In the battle against food waste, most industry players are only addressing part of the problem, claims Aidan Mouat, CEO and co-founder of Chicago-based Hazel Technologies, who says through the company’s proprietary shelf-life extension technology, it is addressing overlooked areas of the broader picture of food waste.
Committed to creating a sustainable future while inspiring joy with wholesome foods, Bob’s Red Mill Natural Products fosters nourishing a healthy planet. One of the company’s main goals is reducing food loss from farm to fork through wasted food rescue. “By rescuing unavoidable scrap, we are avoiding climate emissions that would occur downstream,” says Julia Person, sustainability manager for Bob’s Red Mill. “We donate food to local non-profits, as well as send inedible product to animal feed. Another way we are furthering this work is by joining the Pacific Coast Food Waste Commitment to collectively work with other food businesses to cut food waste in half by 2030.”
Brewer’s yeast used to make beer is typically discarded once it’s no longer needed. The yeast, known as Saccharomyces cerevisiae, absorb humolones, lupolones and other compounds from hops that contribute to beer’s flavor and aroma. Humolones and lupolones are both biologically active molecules that inhibit certain bacteria and other microbes, including those that trigger the cow’s release of methane and ammonia.
Lamb Weston is leaning on pea starches as an alternative batter ingredient to mitigate supply chain challenges while trimming food waste, according to the food supplier’s 2021 ESG report.
The company began sourcing pea starch, a byproduct of pea processing, from an unnamed supplier last year to replace traditional starches. In tests, pea starch delivered “a nearly identical match to our traditional batters” in performance and consumer acceptance, Lamb Weston said in the report.
“This alternative is now used in many of our batters and coatings, solving a business problem while also reducing food waste,” the report said. “Looking forward, we will continue exploring how to incorporate byproducts into our products.”
Florida’s outbreak of listeria has so far led to at least one death, 22 hospitalizations and an ice cream recall since January. Humans get sick with listeria infections, or listeriosis, from eating soil-contaminated food, undercooked meat or dairy products that are raw, or unpasteurized. Listeria can cause convulsions, coma, miscarriage and birth defects. And it’s the third leading cause of food poisoning deaths in the U.S.
Avoiding unseen food hazards is the reason people often check the dates on food packaging. And printed with the month and year is often one of a dizzying array of phrases: “best by,” “use by,” “best if used before,” “best if used by,” “guaranteed fresh until,” “freeze by” and even a “born on” label applied to some beer.
People think of them as expiration dates, or the date at which a food should go in the trash. But the dates have little to do with when food expires, or becomes less safe to eat. I am a microbiologist and public health researcher, and I have used molecular epidemiology to study the spread of bacteria in food. A more science-based product dating system could make it easier for people to differentiate foods they can safely eat from those that could be hazardous.
The current food labeling system may be to blame for much of the waste. The FDA reports consumer confusion around product dating labels is likely responsible for around 20% of the food wasted in the home, costing an estimated US$161 billion per year.
It’s logical to believe that date labels are there for safety reasons, since the federal government enforces rules for including nutrition and ingredient information on food labels. Passed in 1938 and continuously modified since, the Food, Drug, and Cosmetics Act requires food labels to inform consumers of nutrition and ingredients in packaged foods, including the amount of salt, sugar and fat it contains.
The dates on those food packages, however, are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. Rather, they come from food producers. And they may not be based on food safety science.
For example, a food producer may survey consumers in a focus group to pick a “use by” date that is six months after the product was produced because 60% of the focus group no longer liked the taste. Smaller manufacturers of a similar food might play copycat and put the same date on their product.
One industry group, the Food Marketing Institute and Grocery Manufacturers Association, suggests that its members mark food “best if used by” to indicate how long the food is safe to eat, and “use by” to indicate when food becomes unsafe. But using these more nuanced marks is voluntary. And although the recommendation is motivated by a desire to cut down on food waste, it is not yet clear if this recommended change has had any impact.
A joint study by the Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic and the National Resources Defense Council recommends the elimination of dates aimed at consumers, citing potential confusion and waste. Instead, the research suggests manufacturers and distributors use “production” or “pack” dates, along with “sell-by” dates, aimed at supermarkets and other retailers. The dates would indicate to retailers the amount of time a product will remain at high quality.
The FDA considers some products “potentially hazardous foods” if they have characteristics that allow microbes to flourish, like moisture and an abundance of nutrients that feed microbes. These foods include chicken, milk and sliced tomatoes, all of which have been linked to serious foodborne outbreaks. But there is currently no difference between the date labeling used on these foods and that used on more stable food items.
Infant formula is the only food product with a “use by” date that is both government regulated and scientifically determined. It is routinely lab tested for contamination. But infant formula also undergoes nutrition tests to determine how long it take the nutrients – particularly protein – to break down. To prevent malnutrition in babies, the “use by” date on baby formula indicates when it’s no longer nutritious.
Nutrients in foods are relatively easy to measure. The FDA already does this regularly. The agency issues warnings to food producers when the nutrient contents listed on their labels don’t match what FDA’s lab finds.
Microbial studies, like the ones we food safety researchers work on, are also a scientific approach to meaningful date labeling on foods. In our lab, a microbial study might involve leaving a perishable food out to spoil and measuring how much bacteria grows in it over time. Scientists also do another kind of microbial study by watching how long it takes microbes like listeria to grow to dangerous levels after intentionally adding the microbes to food to watch what they do, noting such details as growth in the amount of bacteria over time and [when there’s enough to cause illness].
Consumers on their own
Determining the shelf life of food with scientific data on both its nutrition and its safety could drastically decrease waste and save money as food gets more expensive.
But in the absence of a uniform food dating system, consumers could rely on their eyes and noses, deciding to discard the fuzzy bread, green cheese or off-smelling bag of salad. People could also might pay close attention to the dates for more perishable foods, like cold cuts, in which microbes grow easily. They can also find guidance at FoodSafety.gov.
One-fifth of all dairy products are wasted. How can this be tackled? Ingredient supplier IFF believes its bioprotective cultures have a role to play. We spoke to Julien Plault, Global Product Manager of Meat & Protective Cultures, to learn what that is.
A new study finds inactive yeast could be effective as an inexpensive, abundant, and simple material for removing lead contamination from drinking water supplies. The approach should be efficient and economic, even down to part-per-billion levels of contamination.
This program provides financial assistance to municipalities, school districts, counties, local governments, or tribal governments (State-designated Indian Tribes, Federally Recognized Indian Tribal Governments) for composting and food waste reduction pilot programs. While applicants are encouraged to submit proposals that meet more than one of the objectives below (inclusion of multiple objectives will be considered when ranking proposals), OUAIP will accept proposals that address at least one of the following:
Increase access to compost for agricultural producers
Reduce reliance on, and limit the use of, fertilizer
Improve soil quality
Encourage waste management and permaculture business development
Increase rainwater absorption
Reduce municipal food waste; and
Divert residential and commercial food waste from landfills.
In addition to meeting one or more of the above purposes applicants are encouraged to align their project proposals to address priorities on environmental justice, racial equity, climate, investment in disadvantaged communities, and climate smart agricultural practices. Priority will be given for each of the following elements that are included in a project:
Anticipate or demonstrate economic benefits for the targeted community;
Incorporate plans to make compost easily accessible to agricultural producers, including community gardeners, school gardens, and producers;
Integrate food waste reduction strategies, including innovative food recovery efforts such as, but not limited to, food gleaning, storage, and preservation techniques; and
Include a robust plan that describes collaboration with multiple partners.
Eligible entities should collaborate with two or more partner organizations on their CFWR pilot project. Non-eligible entities may be partners on a project.
The Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC) seeks an eligible organization to be the lead applicant on a collaborative proposal. ISTC’s Technical Assistance Program (TAP) staff will provide support on the cooperative agreement through zero waste technical assistance, education, and outreach. Contact TAP to learn more about this partnership opportunity.
Startup Choco, on the heels of a substantial funding round, is proposing the digitization of the food system as one way to combat that waste. The Berlin-based company has created a platform that hones in on food waste in the hospitality industry, connecting food suppliers directly to restaurants and cafes.
As it stands, chefs in the industry typically source ingredients from various food distributors and are tasked with maintaining multiple contacts and manually keeping tabs on existing restaurant inventory. On both sides of the supply chain, this relationship and its lack of flexibility creates opportunity for food waste, with distributors struggling to sell produce at the end of their shelf life and restaurants over-ordering to ensure their menus are covered. Through its software, Choco hopes to expedite and optimize purchasing processes so less food gets tossed. It does this by boiling the previously multi-pronged process of ordering goods down to a simple chat message.