The… Fruit avatars attacking food waste

EMPA and Stellenbosch University aim to improve production and supply chains thanks to digital and biophysical 'twins'

Researchers from the Swiss Federal Laboratory for Materials Science and Technology in St. Gallen have expanded the range of already existing "sensor fruits", i.e. apples and mangoes, to include potatoes and avocados of various sizes, as well as improving polymeric building materials and the production process
Researchers from the Swiss Federal Laboratory for Materials Science and Technology in St. Gallen have expanded the range of already existing "sensor fruits", i.e. apples and mangoes, to include potatoes and avocados of various sizes, as well as improving polymeric building materials and the production process

Approximately one-third of all food produced or harvested in the world ends up in the trash rather than on the plate for consumption.
With the help of the "digital twins" technique, researchers from EMPA and Stellenbosch University in South Africa are now aiming to reduce food waste (for example, in the case of citrus fruits) along the production and supplying.
The hygrothermal measurement data needed to improve the shelf life of oranges and fruits belonging to the Citrus genus would actually be available.
So far, however, it is underutilized information, as the researchers write in a recent study published in the journal "Nature Food".

Food waste is now being fought with digitalisation

Chandrima Shrivastava is a researcher at the Laboratory of Biomimetic and Textile Membranes of EMPA in St. Gallen engaged in the study of "digital twins" and "biophysical twins" useful for monitoring and improving fruit preservation
Chandrima Shrivastava is a researcher at the Laboratory of Biomimetic and Textile Membranes of EMPA in St. Gallen engaged in the study of "digital twins" and "biophysical twins" useful for monitoring and improving fruit preservation

One third of all food in the world spoils in transit

As already mentioned, on the way from the place of production to the consumer's plate, about a third of all food in the world deteriorates.
One reason is the unfavorable storage conditions along the production and supply chains, including suboptimal storage in household homes.
Researchers at the EMPA Laboratory for Biomimetic Membranes and Textiles in St. Gallen have been working on digital solutions that can reduce this food waste for some time.
Now, together with scientists from the University of Bern and South Africa's Stellenbosch University, the team has developed citrus 'digital twins' and published the results in the journal Nature Food.

Video, the Swiss App arrives to reduce food waste

The consumption of cold fruit in the mid-afternoon causes an inevitable drop in blood pressure
The consumption of cold fruit in the mid-afternoon causes an inevitable drop in blood pressure

A healthy and complete dish instead of the garbage can

The seventeen Sustainable Development Goals of the UN 2030 Agenda include the security of food and agricultural products, all in a sustainable way.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) also sees digital solutions and sustainable innovations as a means to achieve these goals.
The team led by Chandrima Shrivastava and Thijs Defraeye now relies on digital information for the virtual doubles of citrus fruits, real Avatars, which they have been able to determine and create thanks to the "upcycling" technique, i.e. the valorisation of little used.
“Every container in the world is now equipped with one or more temperature sensors”, explains Defraeye of the Swiss Federal Laboratory for Materials Science and Technology.
Until now, however, the various hidden information in this measurement data had not yet been exploited properly.

Digital Twin: all the benefits of endless innovation

Thijs Defraeye is a researcher at the Laboratory of Biomimetic and Textile Membranes of the EMPA in St. Gallen engaged in the study of "digital twins" and "biophysical twins" useful for monitoring and improving fruit preservation
Thijs Defraeye is a researcher at the Laboratory of Biomimetic and Textile Membranes of the EMPA in St. Gallen engaged in the study of "digital twins" and "biophysical twins" useful for monitoring and improving fruit preservation

A test carried out thanks to 47 containers loaded with citrus fruits

By mathematically evaluating the physical processes, the team was able to use the datasets to track crucial properties across the fruit's time, revealing and even predicting quality losses and marketing problems.
To this end, the researchers monitored the temperature trend in 47 cargo containers of citrus fruits along the entire transport route and used computer simulations to determine the likelihood of corresponding damages, such as decay, moisture loss, cold injury , molds or even desirable changes such as fruit fly larvae mortality, via “digital twins”.
The result was a wide range of reports on travel conditions and corresponding quality losses.
“In our study, half of the shipments were not in optimal conditions for transport”says Defraeye.
The consequences: decay, cold damage, damaged goods. At the end of a thirty day trip, some of the remaining citrus fruits had a shelf life of only a few more days.

So data science has taken the field against poverty

Seraina Schudel, researcher at EMPA St. Gallen
Seraina Schudel, researcher at EMPA St. Gallen, studying food waste

A compromise of optimal conditions: neither very nor little cold

The solution to the problem, however, isn't simply to refrigerate food.
Rather, a precise adjustment of the conditions of transport in the form of a compromise is needed.
If, for example, the lemon travels when it is too fresh, pests such as fruit flies are kept away or other impairments in quality are avoided.
Conversely, the fruit is damaged by the cold, which could make it inedible and therefore unusable, as well as unsellable.
Using 'digital twins', the team is now able to determine the optimal conditions in which relevant risks such as fly infestation, vision impairment and cold damage are weighed against each other, looking for a 'compromise'.
Further developments are needed before the technology can be applied in practice, but the goal is clear.
Along their production and supply chains, companies should be able to integrate “virtual fruits” into their processes to optimize real-world storage conditions and reduce food losses.

Video, the packaging from… squeezing fruit and vegetables

The mathematical model of representation of the exotic mango fruit
The mathematical model of representation of the exotic mango fruit

Fruit spies in motion: polymer simulation “twins”.

EMPA researchers are also working on 'biophysical twins' of fruit and vegetables, all again with the aim of reducing food waste. In this case, the crop properties are perfectly simulated by polymer models.
In addition, the "biophysical twins" are equipped with sensors that measure the temperature and moisture content as they exist on the peel and pulp of the real food.
In this way, the "spy" inserted in the middle of the harvested real fruit reports precise data to optimize conditions during storage and transport, unlike conventional measurement methods.
Recently, Swiss researchers have expanded the range of already existing "sensory fruits", i.e. the apple and mango, to include potatoes and avocados of various sizes, as well as improving the constituent materials and the production process.

The benefits of nuts for lowering cholesterol

Chandrima Shrivastava is a researcher at the Laboratory of Biomimetic and Textile Membranes of EMPA in St. Gallen engaged in the study of "digital twins" and "biophysical twins" useful for monitoring and improving fruit preservation
Chandrima Shrivastava is a researcher at the Laboratory of Biomimetic and Textile Membranes of EMPA in St. Gallen engaged in the study of "digital twins" and "biophysical twins" useful for monitoring and improving fruit preservation