into the different packaging scenarios and techniques to address this type of food waste.
In parallel, Dr. Abiad worked on several projects in collaboration with Dr. Imad Saoud that investigate the use of food waste as a substitution or partial replacement of expensive ingredients in fish feed for both fresh and saltwater species: rabbit fish and Nile tilapia, respectively. The experiments were successful, leading to one article entitled Using restaurant food waste as feed for Nile tilapia production, recently published in Aquaculture Research (2018).
In addition, Dr. Abiad has collected information from within the Arab region in an attempt to expand his collaborative work covering other Arab countries, where this type of research is highly needed. Accordingly, he has conducted a systematic review on the topic with Dr. Lokman Meho and published in Food Security (2018) the article Food loss and food waste research in the Arab world: a systematic review” and in Waste Management (2018) An Overview on Food Loss and Food Waste research in the Arab World.
Finally, regarding the lack of data on food waste generation from Lebanon and the region, Dr. Abiad highlights the importance of conducting preliminary studies to establish a baseline for food waste quantities/volumes, causes and factors affecting its generation. This will help develop further research aimed at developing solutions to mitigate negative environmental effects, create sustainable solutions by diverting food waste away from landfills, and to develop policies aimed at addressing the problem.