Food Waste and the Fresh/Natural Fixation — Food Science in the News

For this edition of Food Science in the News, we look at one example where the fresh/natural fixation is creating food waste, and one example where the super-fruit fixation is reducing it.

There’s a delicate balance between wanting to reduce food waste, and wanting fresh, whole food. How do you keep food in acceptable condition when artificial ingredients are frowned upon, and even the oldest, most basic preservative (plain ol’ table salt) is on many Diet-Don’t lists?

First, a food waste primer

  • Approximately 40% of the annual food supply in the US becomes food waste, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) [1]
  • The US Department of Agriculture defines food waste as “the edible amount of food, post-harvest, that is available for human consumption but is not consumed for any reason”; this includes losses that occur due to spoilage, plate waste by consumers, food discarded by retailers for not meeting color/appearance standards, and even the natural losses from cooking (think of the food on the sides of the pot or mixing bowl) [2]
  • The top three food groups in terms of food loss at the retail and consumer level are dairy products, vegetables, and grain products [3]

When innovation leads to MORE food waste

The consumer has a louder voice now than during any time in history. Thanks to factors such as (but not limited to) social media, food bloggers, food trucks, and the uptick in online supplement sales, consumers have more choices, and more power. With this power, one fad or concern becomes a business mandate faster than you can say, “General Mills Gluten Free Cheerios”. Not all of the consumer-driven formulation changes are bad or scientifically-unfounded, but every re-formulation brings consequences.

Case-in-Point: Nestle and Hershey move toward simpler ingredients (and shorter shelf life)

Hershey Co and Nestle USA have announced plans to transition to ingredients that are easier to understand, according to Food Business News. While this plays into one of the trends that vexes me most, the “Don’t eat it if you can’t pronounce it” trend, I respect both companies for trying to make their confections better. Like many consumers , I try to limit the amount of artificial ingredients I put in my body. HOWEVER, like many food scientists, I’ve struggled with the challenge of developing an “artificial-ingredient free” product that lasts long enough to make it through the supply-chain to the consumer. Unlike chocolate candy bars, my product does not fly off the shelves [Read: Why Greenberry Shakeology is like Neville Longbottom].

By the time the consumer has received his or her order, half of the product’s one-year shelf life is gone. Since we only use natural flavors, there are times the flavor itself is half-way through its own one-year shelf-life before it’s even arrived at our manufacturing plant (though some flavor houses are over-cautious with their shelf-life claims). As a result, by committing to non-artificial ingredients and by relying on vitamins and salt alone to preserve our finished product, we run the risk that the consumer returns or tosses the product because it’s past at its optimal taste window. Of course, we evaluate this risk carefully through shelf-life and stability studies (as detailed here), but even due-diligence can’t completely remove all risk.

With their promises to remove artificial flavors and colors, Nestle USA and Hershey are going to face these same hurdles. In fact the challenges they face with their non-artificial commitments may be even worse since chocolate is so sensitive to temperature abuse during shipping and handling. The average consumer sees the white spots of chocolate bloom as mold, and won’t think twice before tossing the product. With other food companies making similar simple-ingredient pledges, I worry about the effects of these reformulations on the food waste dilemma.


When innovation leads to LESS food waste

Three areas of Food Waste Reduction innovation are (1) reducing waste before it occurs, (2) recovering food that would become waste, and (3) recycling/re-purposing food waste.

The first and second approaches seem the most feasible, as demonstrated by Buzzfeed’s article, “34 Ways to Waste Less Food”. Additionally, apps like StillTasty and FoodKeeper aim to provide guidance on when a food is past the point of being edible, and help consumers use food strategically before it spoils.  Yet perhaps the greatest opportunities lie with approach number three: with the increasing focus on “clean label friendly” ingredients, food science research is exploring ways to re-purpose food waste.

Case-in-Point: A new destiny for mango seeds

Mango seeds are a by-product of mango harvesting, and are generally considered agroindustrial waste. However, mango seeds are a potential replacement for cocoa butter, according to a study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry (and translated into plain English in Confectionery News). This replacement offers several benefits. First of all, cocoa butter is used in both chocolate and pharmaceutical applications, but it’s expensive. Mango seeds are an inexpensive source since they’re normally discarded. Finally, mango butter and cocoa butter have similar fatty acid profiles, and have comparable properties in an emulsion gel form, according to this study. (Plus, every one can pronounce “mango butter”!)


There is nothing wrong with striving to limit consumption of artificial ingredients, and it’s encouraging when  food companies pay attention to their consumers’ interests and appetites. But there are consequences to every action, and as a food scientist I would like to see more food companies approaching this issue with honesty, not chemophobia. I would like to see food companies stand up and say, “We hear you, but in this case we can’t stop using ingredient X because…”

Embrace the science.


– – – Green-Eyed Guide

References Cited:

[1] NRDC. 2012. Wasted: How America is losing up to 40 percent of its food from farm to fork to landfill. Natural Resources Defense Council Issue Paper, IP:12-06-B. (READ THE WHOLE PAPER FOR FREE)

[2] Golan, E., Buzby, J.C. 2015. Innovating to Meet the Challenges of Food Waste. Food Technology 69(1) January: 20-25.

[3] Buzby, J.C., Wells, H.F. and Hyman, J. 2014. The estimated amount, value, and calories of postharvest food losses at the retail and consumer levels in the United States. EIB-121, Feb. Economic Research Service, U.S. Dept. of Agriculture.

Additional Resources and Recommended Reading:

Food Waste – A Story of Excess (YouTube – Visually)

There’s A New App That Wants To Fix America’s Food Waste Problem (Buzzfeed) 

FoodKeeper App Watch-outs: USDA FoodKeeper app intended to fight food waste, but it may just cause confusion



Energy Drink of the Month — April 2015

It’s not even fair to call this an energy drink, because it’s the purest, simplest, cleanest energy drink possible. It’s not fair because all the worry and legislation over the dangers of energy drinks can’t possibly apply to a product like this. This really shouldn’t be called an energy drink , and yet, this “energy drink in disguise” is exactly that.

With a nod to Earth Day (and the growing concern regarding California’s water crisis), the Energy Drink of the Month is flavored, caffeinated water by Avitae.

Avitae Caffeinated Flavored water

Tangy tangerine is my favorite.

Pronounced “ah-vee-tay”, Avitae’s line of caffeinated waters is perfect for consumers who want their caffeine without added sugars or artificial colors/flavors.

Last year, Avitae’s President and CEO was gracious enough to answer some quality and food science questions I had about the non-flavored products (read that Q&A here). This year, Mr Norman Snyder was gracious enough to again grant me an interview to discuss the new flavors.

5 MORE Questions with Norman E. Snyder, President & CEO of Avitae USA, LLC

GEG-1: Last time we talked, you said that the plan was to introduce new flavors before looking at a carbonated product. Can tell me what inspired the new flavors? How did you determine which flavors to pursue, and were there any that were close but didn’t make the cut?  

NS: The inspiration came directly from consumers.  We do many sampling events at retail locations, festivals and other events that we believe attract our consumers.  The first comment made by the majority was “it does taste like water.”  The second comment/question was “do you have flavors?”  It was pretty easy from that point.  We did research on flavors that are currently popular and tasted several.  We initially narrowed the field down to six that we thought were great recognizing that we could only introduce three or four.  We selected the four best internally then conducted third party taste panels.  Ironically the four that we selected were also selected by the taste panels.  The two that did not make the cut maybe used in future products.

GEG-2: How long did it take to bring these new flavors from concept to market, and what was the biggest challenge?  

NS: Approximately six months.  The biggest challenge was, as perfectionists, getting exactly what we wanted.  That usually requires  several iterations as we were not willing to compromise on any point.

[GEG Note – Avitae has several part-time employees but only 16 full-time employees, so launching four new flavors in six months is pretty impressive, in my opinion]

GEG-3: The unflavored Avitae comes in three caffeine amounts: Energy Kick – 45mg, Energy Boost – 90mg, and Energy Blast – 125mg. I love this variability because there’s something for those more sensitive to caffeine, and something for those who need something a little stronger. How was it determined how much caffeine the new flavored versions should contain?  

NS: We are basically going after three consumptions occasions/products:  diet soda, coffee and energy drinks.  Each different strength is targeted at the people that use those products.  As 90 mg is presently the best selling product, we believed that strength to be the best choice.  Again, we listened to our consumers.

GEG-4: As Avitae’s President and CEO, what are you most proud of and what keeps you up at night?  

NS: I am most proud of our overall corporate philosophy and product positioning, in that we provide the healthiest solution for people that want a boost but also seek an alternative to the artificial, high sugar, and otherwise less than healthy products that exist today.  Many things keep me up at night but right now it is keeping up with demand of our products and growth.

GEG-5: What is Avitae’s next big hurdle/goal?  

NS: Expansion.  We are moving into several new markets and adding additional production facilities.  I admit, it is a great problem to have to face.  We are also considering several new products.

[GEG Note – to find the nearest location selling Avitae, try their store locator: ]

Huge thanks to Mr. Snyder and the whole Avitae team — keep up the good work!

Learn more about Avitae!

Bottom Line and Points to Remember

Great for those seeking a simple delivery of caffeine that’s portable, resealable, and not as likely to go flat in a hot car, Avitae’s line of caffeinated waters are healthy and effective alternatives to the typical energy drink.

Remember, according to the 5 Levels of Fatigue, Level 1 is dehydration. To limit caffeine dependency and overuse, make sure to try plain water before relying on caffeine to perk you up. Healthy adults should not exceed 400 mg caffeine per day but minors, pregnant/nursing women and those sensitive to caffeine all have different recommendations for caffeine intake maximums. [See caffeine intake guidelines in previous post]

Read more about the 5 Levels of Fatigue and learn how Biological Sensitivity and Consumption Specifics impact the effects of caffeine – Are You a Monster or a Rock Star: A Guide to Energy Drinks — How They Work, Why They Work, How to Use Them Safely (available through iTunes, Amazon, Barnes & Noble and more)

Visit/Like the Facebook Page: Energy Drink Guide

Follow @GreenEyedGuide on Twitter

What Consumer Testing is REALLY like for a Food Scientist

I never thought a food science degree would involve me sitting on the floor, surrounded by papers, FedEx envelopes, and tiny silver pouches filled with something I’d been working on for the last year. And yet, this is usually how it’s done.

Through my other blog (, I share a series of posts in which I share snippets of what it’s like to be a food scientist. As a product developer for dry powder shakes, there are some lessons I never learned in school and some challenges I never saw coming. 

This Guest Blog below is courtesy of my friend and colleague, Alex Funk.

A Day in the Life of a Food Scientist: Consumer Testing Edition

After months of formulating a product and completing numerous shelf life studies, there comes a time when you want to see if your consumers will like and accept it. You can become quite enamored with your product, and you should, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it will be successful in the marketplace. (…read the rest here —>

food science, food scientist, FedEx, Consumer Testing

The true story behind Consumer Testing

Chemophobia Case Study: Swish4Energy Review

An energy drink you’re not supposed to swallow? I had to check this out for myself. This was an opportunity to experiment with something novel, and yet, this experience was something many consumers encounter at one point or another — suspicion of unfamiliar chemicals and ingredients.

Supplement Savvy Step ONE: Understanding the Product’s Purpose

Swish Energy is a unique product — it’s not exactly an energy drink because you’re not supposed to swallow it. It’s more of an energy mouthwash. This is a brilliant concept; it’s an untapped market. It’s true that some caffeine is absorbed sublingually (beneath the tongue), and this delivery system is less susceptible to the complaints the FDA had with the “caffeine inhaler” idea (read the FDA’s warning letter), or caffeinated gum (GEG rant here).

Step TWO: What to Ask BEFORE you buy

There are three questions you need answers to before you buy a new supplement. You may not always get the truth to these three questions, but asking them may eliminate some of the most shady products from your cart. First, figure out where the product is manufactured. Something “Made in the USA” might still be coming from someone’s basement, but at least that manufacturing location will be subject to FDA regulations. Yes, there are regulations for supplements, too.

Second, figure out who’s selling the product to you. If it’s a sales-person with no science background just reading a script, buyer-beware. If the product’s founders have a background in pharmaceuticals, chemistry or food science, that is better than someone who is just an entrepreneur with a Scientific Advisory Board. When the CEO is a scientist and not just a business-person, it’s more likely they’re going to make decisions based on food science.

Third, find a picture of the actual label — facts panel and ingredient statement. This is often the most important part, and will tell you more than any of the claims on the front of the label. Once you’ve got a picture of the facts panel and ingredient statement, you’re ready for Supplement Savvy Step THREE!

Step THREE: How to Research Unfamiliar Ingredients and/or Chemicals

As John Coupland once said, “I tried avoiding ingredients I can’t pronounce, but sadly I can pronounce them all.” Like Dr. Coupland, I understand the point behind the “pronounceable ingredients only” strategy, but I can’t take such advice seriously when I know so many people who can’t properly pronounce “acai” and “quinoa”.

Before you shell out your hard-earned cash on a new supplement, it’s worth your time to do a Google-search on the ingredients in the product you’re considering. BEWARE – there is a LOT of awful misinformation on the internet, so always look at multiple sources (the product’s own site and Wikipedia don’t count).  The more you populate your Favorites list with sites and sources you know are credible, the quicker and more reliable your search is going to be.

Review of Swish Energy, Ingredient by Ingredient

Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee’s Two Cents on Caffeine and Energy Drinks

Energy drinks are in the news again, but it’s not for any new reason. Too much caffeine is not good for anyone, but that you already knew. With the new Dietary Guidelines proposed by the DGAC comes a renewed warning that energy drinks can be dangerous. But is the DGAC focusing on the right message? Yes, and no.

First, some background on caffeine and energy drink consumption

A massive study published in 2014 showed that 85% of the American population consumes at least one caffeinated beverage per day, but only 10% of that group gets their caffeine from energy drinks. In this study, teenagers and young adults are the biggest proportion of energy drink consumers, but still, less than 10% of tweens, teens and young adults get their caffeine from this source (about 70% get their caffeine from carbonated soft drinks). Teens who use energy drinks consume on average 60 mg caffeine per day, which is under the 100mg limit for adolescents proposed by the American Academy of Pediatrics. For age groups 6-12 and 18-24 there weren’t enough energy drink consumers to calculate intake averages, but the total amount of caffeine (from all sources) consumed by those under 18 is still under this 100mg limit. — read the rest of the recap on this massive study here: “Caffeine Consumption in the USA”

The DGAC got it right when they said…

The committee said moderate coffee consumption may be incorporated into a healthy diet, but high caffeine intake, or greater than 400 mg per day for adults, may occur with the rapid consumption of large-size energy drinks.

The D.G.A.C. recommended limited or no consumption of high caffeine drinks, or other products with high amounts of caffeine, for children and adolescents. The committee said energy drinks should not be consumed with alcohol.
—-Excerpted from the Food Business News article, “DGAC puts energy drinks back in the spotlight”

The DGAC echoes the recommendations of the First International Energy Drinks Conference at Deakin University, Burwood, Victoria, Australia. That committee recommended the following:

From "D.G.A.C. puts energy drinks back in the spotlight" by Keith Nunes

From “D.G.A.C. puts energy drinks back in the spotlight” by Keith Nunes

Lingering concerns

I fervently agree with the DGAC committee and the recommendations of the First International Energy Drinks Conference: mixing caffeine (from any source) and alcohol is a bad idea. Caffeine Informer has already summarized all the reasons why this combo is bad (see here). So let’s discuss the gray areas instead.

Many conclude that the energy drink situation is a result of regulatory failure, and that more laws and bans are the answer. Some legislators have already tried that, but as I’ve pointed out in previous posts, this strategy has a low success rate.

The problem lies in the sheer variety of products marketed as an “energy drink”. Some of these don’t even have caffeine — vitamin B12 is the most popular energy drink ingredient.  (See “Ten Things No One is Telling You About Energy Drinks”)

As I commented on the Food Business News article:

While I agree with the Key Policy Changes outlined above, it’s important to note that the top-selling energy drink is Red Bull, which features 80mg caffeine per 8oz can. the next top selling, Monster and Rockstar have not more than 240mg per can. YES, the Super-Sized cans are disconcerting, but more energy and focus (pun intended) should be placed on the combination of caffeine and alcohol than on demonizing a particular brand. Furthermore, when popular coffee drinks include more caffeine than popular energy drinks, an energy drink ban for minors seems illogical. Too much caffeine is too much, regardless of whether it comes in a cup, mug or can.



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