EE in food industry

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1. General information

Because of its importance for the economy and its scale the food and beverage- processing sector is attractive for implementation of EE methods. A number of environmental issues are associated with this sector: food and organic waste, water usage and water discharge, energy usage, air emissions and plastic use.

2. Fields of application

EE methods can be implemented in all subsectors of food and beverage processing industry including meat and poultry, fruit and vegetables, seafood, dairy products, flour and cereals, bakery products, sugar and sugar confections, soft drinks, brewery products.

3. Descriptions of Methods

Eco Efficiency means doing more with less, creating quality products and/or services while reducing waste, pollution and resources use along the entire value chain.

Environmental Issues
  • Food wastes

Solid food from processing plants is often high in nitrogen, phosphorus and carbonaceous materials. In a landfill it decomposes slowly and often anaerobically due to a deficit of oxygen. This in turn causes methane gas and acidic leachate which both have impacts on the environment. Often the use as animal or for compost is not possible because of the incorporated food- processing wastewater. An attractive alternative is composting: compost has a long shelf-life and also capital investment costs are low. If it is possible food by- products can directly be incorporated into the soil, so no transportation and storage of the by- products are necessary.

  • Water

A high rate of water consumption is typical for the food- processing industry. Water is used as an ingredient, an initial and intermediate cleaning source and a conveyor of raw material. The requirements on the amount of water depend on the subsector. While the fruit and vegetable sector has a high consumption because of washing and rinsing, the meat- processing sector requires just little amounts. Generally wastewaters contain many solids and are high in BOD (especially meat, poultry and seafood wastewater). For its treatment several congenital biological technologies are available.

  • Energy use

Compared to other industry sectors the food and beverage- processing industry is not energy intensive. Nevertheless energy consumption represents a significant cost of business and alternatives are known and already realized. For example the use of biodiesel as fuel became very popular. It burn cleaner and completely and offers a lot of other advantages.

  • Air emissions

Odours are the result of physical processing of food such as heating, drying or smoking. In animal housing the air contains odour, gases, micro organism and dust particles which are discharged into the environment by ventilation systems.

Implementing EE opportunities

Some practices are listed below:

  • Automation

By installation of analytical sensors, PC interfaces and closed loop control systems raw material inputs, amounts of generated wastes, humidity, pH, temperature, flow rates… can be controlled easily and accurately.

  • Food Irradiation

Food irradiation kills deadly food-borne illnesses such as E. coli or salmonella when it is applied to fruits, vegetables, meat and other products. Also the amount of required water for washing and rinsing decreases and so costs and exposure time do.

  • Dry Transport/Cleanup
  • Use of by- products

Some wastes can be sources for other products such as fish meal, fertilizer, bait, animal feed, cosmetics and fertilizers… Liquid fats and solid meat products can be used in other industry sectors for processing of animal food, cosmetics, soap and other foods.

Reference: Fact sheet: Eco- Efficiency in the Food Processing Industry, published by the Eco- Efficiency Centre,

Case studies

More information and case studies you find here