Against the Grain: Food Waste

Too good to throw away

By Gill Hyslop

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Food waste Food Food safety

Innovative snack start-ups are proving there’s no reason for the world to continue wasting 1.6bn tons of food valued at almost $1 trillion yearly.

Pablo Picasso once said, “Every act of creation is first an act of destruction.”

This may seem like it’s coming from left field for an article on food waste, but it’s actually highly apt in terms of the exciting opportunities that some entrepreneurs are capitalizing on in repurposing surplus ingredients into new products.

It could have started with the shocking statistics like: ‘a third of all food produced globally never gets eaten despite almost a billion people going hungry every day,’ or ‘according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the 1.3bn tons of food waste costs in the region of $750bn annually’ – and the resources wasted – like water (calculated at more than 250km3​ of water – three times the volume of Lake Geneva), soil, labor, energy – in getting that food onto a plate.

But it’s refreshing to have a positive spin on a report.

Fight the good fight

In the UK, the Food and Drink Federation (FDF) has reported its members achieved the Five-Fold Environmental Ambition (FEA) target to send zero food and packaging waste to landfill by the end of 2015.

According to Helen Munday, FDF’s director of Food Safety, Science and Sustainability and chief scientific officer, this means around 96.6% of the total food processed was sold as intended; with a further 1% being redistributed to people or diverted to animal feed; and the remaining 2.4% undergoing some form of waste treatment.

She told BakeryandSnacks the FDF will now focus on Ambition 202​5​, which targets the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) Courtauld Commitment 2025​ to reduce the UK’s food waste by one third by 2025.

“Food waste is a really important topic, but our awareness of food waste has never been higher,”​ she said, noting that, although the industry is making really good progress, that may not align with consumer perception.

“While the story is an improving one, there are a lot of ways where we can do more across the channels to make it even better,”​ she said.

“Ideally, no food should be wasted at all.”

What’s in a date?

The mighty confusion over date marking on food labels is one of the largest culprits of food waste.

Tragically, too many consumers believe the ‘sell by’ date means the food is no longer safe to eat when it’s essentially only there to help the retailer keep track of inventory.

Munday noted that, for a vast majority of food products, dates should be a quality indicator not a safety indicator.

“Food can often still be consumed past their ‘best before’ date and still be entirely safe,”​ she said.

In December last year, the US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) revised its guidance on date labeling and is encouraging manufacturers to toss out the ‘best before’ and ‘use by’ date and rather use a ‘best if used by’ tag.

The USDA contended consumers better recognize ‘best if used by’ as an indicator of quality rather than safety.

A similar initiative is being undertaken in the UK by the Food Standards Agency (FSA).

Date labeling

According to the FSA:

  • Food businesses must provide information about food that enables consumers to make safe and informed choices.
  • ‘Use by’ dates are set by food businesses and provide vital information to consumers about the period in which foods are safe to eat.
  • ‘Use by’ dates can only be revised by food businesses when robust data is available indicating that it is safe to do so.

A spokesperson told us that the FSA is currently working with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and WRAP to update its guidance on the application of on-pack date and related advice (storage and freezing guidance).

“The review will open for public consultation in the spring, with new guidance expected to be published in autumn 2017,”​ she said.

The fourth R

Most consumers know of the three Rs: reduce, reuse and recycle.

Now there’s a fourth R – repurposing – that’s providing an avenue for a number of snack start-ups.

“Waste can become a raw material for an entirely new and innovative product. There are many businesses that are taking current waste streams and creating fantastic new products from it,”​ said Munday.

London-based Snact made an immediate impact with its sustainable fruit jerky made from surplus produce and is now listed with two mega High Street retailers, Selfridges and Planet Organic, among its other outlets.

“We are creating value out of food that would otherwise go to waste because it’s too big, or too ugly or there’s too much of it,”​ said Ilana Taub, co-founder of Snact.

“We’re also putting value back into the food chain by buying directly from British farmers and paying them fairly for the food they’ve grown.”

Embarking on snactivism

Snact was started in 2013 by Taub and Michael Minch-Dixon to radically transform the global food system and help stamp out waste.

They began by collecting surplus fruit from London’s wholesale markets, and ‘revitalized’ the produce into a dried jerky that contains no additives or preservatives, is gluten-free, sugar-free and vegan.

In 2014, the pair raised £15,000 ($19,000) via a Crowdfunder campaign to evolve the home-based enterprise into a serious business – proof that the concept of sustainable snacking resonates with people who are happy to put their money where their mouths are.

Last year, the company further upped its social responsibility stance by switching to compostable packaging to reduce waste even further.

While Snact is focused on tackling surplus produce that would otherwise go to waste – “the term ‘food waste’ has negative connotations,”​ said Taub – she sees the company evolving to confront other industry concerns.

“Our food system is so big and there are so many issues that we see Snact as a vehicle in tackling some of these while delivering tasty, healthy products,”​ she said.

Foraging through

At IFE 2017 – held in London at the end of March – BakeryandSnacks met up with Freddie Thornicroft of Fruits of the Forage, another UK start-up that forages for heritage fruits to make pickles, jams and syrups.

“There are several massive old orchards in the Cheshire area, and we have agreements with the local community to collect the fruit that would otherwise just rot,”​ said Thornicroft, explaining that an apple tree can yield up to 200kg of fruit.

“We need to start being a bit more sensible with food sources and responsible in eliminating food waste.”

From beer to bars

In the US, ReGrained is a smart start-up that uses the spent grains from beer production to make energy bars.

Sarah Nathan, VP of Biz Dev at ReGrained told BakeryandSnacks the company ‘harvests’ the grain from San Francisco urban breweries.

Typically, the spent grain either goes into the compost or, in some big cities, the trash, or a farmer collects it to feed it to livestock, she said.

“We are rescuing this grain and giving it new life. Nutritionally, all the sugar has been extracted, but you are still left with the good protein and fiber,”​ said Nathan.

According to Nathan, it takes about a pound (450 g) of grain for every six pack of beer.

“We’re still not able to take an entire brew day’s worth of grain from any of our brewery partners, but we are rapidly growing so are taking more and more with each pick up,”​ she said.

Dan Kurzrock and Jordan Schwartz first experimented using the edible by-product to make bread, but switched to a product that had a longer shelf-life.

“The reason for switching from bread to bars was scalability. Bread has a much shorter shelf life than bars as a way to enter the market,”​ explained Nathan.

The company has grabbed the attention of the American government and Kurzrock and Schwartz are currently working with the USDA to find new uses for food waste.

Tara McHugh, a researcher at the USDA, said: “We’re very interested in finding value-added uses for food waste products… spent grain is one of those materials that really can be used in healthy foods.”

“We have a co-research and development agreement with [the USDA]. They have a mission around closing loops and we are a business that is closing loops, so we have partnered with them to research ways we can do this more efficiently,”​ added Nathan.

Take a leaf from my book

So, while the existence of food waste is a shameful situation in today’s society, people are once again proving their resilience in overcoming challenges.

One man’s trash is another’s man’s treasure.

The next challenge is to inspire more people to fight the good fight.

Pic credits


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1 comment

Another "Waste To Wealth" idea

Posted by Ndidi Uwechue,

I love this - recycling and turning food that would be wasted, into food that will be eaten. Although not a food, Biogas is another thing that organic waste can be turned into, and can be used directly as cooking fuel or turned into electricity. By-products are liquid fertilizer and compost - used on the garden, vegetable patch or farm to grow even more food. Great information. Thank you

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