Thippawan NZ / Shutterstock
Today, we waste a third of the food that is produced globally. A shocking 1.6 billion tonnes of food is wasted annually, and this is expected to rise to 2.1 billion by the year 2030.
Food Crisis and their Impact on Population
It is unethical for us as a global population to squander such a huge percentage of our food resource when more than 10% of the world’s population is suffering from chronic undernourishment.
In addition, 8% of all greenhouse gas emissions are attributed to food waste, a disappointing statistic given the mammoth efforts currently being made to reduce emissions. What’s more, we are entering a time of a food crisis where the demand for nutrition grows rapidly alongside that of our population, but this need struggles to be met as land to farm becomes increasingly scarce. Therefore, saving on food waste is not only key to tackling emissions and, but also to taking pressures off the food crisis by both reducing demands for extra farming space by making the food we produce go further, and by making more food available to reach those without sufficient nutrition.
Two significant sources of food wastage are generated from food spoiled during transit because of the difficulties in monitoring it across its journey, and from consumers throwing out food because it has surpassed the date on the packet even though it may still be fine to eat. It has been discovered that around 60% of food thrown out for this reason it is safe to eat. Thankfully, a technology that could have a significant impact on the amount of food wasted for these reasons is on the horizon.
New edible sensors are currently being developed which will incorporate food into the Internet of Things (IoT). Scientists have created sensors from biomaterials that can attach to food and transmit data. The sensors are degradable and safe to eat as they are made from magnesium, which is digestible and an essential dietary nutrient, as well as silicon dioxide and nitride, both of which are soluble and harmless. The final component is a corn and potato starch polymer to hold it all together. Tasked with creating sensors that are not only digestible but suitable to withstand transit, scientists have developed super-thin, 16 micrometer thick devices, impervious to bending, stretching or crumpling.
The solution can be attached to a food item and data regarding its temperature would theoretically be able to influence the external conditions to ensure the produce is kept at the correct temperature to avoid spoiling. This would function through connecting the sensors with the IoT where data collected from the sensors could directly influence other connected items, such as those controlling the temperature of the containers that the food is traveling in.
How are sensors used to reduce food waste?
Further to this, consumers would be able to avoid needlessly throwing out food by getting a more accurate assessment of a food’s freshness by scanning the product and allowing an analysis of data collected on the specific item along its entire journey to reliably deduce whether it is fit for consumption. Therefore, these tiny sensors would have the potential impact of easing the food crisis through minimizing food wastage in two ways, reducing spoiling during transit and minimizing unnecessary disposal of fresh food.
The future holds further implications for these sensors. Tiny, biodegradable and with the capacity to connect to the IoT, these sensors will be of use to more industries than just the food sector. Some see them being used to monitor environmental factors, such as UV exposure, pressure or gas build-up. The applications could be plentiful, aiding any industry that would benefit from fine-grain data collection in real-time.
References and Further Reading