Extending life by cutting waste

Could the solution to our food waste crisis be finally here?

As the world’s growing population puts increasing pressure on food supplies around the world, steps towards food waste reduction are taking place.

It is estimated that around 30% of food supply each year is lost to toxins, pathogens, and pests in between the farm gate and the end consumer.

Unsurprisingly, grocery store fruits and vegetables have some of the highest waste rates with some 45% of all fresh produce lost or wasted. To make matters worse, food waste is responsible for 3.6 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions annually.

Cold Plasma Reducing Food Waste

This is where cold plasma comes in to reduce food loss.

In short it is a food processing non-thermal technology that uses reactive gases to deactivate contaminating microbes on meats, poultry, fish, fruits and vegetables.

The result could see much of that missing 30% – which amounts to a staggering 1.3 billion tons of wasted food valued at around $1 trillion – reintroduced into the food chain.

With the World Research Institute predicting the global population growing from seven billion in 2010 to a projected 9.8 billion in 2050, it says overall food demand is on course to increase by more than 50%.

Cold plasma is a technology which has been around for years – used extensively in manufacturing – but it is only recently its application in terms of food waste prevention and production has been developed.

For example, the traditional processing of milk uses a thermal method to ensure its safety. Cold plasma, on the other hand, has been tested by scientists and returned better results in terms of a significant reduction in microbial load and enzymatic activity, without impacting on its all-important taste or quality.

Scientists have also seen it dramatically extend the shelf life of fruit and vegetables while leaving no harmful residue behind.

And its increasing attraction to the food manufacturers in the food sector is helping it propel the size of the global cold plasma marketplace.

Cold Plasma Market Growth

According to a report published earlier this year by Fact and Factors, the market was worth $1.8 billion in 2021 and is expected to surpass $3.5 billion by 2028.

It added:

“The advantages of cold plasma technology are critical to the increase in market revenue as well as the food safety issues that will drive market growth.”

Further, in a report by Markets & Markets this year, it added:

“Cold plasma technology is increasingly being used as an alternative to traditional food preservation methods such as canning, freezing, and irradiation. Cold plasma treatments can be used to extend shelf life, reduce spoilage, and reduce the risk of foodborne pathogens.”

Sector Investment

Food supply market opens investment opportunities.

For the investor, there are options aplenty. US-based Clean Crop Technologies was founded in 2018 and is focused fully on the food sector. Last February it raised $6 million in a Series A round and a further $2.6 million before the year was out.

It explains:

“Our team is on a mission to help feed the world without burning it down by providing access to our cold plasma technology across different actors in the food supply chain to help boost yields, improve food safety, and reduce food waste.”

It adds it is currently serving leading companies in the nuts, seed, and wheat markets.

Another looking to make its mark is NanoGuard Technologies.

The US firm uses technology which harnesses uses air and electricity producing an energized air stream, through a process it has called Airilization. It pasteurises raw agricultural products and those food products manufactured from them rendering them safe for consumption. All without affecting their quality, taste or texture.

Explains its research and development engineer, Jackson Cummings:

“One of the main reasons we’ve gathered so much commercial interest is because companies are demanding cleaner decontamination technologies now more than ever.

“Our gaseous surface treatment does not leave treatment-related residues the way chlorine- or ammonia-based treatments do. And because we aren’t limited by the shadowing effect, a shortcoming of ultraviolet irradiation and pulsed light treatments, the potential applications of our technology are endless. Electricity and air are the only feedstocks required for our natural, green solution to food pathogens, contaminants, and waste.”

California’s Apeel Sciences offers a slightly different approach. Its plant-based protection slows water loss and oxidation, the primary causes of spoilage. It has so far attracted $640m in funding.

Similarly, Hazel Technologies has raised $88 million with a range of products – one of which is a sachet which when added to a bowl of produce can extend its life.

It releases a natural gas called ethylene. And when crops absorb ethylene, their rate of decay is expedited. 1-MCP is an active ingredient that can be used to reduce ethylene’s production and absorption, slowing down the ageing process.

But all are pulling in the same direction – using the latest technology in a bid to ease the food waste crisis which lurks just around the corner.

Conclusion

As ever with these sorts of products, it will ultimately come down to price points. Can already squeezed producers afford to adopt it? Although perhaps the bigger question is can they afford not to? Investment opportunities are there – and more start-ups are looking to muscle into a space which could prove extremely lucrative. But, as ever, there are still hurdles to climb before it becomes a dead cert.

Companies to Watch

Clean Crop Technologies, NanoGuard Technologies, Apeel Sciences, Hazel Technologies

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