Feed Bites

When Food Doesn't Make It Into Your Shopping Cart, Where Does It Go? We Have One Answer!

Written by: Victoria Broehm   |   September 29, 2021

Environmental footprint, Co-products

We’ve all been there: you’re at the grocery store searching for the perfect-sized, unbruised apple when your arm accidentally knocks an apple onto the floor. What happens to that apple, or the other bruised apples no one buys? Or the bread, eggs or dairy products that are beyond their sell-by date? Unfortunately, a lot are wasted, but more efforts are underway to curb food loss.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that 30-40% of food in the U.S. is wasted annually, with roughly 31% of that loss occurring at the retail and consumer levels. In 2010, that totaled roughly 133 billion pounds ($161 billion worth) of food!

With today being the International Day of Awareness of Food Loss and Waste, we thought we’d spend some time discussing ways that many companies and organizations are developing solutions to address this. From turning ugly produce into a hot commodity to donating food to those in need to feeding animals, with this last example being where the animal food industry comes in. In the Environmental Protection Agency’s, “Food Recovery Hierarchy” pyramid, diverting food scraps to animal food is shown to not only reduce food loss, but “upcycle” nutrients and reduce the industry’s environmental footprint.

In the U.S. animal food industry, we have spent decades working to close the food supply cycle by repurposing inedible human ingredients that would otherwise end up in landfills.

Recent research from the Institute for Feed Education and Research (IFEEDER) shows that more than 40% of byproducts from other production processes (e.g., apple pomace, citrus pulp, bakery meal and dried distillers’ grains) are used in livestock and poultry feed. And IFEEDER found that pet food makes use of similar nutritious ingredients leftover from human food production as well as wholesome animal parts that people don’t typically eat (liver pâté anyone?).

Many of our members do this, including ED&F Man Liquid Products LLC/Westway Feed, which sources 85-90% of its ingredients from other industries (e.g., distilleries, cheese factories, agricultural processors); and Darling Ingredients’ work with Bakery Feeds to recycle bakery residuals.

You may be asking…

Is it OK to use leftover retail food in feed/pet food?

Absolutely, and there is a detailed regulatory process for it. The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), which establishes definitions for ingredients used in feed and pet food, allows “recovered retail food” including:

“…overstocks, lacking consumer acceptance, or beyond their sell-by date that include items such as bruised, cut, or overly ripe produce (fruit and vegetables), bakery goods, eggs, and dairy products.”

The definition further states that the foods must be safe, appropriately labeled for their intended use in animals, and free of harmful materials and/or packaging materials (e.g., plastics, glass, metal, Styrofoam, etc.). It also excludes pet food products or products containing meat, poultry and/or fish.

AAFCO also has definitions constituting what can be used in other food byproducts, like dried bakery products, pasta products, cereal food fines and apple pomace.

Is it SAFE to use these food leftovers in animal food or is this like a “Tiger King” roadkill situation?

Yes – it’s safe! Just like the food industry is concerned about providing a safe food supply to feed our families, the animal food industry works to ensure that only safe, nutritious ingredients are used in feed and pet food. The AAFCO dictates that “the product must be handled to preserve its safety and nutritional value,” which means that the leftover retail foods must be collected at least weekly and safely stored in containers that optimize their freshness (e.g., keeping cold foods like eggs refrigerated) and block the introduction of unauthorized materials.

What does the process look like for manufacturing these foods into feed?

Farmers and animal food manufacturers are active members of their communities and often form relationships with retailers, bakeries, breweries, food manufacturers and other industries to source these nutritious products. Their process will be different depending on the product in which they are using and the species being fed, but generally procedures are followed to approve the facility as a supplier, ensure the product is transported correctly, work with a nutritionist to properly incorporate the ingredient into the animal food ration and follow any regulatory requirements to protect animal and human health.

When this recovered food comes into a facility, there are a variety of ways that the packaging is removed—sometimes this happens manually, sometimes machines do it. According to AAFCO, animal feed and feed ingredients made with recovered retail foods cannot contain any meat, poultry or seafood products, must be free of packaging and the feed/ingredient supplier must make sure the product is safe for the intended species.

How do you ensure the resulting products are safe for animal consumption?

As mentioned, the AAFCO definition outlines several requirements animal manufacturers must keep in mind to ensure safety while collecting these retail products. In addition, per federal and state regulations, the manufacturer is responsible for providing safe products for the intended animal species, and must verify that the safety of the resulting meat, milk or eggs from animals consuming the ingredient is never compromised. Manufacturing facilities must also follow applicable regulations and consider any potential hazards as part of their facility food safety plans.

Who regulates this process to ensure high quality safety standards are being met?

All facilities that manufacture, process pack or hold food intended for use in feed or pet food must register with the Food and Drug Administration and are required to comply with the Food Safety Modernization Act. They are subject to regular food safety inspections by state and federal inspectors to ensure all regulations are being upheld and that the resulting food products are safe for animal consumption, and in the case of pet food, that they are also safe for the people handling it.

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At the end of the day – our industry is committed to producing animal food sustainably and helping the country ensure more people are properly nourished. We must continue to leverage solutions like these, which will help us get one step closer to closing the food supply cycle.

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