Many food products prematurely discarded
In Germany about 18 million tonnes of food products are discarded every year. Some 60 percent of this arises at the end of the value-creation chain at retailers and consumers and fruit and vegetables account for almost half of the waste. Foods that are sensitive to spoiling such as baked goods and meat products also make up a considerable portion of the discarded food. The reason for foods being discarded is often expiry of the best-before date that is printed on the packaging. Consumers in general assume that foods are no longer edible after expiry of the best-before date. This is why food products having an expired best-before date can no longer be sold by retailers. However, many of these products are still edible and are thrown away unnecessarily.
Rapid determination of the remaining shelf-life of food products using the food scanner
The StMELF funded research project FoodScanner is developing a rapid method (food scanner) for evaluating the quality of food products. A quick scan procedure determines the quality of the food and estimates the remaining shelf-life based on the storage conditions. This therefore prevents the premature discarding of foods that are still edible.
Near infrared spectroscopy for determining food quality and shelf-life
This joint project involving the Fraunhofer IVV, Fraunhofer IOSB, Weihenstephan-Triesdorf University of Applied Sciences, and Technologie Campus Grafenau, and being coordinated by the Kompetenzzentrum für Ernährung (KErn), is investigating the use of NIR (near infrared) spectrometers for rapid evaluation of the quality and estimation of the remaining shelf-life of two selected food products (minced meat and tomatoes). The Fraunhofer IVV is involved with the studies on minced meat (beef).
The storage of packaged minced meat under a variety of conditions is being studied with simultaneous measurement of the microbiological quality and key chemical parameters (e.g. water, fat, and protein content). At various times during the storage period the samples of minced meat are being analyzed with a compact NIR spectrometer, along with conventional reference analyses to determine the actual state of the meat. The NIR spectra are then statistically analyzed in order to correlate the changes in the NIR spectra to the microbiological quality and other quality parameters from the reference analyses.
The NIR method developed in the project will facilitate the early detection of quality deviations during storage, enable estimation of the remaining shelf-life, and will reduce food waste by allowing prompt eating the food, further processing, or alternative recycling routes. Use of the food scanner at all levels of the value-creation chain is feasible (food producers, retailers, consumers).
The food scanner as a future app for smartphones
In the future the food scanner will also be used for measuring the quality of other foods. For practical application a compact, favorable-cost device is under development. For user-friendliness the scanner is being linked to smartphones with data evaluation via an app that rapidly provides information about the food quality, shelf-life, and food ingredients.