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Tech Innovations in Food Industry

In the TV Show “The Orville” there is a remark about how once they had discovered their handy dandy food synthesizer, poverty and money were no longer a thing. Food had become cheaply producible. Of course, this is science fiction, and the idea of a food synthesizer has been around since Star Trek and possibly before. Companies like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods are making tasty and edible replacements from cell grown protein and plant-based materials. The capabilities of 3D printing are also improving, meaning we’re probably not far away from this being science reality.

“Lieutenant, have you ever studied the history of money? . . . It became obsolete with the invention of matter synthesis.”

— Kelly Grayson to John LaMarr

The food production need increase by 70% in the next 30 years

The world population is growing fast, there are 7.5 billion people in the world right now and the world population projections estimate that will be almost 10 billion by 2050 and the food production will have to increase 70% to meet the demand, says a report from FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization). When we think about technology, food is not the first thing that comes to mind, but tech will play a fundamental part in making it possible to meet the demand for food that will be higher and higher each year to come.

But producing the food is not the only point, it needs to be produced, distributed, stored and consumed smartly. The way food is manipulated and moved around the world, and what people decide to put on their plate, matters for the climate crisis, deforestation, biodiversity loss and declining water tables. 

 “[every] 4lbs of beef you eat contributes to as much global warming as flying from New York to London – and the average American eats that much each month.”

Noted a New Yorker article

So many people eat more red and processed meat than they need to, and there is no clear information about the health and environmental impact of consuming meat. Meat production needs to be environmentally friendly but our way of doing it right now is causing a negative impact on the environment, and that will get even worse with the increasing population and its increasing needs.

More than 30% of all food produced for human consumption is thrown away

More than 30% of all food produced for human consumption is thrown away, food is wasted at every point from farm to fork and it is an enormous problem, not just in each family’s kitchen, but all around the world, resulting in billions of financial loss and irreversible impacts to the environment.

Technology over the years is already changing how we produce and find our food through applications, robotics, data, and processing techniques, let’s see some new technologies that are being used to improve food industry productivity:

New technologies used to improve food industry productivity

IoT and Sensors

Thanks to IoT and Sensors, information such as weather conditions, soil humidity and conditions, pests and diseases can be known with great precision in real-time, so farmers can immediately react to them. A French startup named Weenat has developed sensors that help with irrigation and the use of pesticides. The sensors show which parcel needs to be watered and the plants’ health, avoiding water waste and the use of chemicals when there’s no need.

Drones

Drones have often been used to spray crops much faster, shot seeds and nutrients into the soil and monitor plants’ health, enabling farmers to, accurately, map fields.

Robotics and Machines

Buy using robotic machines, the food industry can be more efficient and affordable, increasing productivity and decreasing risks. The use of these machines won’t eliminate the need for human workers, but will help them to perform better their work.

Packaging

Technology has absolutely improved packaging, nowadays it’s possible to have edible packaging, micro packaging and even bacteria fighting packaging. Companies are being able to find alternatives to plastic and packaging that are harmful to the environment.

3D Printing

How about printing our food? It may sound crazy, but the startup BeeHex has developed a 3D printing pizza for Naza, it was thought as a solution for astronauts that will be spending more time in the space, but it proves that in future it might be possible to print our food, saving space and preventing loss.

Technology to prevent food waste

If consumers, businesses, farmers and governments don’t come up together with an effort to reduce the food waste, demand, production and environmental impact won’t ever be balanced. There are many amazing tech companies coming up with creative solutions to minimize food waste.

Apps like Dineable work to help eliminate food wastage by pre-asking what dietary requirements people have before they attend a restaurant or catered function. There is no point in preparing ham and cheese sandwiches for a conference where most people are gluten intolerant vegetarians. Companies are taking notice and adopting Dineable to help them eliminate food waste at conferences and meetings.

Apeel Sciences has created Edipeel, a “second skin” for fruits and veggies that can increase their shelf life up to three times. It’s applied after harvesting and helps keep produce fresh until it makes it to your salad bowl.

IKEA has added to its stores trash bins with digital scales used to measure tossed food. After throwing away items, employees use the touch-screen above the bin to document what went into it. They will know about the wasted food’s cost and its contribution to IKEA’s carbon footprint and it will be used to plan what to prepare more or less each period of the day.

Reducing food waste means that there is an abundance of produce. Transporting food from the world’s farms to those in poverty is expensive and has a significant effect on the environment. 

Slow Food movement and the importance of eating locally

The slow food movement is a global initiative focused on encouraging people to stop eating fast food and instead, taking the time to prepare and eat whole, locally-sourced foods. The focus is not only on nutrition, but also on preserving culture and heritage as it relates to food, and discuss health-related and ecological concerns about the natural resources, chemicals, and additives necessary for large-scale industrial agriculture and the quantity of fossil fuels that are required to distribute food throughout the world. They recommend that people limit their consumption of meat and buy meat from smaller farms that meet high animal welfare standards. 

The benefits of local food are many, but they come in three main areas – health, economy, and environment. The closer a farm is to the place where its produce is purchased and consumed, the less fuel is used to transport it, reducing the amount of carbon emissions that enter the Earth’s atmosphere. The definition of ‘local’ is obviously subjective, but a 100-mile radius is a typical standard.

When buying food at a local farmstand, it’s often possible to just stick it in your own reusable shopping bag and return home with no packaging materials whatsoever. Local farmers are also in the habit of recycling things like strawberry baskets and vegetable crates and are happy if you return these to them. Organic farmers also focus on building healthy topsoil which sequesters carbon, taking it out of the atmosphere and helping to combat global warming.

Science fiction may become a reality

It’s estimated that if the amount of food wasted now was reversed, it would allow us to feed approximately 2 billion people – which is twice the number of undernourished people around the world. When everyone in the world has enough to eat, we will reduce our reliance on money as a factor in survival, so we will be empowered to use all our knowledge and new technologies to do enormous things, and what we can just see on science fiction may become reality.

Image by jcomp / Freepik

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