Waste Not, Want Not

Tech­nol­ogy takes on the chal­lenge of re­duc­ing food waste.

Successful Farming - - CONTENTS - By Jessie Scott, Dig­i­tal Con­tent Di­rec­tor

The proverb “waste not, want not” lays out a sim­ple so­lu­tion to the is­sue of food waste: By not wast­ing food to­day, we won’t have a short­age of food in the fu­ture. Un­for­tu­nately, as a coun­try, Amer­ica is fail­ing mis­er­ably at that task.

Amer­i­cans throw out $165 bil­lion worth of food each year, which means that 40% of food in the U.S. is wasted, ac­cord­ing to the Nat­u­ral Re­sources De­fense Coun­cil.

That num­ber is so large be­cause food is wasted at ev­ery stop along the food chain, from the farm to restau­rants to gro­cery stores to con­sumers’ homes. As a mul­ti­fac­eted chal­lenge, it will take mul­ti­ple so­lu­tions to re­duce waste.

FoodKeeper App

If you wanted to know the keep­ing qual­ity of foods 20 years ago, you could re­quest a pa­per pam­phlet from your lo­cal county Ex­ten­sion ed­u­ca­tor. Cre­ated in col­lab­o­ra­tion by the USDA, Cor­nell Univer­sity, and the Food Mar­ket­ing In­sti­tute, the pam­phlet in­cluded in­for­ma­tion on how long you could keep food in the re­frig­er­a­tor, freezer, pantry, etc.

That pa­per pam­phlet was ver­sion 1.0 of what to­day is the FoodKeeper app. Con­verted to an app in 2015 with USDA fund­ing, the app has al­most 700 foods that users can search through to learn about the keep­ing qual­ity of food.

“We pro­vide good food stor­age and fresh­ness ad­vice to con­sumers and put the data in the palm of their hands,” says Robert Gra­vani, a pro­fes­sor of food sci­ence at Cor­nell Univer­sity who has been in­volved with the project since its con­cep­tion.

In ad­di­tion to stor­age time lines, the FoodKeeper app also in­cludes cook­ing rec­om­men­da­tions for meat prod­ucts, the op­tion to set cal­en­dar re­minders be­fore food goes bad, and alerts for food re­calls.

Food safety and smarter eco­nom­ics, not food waste, were the orig­i­nal goals of the project. “Con­sumers would of­ten pur­chase large quan­ti­ties of prod­ucts that were on sale. If they didn’t han­dle it prop­erly, they’d wind up throw­ing it away. There was no eco­nomic ad­van­tage to do­ing that, so we set out to pro­vide guide­lines,” ex­plains Gra­vani. “The food waste is­sue didn’t sur­face un­til later.

“Any­thing we can do to help con­sumers think about the is­sue and re­duce food waste is very good,” he adds, with a few spe­cific rec­om­men­da­tions. “Buy in rea­son­able quan­ti­ties and put food in the freezer if you can’t use it right away.”

The FoodKeeper app is avail­able at no cost for Ap­ple and An­droid de­vices in English, Span­ish, and Por­tuguese. To date, 189,000 users have down­loaded the app.

Im­per­fect Pro­duce

The crooked car­rot – along with his friends the curvy cu­cum­ber and the tiny ap­ple – is an­other cul­prit in the food-waste chal­lenge. An es­ti­mated one out of ev­ery five fruits and veg­eta­bles in the U.S. is wasted be­cause the pro­duce doesn’t meet cos­metic stan­dards, ac­cord­ing to Im­per­fect Pro­duce (im­per­fect­pro­duce.com). “His­tor­i­cally, some of this food gets left in the field, which re­turns nu­tri­ents to the soil but doesn’t do any­thing for the farmer eco­nom­i­cally,” says Reilly Brock at Im­per­fect. “If you’re grow­ing car­rots, you can sell to pro­ces­sors if you have a big enough vol­ume. But if you don’t have the vol­ume or it’s too far away, it might not make eco­nomic sense to ship it. There’s a wide range of out­comes for this pro­duce, but a lot of them do noth­ing for the farmer.”

Im­per­fect Pro­duce aims to give farm­ers a bet­ter out­come while re­duc­ing food waste. Launched in 2015, Im­per­fect works with pro­duc­ers who don’t have a place to sell a por­tion of their crop be­cause it’s im­per­fect, who have a crop that doesn’t meet size spec­i­fi­ca­tions, or who end up with a sur­plus. The food is boxed up and sent out through a sub­scrip­tion ser­vice, which is roughly 30% less than pro­duce pur­chased at gro­cery stores.

“This ap­peals to a wide range of peo­ple – not just peo­ple who want cheap pro­duce, or peo­ple who want some­thing de­liv­ered, or peo­ple who care about the en­vi­ron­ment. If you care about food waste, this of­fers a mean­ing­ful way to be in­volved as part of the so­lu­tion,” ex­plains Brock.

Im­per­fect ships pro­duce to con­sumers in 11 met­ro­pol­i­tan ar­eas and con­tin­ues to add new cities to the list. The com­pany’s ef­forts have saved 35 mil­lion pounds of food.

KDC Ag

Even with con­sumers and com­pa­nies do­ing their part to re­duce food waste, at the end of the day, there will still be food that goes bad and is no longer safe for hu­man con­sump­tion. This is where KDC Ag comes in.

For the past 30 years, Kamine De­vel­op­ment Cor­po­ra­tion (KDC) has de­vel­oped more than $3.5 bil­lion in in­fra­struc­ture. That busi­ness launched KDC Ag as a stand-alone com­pany in 2015. In con­junc­tion with Cal­i­for­nia Safe Soil, KDC Ag de­vel­oped an aer­o­bic en­zy­matic tech­nol­ogy that can take food and turn it into fer­til­izer or an­i­mal feed in less than three hours.

“Our process is amaz­ingly ef­fi­cient; com­post usu­ally takes two to three months,” says Justin Kamine, co­founder and part­ner of KDC Ag.

How does it work? Su­per­mar­kets col­lect meat and pro­duce that are no longer able to be sold and put the items in totes that are col­lected ev­ery two days. Back at KDC Ag’s fa­cil­ity, the food is put through a grinder, and then food-grade di­ges­tive en­zymes break it down to the molec­u­lar level. “That liq­uid is then pas­teur­ized for pathogen safety and mul­ti­ple batches are blended for con­sis­tency, so we can guar­an­tee the nu­tri­ent com­po­si­tion of our prod­uct,” says Kamine.

While the process works to cre­ate fer­til­izer and feed, KDC Ag’s fo­cus, so far, has pri­mar­ily been on fer­til­izer. This fer­til­izer is sold to farm­ers through Cal­i­for­nia Safe Soil.

KDC Ag has two fa­cil­i­ties to­day – one op­er­ated by Cal­i­for­nia Safe Soil in Cal­i­for­nia and the other in Penn­syl­va­nia. “Each one of our fa­cil­i­ties con­sumes 60,000 tons of to­tal food per year,” says Kamine. “We are hop­ing to open many more of these fa­cil­i­ties through­out the U.S.”

Robert Gra­vani

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