Can Sensors Help Cut Food Waste?

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Hermetically sealed foods suffering from poor sealing and packaging defects lead to the spoilage of over five-billion food packs per year. Furthermore, this also leads to an unnecessary over-abundance of food and plastic waste which amounts to 1/3 of all food products being lost annually.

Now, Senoptica Technologies, a new start-up from Ireland, has aspirations to reduce the amount of food and plastic wasted each year using sensors in food packaging.

“Failed packaging is a major issue. It results in the spoilage of over 3% of the 177bn food packs being produced globally every year,’’ said Brendan Rice, chief executive and co-founder of Senoptica Technologies.

The technology developed by Senoptica monitors the oxygen levels of the modified atmosphere packaging. Thereby, identifying defective MAP would enable food producers and retailers to reduce waste and in addition, cut costs. Senoptica hopes that their technology moves away from current testing methods which are highly destructive, as Rice explains, “Once a pack has been tested, you have to throw the pack away and repack the contents. This is massively wasteful of plastic packaging.”

Oxygen is the main culprit and best indicator for identifying a failed pack. Thus, Senoptica’s sensor is primed for innovating testing methods as the company has formulated an ink for the sensor that can be incorporated directly into the laminated film of a package. The sensor will change color depending on any atmospheric changes within the pack which the scanning system can detect based on a product’s specification.

The food processor scans every pack containing the sensor, before it leaves the factory, to ensure that the oxygen level in each is correct. This means that faulty packs are less likely to enter into the food-supply chain.

Brendan Rice

As every single pack is scanned, it will assist in further reducing any extra waste unlike other testing methods which, due to their invasive procedures generate even more food and plastic waste. What’s more is that the results are triggered in real time which means there is minimal disruption to the supply chain. The sensor system also provides food traceability data which bridges a gap with other new emerging food traceability systems, such as the IBM Food Trust.

Having recently set up trials with one of Europe’s largest meat processing companies the company is also in negotiations with other food suppliers as well as working on raising seed funding,

We are approaching a close on raising €1.5m to exploit this exciting global opportunity.

Brendan Rice

Rice co-founded Senoptica technologies in July 2018 with Professor Rachel Evans and Dr. Steve Comby. While Rice has extensive experience in the food industry, Evans and Comby worked together when inventing the technology at Trinity College Dublin. It was Evans who developed the project from its inception, whereas Comby’s research led to successfully evolving the technology to industrial scale production.

According to IBM and a recent study by Deloitte, it is believed that a smart packaging revolution will help reduce disruption to the global food supply chain and offers significant opportunities for companies to improve cycle management, product integrity, and greater trust in food safety measures. “Our ultimate goal is to have a sensor in every one of the 177bn food packs produced every year,” said Mr. Rice, who will start by targeting the meat-processing industry, due to the fact that meat spoilage possesses one of the highest levels of food-safety risk.

New smart packaging technologies also mitigate against the over-production of plastic waste, which is a cause for global concern as it heavily impacts the environment often ending up in landfill as well as the oceans and coastal areas. With this in mind, the EU has also launched its industry-funded BIOSMART scheme which incorporates smart oxygen sensors into modified bioplastic film.

Thus, sensors and smart packaging have the potential to go beyond reducing the financial cost of food and plastic waste, the technology can also foster a positive impact for the environment.

David J. Cross, M.A

Written by

David J. Cross, M.A

David is an academic researcher and interdisciplinary artist. David's current research explores how science and technology, particularly the internet and artificial intelligence, can be put into practice to influence a new shift towards utopianism and the reemergent theory of the commons.

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