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More Research Less Food Waste

Learn from these interviews with two researchers who are studying ways to reduce food waste at home and in the food supply chain.
© EIT Food

As well as initiatives you’ve heard about over the previous Steps, academia is working hard on the problem of food waste. We talked to two researchers from the University of Reading working on EIT Food projects related to food waste.

Cook Clever: A Gamified Solution to Tackle Household Food Waste Habits

Dr Natalie Masento is a Senior Research Fellow and Applied Psychologist working in the Food & Nutritional Sciences Department at the University of Reading. Her research focuses on the consumer perspective of food and takes an interdisciplinary approach to study how food and nutrition can impact human behaviour.

Can you tell us about the background and aims of the Cook Clever project?

Food waste has been examined across different countries but has not been explored in different sub-sets of consumers, making the assumption that food waste behaviours are the same whether you’re 18 or 65. Understanding consumers’ food interaction behaviours (how they plan, shop, cook and eat) is key to identifying how best to reduce wasteful practices. Young adults (18-25), also known as Generation Z, are are at a crucial time in their lives: moving away from home, cooking and eating independently and starting new lifestyle habits. At the same time they are aware of sustainability issues and are very familiar with using technology to support their lifestyle choices. The aim of the Cook Clever project is to explore food interaction behaviours in 18-25 year olds, discuss opportunities for change and support these changes using a habit changing app available on computers or smartphones.
What’s the planned outcome of the project?
We will collect data from a small trial group of young adults using the app for three weeks to see if we are able to support positive changes in food interactions. The data and feedback collected from the users will be used to modify and improve the final Cook Clever app.
Are there any preliminary results that you can share?
Our online focus groups with young adults in the UK have shown some interesting results related to why food waste may occur and opportunities for change. Our focus group participants shared how restrictions in their life circumstances such as not owning a car, tight budgets, and limited time and skills reduce their options. Most interestingly we found that young adults are impulse-driven when it comes to food, seeking out novel food that is heavily influenced by social media, TV and friends. This desire for novelty meant they had a negative view of being resourceful with ingredients and using leftovers, to avoid ‘boring’ meals.
What food waste reducing actions do you believe are important to highlight?
Food waste is a personal responsibility. Whenever we talk to people about food waste they always suggest they’re not the ones doing it but the figures show we all have a part in the problem. As a psychologist I think it’s important to cultivate good habits and to consciously consider how our behaviours affect the bigger picture. Being a planner and thinking about what to buy, cook and eat is a fundamental skill. Ensuring you only buy what you have a plan to eat is relatively easy to do and can curb the problem. Being clever with ingredients, understanding how to store things correctly and how to use one item in lots of dishes is a skill worth aspiring to.

Digital Marketplace for Side Streams

Dr Tiffany Lau is a Post-Doctoral Research Associate working in the Department of Food and Nutritional Sciences at the University of Reading. Her research interests centre on food waste valorisation (enhancing the value of side streams). Tiffany investigates the potential for incorporating food waste into products, explores using green technology to extract valuable compounds, and studies consumer acceptance of upcycled products.
Can you tell us about the background and aims of the Digital Market for Side Streams project?
We are creating a database to collect information about the side streams of the food production industry and enable match-making between buyer and seller to facilitate upcycling. We are also aiming to develop a toolbox for the extraction of valuable compounds from the side streams. My role is to carry out composition analysis on side streams that are sent to us from our partners. Composition includes protein, lipid, fibres, lignin, ash and starch which are all analysed and documented.
What’s the planned outcome of the project?
A large and fully searchable side stream database that documents information such as amounts, availability, composition, etc.
Can you give us an example of valorisation of a side stream?
Blueberry pomaces, generated in the production of blueberry juice, are high in antioxidant and dietary fibres and have been successfully used in the production of muffins and cookies to improve their nutritional quality.

Universities frequently work together with industry on food loss and waste projects. The Horticultural Quality and Food Loss Network HortQFLNet is a network of universities, businesses and policy partners facilitating collaborations between business and academia to develop new solutions. For example, there are projects looking at ways to extend the shelf life and quality of fresh produce and others working on growing crops more resilient to disease.

What kind of research would you carry out, assuming you had funding and the relevant resources, to add to the accumulated wisdom on food waste?

© EIT Food
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From Waste to Value: How to Tackle Food Waste

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