Waste not, want not

Up to half the world's food is never eaten.
Packaging could be the solution.

Oliver Meldrum, a PhD student with the Queensland Alliance of Agriculture and Food Innovation (QAAFI), believes innovative food packaging could be the key to a well-fed world.

Even with advances in agricultural technology, transport and food storage, approximately 30-50 per cent of all food produced is lost before it reaches the market.

Global food security is an emerging challenge with the world population projected to reach 9.7 billion by 2050.There is an urgent need to identify reliable sources of nutritious food to meet the growing demand.

One way we can meet this global challenge is by improving food availability. Reducing food loss and waste across the supply chain from farm-to-fork is a task equally critical for advanced and developing countries.

In developing countries, food waste is compounded by inadequate infrastructure including refrigeration, transport and storage, with edible food more likely to remain unharvested due to a shortage of transport and processing facilities.

In developing and affluent countries alike, consumers enjoy the easy access and convenience of ready-to-eat foods.

Unfortunately, these products tend to be nutritionally poor, containing large amounts of sugar, salt, and saturated fats that are often used to prolong the shelf-life.

The answer?

Active packaging can offer a solution to extend shelf-life and monitor the freshness of highly nutritious, but perishable fresh foods.

The removal of reactive oxygen from a closed package by applying nitrogen gas has been trialled for a number of years to extend freshness.

Recent advances in food labelling has led to temperature sensitive (so called thermochromatic) inks that respond to elevated temperatures and can monitor frozen or chilled foods during transport.

The development of new smart packaging materials is essential to retain freshness, preserve nutritional value and reduce food waste.

It is also key for designing carbon-neutral packaging materials made entirely of renewable sources, such as cellulose.

New scientific developments in the area of cellulose-based nano-materials are capable of replacing millions of tonnes of non-renewable plastic packaging with more sustainable solutions.

This is likely to provide economic benefits, increase food security, and reduce environmental impacts by avoiding the squandering of energy and resources used in packaging production.

In a bigger picture, recovering a portion of this food waste can help to close the gap in food security.

In a world that will need to double food production to avoid large-scale malnutrition, these innovations produce a paradigm shift toward sustainability. This could represent one of the best solutions to ensuring that benefits are felt across the world.

Oliver’s vision for a waste-less world has earned him a place in the International Food Technology Challenge Mentor Program, involving a trip to Las Vegas.

Here, Oliver will meet with some of the world’s top research groups and NGOs, who are actively involved in tackling the global food challenge.

Oliver Meldrum
PhD Student, Queensland Alliance of Agriculture and Food Innovation

Email: o.meldrum@uq.edu.au