One of the most frightening statistics in South Africa are the 10 million tonnes of food that are wasted every year. Of this, fruits, vegetables and cereals account for 70% of the wastage and loss primarily throughout the food supply chain. In a country that is facing a growing rate of food poverty, the rate of food wastage is unacceptably high. Whilst there are multiple contributing factors to this statistic, the correct environmental storage and transport temperature range is the most important one to be considered straight after the harvesting process, up until the sale of fresh food to the consumer.
The size of our country places a high burden on the transport and logistics sector, to ensure that food is safely brought from source to the consumer. Our food often traverses a route of many transport sectors and multiple warehouses until it arrives at the retailer for sale to the consumer. Environmental quality standards are often neglected for reasons of ignorance, lack of care and lack of controls in the quality assurance channel. What is often perceived as a short time, non-compliant storage condition, will result in significant degradation further down the lifecycle of the produce. By the time it is purchased by the consumer, it is often too late as the degradation and damage would have started long before it arrived on the shelves.
Harmful bacteria that are found in all our foods multiply rapidly in temperatures already above 4.5 degree Celsius, often doubling in volume in as little as 20 minutes. Thus, especially in a warm country such as ours, utmost attention must be placed on strict and uninterrupted temperature management for harvested food during the storage, transport and retail cycle. Food degradation due to increased bacterial activity is an invisible process, but greatly affects food quality, storage life, nutrition and can lead to harmful effects for the consumer. When expired or rotten food has to be disposed of, the loss does not only affect the ones that need it most, but it is also the economic impact on the wasted resources that would have been used to produce and transport the food in the first place, which compound the tragedy.
Modern technology allows for continuous monitoring of the environmental parameters in transport and storage environments, with minute by minute temperature measurement and continuous data recording. Any deviation of the recommended temperature range will immediately trigger an alert send out to cell phones and email accounts of operational staff, so that interventions can be undertaken before the critical temperature point is reached. In addition, the measurement data is sent regularly to the cloud based management system, where it is securely stored and backed up.
The data is kept for a period of up to five years, thus allowing for regular reports to be provided and facility audits to be conducted. Data can be analysed for trends and regular recurrences; it can be used as a quality control mechanism for the cooling equipment and can be used to optimise handling processes. Data insights are the most valuable commodity of the 21st century, and provide much needed visibility into business operations, transforming reactive decision making to proactive decision making.
As a country with a high growth rate and an increasing reliance on naturally produced food, we cannot afford to be wasting food as a result of lacking controls across the supply chain. Our high volume of wasted food confirms that the old ways of managing temperature control across the supply chain are inadequate and need to be replaced with modern technology. Covid 19 has taught us, that technology is there to assist, when people are unable to continue working in the manner they have always been used to. We need to embrace new technology and fundamentally increase efficiencies across our limited base of natural resources, rather than wasting them.