Food waste occurs throughout the supply chain and has a shocking impact on the climate. According to data from the US Environmental Protection Agency, all of this wasted food generates annual greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to the emissions of 42 coal-fired power plants, and consumes enough water and energy to supply more than 50 million households. From farms to kitchens, a series of technological innovations are helping to reduce waste. We summarized some of the most exciting advancements in food waste prevention technology, from data-driven ordering systems to packaging boxes that send food spoilage alerts to mobile phones.
Better packaging is part of the puzzle to solve food waste. Both Chicago's Hazel Technologies and Philadelphia's AgroFresh have developed next-generation products for packaging fruits and vegetables, which release active ingredients into the storage environment, effectively offsetting the natural release of ethylene and other substances from fruits and vegetables, and extending the time for agricultural products to mature and deteriorate.
AgroFresh also uses its packaging solutions as part of an integrated storage management platform, and also uses aggregated data, machine learning and artificial intelligence to provide information about agricultural damage. Its platform recently helped fruit producer Starr Ranch Growers transition from manual inspection to a data-driven solution.
Machine learning can also be used to reduce food waste at the processing stage, as demonstrated by a study on quality management in the dairy industry. Dairy products are one of the foods most likely to be wasted, largely due to microbial contamination. A recent study published in the Journal of Food Protection analyzed bacterial spoilage data from different dairy processing facilities to determine which processing, equipment, and inspection factors are most likely to cause food spoilage. In-depth data-based analysis like this can help dairy factories and other food processors focus their efforts on improving manufacturing processes to produce the best results.
For the food service industry, the journey to reduce food waste begins with data-driven ordering. Shelf Engine, a Seattle-based startup, generates probabilistic models to predict the demand for SKUs in a given store. As an automated order manager, Shelf Engine provides weekly sales and gross profit reports. According to the company's estimates, it has saved 547 tons of food so far.
Another San Francisco-based startup Therma is dedicated to helping retailers achieve smarter food storage through humidity and temperature sensor systems. The Therma system can be installed in storage areas such as freezers and drying rooms to continuously monitor these environments to ensure stable conditions and automatically create data reports.
When restaurants find surplus food at the end of the day, apps like MealPass can help them work with non-profit organizations to deliver the surplus food to families in need. MealPass can also help restaurant operators apply for tax relief incentives.
For consumers who want to reduce food waste in their homes, a variety of new technologies are becoming more and more. The British startup BlakBear is developing smart food storage solutions for consumers and food processing retailers. The company's smart food packaging box can sense the gas released when the food spoils. The consumer-oriented product also includes a smartphone app that provides analysis and alerts on impending food spoilage.
Too Good to Go in Denmark allows consumers to buy leftover food from restaurants at lower prices. The app expanded to the United States in September and recently announced a new partnership with restaurant chain Le Pain Quotidien.
The above-mentioned new technologies are only part of the entire field of fighting food waste, aiming to avoid food waste. For food wastes that do occur, "upgrading and recycling" can help prevent them from rotting in landfills and release greenhouse gases, and instead give them a valuable second life. For example, ALT TEX is turning food waste into a substitute for polyester textiles. In 2022, we may see the further development of food-saving technology and the upgrading and recycling industry, because more and more companies realize that cost saving can go hand in hand with reducing waste.