Coronavirus could cause a global food shortage, so now it is more important than ever to cut down on food waste

March 28, 2020

Although harvests have been good this year so far, and the outlook for staple crops is promising, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation border closures, quarantines, and supply chain disruptions could restrict people’s access to sufficient, diverse and nutritious sources of food, especially in countries hit hard by the virus or already affected by high levels of food insecurity.


The virus has bought on a shortage of field workers, in conjunction with people stockpiling means that the food supply will be exacerbated. Chief economist of the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, Maximo Torero has stated that “food shortage problems are expected to get worse over the following two months as key fruit and vegetables come into season as this produce relies on pickers.” He added, “fruit and vegetables are also very labour intensive, so if the labour force is threatened because people can’t work then we have a problem.”

As part of its COVID-19 response, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation is providing policy advice and sharing best practices with countries to ensure food supply chains’ are protected, and populations have food security and nutrition. Guidelines surrounding food hygiene and readiness to rapidly detect COVID-19 in animals and animal products has also been provided.

Food, medicines and other essentials are being stockpiled by people across the globe over fears the coronavirus outbreak may leave them house-bound or unable to buy necessities. In the UK, worry has appeared more prevalent in recent days, following the prime minister’s announcement on Monday 23rd March that the nation was to be placed in lockdown. Fear has understandably begun shaping people’s behaviour; sales of hand sanitiser gel (recommended by the World Health Organisation as a preventative measure for the coronavirus) spiked by 255% in February as the Covid-19 outbreak spread.

In an attempt to combat panic-buying, supermarkets including Tesco, Sainsburys, Asda, and Waitrose have implemented rationing of certain items and social distancing measures in response to customers’ stockpiling. Some major supermarket chains have begun to amend their opening times in an effort to ensure that at-risk groups and emergency workers have a chance to shop for food as safely as possible. For instance, in Tesco, during the first hour of trade on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, elderly shoppers will be put first in all bigger stores across in the UK. Likewise, on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, Sainsbury’s will dedicate the hour between 8-9am to serving elderly, disabled and vulnerable customers, as well as NHS and Social Care workers.


Moreover, as a result of stockpiling, the government is expecting a “huge surge” in household food waste over the next few months due to the Coronavirus pandemic, as a result of people stockpiling and not being able to consume the food before it goes out of date.

Additionally, households are required to stay at home to prevent the spread of COVID-19. This means that all meals will be made and consumed at home, which subsequently will generate even more food waste. The government also anticipates garden waste to increase as people turn to outside jobs such as grass cutting to occupy their time – which will put further strain on our waste collection services.

Now is the time to cut down on food waste. Here are some simple ways to combat wastage:

  • Avoid panic buying and hoarding food supplies.
  • Make a meal plan before going shopping to ensure you only buy what you need – Research has shown that using a shopping list has been found to reduce food thrown away by roughly 20% per capita[1]
  • Communicate with other members of your household to see what you already have. This will help avoid double buying the same items.
  • Check the shelf-life date in-store, and only buy if you can eat it before it goes out of date
  • Save (and actually eat) your leftovers
  • Freeze food before it goes out of date – in the UK between 34%-44% of all bread is wasted, and half of this waste occurs in our homes. Bread can easily be frozen and used at a later date, including the ends! [2]
  • Donate leftover food to food banks


[1] J. Jörissen, C. Priefer, K.-R. Bräutigam. Food waste generation at household level. Sustainability, 2015, pp. 2695-2715

[2] Ould-Dada, Z. (2019). ‘Feeding a growing population – Why Sustainability Matters?’. Lecture to GGA Sustainability class. 30/10/2019. University of Surrey


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