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Fresh-cut produce journey from farm to fork

Effects are causes. Rewards for superior out-turn in the market motivates a grower for consistent improvement in quality. Fresh produce industry could enter into a virtuous cycle of improvement if positive experiences of consumers are monetized and invested back into the supply chain.

We have traced the journey of fresh-cut produce from the grower’s farm to consumer’s table. The main contributors to a fresh produce supply chain are input suppliers, grower, processor, wholesaler, retailer and consumer. Fresh, safe, natural and crispy products owe their safety and quality to a structured and integrated agriculture supply chain which is discussed in detail in the points below.

  1. Grower’s farm

The preharvest and harvest conditions that affect produce quality and shelf life are related to: genetic factors (variety, strain); external environment (light, temperature, relative humidity, etc.); soil conditions (soil type, pH, moisture, microflora, etc.); cultivation systems (open field, protected, soilless, etc.); agronomic practices (use of fertilizers, pesticides, growth regulators, irrigation, etc.); harvesting (time, temperature, mechanical harvest, manual harvest, etc.).

Agronomists ensure every step to manage the product quality at the farm level. Pre-harvest stress conditions can impact the nutrition density, flavor and shelf life of the produce. Early morning harvesting impact the shelf life of produce because these are typically the coldest hours of the day, and allow for lower temperatures and respiration rates. It is cheaper to keep the produce cool at this time, rather than to cool it when its temperature rises

  1. Harvesting

Produce is tested at the field for maturity, color, size, sweetness and firmness before taking a final call for harvesting. Fresh produce is mostly harvested by hand because of its delicate nature. It is then placed on the crates for transportation to the factory in temperature controlled vehicles. Harvesting the produce at peak maturity ensures higher flavor and vitamin content than ones harvested at low maturity though harvesting at high maturity results in lower shelf life as fresh produce at peak maturity deteriorates more rapidly.

Good preharvest and harvest practices are necessary to reduce any product damage. The cold chain should, in fact, begin as early as possible, and be maintained from the field to the processing plant to preserve the quality of the produce.

Field packing has considerable economic advantages when it is practiced, in that it reduces physical structures, labor and equipment costs, and results in lower levels of crop damage.

  1. Cold Storage (Raw Material)

It is often critical that fresh produce should rapidly reach the optimal temperature for short-term storage or shipping in order to maintain the highest quality, flavor, texture and nutritional content.

After harvesting, fresh produce is placed in the cold rooms to remove field heat and reduce the surface temperature. Temperature and humidity controlled cold rooms ensure that the product quality is retained for longer duration with maximum retention of micronutrients. Time of storage depends on factors like variety and demand. Ethylene sensitive fresh produce like lettuce should not be stored or transported with ethylene generators like apple.

Cold Storage of Fresh Produce
Cold Storage of Fresh Produce
  1. Cleaning and Washing

The first operation is to remove rejects. This involves the removal of overly mature, inferior sized, severely damaged, deformed or rotten produce.

The processing operations of fresh-cut produce include washing treatments to make the product ready-to-eat. The produce has to be clean, free of soil residue, insects, metals and weeds, and safe. Washing raw material before cutting and during fresh-cut processing is the most effective way of minimizing the risk of presence of pathogens and of any residue left on the produce from harvest and handling conditions

The effectiveness of washing to remove soil impurities and microbial contaminations is related to numerous factors, such as raw material, spoilage, the duration of the washing treatment, the washing water temperature, the method of washing (dipping, rinsing, or dipping/blowing), the type and concentration of the sanitizer and the type of fresh-cut fruit or vegetable. At the moment, the disinfection agents that are used and tested for water sanitation are chlorine, ozone, organic acids, hydrogen peroxide, alcohols, phosphoric acids, UV-C light radiation, ultrasound and others, including combinations of some of them for synergistic effects.

  1. Sorting, Grading and Inspection

The sorting and grading are performed manually by skilled workers. The tables and equipment should have a smooth, soft surface, and the dumping and grading operations should be gentle to minimize injury.

Sorting and grading ensures uniformity of products. Grading simply means different level of standards among the same product and help consumers measure the level of additional value. Producing fresh-cut product involves substantial mechanical injury due to peeling, slicing, dicing, shredding or chopping.

Visual inspection is done by operators and infrared optical selectors. infrared detectors ensure high quality selection standards

  1. Drying: Centrifuge and Air

An important factor for the stability of fresh-cut product is moisture control. After washing, the excess water should be removed from the fresh-cut product before packaging, to prevent rapid microbial development and enzymatic processes that lead to product quality deterioration. Various methods exist to remove washing water, including centrifugation, passing the produce over vibrating screens with air blasts, or blotting. Minimal centrifugation can leave residual water on the product surface, thus favoring microbial growth, while excessive centrifugation can result in cellular damage and cause cellular leakage.

  1. Weighing and Packaging

A special high care zone is established, which requires low temperatures to be maintained along with the application of more stringent hygiene controls. This zone employs the use of the continuous air sanitization process known as ionisation. Low temperature and presence of sanitised air ensure quality of produce is not altered in any way during weighing and packing.

Packaging is not only the final operation of fresh-cut processing that allows the products to be distributed and safely reach the consumers, but also the tool which, together with the cold chain maintenance, allows the quality of fresh-cut product to be preserved and prolongs its shelf life. The aim of packaging is to create an atmosphere that slows produce respiration, so that the minimal necessary O2 concentration or maximum tolerated CO2 concentration of the packaged produce is not exceeded, and both fermentation and other metabolic disorders are avoided.

Packaging with detection system like Metal Detectors (for metallic impurities like steel) and X-ray (for non-metallic impurities like glass) ensures product is free from any foreign body.

  1. Cold Storage

Fresh-cut packaged products need to be stored at low temperatures (7°C) with 95% RH to slow the respiration rate, enzymatic processes and microbial activity. Storage conditions generally refers to the storage or holding temperature, the time/temperature and the RH which the fresh-cut products may encounter. However, other factors can play a role during storage, such as the effectiveness of the packaging material to preserve food safety and quality, the technical characteristics of the storage in the processing plant, and the cold chain implementation from the processing plant to the consumer.

Cold storage for final fresh-cut product
Cold storage for final fresh-cut product
  1. Quality Analysis

Product quality is guaranteed using chemical, physical, micro-biological and conformity tests. Safety issues of fresh produce comes from pathogenic microorganisms e.g. Clostridium botulinum, E. coli, Salmonella, Listeria monocytogenes, Campylobacter and not from pesticides. Pre-harvest contamination from manure, water and sludge are the major contamination contributors. Quality analysis also involves testing for chemical residues e.g. pesticide, insecticide and fungicide.

  1. Logistics, retail and consumer

Shortly after the packaging phase, all the products are transported, using refrigerated vehicles, either to the distribution platforms or else directly to the points of sale. Transportation in refrigerated trucks ensures freshness during logistics. The whole system ensures that the fresh-cut produce is as fresh as picked at the consumer end.

For consumers, appearance is the most important quality factor with specific emphasis on color. Other factors like taste, texture and freshness comes into the picture when the produce is consumed.

Factory Farming – A glimpse of future of agriculture

Farming is going to be the next Manufacturing. Farms, are becoming more like factories: tightly controlled operations for turning out reliable products, immune as far as possible from the vagaries of nature.

By 2050, the planet’s population is likely to rise to 9.7 billion, a rise of 2 billion from now. Along with increase in population, there is a substantial increase in the lifestyle. Those people will not only need to eat, they will want to eat better than people do now, because of higher incomes. Since most land suitable for farming is already farmed, this growth must come from higher yields.

What are the changes happening in the way we grow our food?

1. Protected cultivation: By growing plants in warehouses, shipping containers, and city-adjacent greenhouses, next-gen farmers claim they are able to eliminate the threat of unpredictable weather, waste less water, reduce transportation costs and fasten the production cycle.

2. Data driven agriculture: Farming is becoming a branch of matrix algebra. Farm operations involve a set of variables, such as the weather, soil’s moisture levels and nutrient content, competition to crops from weeds, threats to their health from pests and diseases, and the costs of taking action to deal with these things. If the algebra is done correctly, the yield gets optimised resulting in maximization of profit.

3. Lab grown meat: There may be an even better way to grow meat, the animal tissue most wanted by consumers, than on animals themselves. This means growing the cells in reactor vessels filled with nutrient broth. To make it similar to animal meat, the cells must be attached to fat and other related components, so the idea is to grow them on small spheres floating in the vessels. Fat cells, which add juiciness to meat, are cultured separately. With protein alternatives aimed at big meat eaters it’s best to keep the structure the same as meat but change the nutritional content. Lab burgers, lentils and locusts indicates that it’s a boom-time for the meat-free protein market.

Meat analogues represent less than 1% of the meat market. Alternative meat companies are grappling continuously with how to mimic meat. It is expected to take at least five to 10 years to improve the process and make it cost effective. Commoditizing the cultured – or ‘clean’ – meat may take even longer.

Whether it’s chicken created in the lab, crickets and beetles ground up in energy bars or plant-based burgers that ‘bleed’ there’s no shortage of innovation when it comes to alternative proteins.

4. Synthetic eggs: Researchers are developing synthetic egg white, using transgenic yeast to secrete the required proteins. Indeed, they hope to improve on natural egg white by tweaking the protein mix. They also hope their synthetic white will be acceptable to people vegans and some vegetarians, who do not currently eat eggs.

5. Leather grown using biotechnology: Factory-grown leather promises several advantages over skins taken from animals. One is that it can be made in convenient sheets with straight edges, rather than being constrained by the irregular shapes that animals come in. Another is that it is more consistent than the natural stuff. It is devoid of the scars, marks and other defects to which real skin is inevitably prone. One other advantage of leather manufacturing process is that it permits different parts of a sheet to be given different properties. That can change both the look and the feel of the product in controlled ways. One area might, for instance, be made stiff while another is made soft to manufacture customised products.

Please feel free to share your experiences and feedback in the comments section below.

Fair Trade: A relentless idealism or a way of creating sustainable agri value chain?

Fair trade, a popular concept among consumers in western Europe and the US, ensures everyone involved in the making of a product is fairly paid; there is no child labour or forced labour; there is gender equality; and there are no damages to the environment.

Understanding the concept: The movement was born out of concerns over western consumers exploiting farmers, artisans and labourers in countries in South America, Africa and Asia. Standards for fair trade are laid down by not-for-profit organisations like Fairtrade International, World Fair Trade Organisation (WFTO) and Fair Trade USA. Fair trade is linked to the principle of triple bottom line, which looks not just at financial gains, but also social and ecological benefits.

Proponents logic:

  • Fair trade will bring stability in the supply chain. It is essential to protect the interests of the farmer as they wonʼt grow if they donʼt get the right price.
  • Supporting local farmers is critical,  because they’re taking care of the land for the next generation. The economy won’t matter if we can’t feed ourselves.  We need their food, and they need our money. They do the hardest work, and they need to be paid, whatever it costs.
  • Fair trade will conserve biodiversity by protecting traditional seed varieties. Companies can tap their corporate social responsibility funds to better the lives of those in their supply chain.
  • Fair trade will ensure quality and sustainability (social and economical), both indispensable to the brand and leads to long-term financial sustainability.
  • Adopting a green supply chain will reduce costs, while introducing new eco-friendly products will open up new markets and build consumer confidence – thereby enhancing corporate reputation and generating investor interest.
  • It’s believed that social involvement brings in more customers at off time of the year, and continues to bring them during the recession as people who want to feel that they’re part of this bigger movement want to support.

Opponents logic:  Fair trade is not without its share of critics.

  • There are doubts and concerns over fair trade international audit system. It is believed that the labelling system is not very effective and the benefits (of fair trade) go to a minority of producers who dominate a cooperative rather than to the poorer producers and wage earners.
  • Given the state of the economy, such certifications and extra-costs seem unrealistic. Cost-conscious buyers can sometimes be wary of the price attached to joining such certification schemes.
  • While much research has been carried out into consumersʼ opinions, showing that many wanted to see sustainability marks on their foods, it is yet to be seen if they are actually prepared to pay a premium for them

Practical Uses: Coffee is by far the biggest fair trade product, with around half of Fairtrade farmers and workers growing it. Fairtrade is focused on smallholder farmers (<5 Ha) since 80% of the worldʼs coffee is grown by them. Coffee chains like Starbucks and Peetʼs Coffee sell fair trade coffee.

Challenges:

  • The world of produce certification has shifted considerably in recent years, with a raft of new sustainability marks entering the market and “raising the benchmark of what is happening on the ground”.
  • Companies are thinking about their own sustainability label. Mondelez, the American owner of Cadbury has been accused of backtracking on ethical Fairtrade rules and replacing them with its own scheme. Mondelez claims its ‘Cocoa Life’ programme will secure the future of farmers and will ensure all of its chocolate is sourced sustainably.
  • Fellow chocolatiers fear replacing Fairtrade will encourage other global brands to follow suit and could undermine the future of the foundation, which has become a symbol for ethical sourcing and ensuring farmers get a good deal.

Trends:

  • Soft power side of global business, centred on certification and corporate social responsibility, has been increasingly bringing agriculture companies together with the NGOs.
  • Businesses are understanding the benefits of partnership with sustainability causes.  Sustainable sourcing and clean labelling are becoming common sense.
  • Productʼs environmental credentials are becoming an influencing factor for millennials purchase decisions.

Please feel free to share your experiences and feedback in the comments section below.

Do you know what you eat? Transparency for consumers is an attractive rallying-cry.

European food manufacturers did nothing so dreadful when they sold horse as beef in burgers and lasagne. Horsemeat is not dangerous and had been a part of a lot of Italian and Chinese gourmets.

Yum Brands, owner of KFC restaurants, the largest chain in China by sales, found this to be true that the chicken served at its restaurants was unsafe.  From the company that once boasted that its fried chicken was “finger-lickin’ good”, this sounds to be a defensive pitch. Campaigns like “OUR food is perfectly safe to eat” were followed.

McDonald’s problems stem from operational mishaps and has been hit by several health scares. Sales in China fell sharply after one of its suppliers was discovered to be using expired and contaminated chicken and beef. Several Japanese customers have reported finding bits of plastic and even a tooth in their food.

Coca-Cola was sued by a consumer group over health claims made for its Vitamin Water brand. Danone also faced a similar class-action lawsuit over its yogurts.

Public unease about genetic modification is common around the world. Conspiracy theories about supposed American plots to use dodgy GM food to weaken China abound online.

China is no stranger to quality problems. The US pet deaths—stemming from the contamination by melamine, a chemical toxin, of a vegetable protein used in animal foods—were not all that different from many other past cases in China. The contaminants also found their way into the human food chain, since “salvaged” pet food (left over from the production process) is fed to chickens and pigs, and wheat gluten also goes into feed for fish and farm animals. However, the massive scale of the pet-food recall, involving thousands of retail products, was unprecedented.

What is fuelling the crisis?

  • Low prices: Though prices of raw materials are going up, penny-pinching consumers refuse to pay more for ready-meals. Retailers, equally unwilling to forgo profits, are putting relentless pressure on suppliers to cut costs.
  • Natural food: The popularity of “natural” food spawns an unnatural response. Over the past decade, the biggest trend in food sector has been the shift towards organic, natural and whole foods. Consumers in wealthier markets have demanded foods with minimal processing, in a state as close as possible to their natural one.

Excuses made by food companies:

  • Good food is made by production, not regulation.
  • Food is vastly safer than it was a century ago.
  • It is easy to cast food companies as villains.

Discussing possible solutions:

There is a need to manage the entire supply chain. It is quite difficult to build that trust, but it can be very easy to lose it.

Understanding the risks and defining an action plan. Food safety risks can be divided into actionable steps:

  • Production: Chemical residues
  • Storage and transport: Spoilage
  • Processing: Preservatives, additives, spoilage and adulteration
  • Supply outlet, consumption and disposal: Spoilage

Warning labels for safe stuff. One way or another, labelling of GM food may be coming. It may require most foodstuffs sold in retail outlets to bear a conspicuous label if they contain genetically modified (GM) ingredients.

Avoid misuse of chemical pesticides and fertilisers. There is a need to learn good agriculture practices and knowledge on how to more efficiently use fertilisers and pesticides to increase yields and subsequently income.

Please feel free to share your experiences and feedback in the comments section below.

Well, now we know what not to do. Makers and sellers of processed food are under pressure

Well, now we know what not to do.” After decades of rising sales and high popularity, makers and sellers of processed food are under pressure. Stringent regulations, negative media campaigns, declining popularity, shrinking margins and consolidation are the trending words in the food processing industry.

American market share of food and beverage producers
American market share of food and beverage producers (Source: Credit Suisse & Economist.com)

What’s the way out for Big Food companies? 

Solution 1 (Consolidation and cost-cutting): 

The situation in Big Food sector is similar to that of tobacco industry where consolidation and cost-cutting was the only way-out to keep profits up. If the decline in processed foods’ popularity continues, two further strategies—consolidation and cost­ cutting—will become more prevalent.

Example: In 2013 H.J. Heinz Company announced that it has entered into a definitive merger agreement to be acquired by an investment consortium comprised of Berkshire Hathaway and 3G Capital, in a transaction valued at $28 billion. In 2015, Berkshire and 3G backed Heinz in its roughly $45 billion merger with Kraft Foods, created the third-largest North American food company.

Solution 2 (Emulate lean startups): 

Big companies face a common issue: sunk-cost fallacy. As per sunk-cost fallacy, companies continue to invest more time and money into the existing projects because they have already invested a lot of time and money into that project. This situation is similar to the case of Family farms, who are going out of business for decades, but new ones are being founded, promising organic, locally grown produce.

Example: Kind, a healthy snack manufacturer, has more than $100m in annual sales in less than ten years. Chobani, a maker of Greek­style yogurt, has reached to a sales of $1.3 billion in the same period.

Go-to-strategy: Emulating lean startups in 3 easy steps

“Prevention is better than cure”. The once undisputed “benefits” of scope, scale, and history are now often dismissed, or worse, disrupted, by newer entrants in the Big Food sector. Successful lean startups famously outperform their older, heavier competition in everything from customer adoption to speed- to-market.

Step 1: Identifying key obstacles

Recognising obstacles is critical but more important is to understand what startup qualities to copy, what to ignore, and what to adapt. Some of the key issues to consider in innovation are: development time, right ideas, culture, team coordination, customer insight, performance measurement, leadership, compensation model, and marketing innovation. Objectively defining all these parameters with their impact could make the decision making process more robust.

Step 2: Defining key success factors 

  • Focused: A lean startup’s success often comes from being close enough to the customer to listen. Ensure that executives are naturally closer to the end user.
  • Flexible: The ability to see that something is not working, or that a new opportunity has arisen, and then have the entire organisation react, instantly, to capitalize on this new learning requires both dexterity and courage.
  • Fast: There are thousands of innovators with unprecedented access to cheap development tools and investment capital looking to capitalize on unmet needs. They can move from an idea to a delivered product in just months.

Step 3: Execution

  • Hire people with greater risk-taking profile.
  • Make risk-taking more celebrated and rewarded.
  • Bring outside ideas and thinking into your own innovation process by inviting collaboration, crowdsourcing or teams to form joint innovations.

Please feel free to share your experiences and feedback in the comment section below.

Business Failures – Investigating 10 major reasons of failure in food processing

When it comes to business, food processing seems to be an obvious choice for most of the entrepreneurs. There could be a considerable number of reasons for this apparent choice. Some of the prominent ones could be:

  1. Our exposure to a range of food available in our vicinity and our food consumption habits.
  2. Media speaks a lot about food losses and food wastage in the developing and developed world.
  3. A latent and unsatisfied demand because of demand-supply mismatch.
  4. Entry of new product lines or brands in the market on a regular basis.

Despite of so much of an unmet demand and huge requirements of food for consumption, it’s difficult to understand why food processing or food related businesses fails. During the research, there were some interesting facts which came across and 10 major ones are discussed below with the list of companies who were failed in the process:

1. Raw material availabilityAngas Park was active in the dried fruit processing business with its operations in the souther Australia. Due to decrease in the number of big dried fruit growers, they were forced to produce less. Downfall in production due to supply side limitations, led to the closure of the unit.

2. Cheaper imports:

McCain Foods (Australia) was forced to close its potato processing plant because of cheaper imports of finished products. Input costs (potatoes, labor and electricity) were steadily increasing for potato processing and that led to surplus capacity and higher unit costs compared to the imported products. Losing competitiveness on unit economics and low prices of imported products made McCain unit unviable to sustain in the long term.

Rol-Land Farms Group (US) group was active in mushroom processing business in Freetown, US. Increased labor and raw material costs with fall in margins due to market competition made mushroom  processing unprofitable, further leading to the closure of plant.

3. Regulatory environment: Heinz was manufacturing tomato ketchup, baby foods, BBQ sauce and other products in Ontario, Canada. Canada passed more stringent water and labor regulations leading to spike in prices of raw material. Neighbouring countries with less stringent norms like Chile and US had cost competitiveness over the domestic produce. This made Heinz products unviable and led to the closure of a 104 year old plant. Though this blow made Canadian authorities to think of a national food strategy to ensure Canadians have access to fresh Canadian products but it was too late.

4. Margins: Morrisons, Bos Brothers Fruit & Vegetables BV (a part of WM Morrisson Supermarket, the Netherlands) was into international trade in fruit, vegetables, flowers and plants. They were forced to terminate the company because of stiff competition from discounters like Aldi and Lidl.

5. Violence:

Stanfilco (the Philippines) was managing a 1000 acres banana plantation in the Philippines. Multiple violent incidents from armed lawless groups lead to the decision of closure of operations.

Nakashin Davao International (a Japanese company) closed down its frozen fruit operations in Davao city (the Philippines). The reason for the closure was labor agitation. Workers were demanding reinstatement and regularisation which was not acceptable to the company.

6. Consumer demand:

Ready Pac Produce Inc. (US) closed down the Salinas Valley Plant because of slow down in consumer demand for iceberg lettuce.

Treehouse Foods, Inc. (US) closed two of its plants at Azusa (California) and Ripon (Wisconsin). Declining consumer demand led to the discontinuation of the manufacture of sugar wafer products (bars, cookies and snacks).

7. Centralisation: Companies are more interested to manage fewer plants because of higher economies of scale. This concept leads to centralisation of operations with higher capacities. Saputo (Canada) closed down three of its milk processing facilities in eastern Canada and Saputo (Germany) closed down its cheese manufacturing unit in Quebec, Germany to increase capacity utilisation at other units. The efforts were meant to pursue additional efficiencies and lower costs. The process created more centralised operations with higher efficiencies.

8. Capacity underutilisation: . Economic unviability of the plant due to under-utilized capacity lead to the closure of Del Monte Foods (US) vegetable production and canning facility in Sampson County.

9. Single customer: Lonrho Fresh (South Africa) was into cut fruit and vegetable business and working on very thin profit margins. 70% of its sales were dependent on single retail player’ Pick and Pay’. Losing out some big business from their biggest customer, ‘Pick and Pay’ made the business unviable for Lonrho Fresh.

10. Dependability on subsidiesTINE (Norway) decided to close its facilities of Jarlsberg Cheese in Norway as export subsidies in Norway are being phased out by 2020. Increase in domestic competition and loss of export subsidies were expected to make TINE operations inefficient in Norway.

Above examples illustrates the importance of supply, demand, efficiencies, diversification, human resource, subsidies, trade, trends, consumer health and other critical factors in determining the viability of a unit. For running a plant everything has to be well organised and planned, otherwise a single problem could make you out of the business.

If you have came across any such example, then please feel free to share your experience in the comment section below.

Food Recall – Managing crisis without losing credibility?

Food recalls are a series of corrective actions that remove potentially unsafe products from the distribution channel, store shelves and consumers’ kitchen to prevent public health.

The priority of food manufacturers and processors is to produce food economically and efficiently, they do have strong reasons to produce safe food. Losses due to lost revenue in the case of food recall may far exceed than the cost of maintaining safety. Lost revenues includes a missed opportunity to sell the products, cost of discarded products, business interruption, customer reimbursement and the biggest one is loss of credibility among the consumers.

In the year 2015, there were more than 600 incidents of food recalls in USA and Canada alone. A small list of product recalls are shown in table 1 during a span of two months (Aug to Oct, 2016) in USA (reported by FDA).

Table 1: Recent incidents of FDA-regulated product recalls in USA

This is quite clear from the analysis done in table 1, that the main causes of Food Recalls are:
1. Allergens – Milk, peanuts, eggs, wheat (gluten) constitutes the majority. Others include soy, sulphites and nuts.
2. Microbiological contamination – E. coli, Listeria, Salmonella, Staphylococcus are pre-dominant. In some rare cases, there is a possibility of Clostridium botulinum

There are different classes of Food Recalls:
1. Class I – There is reasonable probability that eating the food will cause health problems or death.
2. Class II – There is a remote probability of adverse health consequences from eating the food.
3. Class III – Eating the food will not cause adverse health consequences

Key information to communicate with regulatory authorities in case of a food recall:
1. Name of the company and contact details
2. Name of the product
3. Batch identification codes
4. Product details including packaging size, type
5. Date marks
6. Amount of product in the market
7. Distribution details
8. Nature and level of food safety risk
9. Consumer Advice

A food recall example (press release):

Zero food waste is the new buzz word. By-products are the new profitable products.

Food waste has huge potential for value-added ingredients. Traditionally waste products are seen as a bad thing in terms of sustainability and environmental impact along with high costs for removal or treatment. New technologies are opening up big potential for the extraction of value-added ingredients from food production and processing wastes.

The idea of extracting valuable ingredients from waste products and processing by-products is not a new one but new extraction technologies and increasing demand for natural ingredients could open up new avenues for extracting value-added ingredients. Food wastes are today considered as a cheap source of valuable components

Exploitation of the entire plant tissue could have economic benefits to producers and a beneficial impact on the environment, leading to a greater diversity of products directed mainly to human usage. As more legal requirements are implemented, the food industry will be increasingly obligated to prevent waste. The French penalty system (which fines supermarkets for wastage) and Italian incentive system (which rewards them for donating surplus food) actively encourage waste prevention.

Before going further, let’s have a look at few daily news statements in food waste category:

  • Every year 100 million tonnes of food are thrown away in Europe, and this figure could reach 120 million by 2020
  • Land the size of China, Kazakhstan and Mongolia is used to grow wasted food every year
  • 1.3 billion tonnes of food are wasted every year, enough to feed 2bn people
  • Food waste costs EU €143 bn per year and 795 million people do not have enough to eat
  • In UK, it is estimated that up to 1.2 million tons of bread are wasted each year. More than 95% of this wasted bread goes to landfill where it is converted into methane.
  • The researchers said that in the fruit and vegetable industry, one third of the product being discarded in processing.
  • Around a billion tonnes of banana plant stems are wasted each year, despite research indicating that it would only take 37kg of stems to produce a kilogram of fibre.
  • In Europe alone around one million tons of potato pulp are produced every year – of which only a minimal amount is utilised.
  • Annual production of peanut meal in the USA alone is around 100,000 tons.
  • 8 million tonnes of orange peel is generated annually in Brazilian orange juice industry

From these news statement, we can judge the huge untapped potential in food waste category. This untapped potential is converted into sustainable business by young entrepreneurs. Let’s have a look at 10 most commonly produced products out of food waste:

  1. Juices

A carrot may have two legs, an apple might be dimpled, a cucumber might be slightly discolored — all of this leads to ‘rejectsʼ in the food system. Approximately, one-third of a farmerʼs total harvest is lost due to the aesthetic standards of retailers. Contrary to popular perception, these rejected fruits and vegetables (based on aesthetic standards) are as fresh and delicious as their perfect counterparts. By sourcing these misfit fruits and vegetables, companies are developing sustainable juice and beverage production business.

  1. Fruit flour from seed, skin and pomace of fruits

Gluten-free foods could benefit from highly fibrous fruit flours developed from the by-product of juice and cider production. These by-product flours are high in dietary fibre and have high antioxidant properties. Eg. for the gluten-free bread, rice flour and potato starch is blended with the fruit flour and for extruded snacks fruit flour is mixed with maize flour. The blending is done to balance the taste impacts as well as provide key structural requirements needed for gluten-free bakery and snacks products

  1. Antimicrobial and Antioxidant foods
  • Cranberry pomace, a by-product of the juicing process, may be extruded to produce a range of polyphenol-rich ingredients for use in supplements or functional foods. The resulting product could be incorporated into a dietary supplement or explored as a functional snack food. Cranberry has long been considered an effective method of fighting urinary tract infections
  • Antimicrobial and antioxidant potential of ethanolic extract of mango seeds can be used to enhance the shelf life and to increase the antioxidant capacity of fresh-cut mango
  • Phenolic extracts from olive oil mill waste can be used as alternatives to synthetic antioxidants in order to increase the stability of foods. Disposal of olive oil mill waste causes serious environmental problems, as many of its constituents are not easily degradable
  • Onion wastes are an interesting source of phytochemicals, sulphurous compounds and natural antioxidants. Brown skin shows a high concentration of quercetin, aglycone and calcium. Outer scales could be used as source of flavonols, with good antioxidant activity and dietary fibre content
  • Antioxidant waste from the soy industry could offer a cheap and healthy alternative to synthetic antioxidants that prolong the shelf life of food. The appreciable concentrations of flavonoids, along with phenolic acids and other antioxidant phytochemicals present in soybean might be responsible for their free radical-scavenging activity
  • Industrial by-products from tomato processing contain a significant amount of bioactive compounds that could be used to provide natural and sustainable source of antioxidants for functional food formulation, or to act as preservative ingredients in foods
  • Similar to wine and grape juice, which are known to contain natural antioxidants, up to 50% remain in the waste material left behind when the skins, stems and seeds are filtered
  1. Pectin
  • Each ton of dry cocoa bean produces ten tonnes of cocoa pod husk waste. An average of 10 grams of pectin could be extracted from every 100 grams of husk by-product. This way for each ton of dry cocoa bean production, one tonne of pectin could be extracted from the husk waste. Extraction of pectins from the main by-product of cocoa production would not only help to reduce the costs of the production of cocoa products but would also manage the disposal of this waste in an environmental friendly manner through the use of a natural and safe food additive
  • Waste orange peel is an excellent example of a wasted resource. By volume, half the orange fruit is left as waste once the juice has been recovered. Use of technology could allow the generation of valuable food ingredients like pectin on large scale. The ‘greenʼ approach could help dispose of waste products whilst also turning a profit.
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  • Potato pulp “is an underutilized material produced in large quantities by potato starch factories. Potato waste could provide ‘new generation’ of food ingredients like pectin. Extraction method promises large-scale extraction of potato fibres rich in pectin and functional hydrocolloids.
  1. Enzymes
  • Through solid state fermentation, it is possible to develop a multi-enzyme solution rich in glucoamylase and protease from waste bread. In the last two decades, solid state fermentation has attracted interest in western countries due to its advantages in the production of secondary metabolites, and production of novel foods.
  • Waste from pineapple processing could provide a range of value added ingredients for the food industry, including a new source of the enzyme bromelain. Bromelain is an enzyme that is usually extracted from the stems or juice of pineapples. It has been used commercially in the food industry, dietary supplements, and the cosmetics industry – where it is known for meat tenderising, brewing, baking, and for the production of protein hydrolysates, among other things. Waste portions provided a significant yield of the enzyme with peel supplying between 29 and 40% by weight.
  1. High protein High fiber flour
  • Dried distillers grain, produced during ethanol processing has until now only found use in animal feed. The flour produced is a high protein, high fibre (36% protein and 40% fibre) ingredient that could be used as a substitute flour in a number of food applications
  • Peanut meal is the defatted, low-value, byproduct of commercial peanut oil production. Advances in enzyme technologies, coupled with new technologies to remove aflatoxin, may offer a way to produce the by-product meal, which is an excellent source of protein (containing between 45–55%).
  • Mushroom waste can boost fibre and lower glycaemic response in extruded snacks. Stalks and basal clumps retrieved from spent mushroom compost can be refined as a freeze dried powder called mushroom co-product material (MCM). The inclusion of MCM significantly increase the amount of total dietary fibre (TDF) in the extruded snacks
  1. Textiles

Forget about cotton, we could be making textiles from banana, pineapple and coconut.

  • Banana fibre: The fabric is claimed to be nearly carbon neutral and have soft texture. The material is having application in making jackets, skirts and trousers.
  • Pineapple fibre: It is used as an alternative to petroleum-based textiles. The greatest thing is that itʼs made of leaf fibres, a byproduct of the pineapple harvest. The industrial process used to produce pineapple fibre also produces biomass, which can be converted into a bio-fertiliser  and the fibre is also biodegradable.
  • Coconut fibre: A thousand coconuts can produce 10 kg of fibre. A blend of fibre with polyester is particularly good choice for sportswear
  1. Fuel and Fertilizer
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  • Organic waste from companies food processing plant can be converted into a renewable natural gas. Organic waste from the plant is converted into biogas through Anaerobic Digestion process. The biogas is then purified to become renewable natural gas which can be used in the same was as conventional natural gas. The renewable natural gas displaces conventional natural gas which is used to support the energy needs of the plant operation.
  • In addition, a high-quality fertilizer is produced as a byproduct which in turn is used to support healthy growth of local vegetation.
  1.  Molds

The designer custom-made molds with a mixture of agricultural byproducts and mushroom mycelium, can result in lightweight, biodegradable lamp shades. Mycelium is introduced into a mixture of chopped up corn stalks and seed husks, and begins to spread its white fibers and digest it. Once coated in mycelium, the mixture is broken up into particles, which can easily be packed into molds, and left to grow for a few days until it forms a completely solid structure

  1. Fats

Seed waste may be source of new fats. Fat from seed kernel ‘waste productsʼ could provide the food industry with a new source of edible oils. Eg. rambutan seed kernels provide a considerable yield of fat with high arachidonic acid content and that makes the fat highly stable to oxidation. Because of these physical and chemical characteristics, rambutan kernel fat is perfectly suited for the cosmetic and food industries. The increasing demand for oils and fats, whether for human consumption or for industrial purposes, necessitates the search for new sources of novel oils and fats. Fat extraction from seed waste could be as high as 37% by weight.

Agri Data Ownership: Do farmers own the data generated on farm?

With the advent of precision agriculture, there is a lot of data created on farm. By logic or by law, farmer should own the data generated on the farm. To avail the services of other stakeholders like machinery provider, input suppliers, precision equipment suppliers and others, farmer has to supply (or upload) data in digital form.

Is there any data ownership which can be claimed by the farmer once the data is shared to third party (other stakeholders)?

Let’s understand an overview of agri data. Agri data is neither recognised under traditional type of property (land, building, good and animals) nor any traditional intellectual property (patent, trademark and copyright). Now, there are two situations left:

1. Trade Secret

  • Trade secret is some specific information available with the farmer which can’t be easily identified by another person and have some economic value.
  • Legal definition of trade secret: Information, including a formula, pattern, compilation, program, device, method, technique, or process, that: (i) derives independent economic value, actual or potential, from not being generally known to, and not being readily ascertainable by proper means by, other persons who can obtain economic value from its disclosure or use, and (ii) is the subject of efforts that are reasonable under the circumstances to maintain its secrecy.

2. State law

  • For protecting agri data, government enact law to prohibit the copying and distribution of data without farmer’s consent. 

Maintaining and proving Agri Data as a Trade Secret is a very complicated and cumbersome process. There are no such Agri Data specific state laws as it is a very new topic in the legal fraternity. What’s the option then?

The only fool-proof solution left in the case of agri data is, “individual contract agreements to treat agri data as a protected trade secret”.

Contract Agreement must include 10 points discussed below.

  1. Consent: Collection, access and use of farm data should include consent of the farmer with proper signed (or digital) agreement.
  2. Notification: Farmers must be notified for the collected data with proper details about it’s usage.
  3. Complaint Redressal: Proper complaint redressal mechanism with full transparency.
  4. Features: Defining the availability of services and features when the farmer make choices for opt-in and opt-out.
  5. Portability: Data portability and data retrieval for storage and usage in other systems.
  6. Confidentiality: A clause for not sharing or disclosing the farm data with a third party in any matter that is inconsistent with the contract agreement.
  7. Retrieval: Farmer should have the authority to discontinue the services and collection of data. Services discontinuation should be supported with an option of retrieval and secured destruction of collected data.
  8. Misuse protection: Prohibition of data for anti-competitive activities like speculation in commodity markets based on inputs from the farm data.
  9. Safeguards: Clearly define liability and security safeguards for loss or unauthorized access, destruction, use, modification and disclosure.
  10. Policy: Notice and response policy for agreement breach.

Applying concept of Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) to balance demand & supply in agriculture

Situation 1:

General variety produced by small scale unorganised farmers. This can result in

  • plentiful supply and lean demand.
  • plentiful demand and lean supply.

Glut in supply, crash the prices and low production results in lower income for the producers respectively in the above two scenarios.

Situation 2:

Specific varieties grown by a farmer and managed by a cooperative (or a producer organisation or a club). This can result in

  • Subdued sales of a particular variety and low consumer interest due to lack of marketing activities.
  • Sudden increase in production because good marketing ensures huge interest for a variety among the growers and consumers. This can cause sudden increase in production and crash of prices because of excessive supply.

The issues are more or less same in situation 1 & 2 as producers are losing in one way or the other.

Situation 3:

Cooperatives manage production and marketing of a IP (Intellectual Property) protected plant variety.

In situation 3, cooperatives can manage a proper balance in terms of quality and product volumes, ensuring higher returns to the members of the cooperative. A cooperative (or producer organisation or club) can ensure some unique marketing advantages because of its capability to manage the complete value chain from farm to consumers. They ensure proper legal protection to produce varieties in terms of patents, trademarks and geographical indicators.

Example depicting marketing of IP protected varieties by a cooperative

  • The case for “SweeTango,” a new variety from University of Minnesota that has a registered trademark. A small group of growers around the United States produces “SweeTango,” which is controlled by Next Big Thing Cooperative
  • Club (or cooperative) varieties are produced in restricted volumes by a selected group of growers.  Quality stays high, supply does not rise too much and demand stays strong, ensuring high returns to those growers who pay to be part of the club.
  • Trademark provides a way to differentiate products in the marketplace, create excitement and new flavors by controlling the volume in the market, and controlling the quality to elevate the premium.

Understanding IPR (Intellectual Property Rights) terminology and concept 

This is to recognise the form of intellectual property manifested in plant and seed varieties. As per the Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Agreement, countries are obliged to provide intellectual property rights protection for new varieties of plants – either by a patent or by an effective sui generis (class of its own) or a combination of both. The act is to encourage plant breeders to produce superior varieties and provide greater access to varieties from abroad. Patent and trademark definitions are explained below:

  • A Patent is an exclusive monopoly right granted by the Government to an inventor over his invention for a limited period of time. Patent grants the right to exclude any other person from practicing the invention e.g. manufacture, use, sale or transfer, make, import the patented product or process
  • Trade mark means a mark capable of being represented graphically and which is capable of distinguishing the goods or services of one person from those of others and may include shape of goods, their packaging and combination of colours.

Example depicting practical implementation of the concept of IPR

  • Honeycrisp apple also know as Honeycrunch apple is patented by the University of Minnesota. They charged a royalty fee of $1 for every Honeycrisp tree sold until the patent expired in 2008.
  • Once the patent expired, apple varieties are trademarked to provide an additional layer of protection for the holder of intellectual property rights. Trademark offers exclusive rights to the owner to sell it for perpetuity.
  • Patent and trademark secure legal rights of the owner for his effort and investment for developing new varieties.

IPR infringement leads to

  • In case, any grower infringes the intellectual property rights of others, then there could be imposition of penalties and grant of injunction (temporary or permanent) against the grower.
  • Injunction prohibits the infringer from continuing to market fruits produced from proprietary plants, uproot the plants and cease growing the protected variety.

Some key insights about produce marketing from developed nations

  • Fruits like apples are marketed by cultivar name.
  • Consumers buying habits are more inclined towards brands and varieties offering quality, flavour, taste and color.
  • In most cases, the substantial difference is about the marketing efforts and intellectual property rights, rather than the look and flavour of the fruit.