How IoT-Enabled Technology Helps Facilitate Food Waste Reduction

These IoT-enabled technologies are a critical tool to facilitate impactful progress in the fight for sustainability.

Sebastian Adobe Stock 668887576
Sebastian AdobeStock_668887576

Food waste is a critical challenge on a global scale. According to McKinsey, an estimated $600 billion worth of food is wasted globally either during or after harvest. In the United States alone, food waste accounts for 8-10% of global greenhouse gas emissions and drives $165 billion in annual losses. With the ripple effects of climate change accelerating, mitigating the rate of food waste must be top of mind amongst enterprise leaders across grocery and foodservice. Leveraging the power of advanced technology is a great place to start.

Grocery and foodservice organizations have already made commitments to investing in digitalization. Food retailers, for example, spent $13 billion on technology investments in 2022, according to an FMI report. Further, more than 80% of retailers were experimenting with new and emerging technologies to improve their customer experiences. Internet of Things (IoT) sensing and monitoring solutions are among those applications, enabling organizations to remotely monitor the state and quality of the food products they are distributing, transporting, and selling. This, in turn, boosts buyer satisfaction to foster a consistent standard for their customer experiences.

In the same vein, these IoT-enabled technologies are also a critical tool to facilitate impactful progress in the fight for sustainability. IoT Sensing-as-a-Service solutions combine the power of artificial intelligence, machine learning and prescriptive analytics to empower organizations to proactively reduce food waste.

Balancing food safety with loss prevention

Balancing food safety and loss prevention is a challenging undertaking. Both are priorities in the grocery and food service sector but are often mutually exclusive due to their seemingly contradicting natures. Executing one to an extreme tends to come at the expense of the other, which can lead to significant consequences on both sides of dividing line.

For example, failing to store and transport products in alignment with the U.S. Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) standards can directly impact consumer health. CDC data indicates there are nearly 48 million U.S. cases of foodborne illness annually, the equivalent of sickening one in six Americans each year. While some contamination is inevitable across foodservice, developing a reputation for selling spoiled products is an easy way to sink your customer experiences and brand reputation. However, playing it safe by disposing products that could have been spoiled without definitive confirmation is a top driver of unwarranted food waste or as loss prevention leaders call it – “known shrink.”

Most U.S. food waste is unwarranted because of unregulated expiration date systems around “best by” and “expires on” labels used for everyday items. These labels are intended to drive quality, but also cause the unnecessary waste of still-consumable items. More than one-third of consumers throw away food after passing its date label. The root cause of this is due to a lack of labeling regulations. FDA law doesn’t preclude the sale of food past the expiration date indicated on the label. The FDA also doesn’t require food firms to place label dates on their products, instead leaving it to the discretion of the manufacturer.

Taking a proactive IoT-enabled approach

With all of that said, food retailers and grocers need to be proactive about implementing effective processes for confirming spoilage. Integrated IoT-enabled sensing and monitoring solutions are paramount here. Embedded within storage equipment throughout the food chain, these intelligent sensors continuously perform condition monitoring to ensure adherence to FSMA compliance protocols. Additional value is added as they analyze equipment performance, proactively detecting and predicting maintenance needs that could lead to spoilage and assisting with track and trace through real-time location services throughout the supply chain.

The raw sensor data is then fed into a centralized prescriptive analytics platform, enabling the real-time monitoring and identification of potential temperature or location excursions that could compromise food quality. If such an issue arises, the platform's machine learning algorithms instantly generate clear, actionable steps for store personnel to rectify the situation.

Equipped with these data-driven insights, employees can confidently maintain optimal products without relying on subjective judgment or potentially inaccurate "sell-by" dates. This empowers them to avoid unnecessary product discards, ensuring perfectly safe food reaches consumers. Furthermore, real-time visibility into food quality enables retailers to strategically time product sales, maximizing freshness throughout the entire journey from shelf to table.

IoT Sensing-as-a-Service solutions also amplify proactive asset management by driving effective preventative maintenance measures for the containers where food products are stored. As IoT sensors monitor the temperature conditions inside assets, the solution’s feedback loops help keep operational staff apprised of refrigerators, walk-ins or freezers that may be on the brink of a breakdown. This allows them to alleviate the issue before it leads to a waste-causing event. The digitalized task management also helps organizations on track for the routine inspections of high volumes of assets across multiple facilities.

Now more than ever, organizations across grocery, food retail, and food service cannot afford to miss the mark on their sustainability goals. The stakes are too high amid the rise of climate change-related catastrophes. By leveraging advanced technology and implementing proactive food waste reduction approaches, we can pave wider pathways to a more healthy and sustainable future.