Food & Agriculture

Reducing Food Waste

In this post you will find links to articles about two US states that are trying to reduce food waste, an Italian row about a more energy-efficient way to cook pasta, and a new technique for longer food storage.

Left-over chicken prepared by Richard Guenette. Photo by R. Last.

Two states act to reduce food waste

My husband cooks most of the meals at our home and he’s a genius at making left-overs delicious. Two US states are also getting in on the action on reducing food waste. Susan Shain writes in the New York Times How Central Ohio Got People to Eat Their Leftovers. The article includes useful tips such as reducing portion sizes, using left-overs in lunches and home composting to reduce the amount of food waste that goes to landfill. Vermont recently introduced laws to reduce food scraps going to landfill, but research shows that citizens are confused about composting rules, and frustrated with the state’s inability to compost biodegradable containers and tableware. University of Vermont published a study to track the successes and challenges following implementation of the new policy on food waste.

Credit: Pixabay/CC0 Public Domain

In a related story, it also turns out that retailers can gain from reducing food waste. In research published in the Journal of Sustainable Marketing, Jie Zhang and Michel Wedel, marketing professors at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business, and Professor Martin H. Bloem from Johns Hopkins University offer marketing solutions to retailers, including incentivizing suppliers to reduce resources and materials used in production and packaging to minimize environmental impacts, and to encourage consumers to make sustainable choices.

Waste can also be reduced in food preparation, but as the following story shows, sometimes changing habits is an uphill battle.

Photo by Katerina Holmes on Pexels.

Italy’s pasta row

Italians are notoriously—and understandably—protective of their cuisine. So, when a Nobel Prize-winning Italian physicist’s advice about how to cook pasta perfectly seemed to upend everything, he raised a lot of hackles. Professor Giorgio Parisi—who won the 2021 physics Nobel for “the discovery of the interplay of disorder and fluctuations in physical systems from atomic to planetary scales”—suggested that turning off the heat midway through cooking pasta, then covering with a lid and waiting for the residual heat in the water to finish the job, can help reduce the cost of cooking pasta. Michelin-starred chef Antonello Colonna claimed this method makes the pasta rubbery, and that it could never be served in a high-quality restaurant such as his own. Inspired by the thought of saving some money, students Mia and Ross at Nottingham Trent University took to the kitchen to cook pasta in different ways, helping to pick apart the tangled strands of this question. The prize for the most efficient method of cooking dried pasta is to pre-soak it in cold water before adding it to a pan of simmering water or sauce for one to two minutes. Keeping a lid on the pan is another simple thing you can do. Adding salt, while making minimal difference to the boiling point, does significantly improve the taste.

Homegrown strawberries by R. Last.

Better food storage for salmon and strawberries

A simple two-step process that could be scaled for use in the home kitchen has the potential to dramatically cut food waste, KAUST researchers have shown. Asrar Damdam, a Ph.D. student working in Khaled Salama’s lab, has explored the benefits of combining UV irradiation with vacuum sealing to reduce microbial growth. Food waste is a significant issue globally; nearly one-quarter of meat and one-third of seafood products are lost or wasted annually, often through microbial spoilage that occurs across the food supply chain. Asrar Damdam, a Ph.D. student working in Khaled Salama’s lab, has explored the benefits of combining UV irradiation with vacuum sealing to reduce microbial growth.

The meat and fish samples were sterilized using a constant UV-C irradiation dose and stored in low pressure conditions. The team conducted a daily pH and microbiological analysis. For the animal products, detailed microbial analysis revealed that the combined procedure extended shelf life by 67% more than a single treatment. Strawberries and quartered tomatoes were subjected to a similar two-step process of radiation and vacuum sealing. For quartered tomatoes, the results were only slightly less than the animal samples at 54.4%, and for strawberries a highly impressive 124.4% extension was achieved. The work is published in the Journal of Food Science and Foods.

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