Technology Promises To Calculate "True" Shelf Life
One of the causes of food waste is produce that goes bad earlier than expected. Of course, shipping produce that is fresh is the goal of every grower. In what manner it arrives and how fresh it remains once in the store, however, is largely out of their control. Furthermore, it is also in the retailer's best interest for the produce to remain fresh and tasty for customer's enjoyment.
Zest Labs, a company based in San Jose, California, has come up with a solution called Zest Fresh that allows growers and shippers to know how long each pallet of their produce will remain fresh. Using IoT sensors placed in each pallet at the time of harvest and cloud-based analytics, Zest Fresh takes into consideration temperatures at time of harvest, cut-to-cool duration, as well as conditions at each point right up until the receiver, and based on this data, calculates what the "true" remaining shelf life is.
"IoT sensors in each pallet use predictive analytics, machine learning and other functions to calculate a freshness metric of the dynamic remaining shelf life for each pallet," said Kevin Payne of Zest Labs. "We have profiled produce from different regions to determine the maximum freshness duration. Consider us as a postharvest freshness management solution. The reason is that despite a batch of produce coming out of the same field on the same day, the conditions in which they were harvested and eventually placed in the cooler can vary significantly. A pallet of strawberries picked at 7:00am and placed in the cooler at 8:00am will have a different shelf life than the pallet picked at 2:00pm during the heat of the day and placed in the cooler at the end of the day. This causes the 'true' remaining shelf life to be different for each pallet."
Sending the pallets to the optimal destinations
Data collection and analysis is great, but varying forms have been around for a long time. Zest Labs noted that the point of difference with their Zest Fresh technology is that something can be done about proactively solving the problem. "Many solutions out there tend to be reactive, meaning an action can only take place after the fact," Payne explained. "However, we believe we offer the only proactive solution, by using the predictions and allowing the shipper to make decisions based on insights and information."
Fundamentally, the idea is to utilize the information to send pallets to destinations most appropriate for the calculated freshness. Most obviously, the greater the shelf life remaining, the further the produce can be sent. "When the calculated shelf life of one pallet is, say, 3 days shorter than another, it can be sent to a receiver that is closer, in order to maximize the shelf life for the receiver," Payne added. "The data is collected continuously and is read at pre-determined waypoints, such as being placed in the cooler, in the truck, moving out of the warehouse, arrival at the receiver, etc. This produces a dynamic shelf life, updated at each interval to give the most accurate shelf life at any one time."
Payne further noted that growers can use the data to monitor their processes to ensure they're being adhered to, adjusting procedures accordingly. "Zest Fresh empowers workers to keep product on process with real-time tools that reflect each process step – such as received inventory, time and temperature of product staged for pre-cool, pre-cooling, and shipping," he said. "It also drives notifications when preset process parameters are exceeded, focusing workers on the most acute problems in real-time."
The ZIPR Code
To help with the monitoring process, Zest Fresh collects, stores and displays all the data in a unique, automatically-generated code, called the "ZIPR Code" which stands for Zest Intelligent Pallet Routing, the industry’s first freshness metric. The ZIPR Code references the dynamic remaining shelf-life of individual pallets and then users can view and manage that pallet's information.
"Once Zest Fresh combines the data and applies a score, it creates the ZIPR Code for each pallet," Payne explained. "This ZIPR Code is then matched to pending orders to ensure each pallet has sufficient remaining freshness to meet the retailer’s needs. The ZIPR Code ensures that customer shipments are loaded correctly, and that quality is tracked through actual delivery – providing the grower with visibility of delivered quality."
"The ZIPR Code can be integrated into a warehousing management solution, providing alerts and updates on whether the pallet is still in a suitable condition and routing," he added. "It is designed to be autonomous and wireless."
The company said the sensors themselves are small and easy to handle. They can be inserted into pallets at any time, depending on whether the grower wishes to monitor the entire supply chain, or just certain sections.
"The IoT sensors are about the same size as a deck of cards and are placed in the pallet in the field or at any point along the way," Payne described. "They are reusable and can also be used for certain segments. The software to view information is cloud-based, with the desktop and mobile tags operated by access points. A technician will install these and all that is required is power and a network connection."
Zest Labs is aiming to be at the forefront of technology, so Payne shared that Zest Fresh has Blockchain capability for those that desire it. "Blockchain, which is basically a secure way to exchange and share information, is one of the aspects that I get asked about often," he said. "We do have the support for it although it is not required."
What types of produce and where?
According to Payne, the most common produce type that growers use Zest Fresh for are highly perishable fruits like berries. This is no surprise as these fruits are the ones that feel every effect of temperature changes and inadequate cooling times, for example. Currently, the company is working with growers in North America, and has also worked with suppliers in Central and South America.
"Zest Fresh can be used for any produce type, however most growers and retailers start by using them for the highly perishable produce items like berries, closely followed by leafy greens," Payne said. "We have also seen interest in grapes, cherries and stone fruit. Right now, our technology is used across North America, and we have also worked with growers in Central and South America, particularly in the northern winter. We are aiming to be at the forefront of technology and modernize the supply chain for the fresh produce industry."
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