[Editor’s Note: Admittedly, this is a bit of a departure from our typical coverage, but nutrition is an essential factor in health, and this item uses sensor technology in a novel way that could expand the available food supply at reduce waste.]
One third. That’s about the amount of all food that’s lost to spoilage, with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) finding that between 30% and 40% of the food supply is wasted. The USDA estimates that the overwhelming majority of this food loss (31%) happens at the consumer and retail levels, with tens of billions of pounds of food worth tens of billions of dollars going to waste each year. This food loss is particularly alarming given that the USDA estimates that around 10% of American households (about 13.5 million people) are food insecure, unable to get enough food to meet their needs. And food insecurity is much more dire in many other countries. But one small device may help to tackle this big global problem.
The innovation comes from a company fittingly called OneThird. Based in the Netherlands, the food tech startup has created a Ripeness Checker, a non-invasive scanner that lets you scan produce to see if it’s ready for consumption, with a greater degree of accuracy than current produce scanners that test for factors such as acidity and water content. This prediction of shelf life could feasibly cut down on billions in food waste, as today there’s really no reliable way to tell when produce has gone bad, other than the physical signs of decaying after the fact.
So how does it work? A handheld near-infrared-based scanner takes a scan of produce in about 1 second. Imaging models are used to help make visual inspections, and the data is sent to a cloud-based platform for analysis and insights that are available on the scanner’s dashboard. One big plus with the scanner is the fact that it’s non-destructive; squeezing a banana or an avocado may be a good way to test for ripeness, but it also may damage the produce. Covering the supply chain from grower to distributor to retailer, the Ripeness Checker is right there along the way, helping to determine which products go where to extend shelf life and minimize loss. While intended for produce farmers and distributors, the device may ultimately be installed in supermarkets so that consumers can assess freshness on the spot.
Currently, the scanner works on avocados, blueberries, strawberries, and tomatoes, and OneThird says they intend to broaden the range to include bananas, grapes, raspberries, and mangoes by the year’s end. OneThird CEO Marco Snikkers says, “We are proud to have built the first product that accurately and objectively predicts the shelf life of fresh produce…The astronomical volume of food that goes to waste each year is heartbreaking, particularly since so much is wasted in affluent countries. We’ve worked hard to create technology that helps to address this persistent, global challenge.”
Perhaps it’s not a breakthrough on the same scale as penicillin, but there is certainly value in knowing for sure whether that avocado that you’re holding is ready to eat tonight, or if you’ll have to wait a few more days.