One third of the food we produce globally is wasted each year, equating to approximately 1.3bn tonnes according to FAO estimates. Much of this waste occurs at post-harvest, storage and processing levels, particularly in emerging markets where 40% of food is wasted before reaching the consumer.
Tackling food waste was the spark that ignited the development of a new approach to food preservation at Russian biotech start-up Vyatka Agroconcern, according to company spokesman Aleksey Kolibaev.
“Where did the idea come from? Enough food is produced in the world, but we have not learned how to store it effectively. Therefore, a significant part of the food supply simply rots and does not reach the consumer,” he told FoodNavigator, explaining that it is the company’s ‘mission’ to challenge this paradigm.
The problem of food waste is particularly acute across certain agricultural products. FAO data reveals 45% of fruit and veg and 45% of roots and tubers are not consumed – ‘the highest wastage rates of any food’.
Grains are also an at-risk category. Globally, around 30% of grains produced fail to make it to the table. And, according to Vyatka Agroconcern, this is only part of the picture when it comes to grains.
“Non-recoverable losses in grain cultivation are caused, first of all, by its damage during the stages of harvesting and subsequent storage. Due to adverse weather conditions in various countries, up to 80% of the gross grain harvest needs post-harvest treatment.”
Moreover, figures from the World Health Organization reveal up to 25% of grain crops are affected by mycotoxins. “Mycotoxins can cause a variety of adverse health effects and pose a serious health threat to both humans and livestock. The adverse health effects of mycotoxins range from acute poisoning to long-term effects such as immune deficiency and cancer,” the WHO concludes.
Vyatka Agroconcern has developed a technology that both reduces spoilage and blocks the growth of mycotoxins - cutting waste and improving food safety.
‘Milekons surpasses other preservatives’
The biotech company has created Milekons, a treatment that creates an antimicrobial nanofilm that can be used to coat the surface of fruits, vegetables and grains. This nanofilm prevents the formation of pathogenic microflora. Vyatka Agroconcern reported that 95-100% of vegetables, such as potatoes, treated with Milekons and placed in long-term storage for 6-8 months are preserved.
The preservative consists of a quaternary ammonium compound ‘widely used' in water purification, modified sucrose, sodium chloride and ethanol. “The agent is active against a wide range of viruses, bacteria and fungi, including antibiotic resistant microorganisms,” the manufacturer claimed.
Unlike other preservatives used in the food and fodder industries, Milekons does not contain ‘chemically active substances’ that ‘adversely affect’ the ‘immunity or genetic apparatus’ of humans or animals that consume it.
Long-term sanitary and hygienic studies have shown that Milekon in recommended doses does not have acute and chronic toxicity, embryotoxic and teratogenic effects and does not cause allergic reactions, Vyatka Agroconcern maintained.
Vyatka Agroconcern is also presenting the innovation as a ‘green’ solution to food preservation. In the environment, under the action of enzymes, Milekon decomposes into nitrogen-containing components, the company noted.
The Russian company already has a lot of practical evidence of the positive results of the drug. Kolibaev points to the example of a ‘large’ vegetable grower Vyatka Agroconcern works with. “The large producer lays about 30,000 tons of vegetables for storage in modern facilities. Thanks to the use of Milekons, during storage from September-October to May-June, the loss of beets amounted to no more than 10%, potatoes and carrots not more than 5%,” he told us.
Grain treated with the coating and placed in storage for a year ‘do not lose [their] commercial properties’ and maintain ‘high growth properties’. Yields from seeds treated, stored and then sewn exceeded control samples by 10-15%. In the context of rising demand for food from a growing global population, Kolibaev said that the solution can therefore also be used to increase harvests and drive agricultural productivity.
Moreover, Kolibaev said, processing flattened grains for compound feeds with Milekons ‘not only preserves but also improves quality’ with tests suggesting the nutritional quality of the grains were also higher. Preservation of nutrients was up to 1.5% higher than the control, carotene content was 9.8% above control levels and an increase in the mass fraction of lactic acid of up to 4.5% was observed.
“Milekons surpasses other preservatives when storing grain with preservation of growth and commercial properties.”
Vyatka Agroconcern also claims the method is applicable to other fresh food categories, including chilled fish, meat, poultry and semi-finished products.
A globally relevant solution
Kolibaev said that the company has not yet developed a good distribution base in Russia, explaining ‘we have a very small marketing budget’. Nevertheless, the company does count ‘large agricultural firms’ in the country among its customers.
The Russian entrepreneur is also bullish on the impact the company’s innovation could make on global food waste, particularly in emerging markets where storage conditions exacerbate the problem.
Kolibaev compares Vyatka Agroconcern’s solution to that developed by US group Apeel Sciences, which has also produced an edible coating for the preservation of produce. Apeel recently entered into agreements with US retailer Kroger, to coat avocados for prolonged shelf life, and US grower Houweling’s Group, which will use Apeel’s tech to supply cucumbers without plastic wrapping. However, Kolibaev claims Mikecons is 'much more versatile' and can 'handle any vegetables, fruits, grains, herbs, as well as disinfect storage, containers and transport'.
While Kolibaev said Milekons can ‘work in all markets’ he sees greatest potential to tackle food waste in developing countries. “Milekons can work in all markets but its most effective use, of course, will be in countries with hot climates - Africa, Central and South America, India, China, Pakistan, Vietnam, etc. Especially as these regions and countries are insufficiently equipped with modern storage facilities.”
Here Milekons price point could also be key. The company says legumes, grains, fruits and vegetables can be effectively treated at a cost of just US$1-2 per tonne. This means the preservative is well-positioned to help in the fight against food waste on a number of fronts: “efficiency, unit cost of its use and environmental friendliness.”
Looking to the future, Kolibaev said Vyatka Agroconcern is open to partnering with international players to bring its food waste solution to as many markets as possible.
“We are ready to provide Mikecons samples for interested companies to carry out independent testing because your own results will be more convincing to you,” he concluded.
“Vyatka Agroconcern is a small company that has developed an manufactured a unique product. We are open to cooperation with companies around the world to solve the one big problem – to preserve the crops that are grown.”