Grand Challenges in Sustainable Food Processing (2022)

Sustainability is, unquestionably, a main driver for social, technological, and economic development toward the creation of a circular economy. This is even more important in the food industry as this issue of sustainability also demands that we are able to provide consumers with, not only high quality food, but, above all with food that complies with safety and security.

WHO estimates that, every year, more than 600 million people—this means 1 out of 10 people—get ill by ingestion of contaminated food and that the number of casualties is estimated as 420,0001. Moreover FAO estimates that one-third of the food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted globally, which amounts to about 1.3 billion tons per year (FAO, 2011). This inevitably also means that huge amounts of the resources used in food production are used in vain, and that the greenhouse gas emissions caused by production of food that gets lost or wasted are also emissions in vain. It is also interesting to note that, on a per-capita basis, much more food is wasted in the industrialized world than in developing countries.

Having said this, it is clear that sustainability (Ehrenfeld and Hoffman, 2013) is a key driver for the food industry. However, a successful food industry sector, cannot be supported by safety and security considerations, only. Consumers are more and more demanding and, in particular in developed countries, are also linking food with health, thus demanding food industry and food technologists to provide foods that, in complement to their nutritional and organoleptic properties, can also contribute to a healthier life.

Although suggesting that these issues raise difficulties in fulfilling the consumer needs, it is also clear that new business opportunities are created and, as shown throughout this document, opportunities for raising value from wastes are now a great challenge that will also contribute for the development of healthier foods as well as for the implementation of a circular economy in the sector.

In order to answer satisfactorily to these demands, the food industry must evolve processing technologies that are effective not only in processing food materials in a way that minimizes the degradation of the components that are relevant for health and well-being, but are also able to incorporate materials in the processed foods that allow for an increase in these properties.

Moreover, these objectives must be fulfilled by complying with another key issue in food (and industrial) processing—sustainability—in such way that circular economy2 becomes a reality in the food industry. This demands more efficient and environmentally friendly food processing technologies and process integration together with waste minimization and recovery and incorporation of food by-products in the food processing chain. New solutions on packaging are also required as 335 million tons of non-biodegradable/non-compostable plastics are produced annually, with the food sector being responsible for a large percentage of the release of these wastes (mostly plastics)3. With the new solutions being proposed, food packaging will extend its use beyond its traditional application and will have a decisive contribution to answering several of the challenges of the food sector.

Safety is also an issue that must be dealt with the development of more efficient processing technologies. Processing must comply with extremely rigorous food safety challenges and this demands the development of rapid and high throughput safety evaluation techniques for effective risk management in the food industry.

It is clear that the main issue(s)/challenge(s) facing the field of Sustainable Food Processing today are:

- development of efficient and environmentally friendly food processing technologies

(Video) Global challenges for sustainable food production

- process integration as a key to more efficient and environmental friendly food processing

- wastes minimization

- recovery and incorporation of food by-products in the food processing chain

- incorporation of materials/compounds relevant for well-being

- development of efficient technologies for the adequate delivery (i.e., maintain the bioactivity) of the nutrients to the food consumer

- evaluation and development of correct strategies for the use of wastes and by products generated throughout the food value chain with the Circular Economy concept.

- development of new packaging materials and new packaging formulations that are environment friendly, as fully consumed or biodegradable and recyclable

- development of new packaging solutions that will act not only as a protection barrier but will also be active and intelligent.

- implementation and development and implementation of precise and fast food safety evaluation methodologies

(Video) Stephan Becker-Sonnenschein, what are the challenges for a sustainable food production?

- immediacy on the response to the consumer's demand

- assumption that food is a key issue on individual's health and development of food processing methodologies that are consumer groups oriented (elderly people, pregnant women, children)

- food personalization

All these challenges demand the industry to be in the frontline of knowledge and Sustainable Food Processing wants to make an effective contribution on this and become a reference source for scientists, academy, industrial, and other professionals engaged in food processing.

The section will highlight the current knowledge regarding the most recent innovations on emerging technologies and strategies based on food design on a sustainable level. Innovative technologies are expected to be described, characterized, and its application highlighted. These will include emerging technologies, sensor technology, cold plasma technology, sustainable packaging and refrigeration climate control, non-thermal pasteurization and sterilization, nano- and micro-technology, healthy product composition, development of novel preservation alternatives, extending the shelf life of fresh products, alternative processes requiring less energy or water, plant-based meat alternatives, innovative processes/bioprocesses for utilization of by-products and information and knowledge transfer.

Although being clear that different technologies can have a significant impact in the development of a Sustainable Food Processing, there is no doubt that nanotechnology will be a key driver on the answer to several of the food industry challenges presented. However, the increasing concern about human produced nano-particles entering the environmental and being detrimental to living systems (including humans) must not be forgotten as relevant sustainability issues can be raised (Jurgilevich et al., 2016).

Nanotechnology is a fast-developing tool, with applications in virtually all areas of scientific and technological research. The advantages and impact of the nanotechnology-based systems are very significant, justifying the growing attention from both academy and industry. It is thus not surprising that also food & agricultural engineers, scientists and technologists are dedicating their attention to nanotechnology, in the search for specific advantages in agriculture, foods formulation, and processing.

In particular, the applications related with e.g., nanoencapsulation of functional ingredients are seen as very promising. This is not an easy task, though: on top of the difficulties inherent to nanotechnology (e.g., finding adequate characterization methods, quantification of products, etc.), there are two other issues which may dictate the success or failure of the research and development efforts in this area: (1) ingredients must be either bio-compatible or food-grade and (2) safety of the consumers & environment must be guaranteed. If these two issues are not conveniently addressed, no industrialist will be available to even consider using nanotechnological solutions in the products of the company. The production of and characterization of nanotechnology-based structures, their applications and safety concerns are therefore hot topics that must be addressed by the scientific community and be one of the main topics to be included in this journal.

Packaging is also, as mentioned before, a relevant topic to be considered within Sustainable Food Processing, due to the high amounts of non-recyclable plastics being disposed. However, it is clear that sustainability is to be addressed not only by solving the issues related with the development of biodegradable packaging materials. The development of edible films and coatings will contribute decisively to extend the functions to be played by packaging in the food industry. Edible packaging, apart from being environment friendly and so reduce the waste and solid disposal problem, are fully consumed or biodegradable and in this way its contribution to sustainable food processing is obvious. However, its functions are to be extended and may include the enhancement of food organoleptic properties and nutritional value, act as a carrier for anti-microbial or antioxidant agents and be used as a matrix for the micro encapsulation of flavoring agents.

(Video) The challenges of sustainable food packaging – get the full picture

The new packaging are to be active and intelligent and this can also be achieved by adding some of these functions to already available materials. Moreover, by-products from the food processing industry can be applied in the development of these materials.

Finally, it is important to highlight the importance of the development and implementation of a circular economy in the food industry. Although being clear that there are an increasing number of papers describing the recovery and incorporation of food by-products in the food processing chain, there are still numerous challenges to be addressed. These challenges are both on the application of the obtained products on the food chain (although its use on other industrial sectors must be considered) and on the extraction/separation/purification technologies to be applied. Nowadays, most of the technologies applied are still largely based on energy, solvent and water-intensive processes and have a low energy efficiency. For instance, the solid-liquid extraction step is mostly based on the use of organic solvents what raises concerns on environmental safety, human toxicity and sometimes financial feasibility. Novel technologies based on the use of greener and higher efficiency solvents (ionic liquids, deep eutectic solvents) or the use of aqueous extraction processes intensified by the application of pressure and electric fields are alternatives that are being developed.

Considering the statements made previously, the publication of Sustainable Food Processing (specialty section of Frontiers in Sustainable Food Systems) will be an important contribution for the technological development of the food industry. Innovative and cutting-edge research will be published in the following subjects: novel technologies for food processing and preservation, functional foods, active and functional packaging, process integration in food processing, novel technologies for food waste and by-product processing, food waste and by-products for the production of bioactives, food processing for increased food safety, food processing for healthier and more nutritive products, personalized food and risk management in food processing.

Author Contributions

The author confirms being the sole contributor of this work and approved it for publication.

Conflict of Interest Statement

The author declares that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.

The reviewer, JF, and handling Editor declared their shared affiliation.


This work was supported by the Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology (FCT) under the scope of the strategic funding of UID/BIO/04469/2013 unit and COMPETE 2020 (POCI-01- 0145-FEDER-006684) and BioTecNorte operation (NORTE-01-0145-FEDER-000004) funded by European Regional Development Fund under the scope of Norte2020 e Programa Operacional Regional do Norte.


1. ^WHO (2017).

(Video) Sustainable Food Security for 11B: THE Millennial Grand Challenge | Ronnie Green | TEDxLincoln

2. ^

3. ^


Ehrenfeld, J. R., and Hoffman, A. J. (2013). Flourishing: A Frank Conversation About Sustainability. Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press.

Google Scholar

FAO (2011). Global Food Losses and Food Waste – Extent, Causes and Prevention. Rome: FAO.

Jurgilevich, A., Birge, T., Kentala-Lehtonen, J., Korhonen-Kurki, K., Pietikäinen, J., Saikku, L., et al. (2016). Transition towards circular economy in the food system. Sustainability 8:69. doi: 10.3390/su8010069

CrossRef Full Text | Google Scholar

(Video) The triangular challenge of building a sustainable food system | FT Food Revolution


What are the challenges to sustainable food production? ›

There are several critical issues that challenge food system performance: (a) rapid urbanisation and the growth of megacities, (b) requirements for agro-food systems upgrading, and (c) management of food access, distribution and price through rural-urban linkages.

What are 4 global challenges that can be addressed with sustainability? ›

The Sustainable Development Goals are the blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all. They address the global challenges we face, including poverty, inequality, climate change, environmental degradation, peace and justice.

What is the food sustainability problem? ›

Compounding the problems of unsustainability and nutritional imbalance are population growth, meaning more mouths to feed, and changing climatic and environmental conditions which will make food production increasingly difficult and unpredictable in coming years. The challenge is clear, if monumental.

Why is the world currently facing challenges problems on food sustainability? ›

Growing competition and scarcity of land, water and energy for food production and over exploitation of the wild fisheries will affect our ability to produce food. Currently one third of the world population lives in countries where there isn't enough water or its quality has been compromised.

What are factors affecting food sustainability? ›

The intrinsic factors to guarantee a sustainable food system are a fertile land, water, fertilizers, a stable climate, and energy.

What is the biggest challenge for sustainable development? ›

The main challenges to sustainable development which are global in character includes- poverty and exclusions, unemployment, climate change, conflict and humanitarian aid, building peaceful and inclusive society, building strong institutions and supporting rule of law.

How can the challenges of sustainable development be overcome? ›

Nine ways to overcome barriers to sustainable business
  1. Use sustainability as a unique selling point. ...
  2. Think long term. ...
  3. Communicate differently. ...
  4. Embed sustainability throughout your organisation. ...
  5. Improve management skills. ...
  6. Take risks. ...
  7. Disrupt old business models. ...
  8. Network.
8 Jul 2015

How do you solve sustainability problems? ›

Following are some of the most common solutions to the environmental issue:
  1. Replace disposal items with reusable items.
  2. The use of paper should be avoided.
  3. Conserve water and electricity.
  4. Support environmental friendly practices.
  5. Recycle waste to conserve natural resources.

What are the 7 global challenges? ›

We will focus on urgent global challenges that must be addressed to reduce poverty, grow economies and protect natural systems: food, forests, water, energy, cities, climate and the ocean. Because these seven challenges are inextricably linked, our strategies often address more than one, cutting across programs.

What are sustainable food products? ›

Sustainable foods are types of foods that are grown or reared in a manner that limits their negative impact on the environment and the communities that produce them. Sustainable foods are environmentally friendly foods that minimize greenhouse gas emissions and use resources as sustainably as possible.

What is one of the biggest challenges when companies are committed to sustainability? ›

One of the biggest challenges that the companies are committed to sustainability faces are; Operations are impacted the most due to a reduction in procurement. The surrounding community needs to understand the environmental impact of the changes.

How can you improve the sustainability of food production? ›

Here are four ways food processors and manufacturers can reduce their environmental footprint.
  1. Use eco-friendly packaging. Food packaging is a major source of waste and pollution. ...
  2. Reduce food waste. ...
  3. Improve energy & water efficiency. ...
  4. Use sustainable ingredients.
3 Jun 2020

Why is sustainable food important? ›

Sustainable agriculture enables us to produce healthful food without compromising future generations' ability to do the same. Sustainable eating is about choosing foods that are healthful to our environment and our bodies.

What are the most immediate challenges facing the world with regard to food production? ›

Food production will increasingly be impacted by climate change, in particular from the increased frequency of storms, droughts and other extreme weather events. Food production is in turn a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions as well as water scarcity and wider biodiversity issues.

What are the challenges facing food systems globally? ›

Food systems around the globe are structurally under threat due to overpopulation, urbanization, and climate change. Change can be achieved through sustainable food production, improved access to affordable and nutritious food, and holistic policy decisions.

What are the global challenges about food? ›

The problem of food insecurity is expected to worsen due to, among others, rapid population growth and other emerging challenges such as climate change and rising demand for biofuels. Climate change poses complex challenges in terms of increased variability and risk for food producers and the energy and water sectors.

What are examples of sustainable food systems? ›

Sustainable agriculture practices
  • Rotating crops and embracing diversity. ...
  • Planting cover crops and perennials. ...
  • Reducing or eliminating tillage. ...
  • Applying integrated pest management (IPM). ...
  • Integrating livestock and crops. ...
  • Adopting agroforestry practices. ...
  • Managing whole systems and landscapes.
10 Apr 2017

How do you achieve sustainable development? ›

For sustainable development to be achieved, it is crucial to harmonize three core elements: economic growth, social inclusion and environmental protection. These elements are interconnected and all are crucial for the well-being of individuals and societies.

Why is sustainable development important? ›

Importance of Sustainable Development

Sustainable development always encourages us to conserve and enhance our resources, by gradually changing the manners in which we develop and use technologies. All Countries should meet their basic needs of employment, food, energy, water, and sanitation.

How can sustainable development help in limiting the use of natural resources? ›

The goal of sustainable development is to provide resources for the use of present populations without compromising the availability of those resources for future generations, and without causing environmental damage that challenges the survival of other species and natural ecosystems.

How can global sustainability improve? ›

Universalize access to basic services such as water, sanitation and sustainable energy. Support the generation of development opportunities through inclusive education and decent work. Foster innovation and resilient infrastructure, creating communities and cities able to produce and consume sustainably.

What is sustainability in your own words? ›

Sustainability consists of fulfilling the needs of current generations without compromising the needs of future generations, while ensuring a balance between economic growth, environmental care and social well-being.

Why has the issue of sustainable development emerged as a challenge? ›

The variety of socioeconomic, population, technology, and environment-driven trends causing the sustainable development challenges are inequality, globalization, environmental degradation, and population diversity.

What are the five global challenges? ›

These are the five crises facing children that the world cannot ignore in 2022.
  • Hunger.
  • Conflict.
  • Climate Change.
  • Child abuse. In the face of multiple types of disasters girls and boys face huge challenges that are deeply damaging to their dreams and hopes for a better life. ...
  • COVID-19.

What are the 5 major global problems? ›

Top 20 Current Global Issues We Must Address
  • #1. Poverty. In fall 2022, the World Bank will update the International Poverty Line from $1.90 to $2.15. ...
  • #2. Climate change. ...
  • #3. Food insecurity. ...
  • #4. Refugee rights. ...
  • #5. COVID-19. ...
  • #6. Future pandemic preparation and response. ...
  • #7. Healthcare. ...
  • #8. Mental health.

What's a global challenge? ›

1. The term in this chapter is used to refer to the various major problems that constitute a hindrance to the actualization of some of the earth's fundamental needs such as the problem of climate change, healthcare issues, globalization, and the future of the internet.

What is a goal of sustainable food systems? ›

Sustainable food systems reduce waste and spoilage and empower consumers to make smart choices in their food shopping.

What is the key to sustainability? ›

Sustainability has three main pillars: economic, environmental, and social. These three pillars are informally referred to as people, planet, and profits.

What is one of the biggest challenges when companies are committed to sustainability operations are impacted the most due to a reduction in procurement? ›

The correct answer to this question is one of the most difficult difficulties is transparency. Explanation: Given - There is a mental shift to consider sustainability in all aspects of the business.

Why is it challenging to measure how successfully a business is practicing sustainability? ›

Measuring sustainability is difficult because there is no universal definition and it encompasses many aspects of our society, economy, and governing institutions in addition to our interaction with the natural environment.

How does food sustainability affect day to day life? ›

This means foods that provide a balanced diet for the body but also facilitate the conservation of the environment. These are foods grown and processed in a manner that does not harm the environment or compromise its ability to meet the needs of future generations.

How does sustainability affect the food industry? ›

Sustainable foods satisfy human nutritional needs while limiting impacts on the environment. Generally, this means favoring vegetables over meat, locally-produced options over those that are transported from far away, and selecting foods that help enhance the environment during their production.

What can we do for food sustainability? ›

4 ways to make food processing more sustainable
  1. Use eco-friendly packaging. Food packaging is a major source of waste and pollution. ...
  2. Reduce food waste. ...
  3. Improve energy & water efficiency. ...
  4. Use sustainable ingredients. ...
  5. Achieving sustainability through auditing, certification and training.
3 Jun 2020

What are some sustainable food practices? ›

5 tips for sustainable eating
  • Prioritize plants. The Healthy Eating Plate suggests filling half your plate with vegetables and fruits as part of an optimal diet, but planning our meals around. ...
  • Minimize meat. ...
  • Select new seafood. ...
  • Look local. ...
  • Eat mindfully.
17 Jun 2015

How does climate change affect food sustainability? ›

In short, climate change is putting food production at risk. Yield growth for wheat, maize, and other crops has been declining in many countries due to extreme heat, severe weather, and droughts. By some estimates, in the absence of effective adaptation, global yields could decline by up to 30 percent by 2050.

Why is food sustainability important? ›

Partaking in sustainable food practices ensures your business or home has a low environmental impact. Sustainable food aims to avoid damaging or wasting natural resources. It minimises the contribution to climate change as it often means eating more local food which is not transported too far.

Why is it important to use sustainable ingredients? ›

Sustainable ingredients have minimal impacts on nature – they are produced responsibly and don't threaten wildlife populations or their homes. Species aren't hunted to critical levels and rainforests or grasslands don't have to make way for large plantations.

What are the ways of improving food production? ›

Ways to Improve Productivity in Food Manufacturing
  • Tighten Quality-Control Policies. ...
  • Preventive Maintenance. ...
  • Employee Training Programs. ...
  • Workflow Efficiency Improvements. ...
  • Cleaner Work Environments. ...
  • Increased Productivity Is Better for Business.

How does food sustainability affect day to day life? ›

This means foods that provide a balanced diet for the body but also facilitate the conservation of the environment. These are foods grown and processed in a manner that does not harm the environment or compromise its ability to meet the needs of future generations.

How does sustainability affect the food industry? ›

Sustainable foods satisfy human nutritional needs while limiting impacts on the environment. Generally, this means favoring vegetables over meat, locally-produced options over those that are transported from far away, and selecting foods that help enhance the environment during their production.

What is the environmental impact of our food? ›

Food waste produces 3.3 billion tons of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change. If food waste were a country it would be the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases after the US and China. By the year 2050 the world's population will increase 33% to 10 billion.

How will food production change in the future? ›

Transforming agriculture with new approaches, like vertical farming, precision agriculture, and genome editing. Cutting food waste with government policies and new technology. Producing alternative proteins, including plant-based “meat,” cultured meat, insects, and algae.

How does food production contribute to climate change? ›

Food production contributes around 37 per cent of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, showing the huge impact that our diets have on climate change. What's more, animal-based foods produce roughly twice the emissions of plant-based ones.


1. Sowing Sustainability - UCL and Urban Food Systems
(UCL Grand Challenges)
2. You and the Planet: sustainable food production with Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall | The Royal Society
(The Royal Society)
3. Why do we need to change our food system?
(UN Environment Programme)
4. Can we create the "perfect" farm? - Brent Loken
5. The diet that helps fight climate change
6. The Net Zero series: Sustainable Food
(UK Research and Innovation)

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