OneThird offers food waste prevention solutions for retailers, as well as education to help reduce the amount of food thrown into landfills. Retailers suffer from food waste as consumers have large quality expectations and it is difficult to predict demand. OneThird’s mission is to help retailers prevent fresh produce food waste through education and technology. We offer shelf life prediction solutions that are able to assess fresh produce in real-time and know how long a fruit or vegetable will still be good for. By understanding shelf life, produce managers can make better decisions about fresh produce. Also, OneThird helps retailers create objective standards for quality with suppliers to ensure everyone is meeting minimum thresholds and delivering produce that customers will buy. Learn more about food waste prevention tips and solutions with us.

carton of strawberries that passed produce specification

Customers demand high-quality fresh produce, and it’s your job to get it to them. That’s why you have produce specifications. They help ensure you are consistently getting fruits and vegetables that meet your standards.

Retailers inspect produce to make sure it meets their criteria. This leaves many decisions to be made. What should you do with fresh produce that is nearly bad? What about produce that is much fresher than the rest?

If you’re using shelf life prediction technology, you’ll have a lot of data to make decisions with. How do you know what to do with all of this freshness information?

This blog post will explain what you can do with above-spec and under-spec fresh produce to maximize the benefit to the business.

Why Produce Specifications are in Place

Produce specifications are an important way to achieve consistently high-quality products. Customers will continue to shop at your store if they know they will get fresh food. If these specifications weren’t followed, there would be a lot of guessing and poor decisions made.

While there are specifications between every part of the supply chain, there is often little to base decisions off of in-store.

For example, if strawberries have been on the shelf for three days how do you know if they are still good to sell or not?

 

Where “Best By” and “Sell By” Dates Fail

It’s known that one of the biggest reasons for food waste is consumers not knowing what exactly “best by” and “sell by” dates mean. ReFED determined that standardizing date labels can divert 398,000 tons of food waste per year and add $1.8 billion in economic value per year.

standardizing date labels can divert 398,000 tons of food waste per year

But what if these date codes are inaccurate in the first place? These are often conservative estimates that come as a result of “static testing,” which basically involves leaving them on a shelf to rot and coming up with an educated guess for what every batch will do.

However, by using our shelf life prediction technology we have seen that shelf life varies greatly between batches. There are a large number of factors influencing shelf life.

Causes of shelf life reduction in fresh produce

Date codes printed on packaging cannot magically change as a product ripens or rots.

If a produce manager sees a rotten apple that has a best by date of 4 days out, do you think they would still keep it on display? Hopefully not.

 

How to Determine Fresh Produce Shelf Life In-Store

Knowing real-time shelf life empowers produce managers to make better decisions.

Sadly, there aren’t magic wands to do this. But current technology is pretty close to that.

The most promising way to do this is by using handheld spectrometers. These devices are able to assess the current state of fresh produce using light and give a number of days it is expected to last.

 

 

Let’s say you have a carton of blueberries that have a best before date of tomorrow, but you find out the real shelf life is actually five days out.

It hurts every party to throw away healthy, uneaten fresh produce. It’s also expensive. ReFED has estimated the cost of food waste to retailers to be about $5,000 per ton.

With the ability to measure shelf life, you will then be left with three categories of fresh produce:

Three Different Classifications of Fresh Produce

1. Reject (“Under Spec”)

Fresh produce which has a short shelf life or is a different size/shape/color than the standard is considered under-spec. Far too often, this is the food that gets wasted.

2. Acceptable

This is the lifecycle for the majority of your fresh produce. It’s still good enough to be sold, but not exceptionally fresh.

3. Exceptional (“Above Spec”)

Produce that exceeds the acceptable quality limits and is most likely to be bought by customers.

What to Do with Under-Spec Produce

Let’s say you scan a carton of blueberries that are supposed to be good for 4 more days, but they are expected to go bad in 2 days. If kept at the same price, it’s unlikely these blueberries will be sold other cartons- especially if they are not visually as appealing.

Here are a few things you can do to help sell or recover under-spec produce:

  1. Reposition the products so they are in front or on top
  2. Decrease the price
  3. Donate items to a food bank before they spoil
  4. Send for aerobic digestion

Many retailers fear their brand reputations will be hurt by selling “imperfect produce”. However, Imperfect Foods and Hungry Harvest have been successful by only selling imperfect produce.

Follow the Food Recovery Hierarchy

In deciding what to do with under-spec produce, it’s important to focus first on methods with a higher socioeconomic impact.

The EPA has put the Food Recovery Hierarchy in place to help determine what to do with the food you are getting rid of.

 

food recovery hierarchy

1. Repositioning

This is a common approach that is not the ideal choice. By repositioning, you are putting less attractive produce in front. This means the customer will sort through your items, potentially bruising them in the process. With a consistent price, this is the logical thing to do for customers, but dynamic pricing is a way to prevent this.

2. Decreasing price and dynamically pricing

Dynamic pricing involves changing the price of items based on the quality or expected quality. A simple version of this is already done in many stores. If you notice the sell-by date is in less than two days, you may put it in the clearance section for a lower price. Because the price is lower, more people are likely to buy it.

But what if the sell-by date isn’t accurate?

You may be putting produce with six days of freshness for half price and produce expiring tomorrow for full price.

The solution to this is using real-time shelf life prediction to objectively price fruits and vegetables. If you know how long every item will last, you can assign a price to that item that is most likely to maximize revenue and minimize waste.

3. Donating to a food bank or local livestock

There are fruits and vegetables that may not meet paying customer demands, but would somebody in need still appreciate it?

A large concern for retailers is the food they donate will cause someone to get sick, and they may get sued. However, there are a number of protections in place in the USA to prevent this worry. If you still think it is not fresh enough to be donated to humans, there may be animals that would love to eat it. Check with your local livestock farmers to see if they would accept it!

4. Sending for aerobic digestion or composting

Composting and aerobic digestion are ways to recover energy from uneaten food. Both involve capturing the nutrients/energy released from degrading fruits and vegetables. In the case of composting, it can be added to soil to help new plants grow. Anaerobic digestion converts the gases released into energy. However, this is an expensive method when you think about all of the time and money spent growing and transporting that food.

The economic value of centralized anaerobic digestion is only $21/ton of food waste and centralized composting is only $4/ton, according to ReFED. For comparison, ReFED has determined that the economic value of improved inventory management is about $1,194/ton. That’s almost 300x more beneficial than centralized composting!

economic value of various food waste recovery methods

What to Do With Items Exceeding Produce Specifications

It’s rare that produce managers treat items exceeding produce specifications differently. With the current evaluation methods in place, there isn’t much they can do.

However, with shelf life prediction technology you can determine objectively that some items are just fresher than others. This may be something that customers will pay a premium for, depending on the fruit or vegetable.

If you know that the longest shelf-life is of value to your customers, then why not charge accordingly for this? This can help in a few ways.

  • Reduced waste, as customers will be more likely to buy the items closer to expiration
  • Increased revenue, as some customers will pay a slight extra amount for longer-lasting produce
  • Higher perceived value, as customers notice that you guarantee fresher produce than other stores and can prove it

above spec produce price increases allow for decreased waste, increased revenue, and higher perceived value

Dynamic pricing benefits retailers for both under-spec and above-spec produce.

Summary

Relying on manufacturer-provided expiration dates leads to subjective decisions about selling fresh produce. This leads to increased waste and lost revenue.

You should focus on the top of the Food Recovery Hierarchy when making decisions on food. Produce specifications help, but they require subjective evaluation. Using shelf life prediction will help make informed, objective decisions about fresh produce.

 

picture of rotting fruits and vegetables

In America, about four food items are thrown away out of every 10 that are bought. A huge amount of resources goes into creating that food, and it takes its toll on our planet. Preventing food waste can solve several critical global issues we are facing.

In this blog post, we’ll be discussing the various issues associated with food waste and why preventing food waste is important.

How Does Food Waste Affect Us?

The main categories of issues associated with food waste (as told to us in our Q&A with food waste specialist Alesha Hartley) are:

  1. Environmental
  2. Economic
  3. Societal

We’ll go into detail on each of these issues.

Food Waste is One of the Largest Causes of Greenhouse Gas Emissions

The environmental impact of food waste is huge. Just think about how much water, fertilizer, and other forms of energy go into growing crops on one farm.

Now expand that amount to an entire state, an entire country, an entire planet.

food waste iceberg

Now take one-third of all that food and throw it in a pile that degrades over time and releases methane, a greenhouse gas much more potent than CO2.

That’s what’s happening right now. A large percentage of this occurs in the supply chain, but a substantial amount occurs at home.

According to Project Drawdown, reducing food waste is one of the top solutions for reducing carbon emissions. They say that food waste causes around 8 percent of global emissions.

 

8 percent of the global carbon emissions are because of food waste

 

Believer of climate change or not, the impact on our environment is huge.

Food Waste Costs How Much??

The economic cost of food waste is around $1 TRILLION per year (FAO). This number is a bit hard to comprehend, even if you’re Jeff Bezos.

 

the cost of food waste

 

In the time it took you to briefly read through that graphic, around $200,000 in food was wasted.

No one is benefiting from this issue, except maybe landfill owners.

Nobody Enjoys Food Waste

  • Growers don’t enjoy losing thousands of dollars of crops because they don’t meet quality standards.
  • Distributors don’t enjoy rejecting apples with marks on them.
  • Retail stores don’t feel good about paying for food, just to have it go moldy on the shelf.
  • None of us smile and feel good about throwing away food.

If you don’t think those small amounts of food you throw away amount to a lot, think again.

The average family of four in America throws out around $1,600 of produce per year.

 

the average American family throws out around $1600 of produce per year

 

We wouldn’t waste as much food if we saw a price tag on every piece of food we waste.

We’re Wasting Billions of Tons of Food and People are Still Hungry

The social impact of food waste is large when you consider the vast number of hungry people on our planet. It’s a large issue that over 820 million people are food insecure (UN).

This is enough people to fill one of the largest football stadiums, Cowboys Stadium, over 10,000 times.

hungry people globally can fill up Cowboys Stadium over 10,000 times

 

A large portion of the food we are producing is going to landfills and other methods low on the food recovery hierarchy.

 

food recovery hierarchy

 

So we are throwing away food at remarkable speeds, and we also have a huge number of hungry mouths to feed.

Does this seem ok? Hopefully not.

That’s why the best approaches focus on the redistribution of edible food to people in need. Kroger is a great example of this with its Zero Hunger | Zero Waste program.

So What Can You Do About It?

Informing yourself about food waste and realizing the importance of preventing it is best. After reading this blog post, it should be obvious that preventing food waste is an important cause.

It will take effort from all of us.

But we don’t want to leave you feeling helpless on this issue. Preventing food waste is straightforward!

Below are resources to help prevent food waste at home and in the supply chain.

Resources To Prevent Food Waste at Home

Resources For Preventing Food Loss in the Supply Chain

 

shipping fresh peaches

Some amount of shrink is inevitable when shipping fresh produce. It’s also a direct result of cost-cutting in many cases. However, if you can reduce the amount of food loss you have then there is a direct way to improving profitability.

 

Causes of shelf life reduction in fresh produce

 

If you’re ready to prevent food loss and give your customers fresher fruits and vegetables, then read on for 10 actions you can take when shipping fresh produce.

1. Use Shelf Life Prediction Technology

The majority of shelf life predictions come from static testing, which is a nice way of saying “sitting and waiting for the items to rot.”

tomato static testing downsides

 

There are four main types of shelf life prediction technology. OneThird has technology that determines the shelf life in under one second.

 

shelf life prediction of tomato

 

All you have to do is hold the handheld scanner against the skin of the fruit or vegetable and a non-destructive light enters the item. From this simple action, you can see the number of days remaining on a connected smartphone or tablet.

You can see this technology in use in the video below!

 

 

2. Perform QA/QC Upon Receiving

One of the best ways to prevent food loss and waste is to perform quality control checks upon receiving your produce.

It’s possible that your products are destined to spoil regardless of your cold chain management.

The best approach is to use an objective assessment because subjectivity can lead to misguided decisions.

objective vs subjective fresh produce quality assessment

Spectroscopy is so helpful because the shelf life prediction is not up to the subjectivity of the inspector. This way you can ensure your employees make the right decisions, regardless of their level of training and judgment.

 

3. Implement FEFO Instead of FIFO

You’re still sending the first products that arrive out first?

If you are processing millions of items per day, that may be the most economical way.

However, imagine having the ability to know which batches will survive a long-haul shipment. You could then send batches near expiration to local customers and those lasting longer to further customers.

FIFO fresh produce

FEFO fresh produce

 

4. Create and Stick to Proper Handling Protocols

Excessive or rough handling can bruise and damage produce. Bruising causes your produce to spoil faster.

You can tell your employees to gently handle products, but it’s best to hold them to a well-documented standard operating procedure (SOP). This way they clearly know how to properly handle your items and have a reference to look back on.

 

5. Ensure Refrigerated Trucks Function Properly

Your refrigerated (or, reefer) truck is what connects the cold chain across the country.

If this truck isn’t keeping your produce at the proper temperature then your supply chain is ruined.

You can use temperature monitoring technology to track how the temperature varies over time.

 

one hour out of refrigeration results in a loss of one day of shelf life

6. Keep Truck Temperature Consistently Low Instead of Cycling

Fruit and vegetables don’t like a lot of changes in temperature. While you may be saving money by turning the cooling off and on in the refrigerated truck, you’re damaging the produce as a result.

When your trucks make stops and open the doors, this also introduces temperature changes to the produce. It’s best to minimize these changes as much as possible and to keep the cooling running.

the cost of food waste

 

7. Clear any Airflow Blocks

Airflow blocks can be hard to identify because you can’t see air. Still, if one of your pallets of items is blocking the airflow then your products will not be properly cooled.

Your temperature monitoring equipment may be able to help if you have enough thermometers and know the position of each.

It’s easiest to just check that the cooled air is not blocked.

 

8. Pre-Cool Both the Truck and Products

Just like the above tip, pre-cooling helps to keep the products at a consistent temperature. The best logistics operations have pre-cooling down to a science, and for good reason- it keeps their produce fresh.

From the moment an item is harvested, keeping it consistently cool is crucial to maintaining long shelf life.

 

9. Load Produce With Compatible Items

Multiple factors can lead to a shortened shelf life when shipping fresh produce using a reefer truck. Below are three ways to mitigate these factors.

Store items in their ideal temperature range

The ideal storage temperature varies for each type of produce. You should load items with similar ideal temperatures together when shipping. This guide to reefer commodities and temperatures should help you decide which products to group.

Avoid cross-contamination

If you load your produce under meat or fish it can lead to cross-contamination and food safety concerns. But loading trucks with just produce can also lead to issues because of ethylene.

Minimize ethylene exposure

Some fruits and vegetables release ethylene, which can cause others to ripen. This is why you need to separate apples from other items in your fridge. Premature ripening due to ethylene exposure can cause entire batches to rot early. This is more likely to happen on long-haul shipments, but it’s important to follow best practices when it comes to loading produce.

United World Transportation has created a helpful guide to ethylene and produce sensitivity.

 

food waste iceberg

 

10. Improve Packaging and Use Other Shelf Life Extension Methods

There is a lot of innovation around improving packaging and other technologies that can extend the shelf life of produce.

One example is Apeel’s coverings that surround the outside of products and prevent moisture loss.

We wrote a popular blog post on 9 methods to extend the shelf life of fresh produce that talks about these coverings and more.

Packaging improvements and MAP to extend shelf life

treatment and handling procedures to extend shelf life

Fix weaknesses in the cold chain to extend shelf life

monitor humidity to extend shelf life

 

individual coverings to extend shelf life

smart stickers to extend shelf life

absorbent food trays and pads to extend shelf life

switch varieties to extend shelf life

natural antimicrobials to extend shelf life

Summary

Shipping fresh produce is a complex process that can be boiled down to a few main messages.

  1. Keep your produce cool
  2. Track the produce freshness objectively and use it for decision making
  3. Minimize physical damage and exposure to harmful elements

If you want to measure produce freshness objectively, then be sure to learn more about shelf life prediction technology.

Ultimate Guide to Fresh Produce Shelf Life Prediction

We’re always happy to help identify how this technology can provide the greatest return for your business. Contact us to set up a meeting!

 

 

 

blueberries

Retail stores have seen increases in online grocery shopping in recent years. When the coronavirus pandemic began, online grocery shopping became an even more popular topic.

Consumers are more likely to order their groceries from their phone or computer and either pick it up or have it delivered to them. We also expect this trend to continue in the future as people realize how much easier it is.

However, your customers are struggling with rotten produce.

Some people are still risking their health in the middle of a pandemic just to assess fresh produce in person.

Buying Habits are Changing

Customers using online produce delivery are no longer closely inspecting produce in-store.

Gig shoppers simply don’t tend to be freshness experts. Their job is to get what a customer orders and to do it quickly.

This means customers have to trust retailers to provide high-quality produce for gig shoppers to pick up.

More people than ever are shopping for fruits and vegetables from home, so improving freshness is critical.

gig shoppers for fresh produce

In such a competitive industry, you are always trying to find ways to stand out from the rest and win more customers.

However, if customers aren’t receiving fresh produce these innovations may be in vain.

Why Should You Improve Freshness for Your Online Customers?

a quote saying "my peaches are already rotten 1 day after they arrived"

If customers receive a batch of peaches that rot after a day, there’s a strong chance they shop from another store the next time around.

Will they blame the gig shopper? Maybe.

But gig shoppers will make less mistakes if you are only selling high quality produce.

Retailers can gain a competitive edge by ensuring their fresh produce meets the expectations of their customers.

There are solutions that retailers use to do just that.

How to Ensure Your Fresh Produce is High Quality

The two main ways you can ensure freshness are:

  • Visual inspection by produce managers
  • Shelf life prediction technology

The easiest way to ensure your fruits and vegetables are fresh is to visually inspect them. This can be resource-intensive, inaccurate, and causes cross-contamination. While it’s easy, it may not be your best option.

Shelf life prediction technology allows your employees to “scan” each fruit and vegetable to determine how fresh it is.

By knowing shelf life, you can sell only the fruits and vegetables that meet your minimum criteria.

shelf life prediction of tomato

Retailers are Turning to Shelf Life Prediction

Multiple retailers have asked OneThird how we can help them provide fresher produce to their online customers.

Your staff can objectively assess incoming shipments to make sure they meet your standards. You can also enable produce managers to assess shelf life in under 1 second.

 

 

So What is Shelf Life Prediction?

Just imagine you and your employees can pick up any piece of produce in know instantly when it will go bad.

Think about how many fewer upset customers you’ll have. And think about how straightforward decision making will be.

Shelf life prediction determines how long a specific item or batch will last.

This technology may sound confusing. That’s why we created The Ultimate Guide to Fresh Produce Shelf Life Prediction. It discusses shelf life prediction in simple terms.

Ultimate Guide to Fresh Produce Shelf Life Prediction

What the Store of the Future Will Look Like

There are necessary operational improvements you will have to take if online demand stays this high. The “store of the future” may not even be a store at all.

Customers will be able to order groceries online and receive perfectly fresh items. Probably with free delivery.

Just think about how disruptive a company like Amazon can be in the online produce delivery with its operational expertise. They have already started opening stores that customers do not enter.

This means retailers will have to optimize in a few areas:

  1. Product freshness
  2. Delivery times
  3. Price
  4. User experience

grocery store of the future

What Else Shelf Life Prediction Can Do

Shelf life prediction makes for the ideal objective standard in your supply chain. Your suppliers can make decisions based on freshness and can check their products before shipping them.

You will also be able to inspect incoming produce to ensure it meets your quality expectations.

 

 

We know that our shelf life prediction technology will not solve every issue for you.

However, we haven’t seen an easier or more accurate way to determine product freshness.

Benefits of shelf life prediction

Summary

Customers want fresh produce. It’s hard to know the freshness of your produce before you sell it.

Competition is strong in the online produce delivery space, so you need ways of standing out.

Shelf life prediction ensures your customers will be happy with their produce and keep buying from your store.

 

 

 

Ultimate Guide to Fresh Produce Shelf Life Prediction

Ultimate Guide to Fresh Produce Shelf Life Prediction

 

Chances are you are determining the shelf life of your products in some way today. You may have heard of shelf life prediction before, but there’s a lot of confusion over the different approaches and applications. The purpose of this ultimate guide is to discuss all aspects of fresh produce shelf life prediction and how to start reaping the benefits from it.

 

Free PDF Download

 

Sections

  1. What is Shelf Life Prediction?
  2. Assessing Your Current State
  3. Common Issues Shelf Life Prediction Can Solve
  4. Shelf Life Prediction Methods
  5. Implementing Shelf Life Prediction

1. What is Shelf Life Prediction?

 

Definition

Shelf life prediction is a method that determines how long an item lasts until its “end of life”. For fresh produce, this usually means the time until an item is no longer acceptable to sell to a consumer. This is different from shelf life extension, which essentially prolongs the shelf life of an individual item.

Benefits

Knowing shelf life enables better decision making. For example, you can know which batches will survive a long-haul shipment and which should be sent locally. For exporters, knowing shelf life helps you ensure the products you ship will be fresh when the customer receives it. Understanding the shelf life of your produce helps to prevent food loss and waste, reduce costs, and improve freshness.

How it Works

Shelf life prediction methods collect data about fresh produce and use algorithms to estimate when it will reach “end of life”. Some can even do this in under one second.

These parameters can include:

  • Brix
  • Ethylene
  • Taste
  • Bruising
  • Firmness
  • Color
  • Visual defects
  • Growing conditions
  • Temperature
  • Humidity
  • And more

 

Technology You Can Use to Predict Shelf Life

There are five major methods for predicting shelf life (which we will cover in more detail in Section 4): 

  1. Static testing
  2. Temperature and humidity monitoring
  3. Chemical analysis
  4. Imaging
  5. Spectroscopy

OneThird uses spectroscopy to quickly analyze the biochemical processes inside fruits and vegetables. You can see shelf life prediction in action in the video below!

 

 

How Shelf Life Prediction Technology is Better Than Manual Methods

The traditional method of shelf life prediction is simply to leave items on a shelf and see how long it takes to reach the “end of life.” This is slow, destructive, and does not account for batch-to-batch shelf life variation. By the time 20 days have passed, the batches entering your warehouse are likely to have a different shelf life due to temperature and soil changes. Not to mention, every batch is subjected to different temperatures. When predicting shelf life accurately, it is important to include the factors that affect shelf life in your measurements. New shelf life prediction methods do just that, as they use AI to analyze all the raw data and output what the shelf life is. This is rapid, as well. What once took 10 days can now be done in one second and on every batch, non-destructively.

 

Action

Assess how you currently measure shelf life in your business.

  • Do you leave products on a shelf to rot?
  • How many labor hours does this take?
  • What information are you missing out on?
  • What information have your customers asked you for with regards to freshness?

 

2. Assessing Your Current State

 

Why Preventing Food Waste is The Most Beneficial Method

You don’t grow food just for the sake of it ending up being used in methods at the bottom of the food recovery hierarchy. Food is grown to be eaten. It’s expensive to grow, water, harvest, cool, package, and transport food that’s never eaten. Further, if you are paying for anaerobic digestion and composting then it’s costing you even more. These methods are better than dumping food into a landfill, they are still towards the bottom of the EPA’s Food Recovery Hierarchy. This means they are less preferred in terms of cost savings and socio-economic benefits.

food recovery hierarchy

Source: EPA

As seen in the above diagram, you should prioritize methods that focus on preventing food waste and feeding hungry people because they provide the largest socio-economic impact. Sending to a landfill, composting, and anaerobic digestion may seem easy, but all will end up hurting your business more.

Determining Your Volume of Food Loss/Waste

Many businesses report food waste as only the food that is sent to a landfill. While technically this is true, a much better approach is to assess the amount of surplus food you have. By using this approach, you can determine the root causes of food loss/waste. Many businesses think they can simply divert food from landfills and compost it or anaerobically digest it. And if you don’t measure waste diversion at all, now is the time to start. You cannot improve what you cannot measure.

 

How Much Can Businesses Save By Preventing Food Waste?

The cost of food loss and waste can be substantial. ReFED estimates that 1 ton of wasted food costs around $5,000 at the retail level. Walmart’s freshness management solution, Eden, is expected to save the business $2,000,000,000 in food waste over 5 years. That’s a lot of zeroes.

 

A Smaller-Scale Example

For this example, let’s assume your yearly food surplus is a modest 3,000 tons. If only 40% of this is fresh produce and you would only expect to prevent 50% of waste, that’s still about $3,000,000 per year saved!

Source: Fresh Produce Food Waste Savings Calculator

Action

How much money can you save by preventing food waste? Determine the following metrics for your business to find out:

  • How many tons of surplus food do you have per year?
  • What percentage of this surplus food is fresh produce (by weight)?
  • What is the cost per ton of your food? (ReFED estimates this as $5,000/ton)
  • What percentage of surplus waste do you think you can prevent?

 

Now use the Fresh Produce Food Waste Savings Calculator to see how much money and CO2 emissions you can save by reducing food waste:

 

3. Common Issues Shelf Life Prediction Can Solve

 

Stakeholders in every part of the value chain can benefit from shelf life prediction. This technology gives you an “objective standard” for easy quality discussions between suppliers and buyers. For example, a grower-shipper and a retailer can agree that the products they exchange will have a minimum of seven days of shelf life. With this clear, objective goal, the grower-shipper can assess shelf life before shipping to ensure no food will be rejected or wasted. The retailer can ensure that the produce they accept is fresh enough for customers to buy and consume before it rots and becomes waste.

shelf life prediction benefits

Growers

With every shipment, growers are putting their reputation on the line. Rejected shipments not only make their business look bad, but they are also expensive to deal with. Growers can decide which customers to send different batches to (dynamic routing) and ensure that their products will survive a shipment.

Distributors

Distributors may think they run a FEFO (first expiring, first-out) operation, but how can they really know? If there isn’t a repeatable, objective measurement in place then this process is not optimized and it is causing unnecessary food loss. By knowing the shelf life of every batch, distributors can optimize product freshness and have happier customers.

Wholesalers

You keep produce from numerous suppliers in your warehouse and maybe even have some international exports. How can you be sure that what you’re sending will survive a shipment? Using shelf life prediction, wholesalers compare the shelf life of a batch to the minimum requirement days of freshness. For example, if you have an export to the U.K. that takes 11 days you can ensure your products will last 11 days (plus however many days of freshness your customer should have).

Retailers

Retailers can ensure analyze incoming produce to ensure it meets their freshness and shelf life standards. They can also equip produce managers with the ability to analyze individual fruits and vegetables. Employees can make decisions based on freshness and not inaccurate and confusing “best by” dates. It’s rare to have customers contact you when they receive great produce from you. You will always hear about it if your produce rots after one day. You can also implement dynamic pricing with an objective measurement for freshness to adjust the price- rather than the manufacturer’s given date. 

Other Applications

There are numerous parts to the complex food supply chain. Because shelf life prediction is so new, there are many undiscovered applications of this technology. In any instance where fruits or vegetables exchange hands or are inspected for quality or freshness, you may be able to benefit from shelf life prediction. 

Action

Brainstorm five ways you could benefit from knowing the shelf life of your products in your specific business. Is it for standing out from competitors? Protecting your reputation? Moving to FEFO? Write them down.

 

4. Shelf Life Prediction Methods

 

Each of the five major methods of shelf life prediction has its target applications. Spectroscopy is currently the only shelf life prediction method that can predict shelf life based on intrinsic quality. 

1. Static Testing

Static testing is the most archaic method of determining shelf life. It involves leaving items on a shelf to rot and counting the days until they reach their “end of life.” It cannot account for variation between batches and is slow to perform. Plus, if you accept shipments from hundreds of orchards how could you possibly test the shelf life of every batch? Because shelf life prediction technology has not been accessible until now this is still the most commonly used method right now. 

Rotting strawberries

2. Temperature and Humidity Monitoring

Temperature and humidity conditions play a large role in affecting the shelf life of produce. You can predict the shelf life of a certain batch by comparing the temperature profile to that of historical batches. However, you cannot simply measure the temperature of fruit and know the shelf life- you need to know the entire temperature history.

freshness testing

Source: Zest Labs

3. Chemical Analysis

Analyzing ethylene, a hormone that some fruits and vegetables release during ripening, can help you understand when products are ripening. For example, if you notice a spike in ethylene you can determine that it will probably take around eleven days for your fruit to rot. This can help you decide which batches to ship our first. Also, color-changing stickers can help indicate freshness for consumers.

Strella-Biotechnology-web

Source: Strella Biotechnology

 

4. Imaging

Imaging is great for pointing out defects that may be indicators of ripening. You can also analyze images outside the visual spectrum (hyperspectral) to show defects inside fresh produce that the human eye cannot see. Hyperspectral imaging can show the internal ripening process of fruits and vegetables. Correlations between bruising and end of life can be used as a shelf life predictor.

Portable benchtop Specim Camera System

Source: ImpactVision

 

5. Spectroscopy

The only method that can use intrinsic quality to predict shelf life is spectroscopy. Every fruit and vegetable has a unique “spectral fingerprint.” Algorithms compare this spectral data to existing data for that variety to predict shelf life. It’s as simple as holding a device against an item for only one second as near-infrared (NIR) light enters the item. It’s non-destructive to the fruit or vegetable and not harmful to humans.

You can measure just a few items in a batch to have a good idea of the shelf life is for that batch. Spectroscopy can be used at any point along the journey from farm to fork. Any employee can pick up a device and determine shelf life.

using a smartphone and spectroscopy to determine strawberry shelf life

Source: BOM/OneThird

Capabilities of Each Method

The benefits and ideal application for each method vary. Below is a matrix showing the capabilities of each shelf life prediction method. 

Capabilities of Each Shelf Life Prediction Method

It’s worth noting that combining methods may be the best option, as more data leads to improved accuracy. Combining the intrinsic quality data with a temperature profile will provide a more complete picture of a product’s life.

Important Features to Look For

For any technology, it’s important to make sure it will provide a return on your investment. If a solution is adding too many unnecessary extra processes or taking a large amount of labor time, it may be hard to break even. The diagram below briefly shows three important features of any shelf life prediction solution.

important features to look for in shelf life prediction

 

Action

Brainstorm 3 benefits that you would have from implementing each method of predicting shelf life.

  • What problems would it solve?
  • How much time could you save? 
  • What could you validate by knowing shelf life?

 

5. Implementing Shelf Life Prediction

 

Starting a Trial

For new technologies, it’s common to first implement a trial (or at least analyze a case study). Because you’ll initially be adding the cost of the technology to the bottom line you want to make sure it provides a return on your investment. But rest assured, ReFED has said that “[food waste] prevention solutions offer the highest returns to retailers” (ReFED Retail Food Waste Action Guide).

Evaluating KPIs

The key to evaluating new technology is to have specific and measurable KPIs (key performance indicators). For shelf life prediction technology, it may be cost savings and the accuracy of predictions compared to current methods. Having this data will enable you to decide if you should move forward with the solution or try another one.

Scaling Up

Once you have proven the technology you’re using provides a return on investment then it’s time to scale up the implementation. You can increase the number of sites, number of produce varieties, number of employee licenses, and more. By scaling the implementation of shelf life prediction, you will also be scaling your food loss and waste savings.

Implementing Across the Supply Chain

The fresh food value chain is complex and the journey of fruits and vegetables from farm to fork involves many stakeholders. Suppliers aren’t able to track their products after their customers receive them. That’s why it’s important to connect product data between all parties and why blockchain is expected to be so useful in the future. The best shelf life prediction solutions, like OneThird’s, have a cloud platform where you can analyze objective product lifecycle data. This data is key to improving freshness management.

Integrating With Your Existing Processes

For technological solutions, it is typically best to have them fit into your existing processes where possible. This reduces complexity and improves utility. Obviously, your employees aren’t currently holding a handheld shelf life scanner to a set sample of products yet. So you may add some steps. However, the steps you add should all contribute to labor and food waste savings. It can even remove some steps to simplify your processes (like static shelf life testing). Because shelf life prediction technology is so flexible, it can often be “plugged in” to your existing procedures. 

Integrating With Other Data Sources

At the core of shelf life predictions are algorithms that analyze multiple data sources. By adding more data sources, these algorithms can become more accurate and give a more complete picture of a product’s lifecycle. For example, adding temperature/humidity data to an algorithm based mainly on spectroscopy can account for shipping conditions more holistically. Because this technology is so new, this hasn’t been done much yet in the industry. However, this is a logical next step and one that is on the roadmap for most companies.

How OneThird Can Help You Predict Shelf Life

OneThird’s mission is to become the objective quality standard from farm to fork. As Friends of Champions 12.3, we are working to halve global food loss and waste by 2030. We offer handheld spectroscopy scanners, shelf life algorithms, and a cloud platform for analyzing data. We develop customized shelf life prediction solutions so any business in the value chain can reduce food waste, improve freshness, and save money.

 

 

 

The Future of Shelf Life Prediction

Increased Automation

With thin margins in the fresh food industry, automation is a straightforward way of reducing costs. With shelf life prediction, you can automate several processes. This may include sorting lines, shipping allocations, and quality assessments.

Objective Taste and Nutrition Standards

The goal of any quality measurement is to ensure customers receive a good product. When it comes to food, customers care just as much about taste and nutrition as they do freshness and physical appearance. It’s possible that in the future, there will be reliable technology to give objective measurements for taste and nutrition. Produce suppliers can then measure these two metrics to ensure they have the happiest possible customers.

Consumer Products

Like the computer in the ’80s, once a technology is proven to work and seen as useful then it can move into the consumer space. The same might apply for shelf life prediction. Shoppers may soon have handheld spectrometers they can use in a supermarket to assess fresh produce. Retailers will have more demand to provide the best taste, nutrition, and freshness as a result.

Resources

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lettuce bunch

We often hear about subjective and objective quality control for fresh produce, but the difference can be confusing.

This post will explain the differences between subjective and objective measurements and how they are used for QC.

What is a Subjective Measurement?

Subjective means the measurement you are performing can be influenced by a person’s opinion.

subjective measurements of fresh produce definition

Think of it like this: subjective results are subject to interpretation.

Subjective Quality Assessment Examples

An example of a subjective measurement is visual defect inspection by employees. If employees look at individual fruits and vegetables to analyze defects then it is subject to their bias.

The very best of operations have minimal variation between inspectors, and this can require years of training.

subjective measurements of fresh produce

Problems With Subjective Measurements

Because subjective measurements rely on human interpretation, measurements can vary for different employees.

For example, one employee may pass a banana that the other wouldn’t have in a quality check.

Fresh produce companies use many subjective measurements because they seem simple. Freshness experts must be trained to have repeatable and reproducible results.

However, this is expensive and still not as accurate as an objective measurement would be.

objective vs subjective fresh produce quality assessment

What is an Objective Measurement?

Objective means something is driven by data and facts, without personal bias.

An objective measurement is something that you can base decisions on that is not influenced by human opinion.

objective measurements of fresh produce

By having objective measurements in place, there is no guesswork or room for human error. All measurements have the same basis.

Examples of Objective Quality Control Measurements for Fresh Produce

There are a few useful objective measurements for fresh produce.

Some examples are temperature profiles, Brix, and objective shelf life predictions.

examples of objective measurements for fresh produce

These measurements are only objective when they are not subject to a human’s interpretation. For example, an employee manually squeezing peaches to test firmness is not objective. Using a tool to apply the same force to every peach and noting that force recording is objective.

Wageningen University has an interesting video that summarizes objective quality control in the fresh chain.

What Does it Take to Be an Objective Standard?

We know that objective quality control is helpful, but can you take any measurement (firmness, for example) and base all your decisions on it? No.

An objective standard is an accurate and reliable indicator of what you want to control.

For example, if you want to control freshness, then shelf life could be your objective standard. However, shelf life determined from leaving products on a shelf until they rot is subjective. It also doesn’t account for variation between batches.

Instant shelf life prediction measurements based on intrinsic product quality are a reliable objective standard.

Why Objective Shelf Life Prediction is So Effective

There is no variation in shelf life predictions between employees when measured objectively. In this case, a handheld scanner and algorithms are what determines the shelf life in this case- not the employee.

This also means that you can hire someone new and have them at an equal level of measuring shelf life as an expert who has been there for 12 years.

Of course, if you still have other subjective measurements to perform, this new hire will be behind the curve. This is why it is beneficial to implement objective measurements wherever is reasonable in your business.

fresh produce shelf life prediction

Be sure to read our free Ultimate Guide to Fresh Produce Shelf Life Prediction to learn more.

Ultimate Guide to Fresh Produce Shelf Life Prediction

How To Begin Predicting Shelf Life of Fresh Produce

To perform objective quality control for fresh produce you must use the necessary tools. There are four main methods of predicting shelf life in fresh produce.

The best method depends on the specific application. Are you wanting to quickly assess a batch of strawberries and see how it compares to others? Then OneThird’s spectroscopy solutions are probably best for you.

There’s no single solution that will fit every application and prevent all your food loss. This is a complex issue that is best fought with a variety of tools.

OneThird makes shelf life prediction solutions for growers, distributors/wholesalers, and retailers.

 

 

 

boxes of raspberries

If you work in a facility that handles perishable goods of any kind, there’s a strong chance you hear the terms “FEFO” and “FIFO” thrown around.

In our experience, there are misconceptions about FIFO versus FEFO.

This blog post is meant to provide clarity on the differences and discuss what you need for a true FEFO operation.

What is FEFO?

FEFO stands for “first expired, first out.” It’s a method of shipping that just means you send the products expiring soonest first, even if they weren’t the first ones to enter your facility.

FEFO fresh produce

The other common method used in warehouses is FIFO, or “first in, first out.”

FIFO fresh produce

Many companies claim that they are shipping in a FEFO method- but are you really?

Do You Actually Use FEFO?

It’s easy to say that you ship FEFO. But how are you proving that you are indeed sending the first batch to expire out first?

You need an objective standard that can be used to assess different batches without bias. Subjective, visual assessments done by multiple employees are simply too biased.

Based on the huge amount of food loss and waste in the world, it’s likely that very few companies successfully maintain a true FEFO operation.

Shelf life can vary widely for a variety of fresh produce. One batch can last three days and the next can last 16 days, depending on a multitude of variables.

tomato static testing downsides

When subjective measurement standards are used to assess expiration dates, the dates cannot be trusted.

Likely, you sit somewhere between FIFO and FEFO until you have an objective shelf life standard.

The Current State of Food Loss and Waste

Around 40 percent of food wastage occurs in the supply chain in developed areas of the world. This can be due to pests, poor cold chain management, physical damage, and a variety of other reasons.

global food waste and loss per year is 1.3 billion tons

However, much of it is caused by poor freshness management. Are you using shelf life as a metric when deciding what to ship next? Or are you simply using visual assessment and what your staff believes should be shipped first?

Most companies just accept a certain level of loss and waste with their products. However, this is expensive and harmful to the environment. All while over 10% of the world is going hungry.

It’s a major initiative for the food system to halve food loss and waste by 2030 for many reasons. This means we must take steps now to reach our goals laid out by the UN.

How to Truly Switch to FEFO

It’s too common to have a subjective metric for assessing the expiration date. The problem with this is you run into human error and it requires a lot of labor.

The key to implementing FEFO in your business is comparing different batches objectively.

Is your metric the percentage of marketable products? Is it the average shelf life of a batch?

That’s why OneThird has developed a solution to predict shelf life in under a second by using a handheld device. By doing this, you can objectively compare various batches of fresh produce and base decisions on how long batch is expected to last.

shelf life prediction

Once you have a reliable method for ensuring a FEFO operation, you will see additional benefits.

What Will Improve When You Know Shelf Life?

There are numerous benefits for shelf life prediction, and they depend on the application.

Benefits of shelf life prediction

Grower-shippers will see benefits at the quality dock because they will know which batch to send where.

For example, if you have one batch with six days of shelf life and one with ten, you will send the batch with six days to a closer location.

Shelf life prediction gives your customers the freshest produce and minimizes food loss.

Adding Shelf Life Prediction to Your Business

There are a few ways to predict the shelf life of fresh produce.

types of shelf life prediction technologies for fresh produce

What’s important is making sure your business processes can make improvements from the shelf life data.

Be sure to read our free Ultimate Guide to Fresh Produce Shelf Life Prediction to learn more.

Ultimate Guide to Fresh Produce Shelf Life Prediction

OneThird helps to make that happen by diving into your supply chain to see where the highest-return applications are.

 

person holding grapes

To make things simple, fresh produce shelf life prediction tells you when individual fruits or vegetables will expire.

There are a few methods of doing so, but all help to prevent food loss and waste and improve freshness.

Why Would You Predict Fruit and Vegetable Shelf Life?

fresh produce shelf life prediction

Companies in the food supply chain ship huge amounts of fruits and vegetables from farm to fork.

It takes a large amount of energy, time, and money to grow fresh produce. Yet, one-third of all food is wasted. This number may even be higher for fruits and vegetables.

global food waste and loss per year is 1.3 billion tons

Food loss, which occurs in the supply chain, is caused by several factors that decrease the shelf life of fresh produce. You cannot assess per-item quality by measuring cold chain temperature and humidity alone.

Companies assess the quality of their produce when selling or buying it, but have no objective standard to easily make decisions.

Walmart plans to save $2 billion over five years by managing freshness.

Growers, distributors, and retailers can use shelf life prediction as that objective standard.

What is Fresh Produce Shelf Life Prediction?

Fresh produce shelf life prediction determines how long a certain fruit or vegetable will be safe to sell or eat.

This technology is important because shelf life in fresh produce can vary widely.

A study by Zest Labs showed that shelf life varied as much as 21 days for romaine hearts and 12 days for strawberries within stores.

With this level of uncertainty, wouldn’t knowing the real shelf life be nice?

Understanding the real shelf life of a batch of products enables better freshness management. It also allows for FEFO instead of FIFO (described below).

FIFO fresh produce

FEFO fresh produce

As seen in the images above, if you shipped the newer strawberries last then it likely would rot before a customer can eat it.

If you’re interested in learning more, be sure to read our free Ultimate Guide to Fresh Produce Shelf Life Prediction.

Ultimate Guide to Fresh Produce Shelf Life Prediction

How to Predict Shelf Life

The most common way of predicting shelf life is still static testing, which involves letting produce rot and seeing how long it takes.

tomato static testing downsides

Technology has made it much easier in recent years to predict shelf life. There are four major technologies to predict fresh produce shelf life.

Your application will determine the best solution to pick. If you want employees to determine shelf life in under 1 second by with a handheld device then spectroscopy may be the best option. Spectroscopy has been used in the food industry for various applications, as well.

shelf life prediction

What if You Knew the Freshness of Every Product?

Once you know the shelf life of your products, you have an objective standard to base decisions on.

This makes inspections simple, improves logistics, and helps ensure products don’t go to waste.

Benefits of shelf life prediction

OneThird Offers Leading Shelf Life Prediction

OneThird has developed shelf life prediction technology to assess fresh produce in real time. To learn more, contact us today or take a look at our various applications.

 

 

What is AI?

There are entire textbooks detailing what AI is.

First of all, it stands for “Artificial Intelligence”. This just means a computer is making decisions based on data.

Its usage has been growing because of the benefits that businesses see, especially in the food system. There are some technologies, like high-speed sorting and shelf life prediction, that can only AI can do.

Why is AI Used in Food Production and Distribution?

Two major trends show the need for AI in the food system.

  1. The increasing population
  2. A decrease in the number of people working in agricultural jobs

There will be 70% more mouths to feed by 2050

Because more people are being born every day, we have to find ways to feed them using the resources we have. There is a finite amount of land on the planet, so we must make the most of the food we do grow.

AI helps to make harvesting decisions, make smarter supply chain decisions, and reduce waste in other ways.

We have never had fewer people working agricultural jobs

150 years ago, around half of all people worked jobs in agriculture. This is now below 2% in America. Between 2008 and 2018, 236,800 agriculture jobs were added in the U.S. The BLS expects the U.S. to only add 10,600 agricultural jobs between 2018 and 2028.

The lack of human resources is one reason innovation and automation are important. If we have nobody to replace the roles people have filled for thousands of years, the food system falls apart.

What Are Some Benefits of Using AI in the Food System?

AI allows you to analyze huge amounts of data in a small amount of time.

Here are a few benefits the food and agriculture industry has seen:

  • Increased cost savings
  • Shelf life prediction and better routing decisions
  • Less time spent generating reports
  • Reduced food waste
  • Improvements towards sustainability goals
  • Easier and automated quality control

quote about measuring

AI is used all across the food system, and the benefits differ for each business.

Different Ways AI Can Be Used in the Food System

In this section, we’ll discuss some of the more common applications of AI for the food supply chain.

ways AI is used in food system

Harvesting Decisions for Growers-

Knowing when to harvest certain crops is important for growers. AI has been able to accelerate research in this area. Growers can use mathematical equations to calculate harvest time, but what if one of those factors changes? And how do you know afterward if it was the right decision?

AI is powerful because you can use data (historical, current, and future) to make real-time decisions. It also allows you to analyze trends and make improvements over time.

Sorting Food-

Gone are the days where you have to inspect and sort each fruit and vegetable by eye. High-speed sorting today can handle thousands of items per minute and has revolutionized the industry. Equipment can sort items based on size, appearance, and quality. In the future, it will also be possible to sort based on shelf life to ensure consistent quality in each batch.

Shelf Life Prediction-

Shelf life prediction has been researched for over 20 years and you can finally use it in your business. OneThird is at the forefront of instant and accurate shelf life prediction technology. We have handheld devices that can make anyone an instant freshness expert. Major benefits include easier inspections, objective standards, and dynamic routing.

Be sure to read our free Ultimate Guide to Fresh Produce Shelf Life Prediction to learn more.

Ultimate Guide to Fresh Produce Shelf Life Prediction

Dynamic Routing-

Wouldn’t it be nice to ship products expiring first out first? This is tough/impossible to do without knowing the shelf life of a batch and how it compares to others. With AI, this is a breeze.

Using dynamic routing, any company can quickly assess freshness and determine where to ship batches to maximize profit and minimize waste.

Customer Demand Forecasting-

It’s tough to predict what customers will buy at any given time. It is a major cause of food waste, and one that many in the food supply chain have said is their biggest pain.

Some companies can use social media, newsfeeds, weather data, and historical data to predict consumer demand.

Even increasing accuracy by one percent would save millions in food waste costs. Having proper forecasting can also benefit other applications, like dynamic routing.

Quality Assessment-

There are a lot of ways to assess the quality of fresh produce.

How many of these solutions can incorporate climate data?

How many can instantly compare results to every other measurement taken on that variety of produce?

With AI this can be done objectively in under 1 second and by anyone. You don’t have to rely on a gut feeling or visual assessment anymore.

In-Store Assessment and Dynamic Pricing-

Produce managers spend a large chunk of time assessing produce on shelves to determine if it is good to sell or not. What do they do with produce that doesn’t visibly change when it goes bad? Do they leave it on the shelf and harm their reputation from the customer receiving a bad product?

Chances are they will just toss products when they pass the sell-by date.

Shelf life varies for every piece of produce and too much edible food is thrown out because of limited knowledge on true shelf life.

What if you could know the remaining shelf life and price accordingly?

With dynamic pricing, retailers can sell lower-quality produce at a lower price, and vice-versa. AI is used to determine optimal prices for each type of fruit and vegetable to maximize profit and minimize waste. One such company, Wasteless, is doing that for several retailers.

Waste Measurement-

Many company sustainability programs haven’t gained traction because companies don’t know how much food they are wasting.

Some companies are wasting up to 50 percent of their food and still have no clue!

Mainly used in foodservice, there are solutions to monitor what exactly is going into waste bins and the weight of that waste. Knowing this information, you can know exactly how much you spend on wasted food and can track improvements. AI enables food recognition and improvement suggestions.

What Are Common Concerns With AI?

Since AI often can outperform humans and replace labor, it does not come without fear.

“This will steal jobs”

This is one of the most common fears of AI. While most applications are implemented to increase the output of existing workers, there typically are savings in labor hours. For most businesses, reducing labor hours is necessary to keep up with the competition. If a company is left with a high labor cost, it will be less profitable and lose customers to competitors offering lower prices.

However, having employees perform more meaningful tasks and using AI to automate repetitive tasks can improve job satisfaction.

“How do we know we can trust the AI outputs and suggestions?”

This depends on the technology, application, and business you are working with. Most companies in the food system already trust AI for critical business processes. It’s already used in your email to filter out spam!

However, it’s important to keep an eye out for red flags and implement solutions you can trust.

“This will complicate things for our employees”

There is a common fear that having employees use technology will make them overwhelmed and perform their job at a lower level. The right solution should get rid of the annoying and tedious tasks they face and make their job simpler. If an employee’s job is becoming more difficult due to AI, it may be time to critically evaluate that solution.

“It will be expensive to implement and run”

AI technology can be expensive at times, but it should always be justifiable if it has a big price tag. If a solution can save you an extra $1 million next year, how much would you pay for it? You could technically have a return on your investment if it costs $999,999. However, you always need to determine the return on investment (ROI) of all potential solutions and pick the best ones.

Preventing food waste can cause huge cost savings. Don’t believe us? Check out our Food Waste Savings Calculator.

Which AI Should You Implement?

The answer to this question depends on what your application is and what problems you are facing.

It is best used in aiding employees to do important roles in their job and to speed up the non-value-added aspects.

Artificial intelligence can also handle analyses that humans aren’t able to perform themselves and it is already commonly used.

How Can OneThird Help You Reduce Food Waste with AI?

OneThird uses AI to measure and analyze spectral data and compare it to thousands of measurements and external data sources to determine the shelf life of fresh produce.

You can learn more detail about how our technology can benefit growers, distributors, and retailers on our website.

Our video below explains more about our mission.

 

retail fresh produce

As a grower or supplier of fresh produce, there’s not much worse than having your products expire early.

This can damage your reputation and be expensive to deal with. Not to mention the hundreds of millions of tons of food loss and waste it causes globally per year.

Growers and shippers give their fruits and vegetables the best chance of staying fresh by extending shelf life.

Why Extending Shelf Life Helps

Fresh produce can spend up to half its life in transit. When shipping fruits and vegetables all over the world, it’s important to make sure the energy required to do so is put to good use.

Fruits and vegetables need to be given the best chance to survive long haul shipments.

Some benefits of extending shelf life include:

  • Better quality produce
  • Fewer shipments rejected
  • Less food loss and waste
  • Increased margins
  • Better brand reputation

There are a few different approaches to shelf life extension, including a few exciting innovations in recent years.

Causes of Reduced Shelf Life

To prolong shelf life, you must know what harms fresh produce.

The main factors that can affect shelf life are:

  • Ethylene exposure
  • Temperature changes and extremes
  • Humidity/moisture
  • Microbial growth
  • Physical harm

Causes of shelf life reduction in fresh produce

So, it makes sense that the methods used to extend shelf life should affect at least one of these factors.

Different Methods of Fresh Produce Shelf Life Extension

Methods to extend shelf life can vary for different types of fruits and vegetables, but there are multiple solutions for most.

Different ways of extending shelf life include:

  1. Packaging improvements and modified atmosphere packaging
  2. Improving treatment and handling procedures
  3. Finding weaknesses in cold chain
  4. Monitoring humidity
  5. Individual item coverings
  6. Smart stickers
  7. Absorbent food trays and pads
  8. New varieties
  9. Natural antimicrobials

Packaging Improvements and Modified-Atmosphere Packaging (MAP)

An easy step towards extending fruit and vegetable shelf life is to improve packaging. Shelf life-extending packaging can control respiration rate, ripening, and/or microbial growth.

Longer shelf life enables extended seasonality, less food loss, and a higher chance of maintaining freshness.

Modified atmosphere packaging (MAP) works to control the gases that surround an item. For example, limiting the oxygen that surrounds fruit will help to prolong shelf life.

Certain pallet covers, carton containers, and sheets can help to control ethylene.

Packaging improvements and MAP to extend shelf life

Improving Treatment and Handling Procedures

From the moment a fruit or vegetable is harvested, you need to make sure your treatments and handling methods are not harming them.

Examples of poor treatment methods can be using contaminated water to clean items or storing them in contaminated boxes.

Also, ensuring fresh produce is not subjected to excessive forces will help to ensure they are not damaged. Even minor things can harm shelf life. Keeping standard operating procedures (SOPs) is important to ensure proper handling.

treatment and handling procedures to extend shelf life

Finding Temperature Weaknesses in Cold Chain

Keeping a low temperature helps to limit decay and slow down microbial growth. If any part of the cold chain between harvest and the customer is compromised, it can harm the products.

One study showed that a delay of four hours between harvest and precooling of strawberries increased water loss by almost 50%. It also harmed the appearance upon arrival at the distribution center.

There are a few useful methods to record the temperature throughout the cold chain. This data can also be used to enable shelf life prediction.

Fix weaknesses in the cold chain to extend shelf life

Monitoring Humidity to Identify Improvement Areas

Humidity monitoring is equally important to temperature tracking. The two are often bundled together, as well.

Having high humidity helps to limit moisture loss in fruits and vegetables. Refrigeration can cause humidity loss, so keeping proper humidity levels is crucial to reducing shrink.

IoT devices track both temperature and humidity of items from the farm to the customer to identify areas for improvement.

monitor humidity to extend shelf life

Individual Item Coverings

Natural, plant-based coverings on fresh produce have generated a lot of buzz lately. One company, Apeel, has even raised a few hundred million dollars in funding for its solution.

Produce degrades by losing water and through oxidation (a chemical process requiring oxygen). Apeel’s coverings work by keeping moisture inside and oxygen outside.

Apeel is a member of Friends of Champions 12.3 alongside OneThird, as we have both dedicated to helping halve food loss and waste by 2030.

Some stores have implemented using individual plastic coverings on fresh produce to extend the shelf life. It is best to avoid plastic wherever possible. However, using plastic coverings can be better for the environment than letting food go to waste. If this shocks you, you should learn more about the effects of food waste.

individual coverings to extend shelf life

Smart Stickers

Some studies show how certain compounds can reduce the effects of ethylene or limit microbial growth to extend shelf life.

One company, StixFresh, claims to extend fresh fruit shelf life by up to 14 days using a sticker that gets placed on the fruit.

While there is plenty of validation in the supply chain left to perform, it is certainly an interesting idea that requires little effort.

smart stickers to extend shelf life

Absorbent Food Trays and Pads

There is a lot of innovation around pads that can go in the containers of fresh-cut produce. Pads absorb excess juices and can help to slow a product’s respiration rate.

These are already commonly used in the industry, but it’s worth keeping up with the increasing capabilities of absorbent pads.

absorbent food trays and pads to extend shelf life

Switching Varieties

Since farming began, humans have always sought ways to make new varieties that taste better. Now that our planet is more spread out and we ship across the world, creating varieties of produce with longer shelf lives is an area of focus.

For example, the USDA recently released a strawberry with an improved shelf life. Only 29% of the strawberries degraded after a week in cold storage as compared to 93% of Camarosa strawberries.

If you are open to using new varieties, it is best to keep an eye on what is available and evaluate potential alternatives.

switch varieties to extend shelf life

Natural Antimicrobials

Using herb, spice, or plant extracts as antimicrobials can help to prevent spoilage and extend shelf life.

As customers demand safer ingredients, it is important to seek out natural alternatives to chemicals. This can also be a selling point used to win even more customers.

natural antimicrobials to extend shelf life

An Important Note About Validating Results

It is important to validate that whatever solutions you use actually extend shelf life.

There is technology available from OneThird to measure and predict fresh produce shelf life. This can further help to prevent food waste and creates objective standards.

Our food loss and waste solutions can also eliminate static testing and improve routing, so decisions are based on freshness.

Be sure to read our free Ultimate Guide to Fresh Produce Shelf Life Prediction to learn more.

Ultimate Guide to Fresh Produce Shelf Life Prediction

What if You Had Extra Shelf Life?

What immediate benefits would you have if you could extend the shelf life of your produce by days, or even weeks? The answer is probably a lot.

You can have more shipments accepted, less shrink and loss, and improved margins.

Long-haul shipments become a possibility and you will be able to guarantee higher quality fruits and vegetables.

You May Not Even Need to Extend Shelf Life

Adding physical solutions can reduce food waste, but the cost of each item increases.

There are, however, solutions that make the most of the shelf life you do have by basing decisions off of freshness. This can allow you to transition from FIFO to FEFO (first to expire, first-out).

FIFO method of supply chain decisions

FEFO method of shipping fresh produce

 

FEFO is made possible with shelf life prediction. Growers, shippers, and distributors can prioritize delivery based on freshness with this method.

Benefits of shelf life prediction

OneThird’s technology can predict the shelf life of fresh produce in real-time.

Conclusion

Reducing fresh produce food loss and waste reduces cost, improves brand reputation, and helps meet sustainability goals.

You can extend shelf life in several ways, and the best solution depends on the application.

Shelf life prediction is another useful tool for reducing food loss and waste and does not require physical product changes.