Scientists at the University of Valencia in Spain have launched a new project which aims to turn waste whey into a material which can be used for cheese packaging.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), the global cheese industry produces 180 million litres of whey every year.
Larger cheese manufacturing operations can recover this byproduct and divert it to other uses. However, for smaller artisanal factories, this is a significant cost – as a result, the whey often becomes waste.
In a bid to avoid this, the University of Valencia has partnered with plastics technology centre AIMPLAS, microorganism specialists ADM Biópolis, the Agri-Food Business Federation of Valencia (FEDACOVA), and cheesemakers La Cabezuela and Dehesa Dos Hermanas to launch the GO-Orleans project.
The project aims to utilise the natural ingredients found in goat and sheep whey. Through fermentation of the whey, researchers say they can obtain bioactive additives, which could be used as an active packaging ingredient for cheese.
Using bioactive ingredients within a packaging coating could extend the shelf life of certain cheeses by between 25 and 50%, GO-Orleans researchers say.
“We’ll first separate bacteria with biopreservation potential,” said Giuseppe Meca, Professor in the Department of Preventive Medicine at the University of Valencia. “Then we’ll characterize the compounds in the matrix, which is whey.”
Coatings are becoming a focus for the food industry as a way to avoid environmentally harmful, but very useful, materials like plastic. Earlier this year, Californian start-up Apeel Sciences landed in Asda stores with its plastic-free cellulose coating.
Naturally shelf life-extending packaging solutions are also being heavily researched, in a bid to reduce food waste. In May, scientists at the University of Alicante revealed a pineapple-waste based packaging, which uses ‘active natural compounds’ to increase the shelf life of certain foods.
Beyond intercepting the whey waste stream, the project also aims to contribute to another pressing issue within the agri-food industry: animal feed.
New probiotic ingredients derived from the fermented whey will also be tested as an additive for livestock feeds, to protect the digestive system and contribute to animal wellbeing.
GO-Orleans is being funded by the European Innovation Partnership’s Agricultural Productivity and Sustainability programme. It is hoped the lessons learned through the project can be utilised and built on by others in the sector looking to invest in a more circular economy.
FEDACOVA will be in charge of transferring the knowledge gained through GO-Orleans to other parts of the agri-food industry. The organisation’s General Secretary, Sergio Barona, said: “FEDACOVA is participating in this project to transfer research findings to the Valencian agri-food industry, especially companies in the Association of Cheesemakers of the Valencian Community and individual members.
“This will help improve industry competitiveness, which will ultimately benefit society as a whole.”
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