How cold chain
can help reduce
food waste

Author: Satta Sarmah Hightower

Nearly 40 million tons of food are sent to landfills every year, and the U.S. spends more than $218 billion annually growing, harvesting, transporting and disposing of uneaten food that never makes it to consumers' plates.

This amount of food waste is almost unfathomable. Unfortunately, it's also the norm. Several factors contribute to food waste, including overproduction, consumers overbuying, businesses over-ordering, industrial processing issues and spoilage. But technology may help to address at least one of these factors. Cold chain monitoring could prevent spoilage, leading to less food waste and potentially fewer people going hungry.

What is cold chain monitoring?

Cold chain monitoring involves using sensor-based Internet of Things (IoT) technology to monitor the temperature of products as they make their way through the cold chain. Cold chain refers to the supply chain for perishable and temperature-controlled goods, which includes foods, beverages, and pharmaceutical and biologic drugs.

In the food industry, the goal of cold chain monitoring is to keep foods at the right temperature to preserve as much product as possible—from the time food is harvested and taken to packhouses to the time it's transported to processing factories, packed on trucks and shipping containers, and delivered to wholesale or retail businesses. Sensor-based technologies are usually integrated into trucks, shipping containers, refrigerated storage and warehouse storage systems, which allow food manufacturers to gather data about what's happening within the cold chain.

Cold chain monitoring can capture and track real-time analytics to help suppliers and food producers optimize the supply chain, including airflow, humidity, light exposure and temperature data. Suppliers and manufacturers can install sensor-based devices to collect this data at various points in the supply chain, including during product and trailer precooling, during trailer or container loading, while food is in transit and during the unloading process.

With this information, suppliers and manufacturers could more easily identify breaks in the cold chain and take steps to mitigate these issues to reduce food waste.

How can cold chain monitoring reduce food waste?

Effective cold chain monitoring is one of several solutions that can combat the multifaceted problem of food waste. Making sure food isn't thrown out before it ever gets to a restaurant, grocery store or a consumer's refrigerator is a good first step.

Cold chain monitoring provides real-time data that businesses, suppliers and their transportation partners can use to manage the supply chain more effectively. Pinpointing temperature issues quickly through real-time alerts can allow these entities to address issues as soon as possible—whether that means sending a crew to repair faulty equipment on the factory floor, rerouting shipments to other warehouses for cold storage or using a centralized platform to adjust temperatures remotely while products are in transit.

Cold chain monitoring can streamline the handoff process when teams load and unload goods. For example, it can provide arrival and departure information that helps teams reduce the time spent loading and unloading food products, ensuring these items return to a temperature-controlled environment as quickly as possible.

This technology-enabled approach also can improve predictive maintenance, giving transportation and logistics companies access to insights they can use to proactively manage their fleet and avoid performance issues that may contribute to food spoilage.

The EPA has set a goal to reduce food waste by 50% by 2030. Though that's a lofty goal, effective cold chain management is one approach that may help the country get there. Roughly 40 million tons—the equivalent of about 80 billion pounds—of food is wasted every year, but people all across the country still go hungry. Leveraging technology innovation, particularly IoT-enabled smart technology, can help food manufacturers optimize their supply chain and do their part to significantly reduce food waste.

Learn more about new technologies in cold chain logistics to help reduce food waste and cold chain management features you may need.

The author of this content is a paid contributor for Verizon.