According to the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) reports, 1.6 billion tons of food is wasted globally every year. If we have to put this number into perspective: 1.6 billion tons is the same weight as 4,384 Empire State Buildings. That’s right! The United Nations has focused on halving the per capita global food waste as a part of its Sustainable Development Goals (SDG).
From farm to factory to fork, close to 1.3 billion tons and 1 trillion USD worth of food products end up being wasted across the globe each year. According to FAO survey, roughly a third of all food products end up discarded, constituting a tremendous waste of natural resources, labor and capital, and contributing to increasing levels of greenhouse gas emissions. Food wastage happens at multiple junctures throughout the food ecosystem, right from cases of over production at farms to improper handling of goods during transit and retail chains being unable to match demand and supply.
While food technology primarily focuses on creating easy user experiences, companies are also investing their energies in deploying smart solutions to reduce widespread food wastage. A simple example includes apps and platforms that help people plan their meals and diets and manage and control grocery portions that they purchase, thereby eliminating waste. This is at the consumer level; however, there are many applications and technologies from the food production level that have been developed to detect and reduce food waste across the farm to fork journey.
Early detection of wastage
One of the biggest contributors to food wastage is contamination – either at the farm, during transportation or on the shelves of supermarkets. Food products have chances of being contaminated at any juncture in the production line. The Boston Consultancy Group (BCG) states that the amount of food waste generated in the supply chain will rise 1.9% from 2015 to 2030. Product quality is best ensured when food manufacturing facilities implement a sophisticated, OSHA compliant, multi-tiered food safety concept in which products are inspected at several critical control points along the production line. By integrating advanced detection technology at strategic processing junctures, physical contaminants can be identified and rejected at the source. This provides precise data about tracing contaminants and enables companies to invest apt resources.
Data to determine shelf life
There is considerable variation in shelf life, especially of perishable products. Not only that but it also varies from batch to batch. The application of Artificial Intelligence and machine learning capabilities can help manufacturers consider all the different variables at all stages of the farm-to-fork supply chain to formulate a dynamic shelf life for each product and source them Just-in-Time.
For example, several supermarkets across the world have started installing smart shelves. These come with in-built detectors that automatically reduce good prices as their expiry dates come closer. We could soon see this technology in our homes, with smart fridges alerting consumers about the perishable’s use-by dates.
Using IoT to augment supply chain
The Internet of Things (IoT) can also support and improve supply chain efficiencies. Based on interconnected and interrelated systems and processes, IoT allows each aspect of the food industry to have access to key data around the supply, production and management of produce that can help reduce the amount of waste created. For example, specific equipment needs to be set up for a bad batch of mangoes with a high percentage of rotting. It would also need to be fine-tuned to ensure utmost extraction from the apples.
Having this ability to share data through IoT can help reduce waste from a manufacturer and consumer standpoint. Retailers can leverage real-time data from stores to showcase when a particular product was harvested or picked and use this to project a ‘best before date’, keeping consumer safety and quality in mind.
Without the right technology, any efforts by manufacturers to reduce food waste will be in vain. Future-ready businesses are already recognizing this, using the information and tools available to them, along with the entire breadth of the wider supply chain, to make the right choices to maximize output and minimize wastage. This collective effort by the food industry signifies an innovative approach to food wastage across the globe which is one of the most difficult challenges that we all face today.
Author - Abilash Krishnaswamy, vice president – Products, Fulcrum Digital, a leading business platform and digital engineering company.