Joyce Longfield has a master’s of science in molecular biologist with expertise in food safety and HPP. She is an important advocate for high pressure processing regulatory guidance in the United States and Canada and is one of the leading experts on the use of HPP for the beverage sector.
What is your biggest concern when it comes to food waste?
I actually have three big concerns, and they relate to the environment, society and the economy. First, the greenhouse gasses used to produce wasted food and the decomposition of the wasted food itself contribute to climate change, which is tragic. From a societal standpoint, we have a serious imbalance when millions of pounds of edible food are wasted while people are facing actual starvation or are nutritionally starved with poor quality food. Finally, in terms of economic impact, the system is very inefficient and more food should be put towards more productive and profitable use.
You’re a big proponent of high pressure processing. What could help (HPP) have more of an impact on food waste?
The answer is multi-faceted, but some of it comes down to regulation and social norms or acceptance. If there was better acceptance of the food safety shelf-life of HPP products and less concern about the actual age of the product or even the appearance, HPP’s CSR impact would be all the more potent. For example, in raw meat the product might have a slightly different color than what a shopper grew up accustomed to, but would still be perfectly acceptable for consumption.
What other recent technologies have you seen that reduce food waste?
Anything which extends the shelf-life of a product. There is a lot of work going on with anti-microbial films and guards, including natural ones such as rosemary extracts. In combination with HPP, it might be possible there would be an even longer shelf-life and reduced shrink.
What would your main suggestion be to food producers that wanted to reduce food waste?
There’s brand and business power in food waste mitigation. As most companies are driven by profit, reducing food waste reduces their shrink and they can tell a compelling story to the consumer about how they are focused on food waste, so it would improve their marketability. With the power of social media, awareness travels quickly and this includes the good and bad stories. Brand loyalty creates the repeat customer and something like unreliable expiration dates can damage a brand.
Would increased shelf-life reduce the need to cut prices and consequently negatively impact your brand image?
In theory ‘yes’ depending on how much the shelf-life improved and whether or not a company is keen to address the issue in their marketing, product packaging and other labels. Price cuts are typically intended to move old stock. The retailer must be knowledgeable and comfortable with the concept of certain kinds of products remaining on the shelves longer. They have to buy in, but the reality is that it means less work to them restocking and handling logistics. Some top grocers are reporting their food waste statistics, so this gives them something to tout as well. There is 162 billion dollars in food waste that HPP has the capabilities to touch more than 60% of the contributors to this figure. There’s enough food waste success for everyone to share in!