Tara McHugh, center director for USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS), Washington, D.C., investigated ways to take food processing waste and turn it into value-added products, such as fruit bars, vegetable crisps and even edible films made from produce.

“A good deal of waste is generated in the [food processing] stage,” says McHugh. “That’s one of the reasons it’s important to conduct this research.”

At the ARS Albany Center’s Healthy Processed Foods Research Unit, McHugh has created multiple products to recover that waste and turn it into something valuable.

For instance, McHugh invented a technology to make edible films out of pureed fruits and vegetables that might go uneaten. Not only do these films look, smell and taste appealing, but they also protect food against spoilage and microbes. Her patented films are exclusively licensed and sold by NewGem Foods, Fife, Wash., in products such as glaze sheets for ham and alternatives to sushi roll nori (seaweed).

McHugh’s research highlights the importance of technology transfer, a process in which research labs and universities develop technologies that are later used in commercial products.

“In some cases, ARS develops the technology first and then finds a commercial partner,” McHugh says. “In other cases, we start with a commercial partner and work together to develop and commercialize the technology.”