There are a lot of opportunities to improve the global food system. And Walmart -- often considered one of the many contributors to our global food crises for its selection of unhealthy and unsustainable offerings -- may have just cracked the code to restore it. At least, a little bit.
Food waste has been identified as one of the major problems of our modern food system, and a new technology being used by Walmart aims to prevent the incidence of spoiled or wasted fruits and vegetables.
Nearly one-third of all food produced in the world goes uneaten. This is not just an issue impacting global rates of hunger and food scarcity, but it’s also connected to climate change; unused food generates more than 3.3 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide every year.
Now, the retail giant says it has been hard at work on a new technology called Eden aimed at upending food waste from happening at Walmart's produce sections. In theory, Eden is able to scan fresh fruits and vegetables to detect defects that may help Walmart better anticipate when a food item will spoil.
According to recent data, nearly half of all fruits and vegetables produced spoil before being consumed.
Eden, according to Parvez Musani, vice president of supply chain technology engineering at Walmart Labs, works with monitors tracking temperatures during transport between farms, distribution centers, and stores.
Eden also scans produce and compares those images of actual produce to a library of “acceptable” and “unacceptable” versions of the produce item in order to determine the shelf-life of the food. Those that appear too near to expiry could be put on a redirected route to a closer destination to sell the food faster.
“For example, if produce on a truck traveling to Texas from California has been exposed to high temperatures, Eden could immediately reroute the truck to Arizona,” Business Insider notes.
And Walmart says its relationship with tech will go all the way to the fields, with drones looking at produce before it’s even harvested in part Musani says, to “determine the quality of the produce Walmart is getting from suppliers.”
Numerous companies have begun shedding light on food waste -- Imperfect Produce now sells passed-over fruits and veggies in several chains including Whole Foods California locations. Barnana built its energy fruit business on the "unfit for sale" model, taking bananas too close or already ripened and dehydrating them into a chewy snack. Even restaurants are getting in on the action with "root-to-stem" meals predicted to be one of the hottest food trends of 2018. Walmart has even been selling "ugly" apples in some of its location -- fruits misshapen or spotted and considered unfit for conventional apple displays offered at a discounted price.
For Walmart though, the bottom line is all about profits.
If successful, Eden would save the retailer $2 billion over the next five years. “It has already saved Walmart $86 million since it was deployed to its 43 food-distribution centers in January of last year,” noted Business Insider.
Says Musani, "we are constantly looking at technology to serve our customers better."
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