Many farms and restaurants are facing financial peril during the current economic climate. The trucking industry has been heavily disrupted as well. With the economy so variable by country, state, and city, no player in the farm-to-market chain can afford losses caused by waste in transit. Here’s how the remote, mobile Internet of Things (IoT) can reduce losses in transit and help restaurants get what they need to stay in business.
What’s at stake for farmers, restaurants, and truckers? Operators in all three industries are cutting costs and trying to find efficiencies that will allow them to stay in business. In the U.S. House of Representatives, some lawmakers from both parties say small farms need more federal help to cope with the reduction in demand from schools, restaurants, and farmers’ markets. Restaurants hit hard in the spring by closures are facing another round of shutdowns in many areas. And in May, Reuters reported that new freight contracts were down 60% to 90% worldwide, forcing many small trucking firms to compete hard on rates in order to keep their drivers on the road.
Reducing Food Spoilage with Remote Mobile Cold-Chain Monitoring
Approximately one-third of the world’s food is lost or wasted yearly. According to the U.N. Food Program, up to half of temperature-sensitive produce is ruined after harvest, “primarily because of lack of or inadequate access to cold-chain logistics.” As produce exports from developing countries increase, and as climate change creates new temperature management challenges for distributors and transport companies, the need for affordable, easy-to-implement cold-chain monitoring technology will keep growing.
Transportation temperature monitoring solutions are already available, thanks to mobile IoT technology. It only takes a few minutes to outfit a reefer trailer with wireless temperature sensors that feed real-time readings to a mobile data gateway. Trucking company managers can then view a continuous feed of data on their phones, tablets, or computers that shows the temperature inside the reefer at any time, to make sure the cold chain remains in effect.
Managers can also set thresholds for each sensor, based on the correct temperature range for the items in transit, so that they get alerts if the temperature inside the reefer rises or falls outside the acceptable level. These immediate notifications allow managers to reach out to the driver to try to solve the issue or to pull the items if they’ve been out of the proper temperature range too long, to avoid a costly and damaging recall later.
Transit companies can also, if they choose, allow clients such as restaurant managers or chefs to log in to see data on their incoming shipments, to demonstrate quality control. Aside from tracking real-time temperature data, this cold-chain monitoring technology builds a database of historical sensor readings that managers can review to spot areas where improvements are needed to maintain the right temperature. This ability to monitor and continuously improve cold chain compliance—with the data to back it up—gives trucking companies a competitive advantage with clients who need to ship temperature-sensitive food items.
Protecting Fragile Food Products with Remote Vibration Sensors
Out-of-range temperatures aren’t the only threat to produce in transit. Physical shocks caused by rough roads, sudden stops, or lane changes and containers shifting inside the trailer can crush or damage food items. But even an uneventful haul can harm the quality of produce, due to persistent vibrations of lower amplitude in the truck that can change the appearance or taste of foods such as lettuce and berries.
There’s a mobile IoT solution for this problem, too: wireless vibration sensors that relay data to a mobile gateway in the same way that wireless temperature sensors do. Both types of sensors can operate on the same network in a trailer to provide a clearer picture of conditions in transit. As with temperature sensors, vibration sensors can send alerts when vibrations are out of range for optimal produce quality. The historical sensor data can help managers determine which kinds of trailers, routes, and packaging provide the best protection from damaging shocks and vibrations, and which need improvement.
Tracking Shipments and Total Transit Time with GPS
Timing of deliveries is important for restaurants. It’s also important for quality control, as longer transport times increase the likelihood of food waste. Knowing exactly when items will arrive allows chefs to plan menus that maximize available food when it’s freshest, to reduce food and financial waste.