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ATW22: Thursday: Innovation in post-harvest management of fresh produce

Agri-TechE Article

Loss of food immediately after harvest and waste of food through short shelf-life could be reduced through better agri-tech and this was explored in this Innovation in Post-Harvest, Agri-Tech Week 2022 event hosted by ADAS.

ADAS post harvest Ian Gardner of IBM
Ian Gardner of IBM discusses digitisation of supply chains

Each year, 1.3 billion metric tons of food is produced for human consumption across the world. However, one third of this food is wasted and never reaches the consumer’s plate. In developing countries, post-harvest food loss can be particularly acute (>50%).

In developed countries with “cool chains” losses are lower, but typically still equate to 4-8% of production. However, cooling on its own cannot eliminate post-harvest food loss and there is a need to develop new post-harvest solutions that are non-chemical, energy efficient and cost-effective to help us reduce the waste and also meet demands for safe, nutritious, and affordable food.

Need for alternatives to cooling

ADAS post harvest crops
Hassan Bagheri, Postharvest Consultant, ADAS describes the new technologies

Hassan Bagheri, Postharvest Consultant, ADAS, explains: “Cooling is used to slow down ripening and senescence in fresh produce however, there are other alternative methods that are being investigated such as controlled atmosphere storage/packaging to extend shelf life.

“Additionally, there are also other sensing and tracking technologies that are being developed for monitoring the condition of products throughout the supply chain to help businesses with decision making and matching supply with demand and also finding trigger points that can cause product deterioration.”

One example of this is the Secure Quality Assured Logistics for Digital Food Ecosystems project (SecQual)  initially aimed at smart labelling for pork it is now being applied to horticulture.

“ADAS has been involved in the project as a partner to represent the fresh produce sector and to ensure the needs of alternative food supply chains are considered in the design of the framework.

ADAS Veryan Bliss from Suncrop
Veryan Bliss describers the logistics journey from field to plate

“To progress the project, we are working with fresh produce suppliers in a pilot demonstration of the SecQual solution and to translate outcomes of the Cranswick study to a demonstration project relevant to the sector – which includes fresh produce growers, retailers, distributors, importers, wholesalers, processors and packers.

Hassan considers that the most significant benefits from the alternative storage technologies may be realised in environments where shelf life of produce is very limited, such as countries with high ambient temperatures where access to refrigerated storage environments prior to sale is limited.

He describes an Innovate UK supported project focussed on increasing the shelf life of tomatoes through removal of ethylene in storage.

The project found that not only is shelf life extended, but tomatoes can be stored at higher temperatures (up to 20C) without losing quality and there seems to be a positive effect on disease rates too. Higher temperatures means less energy is needed post picking to cool produce and has applications in warmer climates for smallholder farms (such as Nigeria).

Improving storage during transportation

Veryan Bliss from Suncrop gave an overview of potential issues during the post-harvest journey of plants. The main challenge is lack of sight of the produce once handed over to the hauliers – is it being stored at the right temperature? Is it sharing space with other produce which has different requirements? Are drivers turning off the cooling to conserve fuel? And then when it reaches the retail distribution centre, is the right produce being taken at the right time?

These are global issues and not knowing what’s happening to each batch at each stage makes it hard to predict shelf life and optimise the supply chain.

Tracking produce through the value chain

NFC-enabled detection of chemicals in package to directly determine freshness.

To address these issues Ian Gardner of IBM, discussed digitisation of the supply chain;  Glenn Aitchison of CPI talked further about the SecQual project.

Ian walked us through the value that data insight can bring to the challenge – helping automate some of the manual processes (particularly paperwork associated with food safety), using smart contracts to reduce the need to chase for certifications and increasing visibility of any issues and the causes of them, so that systems can be adapted or become proactive.

This of course requires data in the first place, and Glenn described the technologies and sensors being used within an integrated system to track food through the system.

Using primarily off the shelf solutions – RFID, NFC (Near Field Communication), ultra high frequency radio waves to name a few –  it’s possible to track an individual pig from arrival at the abattoir to packaging, or a case of tomatoes as it makes it journey from Spain to UK shelves. This can continue all the way to consumer homes, with NFC-enabled detection of Volatile Organic Compounds in the packaging to allow a quick check of meat freshness – based on actual data from the pack itself rather than estimated expiry dates.

All of this incredible work is supported by evidence-based research

Debbie Rees from Natural Resources Institute shared findings on best storage conditions for apples. By measuring the respiration rate of apples in storage, they were able to identify the best conditions for storage. This varies not only by variety but also by the season – reinforcing the need for data insight across the supply chain to ensure these very specific conditions are met. There’s also potential to predict disease in specific varieties, and the success of this work has led to a big extension to period of sale for UK grown Gala apples.

This work is now being applied to leeks, Brussel sprouts, flower bouquets, and even potatoes to help combat the loss of the chemical CIPC previously used to prevent sprouting.


More about ADAS

ATW Logo 2022

Agri-Tech Week is a partnership initiative founded in 2014 by Agri-TechE with the Royal Norfolk Agricultural Association. The week features a mix of in-person and virtual events that are designed to showcase exciting developments in agri-tech. It is coordinated by Agri-TechE working closely with partners across the innovation ecosystem and aims to provide opportunities to attract new customers and partners and to broker collaborations and international connections.