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.

Flashfood app to bring discounted surplus food to Toronto

 

Recently, more and more cities are beginning to use apps that help deter food waste while providing discounted food to consumers. Apps such as Montreal’s Ubifood have seen startling success by providing a virtual platform for users to buy discounted surplus food. These programs work to reduce food waste by connecting hungry consumers with willing sellers who have surplus food on the verge of going bad. With this approach, consumers, sellers, and the planet benefit.

Set to release a beta soft launch in Toronto this August 2016, Flashfood has similar aspirations to reduce waste, while benefiting both sides involved.

“Flashfood is essentially the discount food rack on your cellphone and it’s a means for grocery stores, restaurants, food vendors, being able to resell their surplus food before they’re going to throw it out,” Flashfood CEO Josh Domingues explained in an interview with City TV.

Domingues hopes to expand Flashfood Canada-wide and eventually, go global.

“People have signed up from Australia, New Zealand, Russia, Italy, the States, India, Brazil” he told City TV. “It’s caught on.”

View the Flashfood website here to sign up for notifications relating to the app’s launch.

 

New biodegradable silk-based coating could extend shelf-life of fresh produce and reduce food waste

A recent study on an unprecedented approach to food preservation is making headlines across the globe. Published in Nature magazine, the article discusses the use of a silk protein-based coating that could prolong the shelf life of fruits and vegetables. Entirely edible, stable and biodegradable, the silk fibroin solution acts as a barrier to moisture and air, delaying the ripening time of produce.

To test their theory, researchers dipped strawberries in two different concentrations of silk solution and monitored the fruit alongside a control group. Remarkably, the coated strawberries preserved their freshness and firmness better than those without a coating (over a 7-day period). A test was also conducted on bananas, which showed similarly promising results.

This innovation has the potential to greatly reduce food waste and may aid in the struggle for global food security. Here in Canada, the silk coating could be beneficial to remote communities in the Northern reaches of the country by keeping produce fresh during transport. As many of these communities struggle with shockingly high food prices and a shortage of fresh fruits and vegetables, developments such as this silk coating may be an important tool in reducing food waste as well as food insecurity.

Read more about the study in the original article here.

Image from http://www.nature.com/articles/srep25263.

ZeroFly storage

While in Canada the biggest portion of food waste comes from the household level, in much of the developing world most waste occurs before it even reaches the market or household. Part of the reason for this is  due to problems with storage. Grains and produce can be lost due to improper storage conditions causing spoilage, but also due to animals or insects. To combat insect pests, the Swiss company Vestergaard has created an innovative storage solution: the ZeroFly storage bag.

ZeroFlyStorageBagBrochureApril2015 1

The bag is polypropylene treated with an insecticide to stop insects from damaging agricultural products. While some may be hesitant about using an insecticidal bag,compared to other methods of preventing or killing pests, this bag leaves less pesticide residue while protecting the grain within from infestation. This product and similar innovations can potentially reduce losses for farmers, improving food security and decreasing food waste.

Find out more about the ZeroFly storage bags from Vestergaard.

Hope for the end of food waste

Sometimes it’s all too easy to feel like an issue is too big or beyond ourselves. Environmental issues often fall into this as they can feel disconnected or beyond the scope of the individual consumer.

I’m not trying to get people down, but rather to take heart in something I like about studying food waste. In this case, the huge environmental (and social, and economic) problem is very much one of which the average consumer is a part: that is the beauty of the issue. According to a report from last year, 47% of food waste in Canada is created at the household level, making it the largest sector, as can be seen in the chart.

VCMC - Fig. 4.1

From the Value Chain Management Centre report:  “$27 Billion” Revisited

While I don’t mean to oversimplify (there are certainly structural changes which also need to occur), consumers do play a major role, as we can see from the fact that the majority of food waste occurs at the household level. The beauty of this is that we do have a great deal of power to change by altering our waste creation and disposal practices.

Perhaps I’m more talking to myself, but I think sometimes we need the sense that a difference can be made. Because so much of the waste occurs in the home, changing household behaviour can have an enormous impact. Consumers can reduce the amount of waste they create by adopting proper food storage or careful meal planning, but consumers can also create demand for less wasteful products, or buy products close to their best before date in order to cut down on retail waste. Even just being aware of food waste has shown to cut down on it.

I like to take heart in this,  that individuals have so much power in this area.  While consumers may feel overwhelmed by the need for systemic change, and it is important, I think it’s equally important to remember to start with the easy changes, including steps that de-normalize food waste. Food waste is complicated, but there are some areas of low hanging fruit, like starting with eating your leftovers and composting inevitable food scraps. The reality is that changing policy can make the food system more efficient, but that still won’t cut out food waste in homes, where so much of it occurs – that requires changes in consumer behaviour. And here’s where I think there’s so much potential: consumers have already been seen to produce less waste once they are conscious of it, and with the growing attention to our food and now the waste associated with it, I feel more confident that food waste is manageable and that we will start to see changes.

 

“Root to Leaf” cooking

I’m a big fan of kale, but I have to admit, I’m not the best at eating all of it. In fact I only recently found out that I could be eating all of it. My friend likes to cook the ribs in stir fry – he just gives them a head start so they aren’t as tough before tossing in the rest of the veggies. This has inspired me to look at what other parts of veggies I could and should be eating.

So I’ve made a totally subjective definitive ranking and list for beginning to take a “root to leaf” approach to your veggies. If you’ve mastered eating an apple without cutting off the nutritious peel, then please proceed to the next level, or totally ignore the levels and try any of them cause they’ll all help reduce waste. Maybe you think you are already a waste warrior – well perhaps, like me, you didn’t even realize some things were edible.

  • Beginner:  Mushroom stems; apple, carrot, and potato peels; broccoli stems and leaves; pumpkin seeds; chard stems
  • Intermediate: Asparagus ends; beet greens; turnip and radish greens; kale ribs; brussels sprout greens (may only be available if you have a garden, but they are a great substitute for collards)
  • Advanced: Corn silk; orange and lemon rinds; carrot greens; watermelon rind  (good for pickling)

Okay, so maybe you knew some of these were edible, but the problem is what do you actually do with them?  A good start is to simply leave the peels on when eating fruits or root vegetables (maybe just give them a good scrub). Another easy thing is to use scraps, stems and skins to make soup or stock. For me, my go-to meals with veggie bits would be soup, stir fry, and smoothies or juices (great for kale ribs or the inner stalk of pineapples – so good).

If you are looking for more inspiration, you can check out some recipes:

Creamy Asparagus Ends Soup

Carrot Top Pesto

Pickled Chard Stems

Sweet and Spicy Sautéed Kale Stems

Watermelon-Rind Chutney

Red Lentil Soup with Beet Greens

Looking for other veggie parts you could be eating? You can start your search here.

http://dontmesswithmama.com/10-vegetable-fruit-discards-can-actually-eat/

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/03/02/fruits-and-vegetables-not-eating_n_4868505.html

 

Crying over spilled milk

Whether or not you are in favor of the supply-managed dairy system in Ontario, when 800,000 litres of milk gets dumped, you know that something just isn’t quite right. The Globe and Mail’s article blew this wide open and revealed that the Dairy Farmers of Ontario, when faced with a greater demand for higher fat dairy products, were left with a great deal of skim milk, which was then periodically disposed. This has amounted to 800,000 litres, just since the end of May. The article places heavy blame on the supply-managed market for such ‘chronic overproduction.’ I would hesitate to place the blame so heavily on the market system, as overproduction happens in an open market as well, but rather on the fact that this type of loss is considered acceptable because it is still profitable. Even if producers refuse to sell skim milk at a reduced price, and facilities dehydrating skim milk into powder are full, there are still alternatives to dumping such as donating, or at the very least feeding to animals. What is scandalous is that while the dairy board may feel like this is an affordable loss since farmers are making money from cream and butter, it is still a loss of resources, energy, time, and money that went into producing the dairy.

Clearly there is a problem with the system if this sort of waste is acceptable to the industry. What is reassuring, however, is the public response. People have reacted with shock and anger to the disposal of this quantity of milk, which shows a level of concern that hopefully can impact producers to reconsider their practices and create a more efficient system.

Get the whole story here:

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/dairy-dilemma-time-to-dump-subsidies-not-milk/article25045134/

http://www.betterfarming.com/online-news/dairy-farmers-ontario-dumps-skim-milk-surplus-60918

Don’t create waste in your effort to curb food waste

Reducing food waste in the home often means learning to store foods in ways that they will keep longer, unfortunately this often means using foil, plastic wrap or other disposables or plastics in order to seal in freshness. So what are the alternatives? Reducing food waste isn’t that impressive if all you do is increase waste in another category. Of course there are glass jars and containers, but what about when you need a replacement for the ever so practical plastic cling wrap? Well one option would be these fun looking CoverBubbles.

coverblubbercoverblubbercoverblubber

Or go the even greener DIY route and make your own alternative using fabric and beeswax. It’s easier and faster than you might think, and you can use it over and over again!

DIY food wrap

Instructions can be found at onegoodthingbyjillee.com

Will Forcing Retailers to Donate Excess Food Work to Reduce Waste?

There has been a lot of talk about the new law in France which will compel food retailers to donate unsold food rather than throw it out.  Given our work in food waste, we’ve been asked a lot what our thoughts about it are.  I’m scheduled for a 30 minute call in on radio this afternoon so thought I should pull my thoughts together and a blog post seems a reasonable approach to doing that.

First of all – reducing the amount of food that goes to landfill is a good thing.  We should be looking at more ways to do that.   Secondly, talking about food waste is a good thing.  Higher awareness means lower waste – and not just at retail.  Many Canadian retailers already divert product to food banks – largely from distribution centres.  So what could possibly go wrong?

As always, the details will make all of the difference.  Here are a couple of thoughts about implementation.

Where is the line?  Some product that gets thrown out is clearly still edible and could be re-purposed.  I was speaking to a student who regularly “liberates” food from behind food retailers just the other day.  They found 8 wheels of brie and many potatoes and beets just the other day at a single retailer.  I don’t know why it was thrown out but it was clearly still edible and was used.  There is, however, also a significant volume of inedible spoilage.  Who decides whats good and what isn’t?  What happens to the stuff that isn’t?  Will we burden charitable organizations with increased disposal costs?  This needs to be figured out.

What is donatable?  Fridge space is often an issue at food banks.  What if they don’t want it?  Some stuff simply doesn’t move well at a food bank.  What if they don’t want it?

Who pays?  There is already some donation.  We don’t have a good sense of how much edible food is thrown out – although we know there is some.  If retailers have to pay to sort and ship it to charities (assuming they have the capacity or ship it to multiple locations) this needs to be figured out.  The classic operations management newsvendor problem suggests that as disposal costs go up, optimal order quantity goes down.  Availability may decrease.  That may be a good thing.  Diversion (to charitites, animal feed or others uses) is a secondary objective to not generating the waste in the first place (apologies for the suggestion that providing food to the less fortunate as waste).  Grocery stores may be more inclined to run out than to have to manage the diversion of excess.  That may be a very good thing but it doesn’t increase the food going to food insecure individuals.

In principle this is a good idea.  It remains to be seen whether it truly is in practice.

64% of food waste is preventable: Learn how you can prolong your food’s life!

This weekend, we shared food waste tips / tricks with visitors to Toronto’s Green Living Show. The number of stimulating conversations we had with folks floored us! We received countless requests to share the information more widely and accessibly by posting it online. So, in our devotion to you and in our mission to help you prevent food waste in your own kitchen, here are some tips our visitors found particularly useful!

We don’t know it all, so let’s continue this conversation: use the comments box for questions or to share your own tips. Tweet us ideas, and check out the links we include to other great resources.

@guelphfoodwaste @kjhodgins @KateParizeau @Mikevonmassow @RalphmartinOAC

 

Navigate to:

Vegetables

Herbs:

  • Pop in the freezer in bunches. They will last for months, and it’s just as easy to chop and use them from there as from the fridge where they will spoil very quickly.
  • If you do store herbs in the fridge, wrap them in a clean towel inside a bag to prevent them from wilting in their own moisture.

Cilantro: (most-frequently discussed topic at our GLS booth!)

  • This is one of the most challenging herbs to store, and especially troublesome because we generally want to eat it fresh, not frozen and then thawed! It will last longest if you stand it in a jar of water with a plastic bag placed loosely over the top.

Green Onions:

  • The greens rot quickly, so wrap a paper towel or clean cloth around them to absorb any moisture. This will extend their life for days or even weeks.
  • Instead of tossing the root end, pop it in a jar of water on the windowsill. It will drink and re-grow new greens for you!

Salad Greens (and prone-to-wilting kale)

  • Wash, then store inside thick shopping bags, tied up but keeping an air balloon inside. This gives them their own airy microclimate but keeps the plastic from resting against the leaves and creating too much moisture.
  • Crispers are generally a bit warmer than the other parts of the fridge, which is good. This will prevent delicate leaves from freezing
  • Segregate from fruits (especially apples) to keep greens fresher longer
  • I always wash my lettuce when I get it home, use one clean dishtowel to pat it mostly-dry, then wrap it loosely in another clean dishtowel, and slip that into a bag. They last for weeks this way, and I’ve done it for years!

Broccoli:

  • Keep away from gas-releasing fruits like apples, avocados, peaches, and tomatoes.
  • Keep it in the HIGH HUMIDITY drawer (lever closed, preventing air from coming in).
  • If you store it in plastic, make sure it’s breathable, or poke holes in the bag.
  • To freeze: 1. Wash thoroughly 2. Cut into pieces 3. Plunge into boiling water for three minutes and chill quickly in ice cold water 4. Drain off excess moisture and freeze in airtight containers or bags (this process is called blanching. Carrots, beans, cauliflower, kale, etc. can all be blanched and stored in the freezer)

Avocados:

  • Did you know you can freeze avocado puree?
  • Have you ever cut into an avocado to find it’s still not ripe? Just sprinkle some lemon juice on the flesh, put the halves back together, and it’ll continue to ripen.
  • More terrific tips on all-things-avocado!

Fruits

Apples:

  • One of the worst ethylene gas emitters! This gas speeds up the ripening process of other fruits, so store them separately from others.
  • Ethylene gas is worst when fruits are at room temperature, so to slow down ripening, refrigerate apples. On the other hand, if too firm or sour, let them ripen at room temperature. This is also why apples make poor neighbours in a fruit bowl on the counter. They are off-gassing ethylene to their fruit-bowl mates, making them all ripen quickly.
  • If you’d like to freeze apples: wash and core them, chop them up, and store them in bags or containers (indefinitely!).
  • If an apple gets a bad spot, the rest of the apple is not affected! You can cut around the bad spot and eat the rest, or cook it with your oatmeal, or make applesauce, or millions of other recipes.
  • Is it necessary to peel your apples? Peeling wastes the most nutritious part of the apple, your time, and your food!

FoodWaste Infographic_A (2)

Bananas:

  • To speed ripening, put them in a brown paper bag. This will trap their ethylene gas and encourage them to ripen.
  • To stop them ripening, put them in the fridge—the skins will turn dark but the fruit is not harmed. You can also wrap the stem with a little plastic to prevent the release of ethylene gas.
  • Avoid putting unripe bananas in the fridge, as this will impede the early stages of ripening and spoil the fruit.
  • To freeze, mash with a tsp of lemon juice per cup of bananas to prevent browning.
  • What do you do with brown bananas? They are delightfully still edible! Just mash them, freeze them, and they are ready for use in smoothies, muffins, or fritters.
    • I told “Joe” at the show that I’d share a no-fail recipe for banana pancakes that even he could make: try this one, Joe, and let us know how it goes!

Dairy / Meat / Eggs

Cottage Cheese / Yogurt / Sour Cream:

  • Leave them in their container, and use only a clean spoon for scooping. Any bacteria on the spoon will make dairy go off quickly.
  • If you serve it in a separate dish but don’t use it all, don’t return it to the container, but cover the dish tightly with plastic wrap.
  • *Trick* Store the container upside-down to create an air-lock that will prevent bacteria from growing.

Cheese:

  • Does your hard cheese get mouldy before you reach the end of the block?
    • If so, once you open it, you should wrap it in wax paper to allow for breathing. Hard cheeses don’t actually love the store packaging they come in.
    • You can also freeze half the block if you won’t eat it quickly enough. It gets a bit crumbly after thawing, but its flavour remains! One lady told me she always stores her mozzarella in the freezer because it’s faster to crumble it onto pizza than to grate it!
  • Mould! If the cheese develops a blue-green mold on the exterior, make a cut about a ½ inch below the mold to ensure that it has been entirely removed; the remaining cheese will be fine. WHO KNEW!?

Milk:

  • If you don’t drink milk quickly, don’t store it in the doors where the fridge is warmest.
  • To save money, buy milk in bags and store them in the freezer. Thaw in the fridge when you are ready to use a bag.
  • Milk can be frozen for weeks. If it doesn’t thaw to perfect consistency, just stick it in the blender and it will be good as new!
  • If your milk is starting to get old, bake it in cakes and pancakes instead of tossing it.

FoodWaste Infographic_A (1)

Meat:

  • Keep meat where it is coldest (back of the fridge, and typically the bottom shelf—though your fridge may be different).
  • Avoid any accidental dripping onto foods by keeping a tray underneath it.
  • If you have a deep-freeze, meat will last and resist freezer burn a lot longer there than in your fridge freezer.

Eggs:

  • To test for freshness, pop an egg in a tall glass of water. If it floats, it is getting stale. Fresh eggs stay near the bottom. Even if stale, eggs are likely still safe – especially for baking. Eggs are only worth chucking when they start to exhibit an off odor.
  • If you are going on holiday and can’t eat all your eggs, freeze them before you leave! Beat and freeze in small containers (one or two eggs’ worth) for easy use later in cakes, quiches, and muffins. They’ll last 10 months!

Other tips

“Duh” reminders:

Seriously, we all forget about food, hiding shoved in the back of our fridges. These visual reminders work really well for my friends:

  • Leftovers / Eat First Bin
    • Keep a container at eye-level and place the items that need to be eaten promptly there. This is especially useful if sharing the fridge with a busy household where it’s easy to lose track of things, or if you have kids who are old enough to help themselves to snacks, but not yet old enough to be creative and make their own food and need some guidance.
  • Reminders on the Fridge Door:
    • To avoid forgetting about highly perishable items, use your grocery receipt to highlight perishable items that need to be used in a timely fashion. Stick it on the door to remind yourself about that punnet of blackberries shoved to the back, or that broccoli hiding under the lettuce.
    • Use a whiteboard to keep track of perishables, leftovers, or things you don’t want to forget before they spoil.
    • Keep labels and a marker beside the fridge to date leftovers, or to write “eat me!” notes on tupperwares for kids grabbing snacks.
  • Check the temperature of your fridge:
    • Keep fridge at 1-5ºC for optimum life of your products.
    • To test your fridge’s temperature, take a few measurements because it can fluctuate as it cycles through the day.
    • A cooler fridge uses slightly more energy; however, by increasing the lifespan of food products, the economic and environmental savings are statistically proven to be greater overall.

Finicky Creatures

Fridge-finicky:

Avocados, bananas, nectarines and peaches, pears, plums and tomatoes say:

“Only refrigerate me once I’m totally ripe! Too early, and I will lose moisture and flavour, and won’t ripen properly, even once brought back to room temperature.”

Ethylene Gas Emitters

Most fruits release ethylene gas which ripens produce. By keeping them in the fridge, you s l o w    t h i s    p r o c e s s   and extend their life.

Unless you want them to ripen faster, do not store fruits and veggies in airtight bags. That will hold in their gas, speeding up decay.

  • Particularly Bad Ethylene Emitters: apples, apricots, cantaloupes, figs, and honeydew. Keep separate from things you don’t want to ripen!

Those Confusing Best-Before Dates

Contrary to many assumptions, “Best Before” does not mean “Poisonous After.” In fact, these dates are only guidelines! See this handy infographic to help you understand their confusing formats.


Fall in love with your Freezer

Not a fan of leftovers for three days straight? Freeze in individual servings to grab for lunches on the run later in the week or month!

Going on holiday? Pop things in the freezer to save them from spoiling in your absence.

Grocery stores encourage us to “buy big” to benefit from lower cost-per-unit or 2-for-1 deals. Unfortunately, when we can’t eat it all in time and the food gets tossed, this is the opposite of a cost-saving!

  • If you buy your milk in bags, freeze them until you are ready to drink them;
  • If you buy a large cut of meat, freeze portions for later;
  • If you can’t make it through the whole loaf of bread, store it in the freezer and only take out a slice or two at a time as needed;
  • If you buy a whole squash but only need half for your recipe, cook and store the puree for later use in soup or baking

…Do you have a friendship with your freezer? Share other ideas with us!

What constitutes “inedible” in your house? Carrot / apple / potato peels? Beet or carrot greens? Cheese rinds? “Odd” cuts of meat or organs? Bones? These examples are all nutritious and delicious! Share with us your creative recipes or uses for the food that others might toss out!