How automation can reduce food loss in the food industry

How automation can reduce food loss in the food industry

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (CAM) reported in 2019, around 1.3 billion tons of edible food per year were lost or wasted worldwide. While food waste largely occurs in households and at retail, food loss also occurs during post-harvest, transportation, storage, distribution, processing and packaging. This means that food manufacturers have a role to play in reducing waste.

FAO pointed to some of the direct causes of food loss and waste, such as lack of proper process management and prolonged storage. Automation can help solve these problems by limiting human error, improving operations, and automating product tracking.

Reduce human error

After studying 47 food manufacturers in Belgium, researchers from Brunel University London and Ghent University found that human error accounts for 10.9% of all food waste. Automation can help reduce human error by digitizing manual work that is less engaging and more prone to error. This can be achieved by installing plant management software to help streamline processes by automatically collecting data, eliminating the need for whiteboards and clipboards.

“In many cases, there was no proper training or labor standardization applied in their workplace,” said Dr. Manoj Dora of Brunel Business School of the study findings. “As a result, there was a greater tendency for errors, and therefore more food waste.”

Although proper training is always necessary, automation can help standardize production. Implementing technologies like IoT sensors can help standardize vital processes like quality control and temperature checks, making them more efficient and ensuring that every product has the same level of inspection.

Traceability

FAO estimates indicate that 13.8% of the total food produced in the world is lost between farm and transport to retail. Installing automated tracking systems can help reduce sourcing and product loss by automatically tracking and monitoring food from sourcing to delivery.

Automation of the tracking system means there is no need for manual entries that can be affected by human error, improving supply chain management. Tracking systems also allow supply chain managers to collect data that can help determine inefficiencies and wasteful spending in the supply chain.

Maintenance and downtime

Despite the many benefits that automation brings to the food industry, manufacturers are still hesitant due to the higher level of maintenance required and the risk of equipment downtime which could lead to more food waste.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), perishable foods, such as meat and milk, should be discarded if stored above 5°C for more than 2 hours. Manufacturers may be concerned that in the event of unplanned downtime caused by equipment failure, food will be spoiled due to the inability to process and package it in a timely manner. However, predictive maintenance can help avoid these problems.

Automation in the food industry can be daunting for many manufacturers, but change is inevitable. Automation technology can advance the industry while reducing food waste. Food industry players who have not yet automated their processes should consider starting a trial to see if digitalization could help them limit food waste.

Image credit: istock.com/industryview

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