Digitisation will play a vital role in mitigating the environmental impacts of the food system

Embracing technology as part of the drive to halve food loss and waste is a key factor in keeping the food system within environmental limits and ensuring the global population can be sustainably fed by 2050, according to a study released recently.

As the research clearly states, the food system is a major contributor to several environmental impacts, including climate change. But without deploying significant technological changes as part of an overall strategy to mitigate these impacts, the effects could increase by 50 to 90 per cent as a result of factors, including increasing population levels.

Addressing the issue of food waste is one way that the environmental impacts can be reduced. With more than a third of all produce either lost before sale or wasted by households, we need to rethink our entire relationship with food, which must be driven from the top. While changing consumer education and expectation is essential, as is the drive to increase biodiversity, it will be within the food supply chain that these changes come together.

Digitisation is key to driving these systemic changes and reducing waste at each stage of the supply chain. From production to processing and from the retailer to the consumer’s home, it is vital to manage temperatures throughout the entire cold chain to maintain product integrity. Refrigeration has a vital role to play in extending the shelf-life of food, and it is estimated that by extending the shelf-life of a product by just one day could equate to a 5% reduction in avoidable waste. Effective chilling can not only increase shelf-life, but also improve the quality and aesthetic of the product by maintaining flavour, colour and texture. This can lead to an improved customer experience, avoiding products being wasted due to them looking unpleasant and being disregarded by retailers and customers.

Utilising IoT technology to leverage real-time machine data will enable enhanced visibility and performance of refrigeration estates, which can identify opportunities for automation, critical prevention and where necessary – corrective action.

Critically, this is currently being achieved in some retail environments by layering digitisation over existing infrastructure. Clearly it is not feasible for retailers to rip and replace control infrastructure across hundreds or thousands of locations – this would be cost prohibitive. Instead, by leveraging real-time edge-based processing to enable immediate change and drive predictive regimes, IoT capacity can be achieved at pace with minimal downtime and without the need for significant capital investment.

This is an innovative and pragmatic method of using technology to drive down food waste, but in order for it to have the desired impact across the entire cold chain, a joined-up approach to managing temperature controlled environments is essential. Adopting effective and efficient cooling strategies throughout the cold chain will not only ensure the highest levels of safety and quality of the end product, but also decrease waste and energy consumption considerably.

A fundamental change to the food chain is not an overnight process, but embracing technology as part of an overall strategy to address the wastage endemic is a colossal step in the right direction towards delivering essential change in global food production and consumption.

Jason Kay, CCO, IMS Evolve (Pictured)

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