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Turning low-value waste into high-nutrient food

European research has developed new processes and enzyme treatments to turn organic waste from the food industry into snack food, animal feed and nutriceuticals.


Food processing produces a lot of waste that is often biologically complex, environmentally unfriendly and microbiologically unstable. As such this waste can be a hazard to health and present difficulties for effective and safe disposal. However, much of this organic material has a nutrient value and can in theory be recycled to produce more food products. The EU-funded ′Reducing food processing waste'′ (REPRO) project aimed to develop methods whereby organic waste can be made safe and turned into high added value food and feed products. REPRO’s objectives included developing enzymes to first break down and then reconstruct safe stable products. Another key aim was to make sure from the start that the newly developed processes would be acceptable to consumer, retailer and regulatory bodies involved. Just one of REPRO’s successes is a process that turns vegetable trimmings into phytochemicals and pectins (thickeners). With increasing knowledge on the importance of plant chemicals for health, a REPRO liquefying brew of enzymes is able to turn the vegetable waste into phytochemical-rich juice. The exploitation programme of REPRO successfully incorporated spent grain into fish feed which led to the application for a patent. Pending compliance with food legislation, there is also economic potential for spent grain to be a nutritious part of snack food. For the future, development of more robust enzymes with high activity would swing the energy bill into an acceptable range. For example, woody cellulose waste could be broken down for bioalcohol production. With appropriate processing and enzyme treatment, low-value by-products can be converted into safe, high-nutrient palatable food products, pharmaceuticals and animal feed. Apart from the obvious economic advantages, organic waste disposal in landfills, for example, will be given a welcome reprieve in accordance with pressure from consumers and legislation.

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