Pictured: Dr. Danny Cliceri & Dr. Leonardo Menghi (UNITN) with a first prototype of the Bulkbox
Written by Dr. Michele Pedrotti, Researcher
Sensory evaluation plays a crucial role in assessing the quality, freshness, and acceptability of food products. Since my participation at the BCFN!YES contest in 2014 with the project “Common sensing: the sensory guide to fight food waste”, I challenged myself to find strategies on how to use sensory sciences to aid households in reducing food waste and enhancing their awareness. At that time, I was in Copenhagen for my MSc and I got introduced to the reality of dumpster diving where I could touch with my own hands one of the main paradoxes of our food and economic system where about 1/3 of the global food production is lost or wasted before reaching our mouths.
A few years have passed since then, but my involvement in sensory science and in the fight against food loss and waste (FLW) have continued together with my effort in using sensory sciences to help reduce FLW. On this path, I became part of the Sensory Quality group at the Edmund Mach Foundation, where I joined the Systematic Innovations for a Sustainable Reduction of European Food Wastage (SISTERS) project as a researcher. The SISTERS project is a five-year European project involving 18 partners and three linked third parties across 8 different EU countries. Launched in 2021, the project’s primary objective is to diminish FLW at various stages of the food value chain in Europe through targeted innovations at each level. Among the range of innovation tools being developed in the project, there are new tools for primary producers (farmers) for promoting direct and short-chain sales, new technological advancements in packaging and logistic for processors and retailers, and awareness campaigns on FLW for retailers and consumers.
At Edmund Mach Foundation – with the collaboration of the University of Trento – we are validating the performance of smart containers developed by SISTERS partners. These smart containers have been developed to be used for the transportation and storage of perishable products such as fruits and vegetables which are among the most wasted globally in terms of volumes. By integrating the principles of passive modified atmosphere packaging with an innovative kit of sensors, these smart containers are designed to monitor the conditions inside the box in real-time, including temperature, relative humidity, oxygen, carbon dioxide and other volatile organic compounds (such as ethylene). Additionally, they aim to preserve products’ freshness for longer periods. In this context, our research combines instrumental and sensory analysis to build a predictive model of freshness and establish the superior performance of these smart containers.
A similar approach will be applied for validating the performance of new sustainable bio-based packaging against fossil-based conventional packaging. The new bio-based packaging developed by SISTERS partners offers numerous benefits. Not only they will be home-compostable and with superior functionalities, but they will also extend the shelf-life of various fresh food products and contribute to the reduction of plastic packaging waste in the environment.
However, it is also essential to consider consumers and their acceptance of these packaging solutions. To address this aspect, alongside conducting shelf-life testing, we are also conducting consumer tests. Initially, we focused on investigating the primary barriers that hinder the widespread adoption of these new packaging solutions among consumers. The main barriers to acceptance seem to be due to a lack of knowledge, limited recognition, and inaccurate beliefs about the sustainability of bio-based biodegradable and compostable packaging which are reinforced but the differences that exist in the different EU countries. We are actively continuing our investigation by running a consumer survey across Europe. The main objective of this survey is to explore consumers’ engagement and attitudes towards eco-friendly packaging prototypes. The data collected will serve to provide valuable information to the partners involved in the project to develop a better packaging formulation. You can participate in this survey by clicking here until the 30th of September.
The SISTERS project stands as a nice example of how sensory and consumer science can intersect with sustainable practices to address the global paradox of FLW. By leveraging sensory evaluation techniques, consumer insights, and interdisciplinary collaboration, the project aims to optimize the food supply chain, empower consumers, and foster a more sustainable future. Together, we can make a significant impact in reducing food wastage and preserving valuable resources for generations to come.