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IoT in the food supply chain: Inviting tech to the holiday feast

The holiday season is upon us and for many people that means preparing and indulging in festive feasts. However, did you know that 40% of food in the United States today goes uneaten? According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, “reducing food losses by just 15% would be enough food to feed more than 25 million Americans every year at a time when one in six Americans lack a secure supply of food to their tables.” Worldwide, one-third of the world’s food — some 1.3 billion tons — is lost or wasted every year, according to the United Nations Environment Program. The Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations estimates that just one-quarter of all wasted food could feed the 795 million undernourished people around the world who suffer from hunger.

There are many causes of food waste, but equally as many ideas and innovations that can help growers, shippers, retailers and consumers reduce waste. And technology is rising to the challenge. “Food tech,” combined with IoT-enabled digital supply networks (DSN), and smart farming all have a role to play. Here is a taste of some technological approaches to reducing waste and spoilage in the food supply chain that can help reduce world hunger and better the environment.

Innovative approaches in technology

Technology can play a big role in making food last longer, get better distributed to those in need, be farmed smarter and improve the logistics of moving from farm to table. For example, here are some solutions:

BluApple is a device (that looks like a blue apple) that, when placed in a refrigerator, lowers the level of ethylene gas surrounding fruits and vegetables, slowing their maturation and greatly reducing spoilage. And BluWrap uses oxygen management techniques to create and maintain an all-natural controlled atmosphere environment that extends the shelf life of perishable proteins. Then there’s Apeel, a plant-derived innovation developed by Apeel Sciences to maintain produce quality and freshness and reduce waste. Made from materials found in every bite of fruit, Apeel serves as an invisible, edible barrier that slows down the rate of water loss and oxidation, keeping produce fresh for two or three times longer, without requiring the use of refrigeration.

LeanPath and Winnow Systems both offer food waste prevention to commercial kitchens, helping kitchen staff track what food is being thrown away and make informed decisions that not only reduce the amount of food that goes wasted, but also the kitchens’ overall food costs.

Copia uses its extensive food waste reduction dashboard to allow businesses to safely donate their excess food, access enhanced tax deductions and receive powerful data to inform food purchasing decisions.

Farming with technology

Freight Farms is selling a hydroponic farm in a 40-foot container. Leafy Green Machine and its supporting Farmhand Connect app offer a closed-loop hydroponic system within a shipping container outfitted with climate-control technology and efficient growing equipment. The app allows growers to remotely track their farm’s climate conditions and control its humidity, temperature, carbon dioxide, and nutrient and pH levels to maximize its efficiency and production, thereby minimizing waste.

CropMetrics is a precision agriculture organization focused on ultra-modern agronomic systems while specializing in the management of precision irrigation. Products and services include variable rate irrigation (VRI) optimization, soil moisture probes, virtual optimizer Pro (the company’s analytics system) and so on. VRI optimization maximizes profitability on irrigated crop fields with topography or soil variability, improves yields and increases water use efficiency.

PrecisionHawk is an organization that uses drones and sensors for imaging, mapping and surveying of agricultural land. These drones perform in-flight monitoring and observations. The farmers enter the details of what field to survey and select an altitude or ground resolution. Drone data gives insights regarding plant health indices, plant counting and yield prediction, plant height measurement, canopy cover mapping, field water ponding mapping, scouting reports, stockpile measuring, chlorophyll measurement, nitrogen content in wheat, drainage mapping, weed pressure mapping and so on.

The food supply chain

For perishable food, cold chain management systems like BT9 Xsense tag pallets and/or product packaging with wireless sensors can help to improve the shelf-life of packaged food products and can help better control and monitor food quality throughout the distribution chain, reducing the amount of food wasted during transportation and in retail.

How customers buy food is changing and the food value chain is evolving into a highly dynamic and agile supply chain that uses cutting-edge digital and analytics systems to enable real-time purchasing, routing and pricing decisions. In a perspective article about the fresh food supply chain, titled “The Future of Fresh Food,” Deloitte recommends developing a highly dynamic and agile supply chain that uses cutting-edge digital and analytics systems to enable real-time purchasing, routing and pricing decisions. This creates a real connectivity throughout your food value chain ecosystem via digital supply network and can generate significant value, i.e., increased freshness to reduce waste and increase sales.

And if you want to know more practical technologies and actions that food retailers can take to reduce waste in the food supply chain, ReFed offers a “Retail Food Waste Action Guide.” This guide offers activity on the three fronts of prevention, recovery and recycling, recommending a top-down food waste reduction culture that flows from the executive suite to store employees and permeates every department in support of a defined strategy and goals.

As someone who regularly talks about the human impact of IoT and all things connected, I think the story of technology intervention to prevent food waste gives hope that more food can be preserved around the world to feed more people and reduce the environmental impact of food waste.

All IoT Agenda network contributors are responsible for the content and accuracy of their posts. Opinions are of the writers and do not necessarily convey the thoughts of IoT Agenda.

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