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Canadians wasted more than $500 million worth of food in last 6 months: study

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BROCKVILLE, Ont. -

Canadians have thrown out hundreds of millions of dollars worth of food over the last six months, according to a new study from Dalhousie University.

There’s even a word to describe the trend: ‘shelflation.’ It’s inspired by the word 'shrinkflation', where food products shrink in quantity but the price remains the same.

"Shelflation is a phenomena when the shelf-life of products is compromised by supply chain problems, and the shelf life is shortened for consumers when they buy products at retail," said Sylvain Charlebois, the director of the Agri-food Analytics Lab at Dalhousie University.

"When consumers bring products home, they realize their fruits and vegetables don't last that long, they may actually end up throwing away before the expiry date," he added. "And of course if you waste food prematurely, then it adds up to your costs of living and it adds more to your food bill."

The study states that 63 per cent of Canadians have thrown out food prematurely in the last six months. The study found that 45 per cent of Canadians had thrown out produce, 31 per cent had thrown out dairy, 27 per cent bakery products, and 17 per cent meat.

The total cost of all that waste: between $305 to $545 million dollars.

"We had suspicions over the last couple of years that something was not right and the quality and freshness of products at retail were compromised as a result of supply chain problems," Charlebois said. "We just wanted to get to the bottom of it and ask Canadians exactly what they are seeing."

"We've never measured shelflation before. We intend to do more of that, but 63 per cent strikes us as being a very high percentage," he added.

Pandemic made 'shelflation' worse

In the study, Charlebois notes that shelflation can happen at anytime. It can be caused by weather, labour disputes, labour shortages, mechanical failures, border-related challenges or anything that can extend storage or transportation times.

"The supply chain is typically under a lot of stress. We believe that that the pandemic just made things much worse, less predictable, and more difficult to manage," he said.

"It's not always the consumer’s fault. A lot of the products sometimes end up not being good or are already spoiled even before they get to people's homes," he added.

Outside of the Metro grocery store in downtown Brockville, customers agree they have thrown out food recently.

"I hate to admit it, but we have," said Penny Miller. "Not a whole lot, maybe once every two weeks or so.

"We've never really thrown out meat, but milk I have thrown out. The shelf life it says sometimes isn’t what it is," she added.

Shopper Marjorie McCullough said the same thing.

"Fruits and vegetables, definitely. Apples that are already kind of going soft by the time you get them, beans that have already darkened," she said.

Last summer her family started buying local produce to try and lessen their amount of food waste

"(We) bought a subscription to a local farm and a little bit more expensive but at least it was fresh, it was great and worth it."

Marjorie McCullough holding up the fresh produce she bought. (Nate Vandermeer/CTV News Ottawa)

Grocery stores donate to food bank

At the Brockville and Area Food Bank, executive director Hailie Jack says local grocery stores donate perishable items weekly.

"If it's coming up to shelf life there, or for whatever reason they can’t sell it, they will give it to us and we are able to move it quite quickly," she said.

But the team has learned they can combat food spoilage by buying items locally from suppliers.

"This produce came into us on Tuesday, so as you can see it's all still quite fresh, and we are midway through the week," Jack said, adding that local vendors bring food directly to them, which they can get out the door without having it spoil.

Charlebois says buying local items is one way to combat 'shelflation'.

"The distribution channels are not as complicated and not as lengthy so you would reduce the risk of being exposed to shelflation," he said.

He also suggested people go to the grocery store more often. If you go two or three times a week and buy for a few days at a time, you end up wasting less.

Gardening and growing your own produce can also help reduce food waste. Canada’s gardening rate has gone up in the last two years, Charlebois said.

“Seventeen per cent of Canadians actually have a garden which is really huge," he said. "We are expecting that rate to increase as a result of food inflation. That pressure is real."

McCullough said its tough to hit the grocery store multiple times a week just to have fresh produce.

"If you’re working full-time like I am, you don’t want to go to the store every day. So you go once and by the time you go and cook it, three days later it's bad. So that's frustrating."

Offered the gardening option, McCullough laughed.

"You have to have the time! I am going to retire first and then I'll have a garden!" she smiled.

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