• Upcycled Food Association

Creating a Resilient Food System through Food Technology

According to FAO, more than 1/3 of all food produced for humans is never consumed, which translates to 1.3 billion tons per year. For fruit and vegetable crops, the losses are in excess of 45%, which is the equivalent of 3.7 Trillion apples per year. These astounding losses must also be taken into context against the rising food insecurity that has been caused by the COVID Pandemic. According to a Harvard research study in October 2020, the rate of U.S. food insecure households with children increased from 14% to 28%, meaning that we now have more than 1 out of 4 American households unable to reliably feed their children while all of this produce is left unused.

At SinnovaTek, we’ve asked ourselves if this is how a responsible food system would operate. The answer is clear that changes are critical to intercept both food insecurity and the climate impacts of food loss and waste. Our current food system is working exactly as it was built to work, prioritizing efficiency over resiliency. If our goal is to transition to a more resilient food system, we need to expect and to plan for unexpected situations including hurricanes, droughts, and even pandemics by reinforcing our food processing infrastructure with agile mechanisms for addressing last minute changes. In our view, this can only happen through a decentralized food processing network that allows for regional responsiveness.

Food loss and food waste can be a complicated and nuanced problem because the causes vary significantly by region, season, and type of food. In some areas of the world, the primary driver of food loss is spoilage before that food can reach its consumption point because of lack of refrigeration and accessibility of mechanisms for aggregating and distributing those foods from small hold farmers. In more developed regions, including the United States, the final mile at the point of consumption accounts for next largest portion of waste.

SinnovaTek has a proprietary food processing technology that allows users to process fruits, vegetables, roots, and tubers to make them shelf-stable and to provide an ambient shelf life of a year or more while preserving all of the quality attributes such as the color, flavor, texture, and most importantly the nutrition. The processor is entirely electric powered and can be scaled to as large or small as needed. This allows us to focus on a distributed processing model that addresses food losses at the source rather than today’s centralized model where produce may have to be transported hundreds of miles to a large-scale processing center. Precision-scale processors can be deployed closer to where the food is grown to reduce transportation and storage losses while also providing a simple tool for existing processors to deal with waste they may already have.

One example of how this technology has been applied to address both a food waste issue as well as to improve health and wellness is with Orange Flesh Sweet Potato (OFSP) processors in Sub Saharan Africa. Most crops are typically grown by small-holder farmers that may have as little as 1 acre of land and the processing infrastructure is very limited. We recently installed one of our Nomatic small-scale processors along with an aseptic bag-in-box filler that allows a local processor to work directly with nearby farmers to make a shelf stable puree with a 1 year shelf life. That puree is then sold to bakeries to make bread by replacing 50% of the wheat flour with the OFSP puree which contains a high natural Vitamin A content.

Image courtesy of CIP (International Potato Center)

In this region more than 40% of children under the age of 5 are considered Vitamin A deficient while 45% of the OFSP crops are going to waste, largely because of the inability to store the product outside of the 6 month harvest cycle. With the implementation of this project, they are able to support their local growers by utilizing a locally grown crop rather than an import crop, to provide a year-round supply of the product, and to address a major health crisis.

In 2020, SinnovaTek deployed this technology in a first-of-its-kind processing facility near downtown Raleigh. This FirstWave facility utilizes the SinnovaTek technology to produce shelf-stable products in standup spouted pouches. What makes this facility unique is the focus on small-scale operations that reduce barriers to entry for innovative new food products to enter into the shelf-stable space. Whereas traditional co-packers require millions of units for a minimum run, the FirstWave facility can launch a product with as little as 5,000 pouches and can grow at the customer’s pace when they’re ready to scale. By making processing more accessible, we can help to enable entrepreneurs, innovative new product concepts, and emerging brands to find a path to market. This model also allows for rapid accessibility to food processing in order to intercept or avoid food waste in response to weather events or market changes.

At SinnovaTek, our ideal food system allows everyone to win. It enables entrepreneurship, can rapidly respond to market dynamics, and ultimately doesn’t accept the current levels food loss and waste while people are going hungry. We believe that this all can be achieved by providing access to high quality food processing infrastructure through thoughtful use of food technology.

Author Bios:

Michael Druga, President and CEO of SinnovaTek, BS Electrical Engineering, has worked with industrial microwaves for more than 15 years across multiple industries and led engineering initiatives for clean energy development, food quality improvement, and food waste reduction. Michael has been in the food industry for over 10 years in manufacturing and technology commercialization.

Amanda Vargochik, VP of Innovation, MS in Food Science and Culinary Arts Certificate, runs Research and Development with her background in product development and expertise in retention of bioactive compounds through advanced thermal aseptic processing.