Speakers – June 1, 2022 – Concurrent 5B

Food Security and Sustainability

Alexandra Grygorczyk, Research Scientist – Vineland Research and Innovation Centre

Alexandra Grygorczyk is a Research Scientist in Consumer and Sensory Science at Vineland Research and Innovation Centre. In her ten years at Vineland, she has been leading diverse grant funded research projects and providing contract services to support the food and horticulture industries. Her areas of research include investigating the drivers of consumer preferences for fruits, vegetables and ornamental plants, developing new instrumental methods for predicting sensory properties of apples and investigating opportunities for utilization of horticulture byproduct streams. In addition to this role, she is also an adjunct professor in the Food Science department at the University of Guelph, where she collaborates on research projects and takes on co-supervision or advisory roles in graduate student research projects.

Alexandra obtained her undergraduate and master’s degrees in Food Science at McGill University and her PhD at the University of Guelph.

PRESENTATION:

Horticulture waste conversion

Approximately one-third of the food produced in the world for human consumption is wasted. Among these, fruits and vegetables have the highest wastage rates with 40-50% of product produced being thrown away (FAO, 2010). One third of fruit and vegetable waste occurring from farm to retail in Canada, is planned or “unavoidable” food waste. These unavoidable waste streams generate nearly 2 million metric tonnes of waste (Good et al., 2019). These losses are inevitable as they result from fruit falling off trees or vines during production, sorting and grading or processing such as the removal of husks, peels and cores. This waste poses a problem for many producers and processors who must pay to dispose of potentially usable waste at landfills. However, this waste stream predictably produces large volumes of material that could be converted into value-added products, such as food ingredients, while contributing to more environmentally sustainable Canadian horticulture and food industries. Although it’s well known that there are large volumes of unavoidable waste streams in the fruit and vegetable sector, to date, there has been no publically available resource highlighting the sources of food-grade waste and types of material available for use. The proposed presentation will report on the results of a study that interviewed over 35 fruit or vegetable growers, packers and processors from across Canada to identify sources of underutilized food-grade waste. The research focused on the seven horticultural crops with the highest production volumes in Canada: potatoes, apples, carrots, onions, tomatoes (field and greenhouse) and greenhouse cucumbers. Interviews were coupled with a literature review to identify potential uses for the identified waste streams. In general, it was found that the most underutilized sources of horticulture waste occurred during fruit or vegetable processing and in greenhouse production. Outdoor farming operations had limited waste generation as most fruits or vegetables that were not harvested or greenery that was removed from the crop, could be plowed back into the soil for soil enrichment. Interestingly, the same crops produced in different parts of the country, may present differing levels of opportunity for waste conversion. For example, potatoes are produced and processed in most Canadian provinces. However, the waste generated during processing is well utilized in the Atlantic Provinces with access to a potato dehydrator plant and use of potato waste as an input for onsite biodigesters due to high local energy costs. In Ontario, some potato processors pay a company that picks up their potato waste and converts it to animal feed or delivers unusable waste to a biogas facility. Thus, although processors have found a sustainable solution, they are still interested in alternatives that may cut down on their costs or even present an opportunity to turn the cost into a source of revenue. Finally in the Prairie Provinces, potato processing waste is given away to cattle farms. Other crops such as apples present an opportunity across all regions. Apple production does not generate a substantial amount of waste at the farm level however large volumes of waste are generated during processing. Apple juicing (including for cider production), fresh cut apple production and other forms of apple processing generate large volumes of apple pomace, peels, stems and cores. Apples are grown and processed in many parts of Canada including in the Atlantic Provinces, Quebec, Ontario and British Columbia. Although some processors have found sustainable solutions, such as drying and 3 of 3 selling apple pomace to pet food companies, the vast majority of apple pomace and other apple processing waste is currently landfilled. Greenhouse vegetable production is another major area of opportunity. Greenhouse tomato production generates approximately 15 000 pounds/acre of fruit waste annually as these tomatoes are graded out due to size, shape, blemishes, over-ripening or minor cuts. Canada is a net exporter of greenhouse tomatoes and had approximately 1 500 acres of greenhouse tomato production in 2020 (Statistics Canada, 2020). Leamington, ON is considered the greenhouse capital of North America. Due to the high concentration of tomato greenhouses, concerns over airborne tomato diseases have resulted in local regulations prohibiting spreading tomatoes out onto fields and resulting in growers landfilling tomato gradeouts instead. With approximately 1000 acres of greenhouse tomato production in Leamington, this equates to roughly 15 million pounds of edible greenhouse tomatoes that are landfilled annually in this small area of the country. In other regions where tomato production is not as concentrated, tomato grade-outs are typically spread out in fields and allowed to decompose. All of these waste streams are high in nutritional and functional components. For example, potato peels are high in fibre, starch, antioxidants and have been found to contain antimicrobials. Apple pomace is high in fibre, pectin and antioxidants and greenhouse tomatoes are high in fibre, antioxidants, carotenoids and other valuable components. The presentation will discuss the opportunities and challenges with accessing and processing waste from major Canadian horticultural crops. Finally potential opportunities will be highlighted for the food industry and researchers to engage in conversion of fruit and vegetable waste into value-added products.

Dr. Elizabeth Onyango, Research Fellow – Ryerson University

Dr. Elizabeth Onyango is currently a Research Fellow at Ryerson University and the Balsillie School of International Affairs where her research work focuses on racial injustices and experiences of food insecurity in marginalized populations. Specifically, her research work focuses on examining the different drivers, dimensions, and vulnerabilities of internal and international migrant to food insecurity. Dr. Onyango is and alumnus of University of Waterloo where she completed her PhD in Health Geography in the Department of Geography and Environmental Management. Her PhD. dissertation project, “Exploring Health and Wellbeing in a Low-to-Middle Income Country: A Case Study of Kenya.” In this work, Dr. Onyango explored the health and wellbeing indicators that matter to Kenyans of different ages and genders from different regions in the country and revealed the pertinent role of food security, gender-based violence, livelihood options, and social connections in defining health and wellbeing. Dr. Onyango’s research interests include population health and well-being research with a focus on livelihoods and food insecurity, gender-based violence, youth development, maternal and child health and environmental health issues including sanitation and hygiene. Dr. Onyango is also passionate about community service and has worked in different capacities as a Rotarian, project coordinator and a mentor in service to her community. Dr. Onyango is currently an associate member of Tshepo Institute for the Study of Contemporary Africa and a board member of African Community Wellness Initiative a Waterloo Region based grassroot initiative.

PRESENTATION:

Food security of Black Identifying households

Afrocentrism and an eco-social approach in exploration of food insecurity experiences of racialized populations in Waterloo Region Household food insecurity is a public health concern that worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic, which brought distinct challenges to the food supply chain and reshaped the food sector. In Canada, food insecurity has more than doubled since the pandemic and populations mostly affected are those that were struggling even before the pandemic. These populations include female-headed households with children and Black Identifying households whose experiences are exacerbated by the anti-Black racism crisis which predates COVID-19. The pandemic has magnified structural inequalities in Canadian food systems, laying bare the prevailing systemic biases and the inadequacies of the country’s social protection system. Black Identifying households are more likely to face job, loss of income, school closure, and the physical and social distancing measures have increased barriers to affordable, accessible healthy and culturally appropriate foods in these households. Recent evidence shows that African and Caribbean Black Identifying (ACBI) families with children below the age of 18 years are the most affected and have disproportionate risk of adverse physical and mental health outcomes including cognitive and social health of current and future generations. Addressing the challenge of household food insecurity in marginalized households during and post the COVID-19 pandemic is imperative and can be achieved through studies that adopt methodologies that allow for meaningful exploration of lived experiences to amplify the voices of the marginalized populations that are often silenced. 3 of 4 Our study addresses this gap by utilizing virtual in-depth interviews and Afrocentric Sharing Circles with participants to obtain nuanced data. The study is framed by the Afrocentric and the eco-social theories. Afrocentrism centres on African knowledge, cultural capital, and land-based practices and the eco-social approach explore environmental factors that contribute to inequitable social outcomes. By combining Afrocentric theory with the eco-social approach, we explore effects of systemic factors such as the interplay of physical bodies, the environment and race or ethnicity; the interconnected pathways through which inequities and social injustice occur, particularly for ACBI populations. In this presentation, we aim to share our field work experiences and the implementation of the research methodology in the context of the current pandemic. In the presentation, we will share our experiences with participants recruitment and the actual conduct of virtual in-depth interviews and Afrocentric Sharing Circles. We will recruit the study participant through our community partner, the Kingdom Community International (KCI) church and its networks, other ethnocultural groups in the region, the local food roundtable, and the broader African Caribbean population. The research team will recruit ten adults, ten youth, and five key informants to be involved in in-depth interviews. Led by a cultural broker from the partner organization, participants for the Afrocentric sharing circle will be recruited to take part in 3 separate sharing circles. For an effective interview and discussion, creating a listening space where viewpoints are communicated and in a non-judgemental affirming setting is important in the successful data collection. With the current pandemic, creating such an environment virtually will be interesting and may require some innovative ways to ensure full participation of all participants. While the participants will share contextualized experiences of COVID-19 pandemic, food insecurity, and the effectiveness of social welfare services as well as their own cultural coping strategies during the pandemic to guide future preventive programming, sharing our experiences in these will be useful not only for current studies but also for future ones that adopt similar methodologies and approaches to critically analyze social issues including racial biases in Canada and beyond.

Sharan Dadhwal, Masters Student – University of Guelph

Sharan Dadhwal is an MSc student with the department of Geography working in collaboration with Dr. Maria Corradini and Dr. Evan Fraser. Her research work focuses on life cycle assessment of the bioplastic PHA. This interdisciplinary assessment approach hopes to identify environmental impacts of PHA packaging and provide circular economy advancements that can be used by engineers and policy makers. 

PRESENTATION:

Bioplastic in the food sector

Bioplastics, such as polylactic acid (PLA) and polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHA), have been proposed as feasible alternatives to petroleum-based plastics in food-related applications from food packaging to single-use utensils. The term bioplastic often encompasses two major features: being from renewable resources and potentially biodegrading back into organic matter. Due to these features, bioplastics are often assumed to be “greener” than conventional plastics, regardless of the resources used to obtain the raw material or process them. Hence, a full understanding of the advantages and challenges of the transition from petroleum based to bio-based materials should be examined further, and the environmental impact associated with bioplastic production, use, and disposal should be evaluated. Several tools have been proposed to measure bioplastics’ environmental impact. Among them, Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) is preferred due to its relative simplicity and robustness. LCA assesses the environmental impact of a product through its entire life cycle by considering all inputs and outputs required to make a product within set system boundaries. LCA is a valuable tool to identify specific problematic areas of a production process to reduce costs, energy use, and emissions while also providing helpful information for decision making. (Objective) Hence, the objectives of this study were to perform a cradle-to-grave LCA of a food-related single-use item (fork) produced with two biopolymers, PHA and PLA, and compare their environmental impact, identify critical steps in their production process that could be improved, and recommend optimal methods and steps for more efficient production based on the outcome of the LCAs. (Methods) LCAs were conducted following four well-established steps: goal and scope definition, life cycle inventory (LCI) analysis, life cycle impact assessment (LCIA), and interpretation. The scope covered from cradle to grave, which in the case of the two used biomaterials included production/procurement of the feedstock to different disposal options. The feedstocks for PHA were rapeseed (PHA-r) and waste sludge (PHA-s), and for PLA, corn (PLA-c). The disposal methods evaluated were landfill, incineration, incineration with energy recovery, compost, and compost with energy recovery. The functional unit for the study was one piece of utensil. The input data were obtained from the Ecoinvent 3 database or peer-reviewed publications. SimaPro software (PRé Sustainability, The Netherlands) was selected to perform the LCAs due to its embedded data inventories, including but not limited to Ecoinvent, flexibility to allow manual inputs, and user-friendly interface. The ReCiPe Endpoint Hierarchist method was applied since it offers an extensive list of midpoint impact categories (e.g., terrestrial ecotoxicity, agricultural land occupation, fossil depletion), which allow identifying problematic processes and three endpoint categories (i.e., human health (DALY/DALY), ecosystems (speciesyear/speciesyear), resources ($/$). Scenarios for different conditions combinations (feedstock, reuse of solvents during processing, and end life options) were run and compared to find the combinations with the least impact. (Results) Both biopolymers exhibited the same impacts in most of the assessed categories. The feedstock used for the production of the two biopolymers resulted in the most significant difference in regards to agricultural land transformation, terrestrial ecotoxicity, and with PLA-c being 8 and about 4 times higher, respectively, than PHA-r. For PLA-c, the major environmental impact was associated with corn cultivation and processing (37% of the overall contribution). Although PHA-r and PHA-s perform better than PLA in the human health and ecosystems toxicity categories (1.10 times less harmful), their impact can be improved by exploring the adverse contributors along processing. The major contributors to environmental and health toxicity during PHA-r and PHA-s production were the excess and kind of nitrogen source (ammonium sulfate) used during 3 of 3 the fermentation stage and the solvent needed during the extraction process, resulting in 0.29 and 1.53 respectively to a total score of 1.82 points. Five scenarios were assessed with increasing levels of methanol recycling ranging from 0- 100% recycled methanol. A realistic scenario with a 60% methanol reduction resulted in a 0.9 points reduction. (Significance) The results from this analysis are meant to drive forward the development of bioplastics by optimizing the production process and identifying improvements in their processing steps that can reduce their environmental impact and hence contribute to their sustainable production.

Xinya Wang, Ph.D. Candidate – University of Guelph

My name is Xinya Wang. My research interests focus on investigating natural polymers and exploring their application. I obtained my bachelor’s degree on Food engineering from Jiangnan University, China. During my undergrads, I had one-year exchange study experience at UC Davis, USA. I worked as an intern at the Milk Processing Lab. After that, I joined a M.Sc. program in Prof. Gisele Lapointe group at the University of Guelph in 2016.

My thesis is titled exploring potential of apple pomace as a functional ingredient in dairy products. I have two papers published as first author based on my thesis. This project inspired my passion on investigating food ingredients in their entirety. It also brought my interest on the interactions among different food compounds.

After graduation, I worked as a research technician in Prof. Yongfeng Ai’s Team at the University of Saskatchewan. I applied my rheological knowledge to investigate starches from diverse botanic origins. There were two peer-reviewed papers published from the one-year work. In May 2019, I joined Prof. Steve Cui’s group as a research affiliate at Guelph Research and Development Center, AAFC and am co-supervised by Prof. Douglas Goff at the University of Guelph to pursue my doctoral degree. My Ph.D. project focuses on extracting and characterizing yellow mustard gum (YMG). This project aims to promote commercial production and application of YMG as a clean-label natural gum. The part of study has been presented on 15th International Hydrocolloid Conferences (March 2020, Melbourne, Australia) and were awarded Best Poster Prize. I hope this eventual successful commercialization of YMG will bring significant socioeconomic benefits to Canada, including increased economic returns to producers and agri-food processors while providing more healthful products to consumers.

During my non-research time, I like to cook, bake and try different recipes. Also, I enjoy yoga practice and weekly hikes.

PRESENTATION:

Yellow mustard gum: pilot-scale production and characterization

Canada is a world leader in producing and exporting condiment mustard seeds. In most cases, the kernel of the mustard seeds is used, so outer husk is left as a by-product, which is called mustard bran. Yellow mustard bran has been investigated as a value-added ingredient due to its containing both soluble and insoluble fibres [1]. The soluble fraction from the mucilaginous part of the yellow mustard bran has been considered a hydrocolloid gum that shows shear-thinning flow behavior and excellent emulsifying and stabilising abilities in both oil/water and water/oil systems. In addition, these properties behave stable to pH, temperature and solutes, which increases its potential for wider applications [1, 2]. Yellow mustard gum (YMG) has been included in the newest version of Handbook of Hydrocolloids (2021) as emerging gums that “have commercial potential and can be considered to have credentials as natural gums for clean labeling” [3]. However, there is lack of information on the pilot-scale production of yellow mustard gum. Besides, the knowledge on the physicochemical properties (e.g., emulsifying and stabilising capacities) and bioactivity of mustard gums through pilot-scale production is limited, and structure-function relationship of mustard gum products still requires further investigation. Bridging the gap between experimental results and application is an essential step to explore the market potential of the yellow mustard gum products. This study aims to promote commercial utilization of yellow mustard gum. The objectives are to develop a pilot-scale YMG production protocol in an economic and environmental-friendly way to produce a clean-label YMG product; to characterize the pilot-scale produced YMG in terms of chemical composition, rheological properties and interfacial properties and to establish its structure-function relationship; to compare the characteristics of the pilot-scale produced YMG with the ones of purified YMG through EtOH precipitation described in our patented technology [4]. The developed pilot-scale YMG production protocol has been able to process up to 100 L materials in each batch with minimal processing steps (water extraction, filtration, drying and grinding). The yield of yellow mustard gums at each batch can be up to 3% (w/w) from seeds and up to 30% (w/w) from bran. In addition to its characteristics (shear-thinning and weak gel) aligned with previous work, the pilot-scale produced YMG has been investigated in terms of the structure-function relationship: the functional property of the extracted gum is ascribed to its polysaccharide composition (pectic polysaccharide vs beta-glucan chains), the solubility of the polysaccharides and mineral content (Na+, K+, Ca+). All these findings can be of great support to promote commercial production and application of YMG as a clean-label natural gum. The eventual successful commercialization of YMG is expected to bring significant socioeconomic benefits to Canada, including increased economic returns to producers and agri-food processors while providing more healthful products to consumers

Karen Farley, Masters Researcher – University of Waterloo

Karen Farley (she/they) is currently researching consumers’ influence on the shift to sustainable food packaging towards a Master of Environmental Studies (MES) in Sustainability Management at the University of Waterloo. Karen is an experienced entrepreneur, previously founding a food production venture in Taiwan and a systems development company in Canada. Karen develops policy around green innovation and just labour practices at the federal level. By intersecting sustainability, business and policy, Karen is committed to reducing waste in the production of consumer goods, including food. Karen holds a Bachelor of Science in Technology and Strategic Management from Brunel University, United Kingdom, and a Bachelor of Social Science in Politics, Law, and Industrial Psychology from the University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.

PRESENTATION:

Point-of-Purchase Barriers Impacting Canadian Consumers’ Decision to Purchase Sustainably Packaged Food

Three-quarters (73.4%) of Canadian consumers support banning single-use plastic food packaging in favour of more sustainable food packaging options according to a consumer survey by Dalhousie University (Walker et al., 2021). Despite Canadian consumers’ intentions, barriers at the point-of-purchase limit the actual purchase of sustainably packaged food in Canada, including a lack of availability of such products in supermarkets. The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in additional barriers to purchasing sustainably packaged food, including increased price sensitivity and safety fears (Scaraboto et al., 2020; Walker et al., 2021). Prior research establishes the connection between consumer intention (“attitude”) and actual purchasing decisions (“behaviour”) (including Arvola et al., 2008; Chao, 2012; Hansen et al., 2004; Nguyen et al., 2020; Testa et al., 2020; Yadav & Pathak, 2016). Walker et al. (2021) observe evidence of an “attitude-behaviour gap” when it comes to consumers purchasing sustainably packaged food products. This early-stage quantitative research project aims to identify the barriers to purchasing sustainably packaged food products that Canadian consumers face at the point-of-purchase when purchasing sustainably packaged food products. Using a custom smartphone app for data collection by Canadian consumers in a real-life supermarket environment, this research will compare consumers’ intention to purchase sustainably packaged food products versus their actual behaviour and identify the barriers at the point-of-purchase that contribute to any established gap. This research will serve as a proof-of-concept for future commercialization of the app to provide evidence of consumer support for the shift to more sustainably packaged food products in Canada.