Tackling food waste crisis with smarter upcycling methods, traceability tech & packaging
29 Sep 2021 --- Today’s International Day of Awareness of Food Loss and Waste, underscores not only the growing problem of discarded food and supply chain challenges, but also highlights scalable solutions that could bolster food management strategies – key to finding a way out of the crisis.
Critical to these efforts are new advancements in spoilage-sensing packaging technologies, upcycled fruit and vegetable waste, and improvements to traceability through blockchain platforms.
Representatives of the European Food Information Council (EUFIC), Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and Germany’s Fraunhofer Institute for Process Engineering and Packaging share their insights with FoodIngredientsFirst.
Food waste poses a trifecta of problems that are deepening across the global supply chain – throwing away food spoils valuable resources, causing 8 to 10% of global carbon dioxide emissions that intensify the climate crisis, while putting a further strain on food security.
“There is so much that science can do to make a difference in various fields of our lives, and tackling food waste is no exception,” remarks Dr. Nina McGrath, senior manager, food and health science at EUFIC.
As part of its efforts, EUFIC took part in the EU-funded project Nanopack, which developed innovative antimicrobial packaging solutions for perishable foods.
“Using intelligent packaging is another way to reduce food waste,” adds Dr. McGrath. “These packages interact with food and the environment, monitoring food freshness to preserve it for longer. They can also alert us when the decay process is about to start. Some can even measure the temperature under which the product is kept and can calculate the remaining days until expiration.”
“For example, if a fresh product is stored at a higher temperature than recommended, the sensor will notice this and display fewer remaining days until expiration. In the opposite case, if the product is kept at the preferred temperature at all times, the product could still be good to eat after the pre-set expiration date. The consumer can then choose to eat the food and it will not be thrown away.”
Upcycling leftovers into valorized product
Adopting circular strategies to better utilize by-products – through recycling and upcycling – offers an opportunity to create value from food waste while generating beneficial environmental and societal impacts.
Earlier this month, Valrhona and Swiss-Ghanian start-up Koa launched an upcycled cocoa fruit juice concentrate Oabika, for chefs and gastronomy professionals. Academia has similarly taken interest in scaling new repurposed ingredients, with Finnish researchers piloting a new method to transform fermented okara (soy press cake) into a “healthier and more flavorful meat alternative”
In other significant moves this year, the Upcycled Food Association (UFA) rolled out the “world’s first mark certifying upcycled food,” advertised as a crucial tool to address urgent climate and environmental crises through purchasing power.
But a significant challenge is tackling food waste at the consumer-level. “This is very challenging, as it relates directly to changing the food-related behaviors of consumers that are largely driven by habits, preferences and culture,” stresses Dr. Rosa Rolle, senior enterprise development officer team leader food loss and waste, at the FAO.
“Consumers, for example, opt not to buy ‘ugly fruit,’ buy more food than needed – and particularly perishable items which end up being discarded as waste.”
Food sharing apps
Dr. Rolle underscores the utility of smartphone apps that notify users of discounts on surplus food, which restaurants would need to sell or throw away. Other promising concepts are apps that connect supermarkets to consumers to provide real time information on discounts for foods approaching their expiration dates.
These may contribute significantly to reducing food waste by making surplus food available or accessible at a low cost.
“Improvements in food traceability through blockchain technology will also help in targeting food recalls and in reducing food loss and waste across global value chains,” she adds.
A global online event is currently being hosted by the FAO and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) celebrating the International Day of Awareness of Food Loss and Waste.
It will focus on the need to adopt integrated approaches designed to reduce food loss and waste. These include e-commerce platforms for marketing, retractable mobile food processing systems and other good practices to manage food quality and reduce food loss and waste.
Duality in valorized food production
While streamlining supply chain efficiencies is critical to addressing the challenge of food waste, Germany’s Fraunhofer Institute for Process Engineering and Packaging has published findings from its research that contribute to a “more robust, crisis-proof” supply of safe food.
The researchers have set out to analyze, assess and ultimately help shape the resilience of the system architecture for future food production.
Each industry has its own demands, which makes it difficult to develop “one concept for all,” Dr. Marc Mauermann, deputy director division processing technology, Fraunhofer Institute, tells FoodIngredientsFirst.
“Therefore, the concepts to be developed should be designed in such a way that they can be adapted as needed with little effort.”
The researchers are looking into ways to consolidate the production of two ingredients from a single crop. In Central Europe, for instance, the simultaneously extracting protein during sunflower oil production is said to offer significant value creation.
Wheyward Spirit’s 80-proof clear alcoholic beverage made from the leftover creamy and nutrient-rich whey in cheese production. In other moves from this year, Take Two Barleymilk launched on the market as industry’s first plant-based milk to utilize spent grain, of which over eight billion pounds is wasted annually from beer brewing processes.A similar concept that promotes dual, symbiotic ingredient production is
If food waste were a country
Despite mounting pressure to reduce the carbon footprint of our diets, if food loss and waste were a country, it would be the third largest emitting country in the world, causing more greenhouse gases than any single country in the world, except China and the US.
Particularly in the UK, unprecedented labor shortages led to nationwide food waste earlier this month, as crops were left to rot in the fields – prompting British fruit and vegetable suppliers to cut down their planting for next year.
Over 930 million metric tons of food sold to households, retailers, restaurants and other food services are thrown away every year according to the latest estimates. This value surpasses all the food lost during production and distribution.
EUFIC has launched a month-long social media action and awareness campaign providing consumers with robust information on how every simple action at home can make a positive contribution to the larger challenge.
“Food manufacturers need to increase monitoring and reporting on food loss and waste in order to identify and take action on hot spots,” remarks Dr. McGrath at EUFIC. “Retailers can perform consumer research to be able to tailor discounts and promotions in a way that doesn’t support wastefulness.”
“With ambitious initiatives both at local, regional and international levels, I hope that we can start to turn the tide.”
By Benjamin Ferrer
To contact our editorial team please email us at email@example.com
Subscribe now to receive the latest news directly into your inbox.