The need to feed an ever-increasing world population makes it obligatory to reduce the millions of tons of avoidable perishable waste along the food supply chain. A considerable share of these losses is caused by non-optimal cold chain processes and management.
Roughly one-third of global fresh fruits and vegetables are thrown away because their quality has dropped below an acceptance limit. A high share of these losses is related to non-optimized handling during supply chain processes. ‘Shelf life’ is a common term that relates to the number of days that a food product has left to be of ‘acceptable quality’ and safe to consume. The shelf life depends on the optimal preserving and transportation conditions of the foods. Variations in food quality and the remaining shelf life are calculated automatically from accumulated environmental condition data, such as temperature. The current quality state of packed food is often hard to measure and is not visible from the outside. For example, a ‘red’ tomato might last for two more weeks in good condition or it might change to an unacceptable color and texture the next day.
The intelligent food logistic
Correct temperature management is a basic requirement that is often not met in practice. Product packing is often not optimized with regard to airflow and thus hinders the efficient cooling of the product. Furthermore, it should be verified whether the shelf life of the product could be extended by adequate post-harvest treatments.
Losses of shelf life can be found in any part of the chain, especially with regard to temperature management:
- Farmers do not pre-cool after harvest; the ‘cut-to-cool’ time is recognized as being very important for many commodities, but is normally not monitored effectively.
- The actual temperature conditions during transport and storage often do not meet the optimal product-specific values.
- Customers keep fresh products for hours in the warm boot of their car or set the temperature of their fridge to achieve minimal power consumption, thus ignoring the recommended storage temperatures.
Losses during distribution vary between 4% and 15% for fresh fruit and vegetables, meat and fish depending on the place and product group.
The basic idea behind of how the amount of food losses can be reduced by intelligent food logistics, is rather simple. Information about shelf life losses based on monitored environmental data, such as temperature, should be used to adjust transport and chain processes, as long as it is still possible to take action before the food quality drops below an acceptance threshold. Items in a critical state can be assigned to shorter transport routes to prevent losses and to provide consistent quality to customers. Further contributions can focus on the technical solutions, such as the wireless sensor and communication system for remote quality supervision, gas sensors to detect ethylene as an indicator of unwanted ripening and volatile components to indicate mould infections.
However, the implementation of this concept requires several elaborate steps and the cooperation of scientists from different fields.
For more info and the entire article click here http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4006167/