"Upcycled foods use ingredients that otherwise would not have gone to human consumption, are procured and produced using verifiable supply chains, and have a positive impact on the environment."

To learn more about the definition of "upcycled food," watch a recording of the public webinar we held in June 2020.


Upcycling food is an ancient tradition based on the philosophy of using all of what you have. It's about doing more with less, and elevating all food to its highest and best use. Most of all, upcycled food is about reducing food waste, by creating high quality, nutritious food products out of the nutrients that slip through the cracks of our food system. But what is 'upcycled food' technically?

The definition above was created in 2020 after a task force of professionals from across industry, government, nonprofit and academia came together to provide a definition of upcycled food for use in policy, research, and more. The task force also produced a summary paper, which explains the following definition elements:

Definition Elements:

  • Upcycled foods are made from ingredients that would otherwise have ended up in a food waste destination.

    • According to the Food Loss and Waste Protocol, the food waste destinations are when food ends up in places like incinerators, as animal feed, or in landfill. By avoiding these destinations, upcycled food makes better use of the energy expended in growing, transporting, and preparing that food. 

    • 8% of human-cause greenhouse gas emissions come from food loss and waste, which is why reducing food waste is considered the single greatest solution to climate change according to Project Drawdown.

  • Upcycled foods are value-added products.

    • Globally, we lose around $1 trillion per year on food that is wasted or lost. Upcycled food captures that value, and leverages it to create a sustainable and resilient food system.

  • Upcycled foods are for human consumption.

    • Upcycled food is all about elevating food to its highest and best use.

    • Upcycled foods are for human consumption, but upcycled ingredients could be included in animal feed, pet food, cosmetics, and more.

  • Upcycled foods have an auditable supply chain.

    • 28% of agricultural land goes to grow food that is never eaten. The auditable supply chain ensures that upcycled food is truly helping to reduce waste by utilizing all the nutrients grown on farms, helping farmers get more value out of their land.

    • Upcycled food will help to feed a growing population without increasing deforestation or putting extra pressure on the environment.

  • Upcycled foods indicate which ingredients are upcycled on their labels.

    • More than half of consumers want to buy more upcycled foods.

    • Upcycled food gives everyday people the ability to vote with their dollars to end food waste. By indicating which ingredients are upcycled, consumers know they are spending their money in a way that aligns with their values. 

For a detailed summary of the task forces findings please read the summary paper: Defining Upcycled Foods: A Definition and Standards for use across Industry, Government, and Academia.

Read more about the summary paper on the Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic website.

Here are the talented members of the Upcycled Food Definition Task Force. Note that their organization is given for context, and not all task force members were acting on behalf of their organization. 

Elizabeth Balkan - Natural Resources Defense Council

Emily Broad Leib - Harvard Law School Food Law and Policy Clinic

Alexandria Coari - ReFED

Marjorie DePuy - FMI, the Food Industry Association

Jonathan Deutsch - Drexel University

Marissa Golison - Consumer Brands Association (formerly Grocery Manufacturer’s Association)

Ben Gray - Upcycled Food Association

Allison Kolberg - Harvard Law School Food Law and Policy Clinic

Monica McBride - World Wildlife Fund

Jimmy Nguyen - United States Department of Agriculture

Kai Robertson - Independent Expert

Olivia Spratt - Drexel University

Ashley Zanolli - Independent Expert

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©2020 Upcycled Food Association.