Students turn food into non-perishable powder
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Next time you toss rotten lettuce or moldy berries you should think about this. Globally, we waste more than a third of the food we produce. That is according to the Food and Agriculture Organization.
A group of Swedish graduate students is working to fight that fact. They are in the Food Innovation and Product Design program at Lund University and have come up with a way to use produce that is about to go to waste. It may help people who have limited access to food.
They are calling it FoPo Food Powder. It is exactly what it sounds like. It is dried, powdered, shelf-stable fruits and vegetables. The powder can be dropped into relief efforts after natural disasters. Or it can be given out in low-resource areas where fresh food and refrigeration are hard to come by.
"When we found out that one third of the food produced was going to waste while people in the world were starving, we could not back out," says Kent Ngo. He is one of the students who developed it.
Ngo says they are not making something ground-breaking. Powdered food has been around since the early days of astronauts. But they are rethinking the waste and delivery channels. Their development team reached out to farmers and retailers to source fruit. The food scientists experimented with different drying and powdering methods. They settled on spray-drying it. The process then included grinding it up. From there, the students looked at ways to give it out, through commercial and government supported sites.
One member of the group is Gerald Perry Marin. He grew up in the Philippines. It is the country's capital. He had seen how typhoons and other natural disasters cut people off from their food supply. And how important it was to have food options that were easy to access in a relief situation.
"Today a relief bag for humanitarian disasters contains various foods such as strawberry jam, peanut butter and peas in tomato sauce. We think that an easily transported pack of cheap dried food powder with high nutritional value would fit in perfectly," Ngo says. The team has been trying to keep its prices down, too. That would aid low-budget humanitarian groups and non-governmental groups.
Freeze-dried food retains most of the nutritional benefits of raw food. It loses some vitamin and mineral density in the drying process. But it is still a good way to get fiber and nutrients.
The makers of FoPo are currently running a pilot program in Manila. For their first run, they are drying calamansi. It is a citrus fruit. Ngo says it tastes like a mix of lime and tangerine. There is a surplus of it. It is not available in other places. And it is easy for their Philippine manufacturing program to dry and powder.
The group has reportedly gotten support from senators in the Philippines. And they are about to start working with the U.N.'s Initiative on Food Loss and Waste. The want to try and reach more people and countries that could benefit. To broaden their reach, they are also working with commercial suppliers and companies that want to use FoPo in their food products. Some examples might be cake mixes and ice cream. Consumers can also sprinkle it into food or drinks, or use it in baking. The company has almost 40 international supermarkets on board.
"I was a bit surprised that the calamansi powder tasted so good," Ngo says. "I cannot wait for the mango and pineapple powder."