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RFID to Cut Food Waste in the Supply Chain

Ocean Mist and Costco are among the companies using a battery-assisted passive RFID-based Internet of Things solution from Zest Labs to automatically collect the time and location of goods.
By Claire Swedberg
Aug 11, 2019

Retailers typically lose an average of 15 percent of their income annually due to food loss or waste. In fact, up to 40 percent of the food grown in the United States is never eaten, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). Much of the food loss occurs at the farm level, while food waste takes place at a consumer's home, but some food spoils due to conditions throughout the supply chain. The cold chain is disrupted when refrigeration units in vehicles fail, delays occur on loading docks or an accident takes place.

If the food industry were able to eliminate this problem, the additional food provided could feed millions of people. In fact, the NRDC's 2017 report, "Wasted: How America Is Losing Up to 40 Percent of Its Food from Farm to Fork to Landfill," finds that the world population in 2050 will require 1.5 to two times the amount of food that we grow today, much of which we don't eat. In the meantime, food waste is reportedly responsible for 2.6 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

Zest Fresh uses IoT sensors to monitor the handling and quality of each pallet of produce beginning in the field, enabling the matching of customers' freshness needs with the produce's actual freshness.
There are many government efforts underway to address food waste at the global, national, state and local levels, according to Andrea Collins, NRDC's sustainable food systems specialist. "Additionally, many businesses are focused on cutting their waste. Many of the solutions involve technology, especially when it comes to forecasting demand, managing product, measuring what goes to waste and generally maximizing the utilization of whole products."

Several food companies are addressing the problem of food waste in the supply chain with an RFID-based solution known as Zest Fresh, provided by California company Zest Labs. The wireless sensors and cloud-based software help users to track the conditions of their temperature-sensitive products as they move from the field to the store, thereby identifying when conditions fall outside of acceptable parameters. The solution also provides predictive analytics to recommend corrective action when a temperature excursion is detected.

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