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A New Temperature Sensor Could Reduce Food Waste

Image Credit: Therma

Food wastage is a major problem across multiple fronts. A new wireless temperature sensor could save money and help the environment.

The world has a massive food wastage problem. Current estimates suggest that the United States wastes around 40% of its produced food, with between 125 to 160 billion pounds of food going to waste each year¹. 

The reasons behind this wastage vary from issues on the production side such as bad weather, processing problems, or overproduction, to issues at retail like overbuying, poor planning, and inadequate storage. 

This is estimated to cost the U.S. 218 billion USD every year, as well as putting unnecessary strain on the environment through the loss of valuable resources like farmland and water. 

Perhaps the most concerning element of this wastage problem is that a great deal of this waste is perfectly edible food. The reduction of food loss in the States by just 15% could feed 25 million people each year². 

With an estimated 12% of American households classed as suffering from disrupted food intakes because of lack of money, rectifying this wastage situation is of vital importance even before factoring in international considerations. 

Reducing food waste is of particular interest in the hospitality industry. Restaurants can spend an average of between 30%-33% of their revenue on products and ingredients, which means that stock control can make the difference between a profitable business and one in danger of closure.

This means that the industry is interested in environmental controls that are at the cutting-edge of science. Efficient controls can prevent spoilage, increase shelf-life, ensure timely consumption, and reduce the inventory that restaurants need to hold.

That’s where San Francisco-based technology start-up Therma comes in. 

Protecting Against Technological Failure and Human Error

The company has developed tools designed to monitor environmental conditions like temperature and humidity around inventory constantly, thus eliminating spoilage. Therma has developed a new wireless sensor that protects restaurants against the risks of a power outage, equipment failure, and the ever-present threat of human error.

“The key to efficient storage is to identify the optimal storage conditions of your inventory and store the items under those conditions. Therma helps operators keep products in their ideal ranges, ultimately optimizing inventory shelf-life,” Therma’s CEO and founder Manik Suri tells Waste 360. 

The new system works by monitoring storage temperatures around the clock and alerting staff and management when the temperature moves beyond set parameters. These alerts can be sent via email, SMS, or even by phone call.

Data from the system can also be used by businesses to assess if their equipment needs maintenance, something that if caught early can prevent complete breakdown  —  and loss of inventory  —  as well as a potentially more expensive emergency repair.

Equipment failures, power outages, and human error are the primary causes of loss events in restaurants. Therma sensors alert restaurant staff when temperatures are outside of approved ranges. Alerts are tied to specific refrigeration units so operators can quickly identify if one piece of equipment is malfunctioning, or the entire location is experiencing issues.

Manik Suri, CEO and founder, Therma

After receiving an alert, staff can take the appropriate measures to prevent inventory loss and food wastage, this can be as simple as closing a cold store door or freezer lid or calling in a maintenance crew.

Cool Under Pressure

The system employs a long-range low-power radio signal (LoRaWAN) with a range of around 1200 feet in addition and a three-step process to send information from equipment to its handlers. 

The first step is the collection of data such as temperature and humidity from sensors placed within the storage or refrigeration units, this is then processed and sent to cloud storage. From here the data is transmitted to a dashboard program or a mobile app as a temperature alert or a more detailed report.

Therma estimates that it has already saved each of its full-service locations around 1500 USD per year in terms of prevented food spoilage. Its customers include McDonald's and 7–11, and with a 10.2 million USD seed investment in product growth this year, the company expects its influence to grow.

Food and beverage, healthcare, hospitality, and manufacturing are all critically dependent on the refrigeration cold chain. Over the last year, we have seen a significant increase in demand across these industries for real-time equipment monitoring and analytics that not only reduce costs and improve safety but also positively impacts climate change.

Manik Suri, CEO and founder, Therma

References

1. ‘Wasted: How America is Losing up to 40% of its Food from Farm to Fork to Landfill,’ NRDC, [2012], [https://www.nrdc.org/sites/default/files/wasted-2017-report.pdf].

2. ‘USDA and EPA Join with Private Sector, Charitable Organizations to Set Nation’s First Food Waste Reduction Goals. Press Release №0257.15,’ USDA, [2015], [https://www.usda.gov/media/press-releases/2015/09/16/usda-and-epa-join-private-sector-charitable-organizations-set]

3. ‘Economic Research Service. “Food Security in the U.S.: Key Statistics & Graphics,’ USDA, [2017], [https://www.ers.usda.gov/topics/food-nutrition-assistance/food-security-in-the-us/key-statistics-graphics.aspx]

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are those of the author expressed in their private capacity and do not necessarily represent the views of AZoM.com Limited T/A AZoNetwork the owner and operator of this website. This disclaimer forms part of the Terms and conditions of use of this website.

Robert Lea

Written by

Robert Lea

Robert is a Freelance Science Journalist with a STEM BSc. He specializes in Physics, Space, Astronomy, Astrophysics, Quantum Physics, and SciComm. Robert is an ABSW member, and aWCSJ 2019 and IOP Fellow.

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