From date labels to packaging innovation and bioactive cultures: IFF discusses the complex topic of tackling food waste in dairy

By Katy Askew contact

- Last updated on GMT

IFF discusses food waste and bioprotective cultures / Pic: GettyImages
IFF discusses food waste and bioprotective cultures / Pic: GettyImages

Related tags: Food waste, Dairy, Iff

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.

One third of all the food we produce is wasted. Dairy only represents 8% of food waste in terms of calories lost. But it is not an insignificant problem for the sector.

Around 20% of dairy products are wasted. One in six pints of milk are thrown away each year. Up to 17% of all yogurts go to waste in EU, which represents 6.5m tons of yogurts annually. Much of this loss – 55% - occurs in our fridges. But a sizeable amount also takes place in dairy supply chains.

This means that tackling the problem not only requires initiatives on the production side, but also innovative solutions to help consumers decrease waste.

“Food waste occurs all along the product life cycle for a multitude of reasons,”​ reflected Julien Plault, Global Product Manager Meat & Protective Cultures.

“First, many products get thrown away due to strict quality standards imposed on the dairy industry. Unlike some manufacturers in the food and beverage industries, dairy producers seeking to reduce product waste and increase sustainability must navigate temperature-controlled supply chains to deliver fresh-tasting, quality dairy products. The threat of contaminants like yeast, mold and unwanted bacterial growth damaging product is ever-present, even in excellent hygiene conditions. During seasonal changes accompanied by higher temperatures, dairy products are at higher risk of spoilage outside of non-refrigerated environments, and cold supply chain management issues may result in more food being thrown away,”​ we were told.

Retailer expectations also impact food waste, with 13% of food waste occurring at the retail level, according to FAO figures. “Grocers are unwilling to sell products with little remaining shelf life and pre-emptively throw out goods that are close to expiry as a precaution against costly consumer complaints,”​ Plault reflected.

Date labelling is also an issue at a household level, the ingredient expert suggested, noting that this is a major reason why shoppers might throw out dairy products that are otherwise still fit for consumption.

GettyImages-sergeyryzhov confused consumer labelling label
'Use by' date labelling can cause good food to go to waste / Pic: GettyImages-sergeyryzhov

How date labels drive dairy waste

Food products typically carry ‘use by’ and ‘best before dates’. The former suggests products must be consumed by a deadline, the latter advices that – with proper storage – products can often be consumed safely after that date. Eighty percent of yogurt food waste in the European Union is due to the ‘use-by’ date expiring while the product could still potentially be consumed, a recent IFC study on date labelling found​.

“Switching labels to ‘best before’ dates encourage consumers to use their senses to determine if food is still edible and can help consumers avoid throwing away good food,”​ Plault advised. “This is especially important for dairy products like yogurt,” he said, noting that, as of 2018, 68% of yogurts sold in Europe still displayed ‘use by’ dates.

“Enabling manufacturers to comfortably switch to ‘best before’ labels on dairy products while educating consumers on the difference between the two labels would help reduce consumer household waste. We are however observing a growing switch from yogurt producers to ‘Best Before’ dates labelling which is really encouraging – next step is really to educate consumers to understand these labels differences so they can change their behavior and contribute to food waste reduction.”

Sustainability balancing act: Packaging and spoilage

Packaging also plays a critical role in keeping dairy foods fresh and preventing spoilage. However, this important function needs to be balanced against evolving consumer expectations around sustainability and concerns over plastic waste and pollution.

Mintel research reveals 80% of food shoppers in the United States believe that reducing food waste is as important as reducing packaging waste; 83% of UK consumers agree that the country needs to cut down on the amount of food wasted; and 80% of Chinese internet users agree reducing food waste is more important than packaging waste.

GettyImages-phi2 milk
Dairy processors have to balance plastic reduction and food protection / Pic: GettyImages-phi2 milk

“There’s an overarching need to reduce plastic waste and packaging suppliers are constantly working on developing sustainable solutions. However, manufacturers, retailers and consumers in the dairy industry alike expect product packaging to ensure the same product freshness quality. This is not an easy task. Although the new packaging solutions may utilize less plastic, in order to be truly sustainable, these solutions also need to ensure that products are adequately protected from spoilage and meet shelf-life expectations, so they aren’t thrown away pre-emptively,”​ Plault observed.

“Manufacturers must evolve alongside this new sustainable packaging demand, while also ensuring their products maintain excellent quality throughout the supply chain. However, final consumers don’t want any compromise and are looking for more sustainable packaging allied with the same positive experience – meaning a product with comparable freshness and identical shelf-life duration."

The potential of bioprotective cultures

IFF believes that bioprotective cultures can also offer a viable solution for dairy processors, grocers and consumers seeking to cut food waste. 

“Protective cultures are the result of several decades of research and advancements in technology, allowing scientists to naturally control unwanted contaminants like mold, yeast and bacteria without noticeable sensory changes,” ​Plault revealed. "By utilizing consumer-friendly, natural protective solutions with strong inhibition capabilities via live cultures, manufacturers can contribute to food waste reduction while simultaneously switching to more sustainable packaging,​” Plault suggested.

IFF has launched a new range of cultures, HOLDBAC, that aim to achieve just this. These natural preservatives utilize microorganisms to maintain the freshness of products like yogurt, sour cream and cheese, providing efficient yeast and mold inhibition in ‘challenging temperatures’ as well as improved post-acidification control. This is achieved without sacrificing taste or sensory experience, IFF claimed.

GettyImages-alexialex yoghurt yogurt plastic
IFF believes bioprotective cultures can help tackle food waste / Pic: GettyImages-alexialex

So just what are protective cultures? And are they label friendly?

According to the European Food & Feed Cultures Association (EFFCA), protective cultures are an ‘integral part’ of food cultures. “Protective cultures are live cultures with a long history of safe use in food. They are specially selected and developed for their unique ability to control growth of unwanted food spoilage or pathogenic microorganisms throughout shelf-life and can be labelled as cultures,”​ we were told.

IFF’s protective cultures are made of a ‘cutting-edge selection’ of ‘good’ microorganisms, Plault continued. This helps ensure product freshness through different complex mechanisms such as competitive exclusion, organic acid compounds or other natural metabolite production.

Demand for so-called clean labels and natural ingredients also mean that bioprotective cultures are well-placed to extend shelf-life without raising any red flags over artificial preservatives. “Protective cultures are natural, live solutions selected for their capacity to extend the freshness of food, enabling manufacturers to benefit from consumer-friendly claims on their products. The HOLDBAC protective cultures are labeled as cultures and appeal to consumers looking for foods and beverages comprised of simpler, less complicated ingredients. The HOLDBAC range helps dairy processors support the switch to natural, consumer-friendly labelling,”​ Plault suggested.

The proof is in the pudding

What results can adding bioprotective cultures deliver in dairy? How does their inclusion in product formulations impact shelf life?

“By implementing HOLDBAC bioprotective cultures alongside starter cultures, processors can extend the freshness of dairy products by an average of 7 additional days. This freshness protection allows manufacturers to create a wider geographical reach for their products, increases likelihood retailer selection and prevents supply chain waste at a time of unforeseen challenges to the global shipping industry.

“When incorporated into yogurts alongside starter cultures during challenge trials, the addition of HOLDBAC YM-XTEND resulted in no change in yogurt flavour using standard starter cultures when stored at 5°C for 30 days. In similar trials, the incorporation of HOLDBAC YM-SUSTAIN resulted in no change in yogurt flavour and a slight change in thickness and stirring resistance using new generation starter cultures when stored at 5°C for 30 days.

“By keeping dairy products fresh for longer, both cultures also help to expand distribution reach, increase brand loyalty and reduce customer complaints while enabling manufacturers to place a live culture on product labels, creating a more pleasant experience for consumers.”

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