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World Engineering Day: Rethinking how we grow, share and consume food to reach zero hunger

The first World Engineering Day for Sustainable Development will be held 4 March 2020. To celebrate, we asked members of the profession how engineers can contribute to each of the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals.

GOAL 2: ZERO HUNGER
The United Nations estimates that 821 million people around the world go hungry every day. The number of people facing undernourishment is projected to rise to more than 2 billion people by 2050.
In the face of these sobering facts, 1.6 billion tons of food is wasted each year globally, and this will rise to an expected 2.9 billion tons by 2030, according to a study by Boston Consulting Group.

In Australia, a quarter of vegetables don’t leave the farm, and Australian households waste enough food to fill close to 17,000 747 jumbo jets each year.

Whether globally or nationally, the numbers are shocking, especially in light of rising populations and environmental challenges. The optimists say we’ll do better, and that as with any challenge, there are opportunities.

Dr Pablo Juliano is one of the optimists. He has spent his professional life thinking about how food engineering can improve the world.

Soul food
Now the Group Leader of Food Processing and Supply Chains at CSIRO, Juliano was drawn to the impact potential of the field of food engineering, became immersed in the complexity of industrial and research problems, and has returned to questions about what can have the most impact for the most people.

Dr Pablo Juliano. (Image: CSIRO)
Juliano was drawn to food engineering by an interest in what he calls “the social side of science”.

The discipline had only just started to be offered when he entered Uruguay’s Universidad de la República in 1993. He saw himself having a role somewhere in the country’s dairy and meat industries.

“I thought, well, food engineering is a technical degree that can take me into the food industry, and then I can divert off more into the wellbeing of the world, in some way,” he said.

Juliano led a study published last year analysing food loss throughout the horticultural value chain. It studied supply chains of 13 fruits and 19 vegetables, including on-farm packing houses and processing and estimated as much as 1.5 million tonnes (or 22 per cent) of biomass lost annually before the point of sale.

In his role at CSIRO, he is involved in developing a host of processing techniques, including fermentation, spray drying, microencapsulation, extrusion and megasonics.

The ultimate goal is to find ways to reduce food waste by squeezing every possible use from food products. For example, transforming produce that is not suitable for markets (and would otherwise be wasted) into other products such as nutrition-packed powders. Or using megasonics and heat to harvest large amounts of healthy fats and oils from fruits and vegetables.

A latte brewed at Common Folk cafe in Melbourne with powder made from broccoli. (Image: CSIRO)
Food security
Whether it’s developing containerised facilities for disaster relief, developing better ways to keep food fresher for longer, or finding ways to make the supply chain less wasteful, engineers will be crucial to keeping a growing number of people nourished and happy.

“Any of the products that you see in the supermarket in powder form or consumer goods have engineering processes behind, with basic unit operations such as size reduction, separation, pasteurisation, sterilisation, drying and packaging,” Juliano said.

“The more engineering work that is invested in developing a food process, that will be achieved in improving processing efficiencies, making food stable, safe and nutritious, improving the logistics, removing the water, recovering the water and, and treating the effluent to the point that you can recover a lot of the food that is wasted.

“In a nutshell, all of that says, yes, engineers have a role in improving food security.”

Ready to celebrate how engineers help build a more sustainable world?

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