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Startup Innovation Challenge

An invisible solution to the glaring food waste problem [Interview]

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Coating fresh fruit and vegetables in a patent-protected edible, invisible film can help reduce food loss and waste from farm to fork, says Israeli startup, Sufresca.

Sufresca has created ‘breathable’ emulsion-type edible coatings, tailored to the specific properties of different fresh fruit and vegetable varieties. The coatings are effective at ambient temperature and under other storage conditions, such as moderate relative humidity. The result, it says, is natural-looking produce, that stays fresher for longer and eliminates the need for plastic packaging.  This innovative processing technology has earnt the Israeli startup an award during the Fi Global Startup Innovation Challenge held during Fi Europe CONNECT 2020.

Fighting carbon footprint

One-third of all food that is produced globally is either lost or wasted each year, equivalent to around 1.3 billion tons of food, according to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

Efrat Ferri, CEO of Sufresca, says the figures for fresh fruit and vegetables are even higher.

“Between 38 and 55% of fresh fruit and vegetables are lost or wasted globally, resulting in a stupendous carbon footprint – eight percent of global emission – and water footprint,” she says. “This has a devastating impact on food security and hampers the productivity of supply chains around the globe at a financial cost to all actors.”

Developed by researchers at the faculty of agriculture, food and environment of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the thin coating is transparent, odourless, and tasteless, and went undetected in sensory evaluations conducted by the startup.

So far, Sufresca has developed three formulation types, covering many varieties of fruit and vegetables. Its edible coatings for whole produce, such as tomato, cucumber, pepper, mango and avocado, prolong shelf life by several weeks, reducing weight loss over time and maintaining colour and firmness. Its edible film-type coatings are suitable for bulbs such as onion and garlic and offer a dual function, maintaining quality over months of storage and providing protection against pests. Finally, its selective coating for minimally processed fruits, such as pomegranate arils (the juicy, fleshy layer around each inner seed) prevent fluids from escaping through the surface.

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According to the company, the coatings can be applied to produce using a simple technique that can be easily incorporated into existing production lines. The final formulation is composed of “well-established natural ingredients” that are recognised as safe for food industry use and are compliant with leading regulatory requirements, such as those set by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the US and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) in Europe.

Farm-to-fork food waste hotspots

“Even though the relation between shelf life and food loss and waste is not straightforward, knowing where and how detrimental changes occur in the food supply chain is important to improve best post-harvest approaches,” says Ferri.

Food loss may occur if cold-chain storage facilities are not available, while post-harvest waste can occur because growers sometimes overproduce to account for anticipated losses. Retailers may have strict appearance criteria, discarding any produce that does not meet their size or colour requirements. Food waste can also continue in the home if consumers buy more than they can eat or do not store produce correctly, leading it to spoil early.

“The reduction of food loss and waste in hotspots from farm to fork means a higher return for the same input and reducing costs on waste management. Sufresca also relieves the constraints of other preservation methods, such as cold-chain and retail packaging.”

“Our mission is to facilitate better global horticulture practices, where our cost-effective and eco-friendly edible coatings are available for all perishables. Considering the commodity and its coating as a whole, is key to optimising sustainability and the productivity of supply chains around the world.”

The startup, which has several patents protecting its intellectual property, could have an even greater impact on the organic produce sector, where fruit and vegetables are particularly susceptible to post-harvest degradation, according to its CEO.

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