These high-tech sensors track exactly how fresh our produce is to stop wasting food
How often have you gone to a grocery store, picked out what seems to be a fresh pint of blueberries, and opened the refrigerator door the next day to find half of them covered in mold? If your answer is “all the time,” you’re not alone. Those best-by dates that give us such blind confidence in the shelf life of our produce are nothing more than “a soft assurance,” says Peter Mehring, CEO of Zest Labs, a Silicon Valley-based tech company dedicated to preserving produce and grocery product quality along the supply chain.
Through its new Zest Fresh tool, Zest Labs is helping food retailers better identify best-by dates to reduce the food wasted in transit or tossed after rotting unsuspected in fridges. Zest Fresh, Mehring tells, uses real-time, sensor-based tracking to consistently monitor the freshness of a product, from time of harvest to when it hits retail shelves. Given that in the U.S. around $165 billion worth of food, or 40% of the total produced, is thrown out into landfills each year–with losses related to inconsistent freshness and sell-by dates accounting for 33% of that.
For retailers and farmers, implementing Zest Fresh technology is simple: all that’s required is installing sensors, which detect temperature, moisture, and location, on the produce pallets assembled in the fields before distribution, and connecting the sensors to the Zest Fresh cloud, which disseminates data to the various players along the supply chain. Most retailers, when they source produce from growers, expect it to arrive from the distribution center with 10 days of freshness remaining. In a series of baseline studies conducted at retailers throughout the country, Mehring found that only 30% of products actually arrived with that target freshness.
The way Zest Fresh is able to deliver on this improvement, Mehring says, is because it’s the first technology to actually develop a reliable freshness metric. Previously, “best-by” dates were determined by a general assumption of freshness, based on product type, distance traveled, and eyeballing. The ZIPR code–which stands for Zest Intelligent Pallet Routing and was developed by Zest Labs to facilitate the Zest Fresh tool–delivers a freshness metric based on the specific conditions of each item, which allows workers along the supply chain to adjust their decisions so the produce at the store is the most fresh.
Zest Fresh uses a flexible payment model. Retailers and farmers pay Zest Labs 10% of the value of the waste they avoid by using the platform.
When it comes to reducing supply-chain and retail food waste in the industry, this data-driven approach, Mehring hopes, will be a game changer. Clarifying and backing up best-by dates could be a significant factor in reducing unnecessary food waste.
Source: Fast Company
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