Ingredient upcycling – finding the value in unused food

Good News Notes: 

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations’ (FAO) assessment of global food losses and waste estimated that each year, one-third of all food produced in the world for human consumption never reached the consumer’s table. This not only means a missed opportunity for the economy and food security, but also a waste of all the natural resources used for growing, processing, packaging, transporting and marketing the food. In fact, the World Resources Institute estimates that if food waste was a country, it would be the third largest greenhouse gas-emitting country in the world.

However, a new food trend is poised to change the status quo, affording food manufacturers an avenue with which to save money on ingredient sourcing and food marketers a means to communicate their food waste diversion efforts to consumers, all while reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Identified by Whole Foods Market as a Top Ten 2021 Hot Food Trend, upcycling isn’t a passing fad – it’s a movement and it’s here to stay.

What is upcycling?

According to the Upcycled Food Association, upcycled foods use ingredients that would not otherwise have been consumed, are procured and produced using verifiable supply chains, and have a positive impact on the environment. The definition was created in 2020 after a task force (including ReFed, the National Resources Defense Council, Harvard Law School Food Law, and others) came together to provide a definition of the term for use in policy, research and more. 

The mission of the upcycled foods sector is to reduce food loss and waste, thereby decreasing the negative impact on the environment of overproduction and waste while increasing access to safe, sustainable food sources for people around the world. According to the FAO, the annual market value of food that is lost or wasted globally is approximately $940 billion. Despite this surplus of food, over 820 million people around the world are undernourished, and one in nine suffer food insecurity and hunger. According to ReFed, in the US alone, food waste amounts to 35 to 103 million tons of food, with an estimated total loss of around 62.5 million tons annually. Of that amount, 52.4 million tons ends up in landfills or incinerators and 10.1 million tons are lost as on-farm waste. The Upcycled Food Association views upcycling as part of the solution to this food waste problem.

The concept of upcycling is simple; it’s about doing more with less and elevating all food to its highest and best use. Food waste can accumulate at any stage in the food production supply chain. For example, some fruits and vegetables that fail to meet certain aesthetic standards to be sold at retail, end up getting composted, tilled into the ground, or sold as livestock feed. Other fruits and vegetables may be peeled (like an orange or a potato) with the peel destined for landfill. With upcycling, that same peel can be used as a citrus essence in a cosmetic product or the potato peel as an ingredient in a companion animal pet food.

These ‘waste’ materials still possess nutrients and calories and rather than be considered as rubbish, they should be deemed as ‘ingredients’ to be utilised in other finished products.

A new upcycled certification programme

In mid-2020, the Upcycled Food Association convened a global group of academics, retailers, industry agents, and consumer advocates to spearhead the Upcycled Food Association Standards Committee. In January 2021, the association announced the publication of the Upcycled Certification Standard and has recently teamed up with a third-party verification company – Where Food Comes From – to offer Upcycled certification (the first of its kind)….”

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