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New research center to save fries from destruction

VEG-i-TEC is a “living lab” of Ghent University, which focuses on the vegetable and potato processing industry. The living lab studies – whether or not at the request of companies – innovations that make the sector more sustainable and circular. After all, a lot of water, energy and nutrition is lost during the processing of vegetables and potatoes. Scientists from Ghent University, together with partners Flanders’ FOOD, Howest, VITO and Vlakwa, are therefore reviewing the processing process from A to Z in the research center VEG-i-TEC.

Dying fries

One of the issues that will receive a lot of attention in VEG-i-TEC in the near future is the increasing water scarcity. “Our fries are in danger of extinction,” says Imca Sampers. “It has everything to do with water scarcity. The potato varieties that are most commonly grown here are not used to the dry seasons that we have experienced in recent years. The potatoes are getting smaller while we just want nice long fries.”

Researchers from Ghent University, together with partners Flanders’ FOOD, Howest, VITO and Vlakwa, are looking for solutions by studying other varieties and processing processes. “Water scarcity not only threatens fries, but is one of the biggest challenges of the entire West Flemish and European food industry. Water management is therefore high on the wish list of the sector,” says Sampers.

Less waste

Water scarcity is by no means the only thing companies turn to VEG-i-TEC for. Not only is a lot of water lost during the production processes of vegetables and potatoes, many vegetables themselves also end up in the waste bin. “Just think of potato chips that are too small to make french fries,” says Sampers. “However, they are packed with proteins. Colorants are then extracted from the pulp of the fruit industry. This gives the by-products a second life as food, in cosmetics, in crop protection or in textiles.”

The project is also interesting for agriculture. “We work with their raw materials,” says Sampers. “It is interesting for farmers to get feedback if we encounter problems with processing. They can use our comments to better select the crops. But the knowledge we gain here for the processing industry, such as the reuse of water, is equally interesting for growers.”

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