Sergio Almonacid, Ricardo Simpson,

Arthur Teixeira

In July 2003, the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) hosted a roundtable on “Food Waste Management and Value-added Products” at the 12th World Congress of Food Science and Technology in Chicago, Ill., sponsored by the International Union of Food Science and Technology (IUFoST). Proceedings from that roundtable were subsequently published by IFT as a concise review in science (IFT/IUFoST, 2004). These proceedings contained a host of valuable information on approaches to identifying opportunities for converting food wastes into valuable by-products, as well as the technology available for doing so in various market categories.

Unfortunately, it is very likely that the proceedings did not capture the attention of many food processors. Too much food waste continues to be generated by the food industry, and a new paradigm of thinking at the corporate level may be needed to turn this corner.

Our food industry is becoming increasingly aware of the need to assure long-term sustainable development and environmental protection while remaining economically competitive in a global market. Continual disposal of underutilized organic waste is clearly contraindicated in light of this noble objective. Across the spectrum of the food processing industry, approximately 50% of incoming raw material is discharged as waste. Admittedly, many large processors treat their waste as a secondary raw material in the manufacture of by-products, such as oilseed meal from producing crude vegetable oil and animal feed supplements from citrus and sugar beet processing. Most underutilized food waste is discharged from small to medium-size plants that lack the economies of scale to justify the cost of processing their waste.

But corporate commitment to address waste management and utilization as a top priority can make a difference, as illustrated in the following examples.

The seafood processing industry is made up of many small to medium-size processors that discharge approximately 60% of incoming raw material as waste. One such processor discovered that this waste could be processed into fish protein hydrolysate, and that it would perform much better in increasing the survival rate in fish hatcheries than traditional fish meal (Lian et al., 2005). However, the hydrolysate could not compete with the lower-priced meal, and was rejected by the hatcheries. Instead of giving up, the processor lowered the price sufficiently to induce purchase by the hatcheries, even though it was being sold at a loss. When the hatcheries experienced increased fish survival rates from 70 to 95%, they were soon willing to pay as much as three times the price of meal.

Similar case studies can be found in the fruit and vegetable processing industry. A sugar beet co-operative, for example, in the north-central region of the United States discovered patented technology capable of anaerobic digestion of its sugar beet “tailings” waste. These tailings consisted mainly of grass, weeds, leaves, stems, and chipped beets discharged from washing of beets. At a large plant, the waste totaled 400 tons of tailings/day (100,000 tons/yr) at a cost of $1 million annually to have it hauled away. Onsite anaerobic digestion of these tailings would eliminate this cost and generate 17,650 m3 per day of methane as biogas that could replace nearly one-third of the natural gas it purchased to fuel the rotary kiln dryers that process its spent beet pulp into animal feed pellets. Along with the biogas, 25 tons/day of nutrient-rich compost was produced that could be sold as organic fertilizer. The co-operative estimated total savings of more than $4 million annually by adopting this technology for a single plant (Teixeira et al., 2005).

These two examples illustrate significant developments in addressing food processing waste management and utilization. However, they would not likely have occurred if top management at the corporate level had not embraced waste management and utilization as a priority, and had not commissioned competent professionals to address this issue as their key job assignment. In addition, competent professionals must be given the time and resources to search literature, attend meetings and conferences, visit universities and research laboratories, and then lead assigned projects aimed at implementing promising opportunities.

This type of attention, commitment, and dedication to waste management and utilization, along with some willingness to accept risk in pursuing a new venture, is what we believe should be the new paradigm of thinking about waste management and utilization at the corporate level in the food processing industry.

References for the papers cited in this article are available from the authors.

Sergio Almonacid ([email protected]) a Member of IFT, is Associate Professor and Dept. Head, and Ricardo Simpson ([email protected]), a Professional Member of IFT, is Professor, Dept. of Chemical, Biotechnological, and Environmental Processes, Universidad Tecnica Federico Santa Maria,Valparaiso, Chile. Arthur Teixeira ([email protected]), a Professional Member of IFT, is Professor, Dept. of Agricultural and Biological Engineering, University of Florida, Gainesville.