When you toss manky lettuce or moldy berries think about this: Globally, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization, we waste more than a third of the food we produce.
To combat that, a group of Swedish graduate students in the Food Innovation and Product Design program at Lund University have come up with a way to use produce that is about to go to waste—and to help people who have limited access to food.
They’re calling it FoPo Food Powder, and it’s exactly what it sounds like: dried, powdered, shelf-stable fruits and vegetables, which can be dropped into relief efforts after natural disasters or distributed in low-resource areas where fresh food and refrigeration are both 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 couldn’t back out,” says Kent Ngo, one of the students who developed it.
Ngo says they’re not producing something revolutionary—powdered food has been around since the early days of astronauts—but that they’re rethinking the waste and distribution channels. While their development team reached out to farmers and retailers to source fruit, the food scientists experimented with different drying and powdering techniques. They settled on spray-drying it, then grinding it up after it was sublimated. From there, they looked at ways to distribute it, through commercial and government supported venues.
One member of the group, Gerald Perry Marin, grew up in the Philippines, so he’d 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 scenario.
“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, to aid low-budget humanitarian groups and NGOs.
Freeze-dried food retains most of the nutritional benefits of raw food. It looses some vitamin and mineral density in the drying process, but it's 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’re drying calamansi, a citrus fruit that Ngo says tastes like a mix of lime and tangerine. There is a surplus of it, it’s 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’re about to start working with the UN’s Initiative on Food Loss and Waste, to try to reach more people and countries that could benefit. To broaden their reach, they’re also working with commercial distributors and manufacturers that want to use FoPo in their food products, like 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 can’t wait for the mango and pineapple powder.”