Food Innovators

Thanks for your interest in Food Innovators:

The team proposes to develop a compact, easy-to-use, self-automated food-preserving machine for restaurants. Such a system would then allow unused food to go to those who experience food insecurity. The National Science Foundation (NSF), in partnership with the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC), named the team as one of the 10 finalists in the second annual Community College Innovation Challenge (CCIC) in 2016.

The team members – Ahmed Shawhatti, Denis Sinani, Issamar Almaraz, Alexis Fitz Owens Tressler and Victoria Peruski – worked under the supervision of Dr. Hassan Nameghi.


The team has developed their first prototype called Proserve 1.0. Please watch the prototype here.


Entry Title: Rescue Restaurant Food Waste to Address Hunger.

The Problem: An increase in population would lead to an increased food demand. Unfortunately, with the effects of extreme climate change, sustainable agriculture cannot meet this increasing food demand. Bringing food to our tables expends up to 10% of energy, 50% of land, and 80% of freshwater in US (NRDC, 2012). However, 40% of food in the US goes uneaten. In particular, restaurants account for 37% of food waste. On the other hand, 14% of Americans are food insecure. Therefore, why don’t we rescue restaurant food waste to address hunger, and save millions of barrels of oil, gallons of water, and acres of land. Literature research suggests that restaurants do not practice food recovery because of their concern about food safety. However, the 1996 Bill Emerson Food Donation Act protects food donors against liabilities where donations are made in good faith. In addition, restaurants can receive tax deduction incentives on donated foods (1976 Tax Reform Act). To further investigate the problem, our team conducted a survey among 20 local restaurants and a few urban farms. Moreover, we volunteered in local food banks and churches (about 80 hours) to closely observe the food donation process. Our research results suggested that 1) Urban Farming is a seasonal solution; 2) foodbanks are frequently challenged with the lack of food donation; 3) restaurants are highly regulated and there is no technology for quick food preservation and labelling. Therefore, the problem was identified as “Currently, there is a lack of method for preserving food in a fast and convenient manner”.

The Solution: Our solution is to make a compact, easy-to-use, and self-automated food preserving machine for restaurants to efficiently preserve the extra food for donation. This is an innovative solution as the technology does not exist at this moment. Current food preserving technologies are canning, freezing, smoking, and drying. Canning is not an efficient method due to the intense labor work. Freezing requires a cooler or a freezer for transporting foods from restaurants to foodbanks. In addition, frozen foods are suggested to be consumed within a few days. Smoking and drying are only applied to specific food types. In addition, there is no convenient technology in restaurants for food labeling and quality control. To develop a viable solution, we followed the Engineering Design Process. We started with a patent search for many different types of equipment for preserving food. Then, the team brainstormed various ways to build such a device using design diagrams, outlines, and customer interviews. The design specification was refined for preserving soup and produce (the most common waste items). Advanced mechanical and electrical control systems were used to accommodate automatic-cleaning, labeling, food preparation, and customized food functions. Also, a built-in function records preserved food, and their dates and labels for food regulation and tax incentive reporting. The machine is equipped with safety features such as auto-shut-off, auto-lock, and warning functions. To make this a reality, we plan to patent this idea, apply for FDA approval, and pitch our idea to food donors.

Impacts and Benefits: If the compact food preserving machine is commonly used in restaurants, it will have countless benefits in our society. It will reduce the substantial food waste in restaurants, which will result in saving significant energy, water, and land. According to NRDC, saving one hamburger is equivalent to the water of a 90-minute shower. This is overwhelming considering 40% of food in the Unites States is thrown away. On the other hand, this food can be donated to the 14% of food insecure households. Without food, people could not dream of accomplishing their ambitious goals. Feeding hunger will reduce social crime and anxiety as well. In particular, hunger can have devastating effects to children in crucial physiological development. An intended impact is to transform the extra restaurant’s food to children where they can achieve better test scores and improve their future. Furthermore, this will reduce the staggering 80 billion pounds of food waste in landfills. Decreasing food waste will help the environment by reducing food production, food disposal, transportation, and released methane gas from landfills. Additionally, the science and technology will benefit from the innovation of a compact food preserving machine, which uses electrical and mechanical systems to perform various functions. Food is an essential element to national security. Saving food will enable us to achieve a more sustainable nation. The machine’s built-in function records properties of donated food in a database. This function can be used to measure the impact and benefits of our product.

Role of the Community/Industry Partner: Our community partners generously helped us find our problem and develop a proper solution. We have worked with Forgotten Harvest Foodbank, St Christine Christian Church, and Keep Growing Detroit Urban Farm. Volunteering at these food donation centers assisted us in understanding the donation gathering and distribution process. Also, by collaborating with some local restaurants, we were able to identify various issues in preserving extra food, labeling, and recording. Restaurants expressed their interest in donating leftover items using a compact food preserving machine. We were fortunate enough to collaborate with Food Donation Connection (FDC) which connects 16,000 restaurants with 9,000 foodbanks throughout the US, UK, Canada, and Australia. FDC’s Mission correlates with our intended objective to combat food waste in restaurants. FDC showed interest in our solution. The current process developed by FDC relies on food that must be frozen, transported and consumed within a few days. Also, the restaurant donation process requires temperature-time tables and approved containers for donation. This process has limited donation capacities as the restaurants need to comply with these standards. FDC suggested that 1) our machine can be used to address quick preservation for fresh produce in farm markets 2) It is suitable for thousands of small restaurants where food surplus is in small quantities and cannot be handled through the current process. We also learned from FDC that labor and space are key constituents in the restaurants.