Embracing technology to alleviate the environmental effects of the food system

According to a study published recently in the Nature Research Journal, in order to guarantee that the world’s population can be sustainably fed by 2050 and ensure that the food system is contained within environmental limits, adopting innovative technology is essential.

The research identifies the food system as a significant contributor to multiple environmental impacts, with climate change arguably being the most crucial. However, without a strategy to combat these effects, that also embraces vital technological changes, the impacts could rise by up to 90 per cent.

One significant method to reduce the environmental impacts of the food system is to address the problem of food waste. Over one third of all food produce is either lost prior to sale or thrown away by consumers. Therefore, as part of the drive to halve food loss and waste by 2050, our entire relationship with food needs to be addressed and this can only be driven from the top. While improving education and expectation for consumers is imperative, as is the focus on increasing biodiversity, we will ultimately see these changes come together within the food supply chain.

The solution to delivering these systemic changes and lowering levels of waste at every stage of the supply chain is by embracing digitisation and using IoT technologies to provide real time insights and visibility into machine performance at a granular and actionable level. It is vital to effectively manage temperatures at each point throughout the entire cold chain to maintain product integrity; from the production stage to processing, to the retailer and through to the consumer’s home. Refrigeration has an essential part to play in prolonging produce shelf-life, and it is estimated that by increasing the shelf-life of a product by one day alone could result in avoidable waste being reduced by 5%.

With optimised temperature control through automation, critical prevention and automated corrective action, not only can shelf-life be extended, but the quality and aesthetic of the product can be enhanced by preserving flavour, colour and texture. This can ultimately improve the customer experience, whilst also avoiding unpleasant looking products being discarded by both retailers and customers.

Crucially, these outcomes are being realised in some retail environments by layering digitisation over existing infrastructure. For retailers, it is simply not financially viable to rip and replace costly control infrastructure across potentially thousands of locations. Instead, by leveraging real-time data and connecting, mapping and integrating this data through edge-based processing to deliver dynamic monitoring and enable automations, IoT capacity can be achieved at pace with minimal downtime and without the need for significant capital investment.

This is an innovative and pragmatic approach to utilising technology to reduce the levels of food waste, but to achieve its full potential across the cold chain, a collaborative strategy towards managing temperature controlled environments is crucial. Deploying effective and efficient cooling strategies throughout the cold chain can deliver numerous business benefits including ensuring the highest levels of safety and quality of the end product, and also drastically lowering levels of waste at each stage, including in the home of the consumer.

Delivering these essential changes in global food consumption and production is not a quick fix, but by embracing technology as part of a complete strategy throughout the food chain, huge progress will be made towards addressing the wastage endemic and ensuring that the food system stays within environmental limits.