California company delivers boxes of discounted “ugly” produce to your door

Imperfect Produce-Ugly Produce. Delivered.

(Image via www.imperfectproduce.com

The “ugly” fruit and vegetable movement has been growing in momentum in the past few years, and for good reason. A large amount of food is wasted before it reaches grocery store shelves due to the food industry’s strict aesthetic standards for shape, colour and size of produce. In order to combat this, some grocery store chains are beginning to sell imperfect vegetables and fruits, often at a discounted price. However, there is one company taking things even further.

Based in the California Bay Area, Imperfect Produce delivers boxes of imperfect fruits and vegetables to consumers at 30-50% less cost than “perfect” fruits available at grocery stores. Shoppers can choose from a number of boxes such as all-vegetable, all-fruit or mixed, all of which are available in different sizes.

“In America, 1 in 5 fruits and vegetables grown don’t fit grocery stores’ strict cosmetic standards — the crooked carrot, the curvy cucumber, the undersized apple — usually causing them to go to waste” reads a statement on their website. The issue is also prevalent in Canada, where rejected fruits and vegetables make up to 18% of total food waste. Companies like Imperfect Produce are working to combat this by changing the way consumers think about vegetables and fruit. Along with other “ugly” produce movements, the company hopes to educate people on the benefits of choosing to eat imperfect produce, which has the same nutritional content and taste as its aesthetically-pleasing counterpart.

Christinne Muschi for National Post

Misshapen or discloured peppers such as these are rejected by buyers and often used for animal feed or tossed back into soil. (Image: Christinne Muschi for National Post via Financial Post)

As a home-grown company, Imperfect Produce only delivers to certain areas of California, but the business model would likely prove successful here in Canada, as more and more consumers are aware of the extent of waste in the food industry. Based on the success of initiatives like Loblaw’s Naturally Imperfect, it appears as though Canadians are ready to see the beauty in ugly produce.

You can read more about Imperfect Produce on their website.

 

New tactile freshness indicator may push best before dates to the bin

 

A new tactile, bioreactive expiry date allows consumers to feel when their food is no longer fresh. Invented by London-based designer Solveiga Pakstaite, “Bump Mark” feels smooth when a package of food is fresh and will turn rough and bumpy when it has expired. This process is due to a gelatin substance inside the package that decays at a similar rate to food. As it has similar properties to perishable food like meat, the gelatin will be affected if food is not stored properly, or exposed to warm temperatures during transportation, making it an accurate reflection of the freshness of food inside the package.

The printed expiry dates we see on food today can be unclear to consumers and can contribute significantly to household food waste. Consumers have no way of knowing if food has been stored incorrectly, or if the food has gone bad while in the package. The bioreactive nature of Bump Mark offers a solution to the confusion.

“The label simply copies what the food in the package is doing, so the expiry information is going to be far more accurate than a printed date.” Pakstaite said in an interview with The Guardian.

When she started out, Pakstaite wanted to create a tactile that could be used by the blind, so that they could know when food had expired. However, knowing that large companies would not likely  make a sweeping change for a small part of the population, Pakstaite went on to market the Bump Mark as a tool to reduce food waste as well as empower the blind. Her work has made headlines around the world and has earned her the James Dyson Award, a charity run by the James Dyson Foundation that supports innovations in technology, engineering and design.

The Bump Mark can be altered depending on the food by altering its concentration of gelatin.The more gelatin in the package, the slower it decays. It can be applied to many products but it may be most useful for animals products like meat, dairy and seafood.

You can read more about Pakstaite’s work on her website.

Should schools help reduce food waste by teaching cooking skills to kids?

Image by Murdo Macleod via The Guardian

There’s no mistaking it: our generation of young people lack many of the the basic cooking skills that our parents and grandparents were taught growing up. Add to that the fact that millennials have not seen anything close to the economic difficulties of the post-war generation, and you have a cohort of young adults who have only ever known the fast-food driven, affluent society we live in today. As a part of this generation, I can vouch for our disconnected attitudes towards food. Many of us in the western world have been raised going to grocery stores instead of markets or fast food chains instead of family-owned restaurants. In a sense, this evolution has helped us become independent and freed up time to focus on education or careers. However, we now have less of a connection with our food than ever, which makes throwing it in the trash so much easier.

Recently, former UK government advisor on food waste Liz Goodwin said that about £12 billion of food waste can be traced back to a lack of cooking skills being taught in UK schools. She explained that millennials are so detached from food that they are sometimes frightened by it, especially when it comes to food safety and best before dates. This leads to an over-reliance on best before dates to determine freshness, instead of sensory clues like smell and appearance.

“We’ve probably got a couple of generations who went through school without really getting taught how to do things [cooking skills and home economics lessons] and then they’re terrified by use-by dates: one minute to midnight it’s OK, a minute after midnight it’s not OK,” Goodwin told The Guardian.

Another theory of why millennials waste so much is that they are not aware or just don’t care about the consequences of food waste, as they have never felt the effects of rations and shortages. With modern-day, global shipping there is almost always going to be an alternative during a food shortage. Older generations, like my parents and grandparents, who either lived through war or were raised by those who did, are less likely to waste food as they are more aware of its value.

In Canada, students are not taught cooking skills until high school, where a home education course is provided as an optional elective. As a majority of Canadian food waste occurs in the home, maybe it is time to start teaching kids how to cook from a young age. Programs such as Jamie Oliver’s Home Cooking Skills have proven successful in providing American kids and youth with cooking knowledge and could be well-received in other countries. Hopefully, the next generation will then have a more meaningful relationship with food and waste it less.

This wonky Mr. Potato Head is helping to raise awareness about food waste

Image from www.gizmodo.com

Too many fruits and vegetables are thrown away because they do not meet strict aesthetic standards. Despite the success of grocery store campaigns such as Loblaw’s Naturally Imperfect and France’s Inglorious Fruit, there is still much work to do in order to rewire what consumers define as “beautiful produce”. To support the case for imperfect foods, Hasbro has made a wonky, asymmetrical, but naturally-accurate model of the Mr. Potato Head toy.

Hasbro produced the Mr.Potato Head in partnership with UK grocery chain ASDA to spread the word that even misshapen or “ugly” fruits and vegetables are still perfectly edible. However, if you’re looking to snag an original wonky Mr. Potato Head, the one and only available model has been auctioned off on ebay for no less than $950, with all proceeds going to the charity FareShare which provides affordable, healthy fruits and vegetable to families in the UK.

You can read more about the cause here.

Guelph prof develops natural spray that keeps produce fresh for longer

Jay Subramanian's has developed a spray that would extend the lifespan of peaches and nectarines by at least week - doubling its shelf life.

With the application of the spray, peaches could see an extended shelf life of up to 10 days. (Image from http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/kitchener-waterloo/guelph-fruit-spray-extends-shelf-life)

A large portion of global food waste occurs when fresh produce goes bad before we have the opportunity to buy or consume it. Produce often rots on grocery store shelves or in our fridges and fruit bowls, due to the long distances that food travels in our far-reaching food system. There are solutions to this issue, such as buying local and only purchasing produce that you need, but in case that these techniques don’t work (i.e. shipping fresh produce to remote communities) science, as usual, is there to save the day.

As a professor of plant science at the University of Guelph, Jay Subramanian understands all too well the swiftness with which picked produce can become inedible. Although there are currently a variety of protective coatings and waxes that are sprayed onto fruits and vegetables, Subramanian’s protective spray is innovative in its nanotechnology-based approach.

The spray is made from hexanol, a natural component in plants which inhibits the enzyme that breaks down cell walls, causing fruits and vegetable to shrivel and rot.

“Once the walls are protected, the cells are intact and so the whole fruit stays intact,”Subramanian said in an interview with CBC.

Prof. Jay Subramanian. Photo by Martin Schwalbe

Prof. Jay Subramanian. (Photo by Martin Schwable. Image from news.uoguelph.ca)

The spray is perfectly safe for consumption and can be washed off. It can be applied as a spray one and two weeks before harvest, or the fruit can instead be dipped in a hexanol solution postharvest. The result? Fruit lasts up to 50% longer. According to Subramanian, bananas can last up to 40 days, mangos up to 23 and nectarines and peaches have an extended life of up to 10 days, on top of the usual one week they usually have to remain edible.

Subramanian’s project was funded by Global Affairs Canada, through the International Development Program. It also worked with partners in India, Sri Lanka, Kenya, Tanzania and Trinidad and Tabago. The spray is still being reviewed in Canada for commercial use, but the project has hopes of going international in the next four years.

Read more about the hexanol spray here.

Frozen food safety confusion linked to food waste

freezer-food.jpg

Misconceptions about freezing food can lead to food waste , watchdog says. (Image from www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/health-news/frozen-food-safety-confusion-leading-to-tonnes-of-waste-watchdog-warns-a7119276.html)

Freezing food that is reaching expiry is a good practise to reduce food waste. However, a recent survey has shown that misconceptions about freezing and food safety can actually contribute to more food waste.

A UK watchdog organization surveyed 1,500 people, of which 43% assumed that food could only be frozen on the day it was purchased, when in fact it can be frozen up to (and often after) its best-before date. The survey also revealed that 38% of people surveyed believed that food is unsafe to refreeze after it has been cooked. However, this is not the case as food can be refrozen if it has been cooked thoroughly.

According to the BBC, frozen foods can be kept almost indefinitely, however, the quality of the food can deteriorate causing changes in texture and taste. Freezing food effectively pauses bacterial activity and once defrosted, it will spoil in the same way as before it was frozen since the levels of bacteria do not change during freezing. However, refrozen raw food could pose a health risk, as bacteria can multiply very fast after defrosting for a second time. As a result, Health Canada recommends that food be cooked the day of defrosting.

These knowledge gaps uncovered by the study are reflective of a lack of food storage and safety education in western society. Consumers often throw away food because they are wary and unsure of its quality. Studies like this will help to spread the facts of food safety and hopefully reduce health and safety related food waste!

You can read more about the study in the original BBC article here.

Do older generations understand food safety more than millennials?

Mustard best before date

Image: Graeme Roy/The Canadian Press via CTV news

A recent poll by the Huffington Post and YouGov has reinforced what many of us already know: best before dates are confusing. The poll, which involved 1000 participants and controlled for age and education (as well as other factors), found that one third of all participants believed food was unsafe to eat after its best before date.When the participants were divided by age group, the responses showed that almost half of people under 30 said they understood food freshness labelling, while only 34% of over-65s stated that they had the same confidence. Despite this, under-30s or “millennials” were much more likely to throw out food that has passed its best before date. In fact, 71% of those polled stated they would throw out food past its date, while only 17% of 65+ participants said the same.

This poll indicates that while there is confusion in all age groups, general misunderstanding is more common in younger generations, even though they claim to comprehend food labels.  One possible explanation for this knowledge gap is that younger generations have been raised in a society that is more and more aware, and more wary, of foodborne illness. Government food agencies may be contributing to the fear. Health Canada has reinforced that you should never use your nose, eyes or taste to judge the freshness of food, leading suspicious young cooks to toss perfectly edible food. On the other hand, some experts say that schools have failed to teach basic cooking skills and an understanding of food safety. The younger generation’s grandparents likely had these skills instilled at a young age and along with an understanding of wartime food shortages, are less likely to throw away food.

Millennials tend to waste more food than older generations. Image: Thomas Barwick/Getty Images via The Huffington Post

Whatever the case may be, polls like these are important as they reiterate just how confusing date labels can be. More obvious labelling should be adopted along with educating consumers, of all age groups, on food safety and literacy so we can stop throwing away perfectly delicious food!

Learn more about why the best before date should be scrapped here.