How much food do you throw away? And how much of that is still usable, edible and tasty? An alarming new report from the Food & Agricultural Organisation (FAO) has indicated that we waste around US$1 trillion worth of food every year. And, even more shockingly, most of this can be attributed to ineffective marketing practices and consumer behaviour, including confusion over date labels or quality standards that over-emphasise food’s appearance.
With 870 million people across the world suffering from hunger, this number is unacceptable – and, what’s more, avoidable. But how?
Using barcode or radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology, food products can be tracked and traced throughout the entire product lifecycle – from manufacture to mealtime, whether the food ends up in a supermarket or a restaurant. This empowers retailers to make informed decisions about when they should start marking down items or giving them to charity – before it’s too late.
One particular type of barcode that has gained interest of late is the GS1 DataBar (RSS) barcode. DataBar – which is supported by Zebra – is an advanced barcode symbology that allows for a large amount of encoded data. Using DataBar, shops can offer products based on expiration and ‘picked’ dates, enabling inventory managers to streamline their flow of goods so that the oldest products are moved and sold first.
Consumers with the ability to read barcodes, using an app on their phone, for example, will also have access to this information, giving them control over their purchasing decisions and further educating them on when food can still be eaten – not thrown away. This is especially important, firstly as consumers are becoming increasingly technology savvy, and secondly because they play such a huge part in limiting the amount of food that we waste.
Rewritable RFID technology provides another way to find data on food products. RFID tags have extra memory sufficient for codes that can identify the manufacturer, product category and the individual item. These tags can also be updated with time stamps and transaction records to create electronic pedigrees, whilst battery-powered RFIDs can record temperatures and other environmental data.
What’s more, scanning and tracking food can bring about many benefits other than just reducing waste, including easier product recalls, improved sustainability and environmental well-being, and the efficient approval of food according to health and safety regulations.
Many organisations in the food industry have already launched traceability initiatives such as barcoding and RFID tagging, and have experienced product recall and labour cost reductions, improved product rotations and improved brand reputation.
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