Editorial Feature

Recent Sustainable Food Technology Advancements

As the world's population grows and climate change threatens food production, the development of sustainable food technologies has become increasingly important. This article examines recent significant technological advances that enhance efficiency, reduce waste, and promote more environmentally friendly practices across the food system.

food sustainability

Image Credit: Aleksandar Malivuk/Shutterstock.com

Optimizing Efficiency and Minimizing Food Waste

Reducing waste across all stages of the food chain may offer the single biggest opportunity to improve sustainability.

Startups like Food Drop connect supermarkets, restaurants, and local farms with surplus edible food to charitable organizations or community groups via digital platforms and mobile apps. This simple yet impactful solution efficiently redirects nutritious food to people facing hunger, all while avoiding unnecessary emissions from landfills.

Food manufacturers and retailers are integrating cutting-edge monitoring technologies to identify and tackle waste issues. For example, Leanpath offers smart scales, analytics software, and cameras to track all food discarded in commercial kitchens.

By gathering granular data on what, when, and why food is wasted, businesses can closely analyze inefficiencies and make targeted changes to purchasing, inventory management, production scheduling, and menu planning.

Sub-terahertz technology reduces food waste

Current methods for determining fruit ripeness in food distribution are unreliable, overly broad, time-consuming, or expensive. The lack of a systematic approach often results in poor estimates through visual inspection.

To address this, Princeton and Microsoft researchers developed a high-frequency wireless tool to assess fruit quality, enabling precise ripeness measurements and reducing food waste in distribution. The system uses sub-terahertz signals to scan fruit on a conveyor belt, offering a scalable and non-invasive solution for addressing global food waste issues.

Sustainable Food Processing Innovations

WSU's microwave-assisted thermal sterilization

Unfortunately, the heating and sterilizing processes required to preserve food reduce its nutritional content. However, emerging techniques are overcoming this limitation through more strategic and efficient heat application.

In partnership with the U.S. Department of Defense and food companies, Washington State University developed microwave-assisted thermal sterilization (MATS) and pasteurization methods that preserve nutrient quality while reducing the need for salt in ready-to-eat meals. These methods are 30% more energy efficient than traditional canning (10-15%) and are powered by renewable electricity.

High-pressure processing reshapes food preservation

High-pressure processing (HPP) is another leading food preservation innovation made possible through extensive public-private collaboration by Ohio State University researchers. This method involves subjecting packaged foods to extreme water pressure, eliminating bacterial threats at chilled or ambient temperatures without intense heating.

HPP maintains more nutrients, bioactive compounds, and natural flavors than traditional preservation. It also enables the formulation of products with reduced salt, fat, sugar, and synthetic additives.

Improving Agricultural Production

Feeding a growing global population necessitates optimizing efficiency and yields in agriculture itself. Again, technology plays a significant role through advances like precision agriculture and controlled-environment production.

GPS, real-time sensors, and satellite imagery enable precise monitoring of growing conditions down to the square meter. This allows for precisely applying irrigation, nutrients, and pesticides for plant health at appropriate times and positions.

Soil analysis for enhanced yields

Trace Genomics uses high-definition genomics and metagenomics, employing whole-genome sequencing for precise soil analytics, offering farmers customized recommendations for soil enrichment. This technology reduces costs, accelerates analysis, and optimizes soil management, promoting enhanced yields with minimal resource wastage.

Precision-controlled vertical farming

Indoor vertical farming and growth chambers take agricultural optimization even further by fully controlling all critical variables for ideal plant growth. Climate control systems, LED lighting, and hydroponic setups enable year-round production of herbs and vegetables while using significantly less land and water than traditional approaches.

AeroFarms, a prominent startup in vertical farming, practices year-round vertical farming using advanced aeroponics and hydroponics for precise control and higher yields. Their precision-controlled indoor system incorporates custom lighting, automated nutrient delivery, and specialized HVAC for higher yields and faster growth while ensuring food safety without pesticides.

Their proprietary aeroponic technology conserves up to 95% more water than field farming, optimizes plant growth with custom lighting, and integrates machine learning and IoT for an innovative, connected farming approach.

Smart Packaging Technologies

Packaging plays a pivotal role in minimizing food spoilage during storage and transport, which, together with consumer waste, accounts for significant emissions. Advances in smart packaging materials and tracking methods are increasing shelf life and improving supply chain visibility.

Insignia Technologies develops smart time-temperature indicators for plastic food packaging, changing color over time to signal when food is fit for consumption, encouraging healthier habits, and reducing wastage.

A recent study published in Macromolecular Chemistry and Physics reported a smart packaging sensor technology that changes color based on the quality of the product, focusing on detecting amines produced during the degradation of meat, fish, and dairy products.

Integrating polymers forming photonic crystals, the sensor undergoes visible color changes when interacting with amines, providing a visual indication of food spoilage. This offers a cost-effective, practical solution for consumers to assess food quality, potentially reducing the reliance on expiration dates.

The Path Ahead in Food Technology

Recent food technology innovations demonstrate viable concepts to feed rising populations while supporting environmental sustainability. However, widespread implementation remains gradual due to varying complexities around costs, scaling production, regulation, and consumer adoption.

Increased public and private collaboration can foster sustainable innovations to promote a greener, more ethical, nutritious food system.

Continue Reading: Yume and Suez's Solution for Tackling Commercial Food Waste

References and Further Reading

Institute of Food Technologists. (2023). Food Science and Technology Solutions to Improve Food and Nutrition Security: Sustainable Production of Nutritious Foods Through Processing Technology. [Online]. Available at: https://www.ift.org/-/media/policy-advocacy/files/ift_spi_white-paper_processed-foods_1023.pdf

Lyon, S. (2023). The world has a food-waste problem. Can this wireless tech help fix it? [Online]. Princeton University. Available at: https://www.princeton.edu/news/2023/10/06/world-has-food-waste-problem-can-wireless-tech-help-fix-it?fbclid=IwAR3pjESR2_iQnSd4jcJL0nN6YSPjHXyqm28LtoyWSvVdxXI4iDQXMjxWBUU

Trace Genomics. (2023). Performance, Optimized. [Online]  Available at: https://tracegenomics.com/solutions/agronomy-solutions/diagnostics/

AeroFrams. (2023). Cutting-Edge Vertical Farming Technology Platform. [Online]. Available at: https://www.aerofarms.com/how-we-grow/

Insignia Technologies. (2023). About Us. [Online]. Available at: https://www.insigniatechnologies.com/about

Escher, A., Megahd, H., Tavella, C., Comoretto, D., & Lova, P. (2023). Colorimetric polymer sensors for smart packaging. Macromolecular Chemistry and Physics, 224(14), 2300022. https://doi.org/10.1002/macp.202300022

Fooddrop. (2023). Ending hunger, one community at a time. [Online]. Available at: https://www.fooddrop.co.uk/

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are those of the author expressed in their private capacity and do not necessarily represent the views of AZoM.com Limited T/A AZoNetwork the owner and operator of this website. This disclaimer forms part of the Terms and conditions of use of this website.

Owais Ali

Written by

Owais Ali

NEBOSH certified Mechanical Engineer with 3 years of experience as a technical writer and editor. Owais is interested in occupational health and safety, computer hardware, industrial and mobile robotics. During his academic career, Owais worked on several research projects regarding mobile robots, notably the Autonomous Fire Fighting Mobile Robot. The designed mobile robot could navigate, detect and extinguish fire autonomously. Arduino Uno was used as the microcontroller to control the flame sensors' input and output of the flame extinguisher. Apart from his professional life, Owais is an avid book reader and a huge computer technology enthusiast and likes to keep himself updated regarding developments in the computer industry.

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