We undertake research in the following areas:
- Creating value from food waste (biofuels, platform chemicals, composts)
- Extending shelf-life
- Defining and quantifying food waste
Creating value from food waste
At the Institute of Food Research (IFR) we explore how food waste, from different parts of the food supply chain, could be used to make valuable products such as biofuels, platform chemicals, composts and other products, improving the environmental and economic sustainability of the food chain.
‘Whilst there is much that can be done with food waste, it is much better if food is not wasted in the first place. A lot of our focus is on products that are simply not used in the food chain such as the straw from oilseed rape or the off-cuts from vegetable processing. Nevertheless we have developed composts from food waste,’ comments Professor Keith Waldron.
The Institute also works with the food industry to explore methods of food processing that can extend shelf life in order to prevent food waste.
“Much research has gone into working out the safe shelf life of foods, and we are always looking for new ways of extending how long food can safely be kept” comments Dr Sandra Stringer, Microbial Food Safety expert at IFR. “The difference between a use-by date and a display until date has always been a source of confusion that has contributed to food waste. Removing display until dates will help and give consumers more confidence in the use-by date, which is the marker of how long food can be kept safely.”
Use-by dates are calculated based on the risks of food poisoning bacteria growing in the food. Different ways of processing and storing food affect this, so there is potential to improve these processes to increase shelf life and reduce waste. The key to this is learning more about the bacteria that cause the problems. How can we stop them getting into the food chain, how can we remove or inactivate them when they are there and how do we stop them multiplying during storage? Learning more about the biology of food poisoning and food spoilage bacteria will help us develop new ways to help to keep food fresher and safe to eat for longer, so reducing waste.
We recognise a pressing need to increase sustainability in the food chain and central to this is reducing waste. We can increase sustainability of the food chain by turning unavoidable waste from production into second generation biofuels, reducing losses during transportation and storage, and increasing safe shelf life.
Definition & quantification of food waste
The accurate measurement of food waste and losses is vital to begin to deal with the challenges of food waste and IFR, along with WRAP, are the UK partners in the recently started FUSIONS project (http://www.eu-fusions.org/) which aims to improve the definition and quantification of food waste to help achieve a reduction of 50% in food waste by the year 2020. The FUSIONS project also aims to tackle the problem of food waste through social innovation working with partners such as Feeding the 5000 (http://feeding5k.org/).