The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) defines food loss and food waste as “the decrease in quantity or quality of food along the food supply chain.” According to FAO, food loss occurs along the food supply chain from harvest up to the retail level, while food waste comes into play at the retail and consumption levels. This distinction is critical to understanding how targeted solutions can be used to reduce the staggering annual levels of food loss and food waste.
A recent State of Food and Agriculture FAO report claims 14% of the world’s food can be defined as lost. As of 2019, North America and Europe are the second-most wasteful areas, with 15.7% of the region’s food being lost. The report identifies five key areas where this is happening: at the farm, in storage, in transit, in the shop, and in the home.
Significant food loss can be attributed to inadequate storage, which comes as a result of poor temperature control and poor timing decisions in the supply chain, both of which will drastically reduce shelf life. Transit also plays a significant role, as adequate infrastructure and efficient trade logistics are necessary to minimize food loss. In fact, the majority of food lost in transit is attributed to poorly maintained facilities, technical malfunction and human error.
Once food actually arrives on the shelf, there are still significant issues. Supermarkets frequently store goods incorrectly, meaning a large portion of food will never make it to a consumer’s house. Fortunately, intelligent solutions are being widely adopted to meet the challenge of reducing global food loss and waste.
In the era of connectivity, Internet of Things (IoT) solutions are being deployed throughout the supply chain to actively monitor a key factor to food loss and waste: temperature fluctuations. According to the above FAO report, fruits and vegetables account for 21.6% of the total food lost, and roots, tubers and oil-bearing crops account for 25.3%. It’s estimated that just under half (46.9%) of these instances can be mitigated through temperature monitoring solutions. Through the deployment of a low-power and long range (LoRa) IoT solution, real-time temperature monitoring can occur at different levels in the supply chain.
IoT deployments leveraging LoRa devices and the LoRaWAN open protocol provide grocers and supply chain companies with a versatile and scalable solution to combat temperature control issues. A typical deployment consists of an array of sensors connected to an intelligent network. Sensors send information, such as temperature data, to a LoRaWAN-based gateway and the information is then sent to a network server, and routed towards application servers or Cloud IoT services, where it is processed. Finally, the information will be sent to an end user’s smart device or computer.
When the technology is applied towards temperature management, an employee can be notified in real time of a temperature fluctuation and address the fluctuation as needed. When hooked up to an automated system, the sensors can notify the network of the fluctuation and automatically address the fluctuation to preserve the quality of food. The long range and automated capabilities of this type of IoT solution are often utilized by shipping containers and transport vehicles, where it is difficult for an employee to manually check and adjust the temperature.
Smart Monitoring In Action
In 2017, Axino Solutions identified temperature management as a key issue within the industry and set out to develop a continuous temperature monitoring system and targeted cold chain refrigeration. In collaboration with the Institute of Applied Sciences and the Institute for Food and Innovation at the Zurich University of Applied Sciences in Wadenswil, Axino conducted research over the course of an 18-month period. The group examined the heat signatures of various categories of fresh foods, convection attributes, optimal core temperatures for freshness and how the food reacted to real-world situations. The group used robotic arms to simulate customers opening refrigerator doors and tracked the temperature fluctuations.
After the 18-month research period, the group was able to develop a sophisticated artificial intelligence algorithm that was able to accurately measure the core temperature of any food group within one degree Celsius. Axino then partnered with Semtech to leverage its LoRa devices and LoRaWAN protocol to develop an intelligent IoT solution capable of significantly reducing human error in temperature management and address the food waste issue.
Migros, Switzerland’s largest retail company with annual sales of over $28 billion, initially implemented Axino’s food safety quality management system in a handful of stores as a proof-of-concept test. Test stores were outfitted with 70 to 100 sensors and one low-power wide area network (LPWAN) gateway to connect an entire facility. Employees were able to monitor and adjust temperatures with ease through a smart device, significantly reducing the time and energy needed.
Traditional monitoring relied on manually reading the temperature at each refrigerated location and adjusting as needed, leaving a significant margin for human error. The test was well received and Migros is on track to deploy smart refrigeration IoT solutions to over 800 locations throughout Switzerland and Germany.
The Road Ahead
Smart refrigeration solutions are just one way IoT deployments are making waves in the retail industry. From asset tracking and employee management to energy and temperature tracking, connectivity is changing the way we approach everyday issues in a sustainable way.
Roelof Koopmans is Senior Director of Vertical Marketing for LoRa® within Semtech. Before that, Koopmans held positions in the IoT space; most recently, he was Vice President of Product Marketing at Smartrac, a global leading manufacturer of RFID and NFC tags. Before that, he held the position of Managing Director of Europe for Mojix, a provider of hardware and software solutions. Prior to that position, Koopmans was founder and CEO of a dedicated web hosting company, Aspectra, Switzerland’s first pure-play hosting company. Koopmans has also worked with Switzerland’s leading ISP, BlueWin, and held management positions at leading Telco companies, Swisscom and KPN in the Netherlands. Koopmans is based at Semtech’s office in Rapperswil, Switzerland, and is a graduate of the University of Delft, Netherlands.