Initial results from pilot studies have shown how food waste in the supply chain could be “significantly reduced” using smart technology, including the Internet of Things (IoT).
The REAMIT project (Improving Resource Efficiency of Agribusiness supply chains by Minimising waste using big data and IoT sensors) aims to save 1.8Mt of food waste or €3B per year in North-West Europe and prevent 5.5Mt/yr of CO2 emissions.
It involves a consortium of food and technology organisations and universities, including Nottingham Tent University (NTU).
The project is led by Professor Ramakrishnan Ramanathan, University of Essex, UK, with the University of Bedfordshire as the lead partner, and funded by Interreg North-West Europe.
NTU says the project has worked with a range of businesses in the UK and North-West Europe to adapt IoT and Big Data technologies to best fit the needs of the food supply chain management system.
By using technology to continuously monitor and record food quality in real-time, the REAMIT pilot companies are aiming to achieve zero food waste and assure product quality.
Food waste results in several adverse economic, environmental, and social impacts. Saving food from becoming waste will help avoid these impacts.
One organisation involved in the project is Yumchop Foods, which creates authentic African meals. The business model is based on frozen meals being transported and stored in public vending machines where hot food is delivered to customers using built-in microwave ovens.
As part of the project, sensors were placed in the freezers at the production facility of Yumchop Foods to ensure that the required legal temperature thresholds are adhered to, as well as to preserve the quality of the food in preparation for transport.
NTU says the organisation has benefited from alerts that notify them of any temperature increase and allow staff to investigate and take immediate action, which reduces the risk of food waste and subsequent loss of revenue.
The trial has led to a variety of policy recommendations for food producers, manufacturers, distributors and retailers regarding the use of IoT devices and alert systems.
These include introducing data analytics and algorithm-based alerts for ordering stock on demand rather than estimation, using stock inventory collected via IoT devices/smart sensors and analysed with Big Data techniques for enhanced planning and identification of emerging trends;
and improved reactions to stock fluctuations and utilising real-time tracking and traceability to reduce lost consignments, financial costs and greenhouse gas emissions from lost shipments.
It also suggests that food producers and manufacturers work with local authorities on initiatives like food banks and social eating spaces and sign up for redistribution schemes and consumer mobile applications such as FareShare and Too Good To Go.
Other policy recommendations included using non-consumable waste for other manufacturing processes, anaerobic digestion, composting or animal feed, with incentives for food manufacturers to collect food waste data and develop targeted waste minimisation plans.
The REAMIT project has demonstrated that food waste can be saved very cost-effectively using technology.
Commenting on the study, Professor Ramakrishnan Ramanathan, REAMIT project lead, University of Essex, said: “Food waste results in several adverse economic, environmental, and social impacts. Saving food from becoming waste will help avoid these impacts.
“The REAMIT project has demonstrated that food waste can be saved very cost-effectively using technology. Further, the REAMIT project showcased that the power of big data and analytics need not only be applied to support private companies but can be applied for social causes too.”