Advanced radio frequency identification (RFID) sensor technology should help to cut the UK’s huge £10bn food waste bill by establishing longer ‘best before’ dates, according to the UK’s Sensors & Instrumentation Knowledge Transfer Network (KTN).
Sensors can detect early indicators of food spoilage before visual signs are apparent. They can also identify toxins and monitor water and nutrient concentration within the soil to improve irrigation efficiency, claimed the KTN.“New developments in sensing technology are helping to improve the efficiency of everyday processes, reduce costs and benefit the environment,” said Phil Cooper, director of the Sensors & Instrumentation KTN. “One example is a University of Manchester project which is developing a low-cost sensing device to help slash the UK’s food wastage bill.”
Manchester’s University Innovation Centre (UIC) aims to develop affordable sensors, which monitor critical factors throughout the food supply chain. This will allow the setting of more scientific and meaningful ‘best before’ dates, claimed the researchers. The project is supported by global plant science company Syngenta. UIC is searching for fruit and vegetable import companies and food processors to become part of the project to help verify the concept in a real supply chain.
“By creating more meaningful ‘best before’ dates, we can help to reduce food wastage,” claimed UIC director Bruce Grieve. “Currently best before dates are set by manufacturers and are based on worst case assumptions about the condition of our food between harvest and consumption. Most food is perfectly OK to eat days after its displayed best before date.”
The UIC sensing technology - which is designed to be used on cheap printed RFID sensors costing less than 5p each - is expected to be licensed and ready for production in 2009.
Meanwhile, the Food and Drink Federation (FDF) has encouraged more manufacturers to work with FareShare, a charity which distributes unwanted but edible food, as a means of reducing waste.
Speaking at a food waste event last week, Callton Young, FDF director of sustainability and competitiveness, said: “Zero food and packaging waste to landfill from 2015 is one of FDF’s environmental ambitions and waste prevention is a key part of achieving this aspiration. Having FareShare as a strategic partner will help FDF members to put waste prevention first.”
FareShare has a three-year plan to redistribute 20,000t a year, which would support 100,000 vulnerable people each day.