Unlocking Value: Exploiting Food Industry By-Products for Sustainable Innovation

Unlocking Value Exploiting Food Industry By-Products for Sustainable Innovation
Food waste


EU funded project

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Unlocking Mediterranean Innovation: EXCEL4MED and the Future of Food Excellence

Harnessing Potential: Exploring the Value of Food Industrial Side-Streams

Exploring Food Industrial Side-Streams 

Of all the edible food products in the world, fruits and vegetables have the highest rate of waste (about 45%) (FAO, 2021). Nonetheless, leftovers and by-products like peels, trimmings, seeds, shells, and bran are abundant in primary and secondary substances that promote health and can be useful. Secondary compounds include alkaloids, flavonoids, saponins, carotenoids, phenolic compounds, and others; primary compounds include sugars, proteins, amino acids, and chlorophyll (Shi et al., 2015). Agri-food waste and by-products can also yield value-added components such as complex polysaccharides, carbohydrates, proteins, polyphenols, and vitamins (Yusuf, 2019). 

Various purposes, including enrichment, coloring, stability against oxidation, and microbial growth, can be served by incorporating these bioactive chemicals into food (Marcillo-Parra et al., 2021). Furthermore, these bioactive substances have an extensive array of biological properties, such as antibacterial, antiproliferative, antihypertensive, antioxidant, and antidiabetic effects. This offers them a great chance to avert the onset of oxidative stress-mediated chronic illnesses like cardiovascular, cancerous, and neurological conditions. Additionally, their accessibility, affordability, and availability make them a clear prospective market (Villacís-Chiriboga et al., 2021)

Fruits and vegetables are considered perishable goods, and as such, they are frequently processed to extend their shelf life. Meanwhile, industries that rely on these products produce a significant amount of horticulture waste, which includes skin, seeds, pomace, and other materials, and makes up 25–30% of their overall output. Using such waste to create beneficial goods like prebiotics, edible films, carbon dots, biosorbents, nanoparticles, etc., is a sustainable way to manage such garbage (Kumar et al., 2020). 

Apple, tomato, and other fruit pomace can be processed into animal feed in its entirety, and its derivatives, which include dietary fiber, antioxidants, and pigments, can be used in food applications by employing appropriate extraction techniques and taking into consideration their toxicological components, such as the solanine in potato peels, pesticides on apple skin, tomatine (a toxic glycoalkaloid found in tomatoes), and the toxin amygdalin found in apple seeds.

Fruit and vegetable leftovers have a greater concentration of bioactive compounds and nutraceuticals used to formulate functional foods and food additives. These include carotenoids, dietary fiber, fatty acids, phenolic compounds, proteins, etc. (Jiménez-Moreno et al., 2020). Fruits and vegetables, like potatoes, can be utilized to extract high-value products such as fiber, soluble sugars, organic acids, lipids, vitamins, minerals, and flavonoids from their peels, seeds, and membranes (Rao et al., 2021).

From Waste to Wealth: Utilising Food Industrial Side-Streams for Innovation

Food waste and by-products are a source of added-value chemicals with nutritional and technological benefits (preservatives, colorants, fibers, etc.) that can be converted into new products suitable for human use. Following the principles of green chemistry, these molecules of interest can be extracted using a variety of cutting-edge and/or novel extraction processes and then added to food products.

Some of the most known and used upcycling technologies in the food industry are the following (Idrishi et al., 2022):

  • Biotechnology and fermentation: This upcycling technology has great promise for recovering valuable food items. Food is hydrolyzed to produce simpler molecules, such as sugars, amino acids, glycerol, and fatty acids, in that order because it serves as a matrix for various biomolecules, including proteins, lipids, carbs, and oils. Similar cleavage occurs in food waste molecules through the action of acids or biological/enzymatic pathways. Notwithstanding, enzymatic procedures are favored due to their ability to precisely target biomolecules to desired moieties; chemical hydrolysis, on the other hand, may result in the generation of inhibitors or disagreeable by-products.
  • Supercritical fluid extraction: It has long been thought that food wastes are a significant source of potentially bioactive substances. However, the great majority have not yet been utilized. Supercritical fluid extraction is an environmentally friendly alternative to traditional solvent extraction for separating these substances, producing goods devoid of hazardous residues. This technique’s use is in the efficient use of industrial wastes to create valuable goods with little to no economic value. Carbon dioxide is one of the most popular supercritical fluids that help with the more environmentally friendly extraction methods for phenolic compounds. It is an inexpensive, high-purity, thermodynamically stable, non-mutagenic, non-toxic, and non-flammable solvent.

Physical separation techniques for upcycling:

  • Screening
  • Flotation
  • Sedimentation
  • Centrifugation
  • Crystallization
  • Chemical separation techniques for upcycling:
  • Precipitation
  • Coagulation
  • Membrane separation techniques for upcycling:
  • Reverse osmosis
  • Micro- and ultrafiltration

EXCEL4MED: Pioneering a New Era in Mediterranean Food Innovation

Investing in the value-adding of food industry by-products

The R&I investment of Member States is still dispersed, ranging from 0.5% to 3.3% of gross domestic product, and is mostly focused in the northern and western regions of the EU. These disparities in investment yield discrepancies in the output of scientific innovation and excellence, and proxy measures for the quality of the science also demonstrate a persistent divide.

The Member States with lower R&I performance levels have made progress, but most of them remain far behind the EU average. While some southern nations seem to be lagging behind, nearly all Eastern European Member States have been able to boost their R&I expenditures (European Commission, 2020). While business churn activity has decreased, some EU members, such as Belgium, Ireland, Greece, and Malta, have shown the lowest business dynamism and have not improved since 2010. 

Furthermore, the proportion of researchers who earned their PhDs outside of their home country is highest in Malta, Greece, and Iceland, and these countries also see fewer inflows of foreign researchers (European Commission, 2020). Innovation in science and technology has historically dominated innovation policy; nevertheless, radical technological innovation alone cannot transform entire socio-technical systems; social, business model, and infrastructure innovation are all necessary (European Commission, 2020). Our systems must be drastically changed because social, economic, and environmental crises are interconnected. It is currently essential to restructure the agri-food culture.

Aiming to enhance Mediterranean innovation excellence in innovation ecosystems that prioritize the creation of nutrient-dense food items and the value-adding of food industry by-products, the excellence hub EXCEL4MED was established. Greece, Malta, and France collaborate across international borders to boost the Mediterranean food supply networks. EXCEL4MED innovation ecosystems will be linked to research centers, government agencies, umbrella companies, and other societal actors. These entities will support one another in a Mediterranean setting and work together to elevate the standard of innovation excellence within their local communities.

Our value proposition, which centers on the establishment of an Excellence Hub through the use of cutting-edge and well-researched technologies in a unique architecture, is based on four fundamental principles that tackle scientific, sociological, and economic/technological implications;

  1. Collaboration
  2. Adaptation
  3. Inclusivity
  4. Circular Economy

This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon Europe research and innovation program under grant agreement No 101087147. 


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FAO. (2021). Catalogue des publications de la FAO 2021: Juin. FAO. https://doi.org/10.4060/cb4834fr

Idrishi, R., Aggarwal, D., & Sharma, V. (2022). Upcycling Technologies in the Food Industry (pp. 367–392). https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-19-1746-2_13

Jiménez-Moreno, N., Esparza, I., Bimbela, F., Gandía, L. M., & Ancín-Azpilicueta, C. (2020). Valorization of selected fruit and vegetable wastes as bioactive compounds: Opportunities and challenges. Critical Reviews in Environmental Science and Technology50(20), 2061–2108. https://doi.org/10.1080/10643389.2019.1694819

Kumar, H., Bhardwaj, K., Sharma, R., Nepovimova, E., Kuča, K., Dhanjal, D. S., Verma, R., Bhardwaj, P., Sharma, S., & Kumar, D. (2020). Fruit and Vegetable Peels: Utilization of High Value Horticultural Waste in Novel Industrial Applications. Molecules25(12), Article 12. https://doi.org/10.3390/molecules25122812

Marcillo-Parra, V., Anaguano, M., Molina, M., Tupuna-Yerovi, D. S., & Ruales, J. (2021). Characterization and quantification of bioactive compounds and antioxidant activity in three different varieties of mango (Mangifera indica L.) peel from the Ecuadorian region using HPLC-UV/VIS and UPLC-PDA. NFS Journal23, 1–7. Scopus. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.nfs.2021.02.001

Rao, M., Bast, A., & de Boer, A. (2021). Valorized Food Processing By-Products in the EU: Finding the Balance between Safety, Nutrition, and Sustainability. Sustainability13(8), Article 8. https://doi.org/10.3390/su13084428

Shi, K., Song, D., Chen, G., Pistolozzi, M., Wu, Z., & Quan, L. (2015). Controlling composition and color characteristics of Monascus pigments by pH and nitrogen sources in submerged fermentation. Journal of Bioscience and Bioengineering120(2), 145–154. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jbiosc.2015.01.001

Villacís-Chiriboga, J., Vera, E., Van Camp, J., Ruales, J., & Elst, K. (2021). Valorization of by-products from tropical fruits: A review, Part 2: Applications, economic, and environmental aspects of biorefinery via supercritical fluid extraction. Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety20(3), 2305–2331. Scopus. https://doi.org/10.1111/1541-4337.12744

Yusuf, M. (2019). Agro-industrial waste materials and their recycled value-added applications: Review. In Handbook of Ecomaterials (Vol. 4, pp. 2699–2708). Scopus. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-68255-6_48


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National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, Laboratory of Food Chemistry


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