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Every year, European food producers throw away millions of tonnes of 'useless' by-products - such as stalks, husks, pips and peel. Vegetable growing and processing, for example, produces over 10 million tonnes of waste annually. This waste is bulky and unstable, with a tendency to putrefy, so there is a limit to the amount that can be dumped in landfill sites. Yet the waste contains many potentially useful chemical and biological ingredients. Some efforts have been made to develop enzyme procedures to extract useful products from organic waste, but with limited success. A more concerted effort to convert food waste into marketable products would simultaneously increase the profitability of food processing and go some way towards solving the waste disposal problem.


The REPRO (reducing food processing waste) Specific Targeted Research Project unites European food research organisations with two from Turkey and South Africa. They aim to harness new techniques in bioprocesses and combine them with physical separation methods to extract useful products from food processing waste efficiently. They will concentrate on two major EU waste products - spent grain from brewing beer and the trimmings left from processing vegetables. For economic viability, they are looking for high-added-value products that could be used in pharmaceuticals, functional foods and cosmetics. Products of lower value, such as foodstuffs and animal feed, could be produced in larger quantities with economic benefits.

Dealing with these bulk materials requires a combination of procedures. First, enzyme processes that can extract specific high-value products will be improved so that they can break down waste in bulk. These processes use little energy and are environmentally friendly. When applied to plant waste they can extract single components or fractions that yield products like sweeteners, food colourings, stabilisers, anti-microbial agents and prebiotics. Advanced biotechnology techniques will enable tougher plant cell walls to be broken down into proteins and phytochemicals.

The result of enzymatic processing will be combined with physical treatments, such as extrusion-extraction, extraction with supercritical CO2, adsorption and membrane technology. Many of these are water-based and can be used in a closed loop system which runs at a low temperature and conserves resources. Mild methods are required to prevent destruction of some of the more fragile compounds that REPRO is aiming to extract. The techniques have already proved to be effective but need upgrading and tailoring to the specific task. Quality must also be guaranteed for food products.


REPRO is intent on minimising any risk as regards bringing the new products to market by ensuring that consumers will accept that recycled waste is wholesome. Initially, an economic risk assessment will confine the co-products to those that will be able to find a financially viable market. A broader investigation will find out whether waste-stream products are acceptable to consumers, retailers and regulators. The products will be fully traceable on the fork-to-farm principle.

Success in marketing will depend on a comprehensive information system for food processors and waste co-product producers. REPRO is setting up two information platforms. The first will allow stakeholders to learn about and discuss project results, while the other is a brokerage platform through which producers can talk to potential users, stimulating exploitation and increasing the competitiveness of Europe's food industry.

List of Partners

  • Institute of Food Research (UK)
  • Agrotechnology and Food Innovation (The Netherlands)
  • TNO (The Netherlands)
  • INRA (France)
  • VTT Technical Research Centre (Finland)
  • SIK (Sweden)
  • Manchester Metropolitan University (UK)
  • Fundacion GAIKER (Spain)
  • Gaziantep University (Turkey)
  • CSIR Food, Biological and Chemical Technologies (South Africa)
  • Wageningen University (The Netherlands)
  • Latvian State Institute of Wood Chemistry (Latvia)
  • Agricultural University of Norway (Norway)
Full title:
Reducing food processing waste
Contract n:
Project co-ordinator:
Keith Waldron, Institute of Food Research (IFR),
EC Scientific Officer:
Hallgeir Herikstad,
EU contribution:
€ 3.1M
FP6-2003-Food-2 h P
Specific Targeted Research Project

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Last update: 06 December 2007 | Top