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Seven Takeaways from One Supermarket Food Waste Project

Three universities along with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have developed a model to repurpose food about to become waste into a different food offering to feed the hungry.

Researchers from Drexel University, the University of Pennsylvania and Cabrini College developed a model that was piloted in West Philadelphia as part of the EPA’s Food Recovery Challenge, with help from Brown’s Super Stores.

"If I offered you a bruised banana, you probably wouldn’t be interested,” said Jonathan Deutsch, director of Drexel University’s Center for Hospitality and Sport Management, in a news release. “But what if I offered you some banana ice cream on a hot summer day? I bet you’d find that a lot more appealing.”

Here are some highlights of the project:

  1. Drexel culinary arts and food science students collected thousands of pounds of bruised or misshapen fruits and vegetables from area supermarkets and developed products and recipes in the student-run Drexel Food Lab to put them to better use. The new, more appealing products could then be served or sold, diverting the food items from the landfill and creating a more sustainable food system, called the Food System-Sensitive Methodology (FSSM) by the researchers.
  2. Next, the food lab considered food items commonly going to waste–bananas, tomatoes, greens, sweet potatoes–and developed low-cost, limited-skill ways to repurpose these surplus food items. “So, for example, we took those brown bananas, peeled them, froze them and food processed them to create banana ice cream, which is much more appealing,” Deutsch said. “If we then wholesaled those products back to the grocery store, they could be sold at nearly double the price.”
  3. Supermarkets are a major source of food waste. Fresh produce routinely is taken off the shelves for cosmetic reasons. So researchers focused on the supermarkets as a way of saving food loss and shifting the food stream into efficient ways for the needy.
  4. Many supermarkets now donate surplus foods to soup kitchens or shelters, but items like overripe or bruised bananas may still end up in the trash because they are unappealing, even to someone who is food insecure, the researchers said.
  5. After one month of the program, 35,000 pounds of surplus produce were gathered from 11 area supermarkets. If the surplus produce was purchased for a reduced price of 25 cents per pound and was processed into value-added food products such as veggie chips, jams and smoothie bases, it could then be wholesaled back to the same supermarket or other community-based retailers for $2 per pound.
  6. Those products could then be retailed at double the price, generating more than $90,000 in monthly gross revenue, the researchers estimate.
  7. Applying the FSSM model nationally, preliminary results suggest the potential production would be about 1.1 billion pounds annually. The researchers believe the project is scalable.


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