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How Canadian Technology Is Tackling The Food Waste Crisis

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Getty Images/iStockphoto

The issue of food waste has grown from your parents telling you to finish what's on your plate into one of the defining challenges of our era. Despite rising food insecurity, $31 billion of it is wasted every year in Canada, a number soaring to $1 trillion worldwide as 30 per cent of food goes uneaten.

Yes, some of that is still your fault if you put leftovers in the trash instead of Tupperware, but the vast majority of food waste happens at production, processing and retail levels rather than on the consumption side.

To help address this, France famously passed unanimous legislation requiring supermarkets to either give unsold food to charity or send it to farmers for use as feed and fertilizer. Here in Canada, food rescue organizations like Second Harvest help get unspoiled food from retailers, manufacturers, restaurants and caterers to charities, delivering ingredients for over 22,000 meals daily.

But we live in hi-tech times, so technology is also being used as a weapon in the war on food waste. Here's a look at how homegrown Canadian tech is trying to tackle our food waste crisis.

  • Leonhard Foeger / Reuters

    Jay Subramanian, a plant agriculture professor at the University of Guelph, and his team of biotech scientists have devised a food spray that the CBC reports "uses a nanotechnology-based application of hexanal, a natural plant extract that prevents fruit spoilage."

    This enzyme-inhibiting hexanal slows ripening by preserving a fruit's cellular walls, extending shelf life by as much as 50 per cent. Mangoes keep fresh up to 23 days, bananas up to 40 days and peaches and nectarines last another 10 days beyond their current single week. It also increases farmer revenues 15 per cent.

    Fruit is one of food waste's biggest culprits -- 30 percent of fruits and veggies don't even get on store shelves -- making this invention a potentially huge player in addressing the issue.
  • Apps: Flashfood

    Launching in Toronto later this summer but already garnering a ton of attention, the Flashfood app aims to save people money and save tons of food from landing in landfills.

    "Flashfood is essentially the discount food rack on your cellphone and it's a means for grocery stores, restaurants, food vendors, being able to resell their surplus food before they're going to throw it out," founder and CEO Josh Domingues told City TV.

    The app allows users to purchase "flashsale" food via their phones and pick it up later that day, though specific logistics reportedly remain in the works.

    The tech startup's ambitious plan is to eventually expand throughout Canada and then go global.
    Hyperspectral Chemical Imaging

    About 18 per cent of food waste happens at the manufacturing level, according to a report by Ontario's Provision Coalition, "the food and beverage manufacturers' one-stop source for sustainability."

    One solution to reducing that waste may be "hyperspectral chemical imaging technology for production line grading and sorting of leafy greens, carrots and potatoes," reports Food in Canada, a food and beverage processing industry publication.

    The initiative is a collaboration between Ippolito Fruit & Produce, Riga Farms, EarthFresh Foods and Amazing Grains working with Ontario chemical imaging company P&P Optica and industrial equipment company Axiom Millwrighting & Fabrication. The University of Guelph and Conestoga College will be in charge of testing the technology's effectiveness.

    "Currently, many produce manufacturers in Canada are using aging technology for sorting and grading. At Ippolito, we connected with our industry peers to explore and then implement new technology – technology that has broader food industry application and will be shared with companies across the country," CEO Joel Ippolito told Food in Canada.
  • Ubifood
    Apps: Ubifood

    Inspired by a friend's sushi shop tossing out unsold food at day's end, despite being sold at a discount, Ubifood founder Caroline Pellegrini decided that an app would be the best way to connect consumers and retailers.

    Currently exclusive to Montreal, Ubifood gives geolocation-based real-time push notifications to inform users of discounted food in their area.

    The sales pitch is that it makes money for cafes, bakeries and restaurants while saving money for customers and, most importantly, reducing food waste.

    "Everybody benefits. The consumers, retailers, and the planet – all at once," Pellegrini told CBC.
  • Okanagan Specialty Fruits

    Despite continuing if unfounded public skepticism over GMOs, B.C.-based Okanagan Specialty Fruits has received approval by Canadian and American authorities to sell their signature non-browning Arctic Apple.

    Developed in Granny Smith and Golden Delicious varieties, this first approved biotech apple resists browning when sliced or bruised because the genes that trigger the oxidization process have been replaced with non-browning ones.

    According to CP, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency said Arctic Apples "are as safe and nutritious as traditional apple varieties" while Health Canada concluded the GMO apple "is safe for consumption, still has all its nutritional value and therefore does not differ from other apples available on the market."

    They're scheduled to start arriving in the U.S. later this year and will be available for sale in Canada by fall 2017.
  • Bioconversion

    While on a fishing trip, biotech entrepreneur Brad Marchant and environmentalist David Suzuki came up with a concept for an environmentally-friendly feed source for aquaculture and livestock. That idea would become the Langley, B.C.-based Enterra Feed Corporation's Renewable Food for Animals and Plants.

    Using a proprietary bioconversion technology under development since 2007, Enterra turns pre-consumer food waste -- i.e. the 25 per cent of food that doesn't make it to retail, largely fruits and vegetables -- into animal feed and fertilizer.

    Rescued from landfills, the food waste is fed to millions of indigenous black soldier flies and the subsequent insect larvae are then turned into nutrient-rich protein meals and feed oil, a sustainable process that creates a natural fertilizer as a byproduct.

    But while the feed is currently being sold in the U.S., Global News reports that Enterra is still awaiting approval from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency for sales here at home. Their fertilizer has been approved.
  • Todd Korol / Reuters

    While not invented here, this summer Health Canada is launching a public consultation on a plan to irradiate ground beef to kill bacterial microorganisms like E. coli and salmonella in the wake of outbreaks like Alberta's XL Foods in 2012.

    CBC reports that a recent government review has "determined that ground beef treated with irradiation is safe to eat and retains its nutritional value, taste, texture and appearance."

    Irradiation, which involves exposing food to ionizing radiation like gamma rays or X-rays, is already used in Canada for potatoes, onions, wheat, flour and spices.

    As well as increasing food safety, irradiation also prevents premature spoilage to increase shelf life and reduce food waste.

    Tim Sly, a professor in the School of Public Health at Toronto's Ryerson University, told CBC that by preventing massive recalls, irradiation could avoid the wastage of millions of pounds of food.
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