Food Waste Solution Makes Work for Happy Microbes

Food Waste Solution Makes Work for Happy Microbes

Longtime readers of this newsletter will know that we at DFC love bacteria – specifically those found in the human microbiome. These little guys not only improve our health, but generally astound scientists the longer they look at them!

Happy bacteria have long been known to have a beneficial effect on human digestion. But new research is pointing to a similar good influence on the other end of the food chain. A team out of UC Riverside has determined that fermented food waste when applied as fertilizer to food crops, can boost the crops’ resistance to pathogens and reduce their carbon emissions. This has the two-fold benefit of increasing yields and finding a use for the pernicious problem of food waste.

“[The team] examined the byproducts from two kinds of waste that is readily available in Southern California: beer mash — a byproduct of beer production — and mixed food waste discarded by grocery stores.

Both types of waste were fermented by River Road Research and then added to the irrigation system watering citrus plants in a greenhouse. Within 24 hours, the average population of beneficial bacteria were two to three orders of magnitude greater than in plants that did not receive the treatments, and this trend continued each time the researchers added treatments.

UCR environmental scientist Samantha Ying and her team then studied the carbon dynamics and nutrients including nitrogen in the soil of the treated crops. The analysis showed a spike in the amount of carbon in irrigation water after being treated with waste products, followed by a sharp decrease, suggesting the beneficial bacteria used the available carbon to replicate.”

Additionally, the team determined that the food waste slurry had no salmonella or other harmful bacteria in the mix, indicating the chance for food-borne illness using this type of fertilizer is low.

The team recently published its findings and is enthused at the possibility of creating a sustainable, closed system for food production. I’m a fan too, but I really enjoy the fact those wee cheerful bacteria are going to have a field day in the fields, as well as in our guts!