Red meat industry doing its bit to reduce food, plastic waste

Reducing food, plastic waste in red meat industry

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The Coles Graze beef range prepared by Retail Ready Operations using Darfresh on board packaging. Photo: MLA/Coles RROA

The Coles Graze beef range prepared by Retail Ready Operations using Darfresh on board packaging. Photo: MLA/Coles RROA

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Plastic-free meat trays and technologies which extend shelf life are just two of the ways the red meat industry is helping to reduce food waste.

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Plastic-free meat trays and technologies which extend shelf life are just two of the ways the red meat industry is helping to reduce food waste.

It is estimated that one-third of all food produced globally is thrown away every year across the value chain and Meat & Livestock Australia group manager - science and innovation Michael Lee said this was the reason the red meat industry body set the challenge to revolutionise packaging.

"Food wastage is a bigger problem than most of us think because when we throw out food, we're also wasting the water, fuel and resources it took to get that produce from farm to fork," Mr Lee said.

"Fast forward to 2050, when there'll be approximately nine billion people in the world who need to be fed, and it's clear we can't afford to waste one-third of all food produced.

"It's also important to mention the methane released by decomposing food waste is one of the most potent greenhouse gases responsible for climate change."

He said MLA had conducted research into red meat eaters' future requirements, including how they wanted their food packaged.

They found there were fewer people in each household, more people eating out and more food being delivered direct to homes.

Another trend was consumers were moving away from the traditional three meals a day and opting for a more flexible approach to eating and snacking on the go, up to six times a day.

"Packaging innovations continue to be a key research area to ensure the red meat industry, which has traditionally focused on a raw, fresh product, can adapt to on-the-go meat pack designs," he said.

"We need to consider easy-to-open and tamper-proof features for ready-to-cook, heat and eat solutions which optimise shelf life, minimise food waste and reduce plastic use."

One example of a company innovating its packaging is American start-up Corumat, who has worked with MLA to patent technology which uses food and meat waste to make a plastic-free, compostable meat tray.

Mr Lee said this project took a circular economy approach to upcycle resources to extract value rather than discarding them.

"Upcycling waste streams could potentially re-position our True Aussie Beef and Lamb to be clean, green and plastic-free," he said.

"This complete value-chain story of sustainability provides Australian red meat with a significant competitive advantage in the global protein market.

"Brand owners, producers and consumers are all set to benefit."

The Corumat meat tray is also approximately 20 per cent cheaper than plastic meat trays.

It is still under development but MLA is currently working with Australian red meat brand owners to identify opportunities to use this technology.

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To tackle to problem of food waste, equipment manufacturer Evereo has developed a food preserver called 'Meal Me', which adapts combination oven cooking to develop 'hot fridge' technology.

Mr Lee said this presented red meat as a true "grab and go" product range, increasing the value of secondary cuts and positioning red meat as a convenience protein.

"Unlike the traditional cook-chill process for ready meals, the hot fridge safely preserves food for up to three days at the temperature it needs to be served at," he said.

"Combining the quality of slow-cooked meats with the efficiency of fast service can unlock new opportunities for red meat, reduce food waste and ultimately increase the profitability of the red meat industry."

Another MLA-supported project is using zero-scrap packaging technology which could see the plastic meat tray and soaker pad combination and three-layer plastic vacuum skin packs one day disappear from supermarket shelves.

The Darfresh 'on board' packaging uses a board made from paper pulp.

The meat sits directly on the board and is vacuum-sealed with plastic to seal in freshness and extend shelf life.

The technology uses 70pc less plastic than standard trays and it is already being trialed in-store at Coles, after Retail Ready Operations became the first Australian company to try it.

Retail Ready Operations supply chain and transition manager Patrick Youil said the response from consumers had been positive.

"This new packaging instils consumer confidence when selecting meat, as the clear film offers a front and side view of the meat," Mr Youil said.

"Consumers can easily inspect the thickness, fat content, marbling and colour before purchase.

"New local and international export opportunities have emerged through this innovative packaging concept, in which meat not only stays fresher longer, the packaging is environmentally friendly and it offers fantastic messaging opportunities to consumers."

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The story Red meat industry doing its bit to reduce food, plastic waste first appeared on Farm Online.

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