How expiring fruits and veggies can help end hunger

fruits and veggies in supermarket
A new company in the Philippines aims to extend the shelf life of fruits and vegetables – products often wasted because of neglect especially in the fresh produce section of supermarkets – from two weeks to two years through the process of freeze-drying and conversion of the produce into powder. Image: Shutterstock

The global population is expected to balloon to 9 billion by 2050, and along with it, the demand for food.

Food security is, however, severely threatened due to a variety of reasons, but often overlooked is expired food.

The potential of a food product to help fight hunger is cut short by its expiration date. Instead of benefiting hungry people – almost one billion, according to latest data – expired food often ends up in dumpsters and garbage landfills.

Spoilage is an aspect of food wasting. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the whole world wastes over 1.3 billion tons of food annually.

The Food and Nutrition Research Institute of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) found that in the Philippines, each person wastes an average of 3.29 kilograms a year. (READ: PH food wastage: Think before you waste your meal)

Saving through freezing

Fortunately, a group of students came up with a plan to make the most out of food products nearing their expiration date.

The plan of FoPo Food Powder Company is simple. The company aims to extend the shelf life of fruits and vegetables – products often wasted because of neglect especially in the fresh produce section of supermarkets – from two weeks to two years through the process of freeze-drying and conversion of the produce into powder.

Freeze-drying is done to preserve a product that is perishable by removing water which is often the cause in the increase of bacterial colony that leads to spoilage. It is usually used when the product needs to be transported over a long distance.

The world does not need to produce more food to feed the population…People just have to see the value from the inefficiency of the current food system, and create a sustainable, innovative, and socially relevant business out of it.

Gerard Marin, Filipino student from  FoPo Food Powder Company

Freeze-drying food can preserve micronutrients, thus helping people, especially children, reduce the risk of hunger and malnutrition.

No complex machinery is needed aside from the one used in freeze-drying the product, making it less expensive compared to other consumables used by several organizations. The target price for selling is only $2 (P80).

FoPo will take advance of the strict regulations requiring companies to sell their expiring produce by buying these from them at a cheaper price and transporting them to the processing facility to freeze-dry them.

Before selling to retailers and organizations, the freeze-dried products are put through a simple pulverizer to convert them into powder form.

Once purchased, consumers can use these powdered fruits and vegetables in making food products such as healthy juices, porridges, and even sandwich spreads.

The concept won in the recently concluded Thought For Food Challenge on February 14, 2015 in Lisbon, Portugal. The event encouraged members of the food industry to come up with social entrepreneurship business ideas to help address the problem of food insecurity.

Gerard Marin, one of the two Filipino members of the team, said that the concept is also effective especially in emergency situations.

“It becomes an ideal product for humanitarian aid purposes since it can be produced for a lower price while preserving the nutritional contents,” he explained.

Projected to be done in the Philippines, FoPo can contribute jobs and income by penetrating the freeze-dried food powder industry. As of 2014, this industry has a $19-billion (P849 billion) global market.

Fix the food system

The creators of FoPo emphasised that food insecurity does not come from the lack of food. To address hunger, the problems in the existing food system should be fixed.

“The world does not need to produce more food to feed the population,” Marin said. “People just have to see the value from the inefficiency of the current food system, and create a sustainable, innovative, and socially relevant business out of it.”

FoPo is set to be implemented in the Philippines between June and July, with partners from both public and private institutions. They will be collecting, producing, and distributing powdered forms of fruit and vegetables within the year.

Together with fellow Filipino scholar Erliza Cabisidan, also under Erasmus Mundus Master’s program in Food Innovation and Product Design, Vita Jarolimkova from the Czech Republic, Kent Ngo from Sweden, and Ada Balazy from Poland, Marin hopes to raise awareness about the concept.

In the future, Marin hopes to expand their project to other countries and humanitarian organizations to be able to feed and save more people from hunger.

FoPo is currently interested in getting interns and volunteers, as well as investors, to help pilot the project. For more information, please contact hellofopo@gmail.com.

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