Have you heard the one about the Stellenbosch food scientist who made hand sanitiser with, well, a few loaves of bread? Well, we couldn’t believe it at first, but a food scientist, dr. Stefan Hayward, literally made 18 litres of alcohol-based sanitiser from stale breadcrumbs in an in-house fermentation tank.
The post-doctoral researcher in the department of food science at Stellenbosch University proved that if you have the right equipment and some ingenuity you can do almost anything in times of crisis. After a weeklong process, Hayward and his colleagues were able to bottle the end product hours before Mzansi went into its covid-19 lockdown.
“It smells just a little bit like toast,” said Hayward.
Normally they wouldn’t be fiddling with stale bread at the office. Their actual job is to focus on ways to reduce food waste, and then to put these by-products to use.
Hayward said, “Waste implies a need to discard something which has become useless and needs to be disposed of. We see waste products and the tendency to produce too much food not as a problem, but as raw ingredients or by-products that can provide the impetus to invent new ways of reducing, reusing and recycling.”
The idea for their own hand sanitiser was born when pres. Cyril Ramaphosa announced the lockdown to help curb further spread of the new coronavirus. “We were talking about alternative uses for some of the everyday items we often discard, bread being one of them,” remembers Hayward about his chat with Dr. Timo Tait, another post-doctoral researcher, and MSc food science student Sebastian Orth.
One thing led to another, and they decided to try and produce bio-ethanol from bread with which to make hand sanitiser. Why bread? “Bread is composed of 40% starch which can be used as an excellent carbohydrate source during the production of bio-ethanol via fermentation,” said Hayward.
They knew that they’d have no problem finding their main ingredient because unsold bread past its sell-by date is generally returned to distribution centres from where it is discarded as waste, or at best used as animal feed.
They were able to obtain dried bread crumbs from one of their industry partners, Innovative Research Solutions (IRS). IRS, in turn, is currently helping a major food producer make something worthwhile out of the large amounts of bread returned daily to its distribution centres. The idea is to convert this waste stream into functional ingredients that can be put to new use.