Australia: pioneers in food waste prevention

29 Aug 2019

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Fighting food waste through innovative food processing technology

Australia is becoming a world leader in harnessing technologies that reduce food waste. Aided by a population that is environmentally conscious, the Australian foodtech industry has evolved products and initiatives over the last few years that are producing significant results.

Meanwhile, government support for initiatives such as the Fight Food Waste Cooperative Research Centre demonstrate long-term commitment to further breakthroughs.

Extending product life

One great example of food waste reduction is improved fruit-pressing techniques. Australian organisations have patented technologies to enhance the lifespan of fruit products, which include hydraulic presses, high-pressure cold processing and new packaging methods. The end result is juice that is purer and has a longer shelf life.

Melbourne-based Preshafood is a pioneer in these waste reduction techniques. Working with CSIRO – who are world leaders in the development and implementation of High Pressure Processing (HPP) technology – Preshafood has created a processing technology that means its fruit juice, puree and coulis products need only pass through a single, cold-processing stage.

Alastair McLachlan, CEO of Preshafood, explains: ‘We use cold pressure to pasteurise rather than heat. Cold pressure does not change the flavour or appearance of the natural ingredient and maintains at least 85 per cent of its natural nutrition for up to seven months of shelf life.

‘The value to customers is the best-tasting apple and orange juice available in the market, and significantly greater natural nutrition compared to heat or flash-pasteurised products.’

For McLachlan, the use of these new technologies is just one element that differentiates Australia’s foodtech industry.

‘What is so unique about Australia’s foodtech industry is that we start with the highest quality produce and we are able to maintain that quality through the supply chain. Australians are innovative and willing to try something new, which invariably leads to superior quality.’

Alastair McLachlan, CEO, Preshafood

Focused on sustainability

Australia’s population is naturally focused on sustainability. As outlined in the National Food Waste Strategy, the Australian Government has made eliminating food waste a matter of public policy. The Government is also backing programs that are working to prevent food waste, like the Fight Food Waste Cooperative Research Centre (CRC).

The Fight Food Waste CRC brings together industry, research and the community to capitalise on Australia’s food waste opportunities. The CRC’s aim is to improve the competitiveness, productivity and sustainability of the Australian food industry.

According to Dr Steven Lapidge, CEO of Fight Food Waste CRC, the organisation’s 30 projects have two key aims: ‘The first is to reduce food waste that is either in the supply chain or going to landfill,’ he says. ‘The second aim is to [deliver] benefit to industry, which can be increased profitability or reduced disposal costs.

‘A lot of what we do is about compositional analysis and characterisation of waste streams, so we know what’s in there, and what’s the high-value component that we can extract.’

Established on 1 July 2018, the program uses technology, research and partnerships to find solutions to industry-wide problems that involve waste.

‘For example, up to 30 per cent of retail prawns are being thrown away due to a preservative causing black spots,’ says Lapidge. ‘The Fight Food Waste CRC is working with researchers to find a new preservative that will eliminate these black spots and reduce this concerning amount of food waste.

‘Similarly, we are working with premium potato growers to make better use of the 45 per cent of potatoes that are graded out. South Australia alone is losing 100,000 tonnes of potatoes,’ says Lapidge.

Along with these projects, the CRC is also working with small businesses to connect them with industry partners that provide solutions to their waste problems. For Lapidge, the enthusiasm from industry is what sets Australia apart.

‘A key difference about the Australian food industry is its willingness to invest early. We are the only research and development (R&D) organisation in the world where industry has put up money to begin with, and the government has matched it.

‘That willingness to invest shows that industry can lead the way here. I think Australia is going from strength to strength: we’ve got all the right ingredients for it.’

Dr Steven Lapidge, CEO, Fight Food Waste CRC

Smart solutions in packaging

Australian organisations are investing heavily in R&D that will eliminate food waste. Australia’s R&D expenditure is one of the fastest-growing in the world, increasing at a rate of 8.5 per cent per annum in real terms since 2000. This figure is well over the 4.8 per cent average across OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) countries.1

Many universities in Australia are championing research into solutions for food waste. At the Centre for Excellence in Advanced Food Enginomics, part of The University of Sydney, a food sensor technology is being developed to better understand food expiration. The objective is to create a type of conductive ink for food packaging that will be able to detect the gases generated by bacteria in packaged food.

Packaging that can detect gases such as hydrogen sulphide, nitrogen dioxide, carbon dioxide and ammonia provides a new method for predicting food expiration.

This type of smarter food packaging could result in the end of expiration dates and could prove invaluable for food suppliers. It will provide essential information in understanding ideal storage conditions, food safety compliance and even purchasing behaviour. This should result in food-chain companies making smarter decisions that ultimately lead to a reduction in food waste.

Australian organisations such as the Fight Food Waste CRC uses technology, research and partnerships to find solutions to industry-wide problems that involve waste.

Opportunities for investors

The Australian food industry presents global companies with multiple opportunities: to trial fresh ideas, to invest in food waste reduction techniques, and to leverage their existing technologies. What’s more, the local market shows a clear appetite for food waste innovation and fresh ideas.

For example, Unilever Food Solutions has partnered with Australian company Yume – Australia’s first online, surplus-food marketplace. Yume’s mission is a world without waste and the company is particularly targeting the commercial food sector, which is estimated to waste nearly four million tonnes of food a year.

Yume’s platform is already helping to divert more than 870,000 kilograms of food from landfill to buyers able to use the products.2

The technology works by pre-empting end-of-shelf-life, imperfect products or excess raw ingredients. Unilever Food Services uploads products that are nearing their expiration date onto the Yume platform. Yume’s buyers can then purchase the products while they are still safely consumable.3

These results echo Unilever’s goals to halve the waste associated with the disposal of its products by 2020. They also demonstrate how global businesses are investing in Australian technology to create real solutions to food waste.

Australia: leading the fight against food waste

Australia is at the forefront of innovation for fighting food waste. By harnessing new technologies, creating world-leading initiatives, combining government and industry in the battle against food waste, and attracting global investors, Australia is fertile territory for innovators.

Driven by an environmentally conscious population, Australia is committed to delivering value while minimising waste, and the focus on sustainability continues to be a core part of Australia’s global footprint in foodtech.

 

 

1 Austrade, Global benchmarking shows innovation & skills power Australian prosperity, accessed 23 May 2019
2 Unilever, Leveraging technology to tackle food waste in Australia, accessed 23 May 2019
3 ibid