Food waste is an enormous global issue. While it’s hard the quantify the amount of food waste, it is estimated by some that an approximate 1.3 billion tons of food are lost or wasted around the world annually. This is enough to feed about half of the world’s population.
Food waste can be broken up in a few different categories, such as during harvest and after-harvest. Some example of food waste during harvest are poor harvesting techniques, crops eaten by rodents or birds, and not harvesting at the optimal time.
After-harvest food waste can be broken up in roughly three categories. The first one is the processing stage in which errors can be made that lead to waste, such as contamination or products that are discarded in quality control.
The second category is the supply chain. Food is often wasted because of poor storage, such as the drying out of food or food being damaged because of bruising. Other types of waste in the supply chain include spillage due to bad packaging and poor visibility of stock levels required in shops.
The third and last category is post-consumer food waste, which is food waste that occurs after the end consumer has bought the food. This food waste includes poor food preparation technique, confusion over ‘use by’ and ‘best before’ dates, and not storing food in the right manner.
Especially in the latter two categories of supply chain and post-consumer food waste, the waste can be reduced drastically by utilizing UCOT’s world first supply chain ecosystem. UCOT is built with the latest narrowband-IoT and blockchain technologies and provides total traceability of the supply chain in real time.
UCOT starts with a small narrowband-IoT sensor which can be embedded in a product’s packaging, such as a box, pallet or container. The sensor has its own battery life, can communicate in real-time with the internet, and commits the gathered information into a secure blockchain database.
The gathered information includes, but is not limited to:
· GPS data to trace and map out the geographical journey.
· Temperature, humidity, exposure to sunlight, pressure and other environmental conditions that may impact the quality of food.
· Whether the packaging has been opened or tampered with.
There are multiple ways in which UCOT’s technology can help reduce food waste. Let’s take a look at them below.
Resolving issues around environmental conditions in real time
Quality of food depends a lot on the manner in which it is stored and transported. Normally this information is accessed by checking a data logger after the food has been stored or transported. While this will help with the detection of spoilt food, the issue is that the information is only accessed after the spoilage has already occurred, at which stage it’s too late to intervene and resolve the issue.
With UCOT’s technology, all players in the supply chain have complete visibility of the supply chain in real time. They can see exactly at what temperature and what humidity the food is kept and will also receive alerts if these go outside pre-set parameters. This enables them to proactively solve an issue before it affects the food quality.
Detection of theft and tampering in real time
UCOT’s narrowband-IoT sensor can also detect whether the packaging of food has been opened or tampered with. Some common scenarios include:
· Rodents or birds are eating through the packaging.
· Someone tampers with the packaging, either to steal food or to replace it with an inferior product.
· Someone accidentally left the door of a freezer open.
When the food producer gets notified of these incidents in real time, they can proactively raise the issue with the parties handling the food at that moment. They can then take action to ensure that the matter gets resolved before the issue gets out of hand.
Visibility of stock levels leads to less retail waste
As the narrowband-IoT sensors embedded in the packaging report back in real time, retailers, warehouses and distribution centers have constant visibility of their stock levels. This allows them to arrange delivery schedules based on the actual needs of a retailer rather than a pre-set schedule that doesn’t incorporate real-time information.
When a certain store has plenty of stock of a certain food item, the food that was scheduled to be shipped to that store can be sent to another store that’s running low on that particular stock instead. This will reduce food waste in some stores and instead maximize food sales in other stores where there would otherwise have been a shortage of food.
Identifying and selling of riper food ahead of immature food
Retailers currently sell fresh food based on the date they received the food, irrespective of the ripeness of the food. This is simply because they don’t have access to information about ripeness or immatureness. UCOT’s technology, however, can provide retailers with exactly that information in real time.
UCOT’s narrowband-IoT sensors can also sense emissions of gases, such as nitric oxide and ethylene. Research has shown that ripeness of, for instance, strawberries and avocados can be ascertained based on the high or low levels of these gases. By making this information available to them, retailers are empowered to sell the riper food in store first, which will reduce the waste of food drastically.
More efficient recalls of affected food
Food producers and retailers currently lack complete oversight of the provenance of food items. This becomes a big issue when a certain food item is subject to a recall. One example is ground beef affected by the e-Coli bacteria, which can lead to food poisoning. Currently, these food items are often disposed of in bulk as it can’t be tracked where the affected food items originated from.
With UCOT’s technology food producers and retailers have full traceability of the supply chain. When there is an issue with a certain food item, it can be traced back to where the food item was produced/grown/processed. This means that if an issue is traced back to, for example, a farm in Queensland — Australia, only the produce from that farm needs to be recalled and disposed of. This then becomes a relatively minor task as there is complete visibility of where their produce was sent and sold.
Utilizing UCOT’s technology will not only help reduce the amount of food that needs to be recalled and destroyed, it will also save the reputation of that particular food item’s industry. These days recalls can affect the reputation of a particular industry for months, which only leads to more food waste as that food isn’t sold.
Better interpretation of ‘use by’ and ‘best before’ dates
From a post-consumer food waste perspective, there is a lot of misunderstanding around the terms ‘use by’ and ‘best before’. This leads to a tremendous amount of food waste as consumers often throw away food that’s actually perfectly safe to eat.
This amount of food waste can be reduced by UCOT’s technology in two different ways. The first is the easiest and is simply allowing customers to scan a product’s packaging, which takes them to an app where they can see information about that food item. This information can include where that food was grown or processed, but more importantly if it’s still safe to eat. This will take away the consumer’s uncertainty around expiry dates and lead to less food waste.
The second way in which UCOT will be able to reduce food waste at the post-consumer level is a more aspirational and future vision rather than present reality, but one that nonetheless needs to be thought of. Food producers currently have to put a ‘best before’ or ‘use by’ date on the packaging based on maximum safety standards. However, this makes it impossible to extend the expiry dates based on the actual conditions of the food.
Instead of having set expiry or ‘best before’ dates, these dates can potentially be determined to depend on the way in which the food has been stored and transported, such as the temperature in which the food items have been kept. The expiry dates can then be made available to consumers after they scan the products. This will obviously require a lot of academic research and will also involve parties as varied as food scientists, biologists, and regulatory authorities, but it’s never too early to start looking at minimizing food waste for future generations.
Food waste is a big environmental issue for our generation and future generations. With the world’s population growing rapidly, expected to reach almost 10 billion by 2050, we need to ensure that food waste is minimized so that we have enough food to sustain the world’s population in the coming decennia and centuries.
UCOT’s technology provides full traceability of food’s provenance and is an easy to implement and quick way of reducing food waste. It helps with reducing food waste due to storage and shipment in adverse environmental conditions, detects theft and tampering with food, empowers retailers to have visibility of their stock levels and which food is riper than others and makes understanding of expiry dates by the end consumer easier.