Each mouthful of food we eat has its own story. Just think about your last meal. Where was it grown, how and by who? Can you picture its journey to your plate?
Around a third of the food produced for human consumption around the world never makes it to the table. That’s approximately 1.3 billion tonnes of food which ends up in the bin. When you consider that 795 million people around the world are suffering from chronic undernourishment, the food wastage crisis is hard to stomach.
LAUNCH Food innovator Dr Kirsty Bayliss, chair of biosecurity and food security at Murdoch University in Western Australia, is one academic and visionary who has taken it into her own hands to find a solution to food waste.
“Lots of people think the solution to the malnutrition crisis around the world is to produce more food, but I challenge that idea,” Kirsty says. “I think we should focus on maximising the food we already have, reducing the amount we’re wasting through incorrect transport, inadequate storage or poor conditions around the home.”
Kirsty is the brains behind Breaking the Mould, an innovation which uses plasma to prevent food from developing mold.
“Plasma is the fourth state of matter: you have solids, liquids, gases and plasma, which is created when you electrically charge air. We come across plasma as part of our everyday lives: lightning is a form of plasma, it’s a key component of plasma televisions, and it’s regularly used by medics and dentists.”
“I started to research how cold plasma could be used as an alternative to chemical sprays to preserve fruit and vegetables and stop mold spores from germinating. In our tests on avocadoes, plasma almost doubles their shelf life, meaning they can sit in your fruit bowl for up to ten days, and we’ve had similar results with strawberries. What’s more, it’s entirely chemical-free and doesn’t affect the flavour, consistency or shape of the food.”
“These benefits have a knock-on effect, saving people money on perished food and time on visiting the market, bringing fresh fruit and vegetables to people who might normally not be able to access them, and ensuring nutritious food is available to people for a longer period of time,” Kirsty says. “This technology will be particularly beneficial to people in developing countries, where access to refrigeration facilities can be more limited.”
Access to refrigeration is a key hurdle when it comes to preventing post-harvest food losses. Just under 25% of the world’s population don’t have access to a fridge, which means their food loses freshness and becomes inedible at a much faster rate.
Another LAUNCH Food innovator, Evaptainers, is also seeking to prevent food wastage, but by providing people in developing countries with a cool place to store fruit and vegetables without the use of electricity. COO of Evaptainers, Quang Truong had seen a concept in Nigeria called a ‘zeer pot’ being used to keep food fresh in homes without a refrigerator, and decided to expand on the idea.
“Evaptainers are boxes which use evaporation as the mechanism to keep the internal environment of the box cool, creating a cold storage area for fresh foods with a short shelf life. While the concept behind Evaptainers is simple, we’ve spent around two years refining the end product,” says Jeremy Fryer-Biggs, CTO of Evaptainers. “The boxes can be packed flat for easy shipping and transportation, and are expected to retail at just USD$25-$35, making them much more affordable than traditional means of refrigeration. Not only that, but they are incredibly easy to set up! On the back of each box is a series of six images which show the recipient how to set up and start using the box to keep their food fresh – all that’s needed is a relatively small amount of water.”
“While keeping food fresh is a primary benefit of using Evaptainers, there are so many other benefits that flow on from people being able to eat a healthy and varied diet,” adds Serena Hollmeyer Taylor, Director of Strategic Planning. “Kids pay more attention at school, are able to focus more and reach their full potential. Young girls in developing countries stand to benefit most from this, as they are often the last to eat and less likely than young boys to attend school.”
“Another benefit is that people can save a significant amount of time and money, because they don’t need to go back and forth to the market every few days to buy fresh produce, because a shop lasts for much longer,” Jeremy adds. “The downstream potential is that people can choose how they want to allocate those savings– people might want to start a business, expand their home, or invest in education,” Jeremy says.
“While this innovation can have a huge impact on individuals’ lives, we predict the impact will be much wider,” says Serena. “Overall, we’ve identified 29 countries – with a combined population of 654 million people – which have a climate and social makeup that would lend itself to the adoption of Evaptainers. As we gear up to our major field trial in Morocco in the next few months, we’re excited to see the difference our innovation can make to people’s lives.”