Upcycling, Edible Coatings, and Other Solutions to Cut Food Waste By Maximizing Product Utilization

Upcycling, Edible Coatings, and Other Solutions to Cut Food Waste By Maximizing Product Utilization

August 12, 2021

Maximizing product utilization means designing facilities, operations, and menus to use as much of each product as possible. It also means rethinking the concept of “waste” by turning surplus and byproducts into food products through upcycling, which has opened new doors for innovation and investment. Solutions in this action area focus on using ingredients and products in their entirety, preventing waste through minimizing losses on a production line, extending product life, designing menus to use all product parts, and more. Some of this can be implemented through basic staff training, while other solutions involve the development of new food processing equipment. 

Within this and the Roadmap to 2030’s other key action areas are a range of solutions, including those that ReFED has modeled using key data points, promising solutions that we’re still gathering data on, and best practices that many organizations have already worked into their operations.

Modeled Solutions

Converting food by-products that would otherwise not go to human consumption (e.g. spent grains, fruit or vegetable pulps, and rinds) into a new ingredient or edible food product through value-added processing.

Packaging to slow spoilage through technologies such as ethylene absorption, modified atmospheres, moisture absorption, etc., or adaptive materials that inform as to the quality/safety of the contents.

Identifying opportunities to reduce food waste from manufacturing and processing operations, such as in product line changeovers.


Unmodeled Solutions

Natural barriers applied to fresh food that extend shelf life by blocking water from evaporating and preventing atmospheric oxygen from reacting with the food.

Developing prepared meals or deli items using meat, seafood, or produce nearing expiration within retail operations.

Combination of creative recipe development and considerate ordering practices to increase full utilization of ingredients. Practices include cross-utilizing ingredients for multiple recipes and repurposing leftover items into new dishes.

Using genomics and other tools to improve definition and identification of pathogens, source tracking, and outbreak detection, leading to an overall shift from a reactive food safety management approach to proactive.


Best Practices

Discount Meal Plates

Inventory management technique to offer discounted meals with ingredients or leftover dishes from previous service.

Employee Meals

Inventory management technique to offer meals with ingredients or leftover dishes from previous service to staff; provides additional benefit to employees.

Small and Versatile Menus

Menu design with the goals of (1) offering fewer options and (2) utilizing ingredients across various menu items, minimizing the variety of items that kitchens must carry to prepare all dishes.

Larger Quantities for Take-Home

Offering larger quantities of items for sale for at-home consumption.

Sous-Vide Cooking

Precision cooking method, used in fast casual up to fine dining, in which food is prepared to an exact temperature in a controlled environment, typically under vacuum or in a food-safe sealed container.

ReFED is a national nonprofit working to end food loss and waste across the food system by advancing data-driven solutions to the problem. ReFED leverages data and insights to highlight supply chain inefficiencies and economic opportunities; mobilizes and connects people to take targeted action; and catalyzes capital to spur innovation and scale high-impact initiatives. ReFED’s goal is a sustainable, resilient, and inclusive food system that optimizes environmental resources, minimizes climate impacts, and makes the best use of the food we grow.

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