CSIRO survey to develop sustainable food strategies

Monday, 23 October, 2017

Natural resources are diminishing and this has brought sustainable food development to the forefront of the food industry. With 4 million tonnes of food wasted every year in Australia alone, more needs to be done in order to prevent food waste and encourage sustainability.

CSIRO’s Food Loss Bank is a networked supply chain that takes the edible food loss biomass suitable for human consumption and classifies it, determines its origin and facilitates its storage and diversion back into the food supply chain. For food that is safe and edible, the re-entry into the supple chain creates novel food ingredients and products.

A network map shows where supplies are held, where they could be diverted to and for what purposes. One example CSIRO provided was the irregular or ‘ugly’ fruit and vegetables that do not meet the usual aesthetics for supermarket sales. According to CSIRO, Australian losses in grain, horticulture, meat, fish and seafood production were $2.9 billion in 2014–2015, with $1.8 billion attributed to horticultural losses. That means there is a significant amount of fresh, edible produce that never makes it to the supermarket shelves and is unnecessarily disposed of or wasted.

The Food Loss Bank allows people to monitor undersized or misshapen horticultural harvests, collate this data within a growing district and redirect the leftover produce to other uses. For example, Canada and France have addressed this issue by selling the misshapen produce under the name ‘ugly fruit and vegetables’ and other supermarkets sell ‘the odd bunch,’ as they are suitable for human consumption but do not comply with the usual cosmetic standards.

Others are also redirecting produce to processing operations such as juicing. Pomace, the side product of juicing, can be used for animal feed or higher value food ingredients such as apple pomace powder, which could be used as a supplement.

For the Food Loss Bank to work, CSIRO needs to identify and map food losses on the farm, at the packing house and during distribution and processing. This will reveal in what areas and for what reasons food is being lost in the supply chain, which helps the company develop food loss reduction strategies.

Currently, CSIRO is collecting this information by asking businesses across selected horticultural supply chains — particularly broccoli, apples and almonds — to fill out a survey. Growers, packers, shippers and processors are being encouraged to participate in the short, 10-question survey and in return, CSIRO will show participants their food loss status in comparison with the average benchmark nationally and state wide.

This research is supported by the Eliminate Food Loss Test Bed, a CSIRO AIM initiative that aims to develop new strategies to avoid food loss from farm to retail by recovering and value adding to the edible portion to produce food products which will enhance the sustainability of the food supply chain. These include: Intelligent Decisions Making Tools; New Sensors; and New Processing Technologies for Stabilisation of Food Loss Materials and Conversion.

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