Cutting-edge technology – from intelligent food labelling to mobile phone-controlled apps and even smart fridges – is set to transform the way consumers shop and control their domestic food waste.
On sale for the first time in the UK this autumn is a highly anticipated smart fridge from Samsung. Costing £4,499, the Family Hub refrigerator is connected to the internet via Wi-Fi.
The device has three built-in cameras so owners can check its contents while out shopping. It also includes Alexa, Amazon’s AI assistant, which responds to voice commands – so you can tell it to turn music on, order more tomatoes and make notes.
Sainsbury’s has produced a battery of techno-gadgets that consumers are testing in its pioneering experiment in Swadlincote, Derbyshire. The Waste Less, Save More project aims to reduce food waste by 50% and save the average household £350 a year. Working closely with Bosch it has introduced 20 smart fridges. With the fridges featuring built-in cameras accessible via a smartphone app, users will be able to check their contents at any time, helping them to avoid over-buying and even zooming in to check use-by dates.
The supermarket says a simple change such as adjusting the fridge to the optimum temperature (between 2-5°C) can significantly increase the length of time foods can be stored.
A stick-on “leftover label” that changes colour reminds consumers not to forget their leftovers. For example, green signifies the food is good to eat, while yellow tells that they haven’t got long to reuse the item. Sainsbury’s is trialling these labels in Swadlincote but will be looking at the potential to widen this across all its packaging.
Also being trialled is a free food-sharing app, Olio, which helps consumers connect with people in the same area who have leftover food to give away, allowing surplus to be shared and not wasted.
Meanwhile, revolutionary new food labelling featuring a tactile bump – which allows shoppers to tell when perishable food has gone off – is heading for a further supermarket trial. Its creator, Solveiga Pakstaite, a 23-year-old industrial design and technology graduate of Brunel University, won the UK round of the prestigious James Dyson award for the invention and has since attracted further funding to make her invention a commercial reality.
Winnow is an electronic scale that weighs waste as it is thrown away, making it easier to keep track of the volume involved. Currently being trialled in commercial kitchens (and used by the likes of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage) Sainsbury’s is looking to introduce this innovative technology to homes in Swadlincote.
Meanwhile, in a further development with huge implications for reducing food waste, trials of technology aimed at prolonging the life of fresh produce have proved successful.
Raw fruit and vegetables saw their shelf life increase by up to one day in a study involveing produce being sprayed with an electrically charged solution that kills bacteria responsible for spoilage.
Testing in cold storage revealed that use of the system, developed at the University of the West of England (UWE) in Bristol, had no effect on the taste or appearance of the produce.
UWE’s professor of health and environment, Darren Reynolds, who pioneered the technology said it could be implemented commercially within a year if the food industry is convinced of its benefits.
He believes the approach could reduce waste, save millions of pounds and ultimately even play a role in helping resolve world hunger.
Under development by the Centre for Sustainable Manufacturing and Recycling Technologies at Loughborough University, is the Pantry app, already tested by volunteers who over a week recorded a description of their food waste, its weight and the reason for discarding it.
The functions of the proposed app include a stock list to allow consumers to keep an inventory of when the food was purchased, including expiry (use by and best before) dates. An expiry tracker which operates in parallel with the stock list, linked to an alarm to help notify when items are about to exceed the use-by date. Advanced versions could include recipes for the food left in a fridge-freezer, linked to a meal planner or retailer internet shopping sites for easy purchase of additional items.
What our readers told us
We asked readers what they were doing to combat food waste. They told us about software and hardware that has been developed to reduce food waste in commercial kitchens and restaurants. Winnow maps where waste occurs and helps chefs know how much food they should be cooking. The technology is used at more than 200 venues in Europe, the Middle East and Asia. The company estimates it has reduced CO2 emissions by 2,700 tonnes and saved clients £2m.
We also heard about an initiative in Australia, Fair Food Forager, that ranks cafes, restaurants, grocers and suppliers on how sustainable they are. The website and smartphone app gives information to consumers about how the food provider scores on food waste, plastic waste, sourcing local produce, and sourcing sustainable and cruelty-free food.
In Italy, Last Minute Sotto Casa (LMSC), which won the 2015 Edison Pulse award to find digital solutions to social problems, works as a digital intermediary between shops with surplus food products and customers who might want to buy them. Using the app, a shopkeeper can send an alert of what food they have that they plan to throw away, and at what price they will sell it, which is sent as a text message to LMSC customers.
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