With approximately one third of all food in the world going to waste and a growing global population estimated to reach nine billion by 2050, the focus on reducing waste and improving food security has been a major talking point for many in recent years.
One potential solution is to focus on cutting the huge amounts of food wasted by retailers and manufacturers. Recent reports of a start-up aimed at turning expired fruit and vegetables in to powders that can be fed in to the F&B market, and moves to force French supermarkets to donate food waste to charities, are just two examples of how some are beginning to tackle the problem – even if the French law had to be dropped on a technicality and replaced by a voluntary scheme.
Now, a pilot study in the USA has shown the potential to repurpose ‘surplus food’ from retailers and manufacturers, and turn it in to new products that can be sold back to supermarkets – helping to reduce food waste, feed the hungry, and potentially create new jobs.
"As soon as bananas are ripe, they are pulled from supermarket shelves because they'll be overripe by the time the consumer gets them home and may get thrown in the trash," said study co-author Jonathan Deutsch, PhD, of Drexel University.
"If I offered you a bruised banana, you probably wouldn't be interested," he commented. "But what if I offered you some banana ice cream on a hot summer day? I bet you'd find that a lot more appealing."
Deutsch and his colleagues piloted a new model for repurposing food waste in the USA recently, with findings published in Food and Nutrition Science. The team explored a new model, dubbed the Food System-Sensitive Methodology (FSSM), which focuses on finding low-cost and easy-to-achieve methods to produce new food ingredients and products from fruit and vegetables that are currently thrown away.
“This initial analysis suggests that repurposing surplus produce from supermarket discards can have significant beneficial outcomes for new food markets and the environment,” said the authors.
Charity not always the answer?
The teams noted that although many supermarkets now donate certain types of surplus and waste food to charities like soup kitchens or shelters, certain items are generally unusable by these charities and still end up being put to waste.
Indeed, items like overripe or bruised bananas may still end up in the trash because they are unappealing, even to someone who is food insecure, said the team.
"We took a look at what was happening and realised that it was just shifting the problem and not actually solving it," said Deutsch.
Therefore, the team looked at the food items that were commonly going to waste - bananas, tomatoes, greens, sweet potatoes - and developed low-cost, limited-skill ways to repurpose these surplus food items.
"So, for example, we took those brown bananas, peeled them, froze them and food processed them to create banana ice cream, which is much more appealing,” he explained.
“If we then wholesaled those products back to the grocery store, they could be sold at nearly double the price."
In an evaluation of just one month of the program, the researchers found that 35,000 pounds of surplus produce were gathered from 11 area supermarkets.
“We analysed a scenario where a supermarket receives $0.25 per pound for culled produce, generating about $8700 dollars in average monthly revenue while eliminating disposal costs,” explained the team – who then explored new commercial possibilities for the waste.
They found that if the surplus produce was purchased for a reduced price of $0.25 per pound and was processed into value-added food products such as veggie chips, jams and smoothie bases, it could then be wholesaled back to the same supermarket or other community-based retailers for $2.00 per pound.
These products could then be retailed at double the price, the researchers estimate, generating more than $90,000 in monthly gross revenue, enough to support several employees at a family wage.
Source: Food and Nutrition Science
Volume 6, Number 10, doi: 10.4236/fns.2015.610093
“New Sustainable Market Opportunities for Surplus Food: A Food System-Sensitive Methodology (FSSM)”
Authors: Thomas H. O’Donnell, et al