1.3 million tonnes of food are thrown away in Bavaria every year, a significant proportion of which is discarded at the end of the supply chain. Often, retailers and customers cannot assess the remaining shelf life. Prof. Dr Heike Mempel and her research team at Weihenstephan-Triesdorf University of Applied Sciences are working on determining the ripeness of fruit and vegetables, evaluating the quality of the fruit and estimating the remaining shelf life. Fresh foods of plant origin such as fruit and vegetables are sensitive due to their high water content and metabolism and are highly perishable. Depending on the ripeness, storage conditions (temperature, humidity, light), product specific characteristics and packaging, quality-reducing processes can progress at different rates. Particularly for fruit that continues to ripen after harvest, ripeness has a significant impact on the storage period but cannot always be assessed according to the appearance, smell or texture.
By using the near infrared spectroscopy, it is possible to measure the relevant criteria for assessing fruit’s quality and ripeness, such as its sugar content, acidity, water content and firmness as well as other substances like lycopene in tomatoes. The project should provide useful information for retailers. If changes in quality and the resulting remaining shelf life are recognised early, there is scope for action throughout the supply chain. In this way, flows of goods could be intelligently channelled, the goods put to alternative uses (smoothies, soups, sauces, etc.) or prices could be reduced for a quick sale.
The use of food scanners as a non-destructive measurement method for rapidly evaluating the quality and estimating the shelf life of fruit and vegetables has already been tested in two earlier research projects. The first was conducted by the 'Wir retten Lebensmittel!' ('We’re saving food!') alliance of the Bavarian State Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Forestry and the second by the QS Wissenschaftsfornds Obst, Gemüse und Kartoffeln (QS Science Fund for Fruit, Vegetables and Potatoes) (https://forschung.hswt.de/forschungsprojekt/1385-qs-foodscanner?person_id=51).
Currently the team is collaborating with other project partners on the follow-up project 'FreshAnalytics' (link to the German webpage) in developing a digital system for data management along the food supply chain for the practical application of forecasting models.