A project to turn surplus tomatoes and capsicums into high value powders and extracts is also reducing food waste by up to 70 per cent. This report from the Fight Food Waste CRC. This article first appeared in the August 2021 issue of Food and Drink Business.

In the Whitsundays region of Queensland, the Bowen Gumlu Growers Association represents farmers who produce up to 40 per cent of Australia’s annual tomato and capsicum crops.

Every year, Australia produces nearly half a million tonnes of tomatoes and 76,000 tonnes of capsicums. It is estimated between 30-40 per cent of production is lost or wasted. For the growers in the Bowen Gumlu region that’s around 173,000 tonnes of surplus produce going to waste.

In 2020, the growers association partnered with Queensland’s Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (DAF), Fight Food Waste Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) and Whitsunday Regional Council to undertake a three part project investigating solutions.

Its aim is to add value to produce worth $300 million, including the 150,000 tonnes of tomato and 23,000 tonnes of capsicum waste generated in the Bowen and Gumlu region.

Reducing waste, gaining value

Fight Food Waste CRC CEO Dr Steven Lapidge says there are often high levels of waste in horticulture that must be addressed if growers are to gain maximum value from what they produce, while also minimising food waste.

Wastage occurs due to disease and damage; strict standards for produce shape and appearance; packaging and marketing processes; and consumer behaviour. A lack of coordination between players across the food supply chain is also a factor. 

The valuable nutrients and resources discarded as food waste, particularly fruit and vegetable waste can be recovered and repurposed. These new products can be used in processed foods, nutraceuticals, and complementary health care.

This collaborative project is great example of what’s possible when industry and government at all levels work together
to deliver solutions for growers.

Using discarded streams from crops not only improves industry profitability by saving on waste disposal costs, but also by creating valuable side-streams and co-products.

In stage one the Bowen Gumlu Growers Association ran trials processing the raw materials to create high-value nutrient and bioactive rich powders and liquid extracts for use in food, health and feed industries.

The successful trials produced freeze and thermally dried powders with significant nutrient and bioactive (lycopene and β-carotene) content, and a probiotic tomato juice.

“This collaborative project is great example of what’s possible when industry and government at all levels work together to deliver solutions for growers,” Lapidge says.

Stage two commenced in June 2021 and is further developing the extraction and conversion technologies developed in stage one. Using appropriate technologies to process surplus or waste produce into higher-value products could help reduce the waste in this sector by at least 70 per cent. This would help mitigate crop wastage, save resources used in production, and reduce the associated carbon footprint.

The main varieties of tomato and capsicum will also be screened for any significant variations in the nutritional and bioactive contents of the finished products. In addition, DAF will develop a probiotic tomato beverage, including tasting sessions and sensory evaluation.

DAF director of the Agrifood and Data Science group Ben Baldwin says: “It’s exciting to be collaborating on developing products that not only innovate the market, but also reduce waste, and deliver tangible financial savings to producers plus health benefits to consumers.

“If they are successful, they will deliver value across the whole supply chain.”

A third stage of this project is also anticipated, subject to the outcomes of stage two, which will consider further scaling and commercialisation of the technologies.

The project is exploring innovative extraction technologies to create new high value health benefitting bioactive and functional foods. If successful, these technologies may be used to add value to other major horticulture produce in the region such as melons and cucumbers.

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