USAID’s Kitchen Sink: A Food Loss and Waste Podcast

Upcycling and Sustainability with Kendra Stallings of Novozymes

February 21, 2024 USAID Food Loss and Waste Community of Practice Season 1 Episode 20
USAID’s Kitchen Sink: A Food Loss and Waste Podcast
Upcycling and Sustainability with Kendra Stallings of Novozymes
Show Notes Transcript

Over one-third of the world’s food is lost or wasted, undermining efforts to end hunger and malnutrition while contributing 8 to 10 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. In low- and middle-income countries, over 40 percent of food loss occurs before a crop even makes it to market, whether due to inadequate storage, pests or microbes, spoilage, spillage in transport or otherwise. Eliminating food loss and waste (FLW) would provide enough food to feed two billion people, as well as reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Addressing FLW is critical to global food security, nutrition and climate change mitigation, with innovations in upcycling playing an important role in these efforts.

In order to raise awareness, exchange information and share success stories, USAID’s Food Loss and Waste Community of Practice created the USAID Kitchen Sink Food Loss and Waste Podcast. Our goal is to share monthly, bite-sized episodes that highlight the approaches USAID and the U.S. government are taking to address FLW. We hope these episodes provide a valuable resource for those interested in why we should care about FLW and how we can reduce it.

Our latest episode is with Kendra Stallings, Senior Scientist in the Technical Service, Food and Beverage Division at Novozymes. During this episode, we discuss what upcycling is, the impacts on sustainability and FLW, and the role of biosolutions.

You can subscribe to receive the latest episodes of USAID’s Kitchen Sink and listen to our episodes on the platform of your choice: Apple, Spotify, and more! Video recordings of the episodes are available on YouTube. Check in every month for new episodes as global experts discuss a range of issues about FLW and methane emissions - from the critical role of youth to the staggering economic costs - and learn about specific ways that USAID is tackling FLW around the world. 

If you have an idea for an episode topic you’d like to see featured or if you would like to participate in an episode of USAID’s Kitchen Sink, please reach out to Nika Larian (

There’s no time to waste!

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(Speaker 1:

Nika Larian) Welcome to USAID's Kitchen Sink a food loss and waste podcast. I'm your producer, Nika Lian. 30 to 40% of the food that is produced is either lost or wasted, contributing to a global food crisis with over 800 million going to bed hungry. Listen on as USAID experts speak with researchers and development professionals to explore solutions to this critical issue that demands a kitchen sink approach. When it comes to climate food security and food system sustainability, we have no time to waste.- Thanks for tuning in

to "USAID's Kitchen Sink:

A Food Loss and Waste Podcast". My name is Nika Larian, food loss and waste advisor and producer of the "USAID Kitchen Sink". Today, I will be speaking with Kendra Stallings, senior scientist in the technical service food and beverage division at Novozymes. We will be discussing what upcycling is, the impacts on sustainability and food loss and waste, and the role of biosolutions. Welcome, Kendra. Please introduce yourself.

(Speaker 2:

Kendra Stallings) Thank you, Nika. So, hi, I'm Kendra and I'm on the technical service team at Novozymes. And I currently support food and beverage manufacturers in North America by helping them optimize their process or innovate new products with our solutions. And Novozymes is a global leader in biosolutions, and some of our key missions are to reduce waste and improve sustainability in all the industries that we support. And I just wanna to give you a quick background about myself. I'm really happy to be talking with you today about upcycling foods and the impact that it has on sustainability. So, I grew up on a small farm in North Carolina, and this helped me to be able to understand the value and importance of our food supply at a young age. And I grew up hearing family members talk about their farming experiences, which helped me appreciate the work and resources that go into the farm-to-fork process, but also how affected our food security and the food supply can be impacted by factors like weather and climate. And I joined the food science program while in college because I felt like it would be a good place, opportunity to combine my passion for science, but also desire to have a positive impact on our food supply. And I remember specifically attending a conference as a student it's the national global IFT Food Conference where they showed a video clip of pointing out the severe challenges that we would have to feed the population in 2050 if we didn't take proactive measures now. And for me, this was really an aha moment of how important it was for us to not only maximize the efficiency of our food supply that we have today, but also to reduce the food loss, especially after learning that 40% of the food in the United States are wasted today. So, it was kind of during this time that I started becoming more aware of what upcycling was and had more interest in how it could be applied in the food industry.- Thank you for sharing some of your background, Kendra. I didn't grow up on a farm myself, but my mom did, so we definitely have an agricultural background in that side of my family. And I grew up in my parents' bakery that they owned for 37 years, so I definitely relate to growing up along key points in our food system. And I do really think it gives you an appreciation and an understanding of some of the challenges that exist. And I remember even before really appreciating what food loss and waste was, hearing my parents make conversations about, you know, predicting how much bread to make during a day so that none of it goes to waste and you're not over-producing or under-producing. So, I really do think that it gives you a key understanding and insight to some of those decisions that are made along the supply chain. So, I appreciate you sharing your background on that and I'm excited to speak with you today because I think upcycling is a really hot topic right now. So, I'd like to ask you to share with us what upcycling is and what are the opportunities to improve sustainability while mitigating the impacts of food loss and waste.- Sure, so upcycling is adding value to byproducts in foods that would typically be thrown away or maybe utilized outside of human consumption. So, for example, going into animal feed. And this really allows the food waste to be used in a way that can make a process more sustainable because the processors are having less waste to deal with, but also adding nutritional value or even sometimes premium value on products. Because if you think about a lot of food waste in different processes, sometimes the material that's left over that's not actually intended for the final food product can be the most nutritional components. If I think about how much fruit that's grown globally that goes into to processing for juice. Well, of course, in juice, the skins or peels are left behind, but what are in these components or the peels or skins of the fruit, there's a lot of healthy nutrition compounds, like we have antioxidants that are primarily responsible for the colors, there's healthy fibers, vitamins, and minerals. If we think for an example of oranges going into to orange juice in the processing, the peels are left behind, but the peels contain compounds like pectin fiber, which is used across the food industry for thickening foods, for example, and also a sugar, fructose, which is one of the main sweeteners that can be used to sweeten food and beverages. So, the peels could be upcycled so that the process is more sustainable, these important components are not wasted, and so that the components can be extracted out. Another example could be like in carrot processing, a compound called betacarotene, which is important for the color, but also nutritional value because of its vitamin A effect to humans. And so, what if we could process carrots in a way that instead of this component being trapped in the fiber, it could actually be released and go into the juice portion of carrot juice? So, now you've taken a component that not only can improve the color, but also improve the nutritional value of a food product from something that would originally have been waste. And so, there are tools that can help manage these byproducts so that they can be utilized in other food applications. And in Novozymes, we call these tools biosolutions USAID is definitely thinking about upcycling and one of the approaches that we're taking to this is through our Feed the Future Market Systems and Partnerships' Food Loss and Waste Facility. The Food Loss and Waste Partnership Facility provides one-to-one co-investment opportunities to businesses in our Feed the Future upstander countries to scale innovations and practices that reduce food loss and waste with a specific focus on nutrition. So, I know you mentioned this idea of we have a nutritious product, like a fruit or a vegetable, and making sure that we're able to use all parts of that. So, one of the companies that we're partnering with is a manufacturer of coconut products. So, they create coconut flour, coconut oil, coconut chips, and they're using all parts of the coconut except the coconut water. And so, through the partnership, they're building up the technologies, and the equipment, and the individuals working there that are able to process that coconut water waste into potable coconut water. So, I'm definitely interested in upcycling, but I'm not familiar with biosolutions. Can you give me some more examples of what bio solutions are?- Sure, absolutely. We kind of we view biosolutions as one of the most overlooked helpful tools on Earth, basically because they really start with life on a microscopic level. So, we don't see these biosolutions every day directly, but they're present and we see their effects in every part of nature all over the Earth and in all living organisms. So, we have these biosolutions all in our body, and then we can find them basically everywhere performing very critical and essential tasks like helping plants and trees utilize nutrients from the soil so that they can grow, but also assisting us in our own immune system functionality and also helping with food digestion of all these, the foods that we're talking about that we like to enjoy. So, in the food industry on the industrial scale, these biosolutions can help transform or accelerate a customer or a consumer product or also an industrial process. So, I wanted to kind of dig into enzymes specifically, which are a biosolution that are able to address a real world or real industry need. And so, these enzymes are proteins that help speed up biological processes. And something that's really unique about enzymes, which is contrary to an ingredient or a processing aid like a chemical, is that they're very specific to the material that they can transform. So, if we think about in an example of a high protein yogurt, a processor of yogurt may wanna increase the protein content for nutritional value of the product, but sometimes this can come with too thick of a texture, but a protease enzyme, which transforms protein in foods, can actually help to make the texture more favorable so that the consumer of the product can have a good increase in nutritional value from the protein, but also a good sensory and texture experience with the yogurt. And the enzyme would be specific to transform the protein and not affect the other components in the yogurt, such as the carbohydrates or sugar. And so, these biosolutions can make food processing more sustainable, they can help replace harsh chemicals or reduce water, but also they can be really important to upcycling that we talked about before. So, if we think about Novozymes, which is a world leader in biosolutions, our purpose is together we find biological answers for better lives in a growing world. And I think the growing world part of that is really relevant to what we're talking about today. And especially if we consider that the food that we waste each year could actually feed over a billion hungry people, that's somewhere that Novozymes is really focused on reducing food loss and making this industry more sustainable. So, I wanted to give you a few examples of some specific cases where we see biosolutions that can be used in upcycling of food. So, I know probably everyone uses cheese in some way or sometime throughout their life. So, if we think about the cheese making process, there is a byproduct called whey that is kind of a sidestream of the cheese that's processed. And in the mid-1900s, the manufacturers were sending this whey off to be processed into animal feed. But whey protein has a really high nutritional value and quality that's actually superior to many other proteins that are in the food supply. And being able to take this product and incorporate it back into human consumption is a really important thing to do. And over the years, the equipment has transitioned or evolved into being able to actually take this sidestream that's only going for animal feed and concentrate the protein so that it can be dried and incorporated into something you may be most familiar with is like scoop powder protein that an athlete may enjoy after a workout. But because of a general increase in health and awareness among all consumers, not just athletes, there are other applications that this whey protein could be upcycled and applied to. So, if you're wondering where do biosolutions come into play here, whey proteins are not heat stable, which means when they're added into something like a protein beverage that's ready to drink and already packaged, that process has to expose the product to high temperatures before packaging. And so, the enzymes, and specifically a protease again, can actually make this whey protein heat stable and then open the door for this high nutritional protein to be added into other applications like these ready-to-drink shakes or protein bars. So, now we have multiple applications for a product that traditionally was waste or going to animal feed.- That's a really interesting example that I think a lot of people can relate to. Like definitely over the past couple years, whey protein has been a ubiquitous ingredient, not only just in scoop protein powders, but from anything to pancakes and I think I saw cereal this past week that has whey protein in it. So, I'm sure that's an ingredient that a lot of people can relate to. Could you maybe provide a plant-based example as well of a biosolution?- Sure, they're actually, so Novozymes helps support this market that's really growing today in in plant-based milks, so you're thinking your almond, soy, or oat milks. And this is becoming really popular and a growing trend with consumers today because I think consumers are really looking for sustainable alternatives in their diet. And even though these products are more sustainable than traditional dairy, enzymes and biosolutions can actually help make these products even more sustainable. So, if we think about the process for making these plant-based milks, there is a separation step between the soluble components that actually goes into the packaging and into the milk that you could buy at the store. But then and that contains some carbohydrates and a small amount of protein and fiber, but that actually gets separated from the insoluble component, which has a high fiber and protein content. And this material is kind of left over in sort of a dry cake. And so, biosolutions could actually be added, specifically enzymes, through the process to help solubilize some of this protein upfront so that more of that protein goes into the milk so consumers can get the nutritional benefit from that, but also they could be applied after the process to this leftover nutrient-dense cake to make the fiber or protein more soluble or even change the functionality so that it can be added into other products, even like baked goods, for example. So, what we really see is that the growing trend of upcycling in the United States will make a tremendous impact on how we think about food nutrition and food waste. So, sustainability is something that Novozymes has believed in for a long time and work towards, and we're happy to be able to provide others with support in their food waste reduction efforts and also increasing their sustainability and providing our insight over decades of experience with biosolutions. So, I really hope some of the examples have been able to provide a bit of inspiration on how food loss can be reduced and the food processing sustainability be increased through the use of biosolutions.- Thank you, Kendra. I really appreciated the second example, I'm a big fan of plant-based milk. I have a coconut-almond blend in my coffee right now. So, I really appreciate these examples of biosolutions. I was, like I said, unfamiliar with them before, but I think these examples really nailed home that they are solutions that are in a lot of foods that are on our grocery shelves and in our own pantries and refrigerators. And I really appreciate you kind of showing what's happening behind the scenes in our food system and what companies like Novozymes are doing to improve sustainability and address food loss and waste. So, I really appreciate you taking the time to speak with us today, Kendra.- Thank you, it was my pleasure. It was really nice to speak with you today. Thank you for tuning in to USAID's Kitchen Sink. This podcast was produced by Nika Larian and is organized by the USAID Food Loss and Waste Community of practice co-chairs Ahmed Kablan and Ann Vaughn. Additional thanks goes to Feed the Future, the US Government's Global Food Security Initiative and the USAID Center for Nutrition.(music playing)