Ripeness Technology to revolutionise fruit and vegetable monitoring

The Post Harvest Team   |   September 23, 2020
Ripeness Technology Title Image

We’re currently living in a time of exponential development, where sensors play a significant role in almost all areas of our lives. Sensor usage is doubling every two years while the sensors themselves are continually shrinking in size.

Take Smoke Detectors for example. Their sensor system measures down to about 100PPM, this is approximately the same capability of a human. Smoke detectors started off similar in size to a briefcase, gradually reducing in proportions to currently the size of a golf ball in some cases. At our current rate of development, soon enough, smoke detectors will simply be another sensor in your phone.

Around 45% of all fruits and vegetables are lost or wasted along the cool chain, this is primarily due to over-ripening of product. The losses of such large quantities of fruits and vegetables also result in other large resource losses including; water, fuel, labour, time, and money. With an impending global food crisis, and the United Nations looking to counteract said food crisis with their Sustainable Development Goals. The current solution to this is a GC (Gar Chromatography) machine, which measures the atmosphere of fruits and vegetables in the cool chain in order to predict optimal delivery times. These devices are about the size of a fridge and cannot be practically placed within each produce storage unit - However, sleeker and more automated sensor systems have begun to emerge on the market. With devices like these installed into each coolroom, we can literally reverse food loss on an international scale and greatly contribute towards solving the global food crisis.

PostHarvest’s environmental sensor arose from the vision of a ripeness technology for ultra-high sensitivity and an amazingly cost-efficient measurement of 5 key areas of fruits and vegetables health and they include;

  • ethylene gas gas
  • temperature
  • humidity
  • CO2
  • O2


Our engineers went on a 5-year journey to create a completely new and patented way of measuring gases in the atmosphere. At its core, we have designed and patented an amplification device that is able to give highly accurate and consistent atmospheric readings to standard sensors. This is achieved by taking a sample of a coolroom's atmosphere and filtering it into a chamber, creating a highly concentrated sample. This chamber is then heated causing the carbon to release the highly concentrated sample to be measured by a specific set of sensors. This allows for readings with an accuracy rating down to 1PPB (1 Part Per Billion), this is currently the highest measurement sensitivity in the industry and is equal to that of a GC (Gas Chromatography Machine) but at a 10th of both the price and size while also being able to consistently & accurately measure room readings every 15 minutes compared to once daily (GC).

Our hardware devices are wirelessly linked to a robust cloud based platform with the capabilities to be able to measure and track fluctuations in atmosphere levels, measure produce health, predict ripeness levels, forecast optimal delivery times and wirelessly link into 3rd party devices being used to control the coolrooms atmosphere. This platform gives autonomous control to coolroom operators, allowing them to not only monitor in real time all of the coolrooms they would previously have had to be physically present in, but also make informed decisions on what actions need to take place to optimise the coolrooms atmosphere. There is no current system on the market that is able to do this.   

The Environmental Sensor’s Benefits

Accuracy:
Whilst not all produce needs to be measured at extremely low levels, it’s the value of the increments of change that allows the data to be actionable. For example; an apple should be stored around 100PPB but to know if an apple is going to be in an environment where ethylene gas levels are too high, you would need to see an upward trend in levels using increments of change around 20-50PPB prior to it being too high for the produce.

Forecasting:
Forecasting ripeness is essential to being able to predict optimal dispatch dates for the product.

Time:
We know that time is critical as prolonged exposure to ethylene gas and poor environmental condition has irreversible effects on the produce.

Real-time alerts are imperative as we know from research that exposure to heightened ethylene gas levels for a minimum of 2 hours can cause product failure.

Cost:
Being cost effective is essential to having a larger market penetration, the big companies have large budgets for ethylene gas management but the smaller ones don’t. Having a low price point will also be critical for future markets in developing nations who export large amounts of produce and see massive amounts of waste but can not afford current industry technologies.

Non-Invasive:
Invasive technologies are widespread in the industry but have the negative impact of destroying portions of the produce in order to get results, while also disrupting what are supposed to be controlled environments and allowing for human error to become more prevalent in product handling.

API:
This is key in being able to have autonomous control over coolroom environments and remove the need for human interaction which is a leading cause for poor atmospheric conditions.

Cloud Platform:
Being able to remotely access our device and the software based functions is a very unique element to us. It drastically increases operator efficiency and allows for greater transparency across the cool chain.

AI:

Another unique element to our technology which will see a powerful feedback loop of data and learned knowledge increase efficiency and ultimately result in less wastage and higher quality produce.

PostHarvest’s environmental sensor with its real-time, highly sensitive atmosphere readings, is a form of ripeness technology that can provide the industry with actionable data that can initiate proactive measures to counteract irregularities in stored fruits and vegetables supplies and the potential losses that are a result of that. With notifications, suggested actions being sent to users, and API automation of storage management systems, there is ample time and direction for stakeholders to save themselves millions in supply losses.

Coolroom operators currently have all their hopes tied up in generating a controlled environment for their product to sustain healthy development throughout storage, however, the sensory technology & systems that are currently in circulation, frequently require a disruption to the controlled atmosphere, often necessitating manual inputs and invasive practices. The constant human interaction with the fruits and vegetables supplies is a catalyst towards the introduction of Volatile Organic Compounds in the atmosphere, and unintentionally activating the maturation of the produce and the encouragement of ethylene gas release to neighbouring supplies.

This oversight is one of the biggest causes of food loss within the supply chain in the first place, along with improper supply handling practices, managerial/technical limitations, human error, and unvalidated monitoring practices.

PostHarvest’s solution to the problems listed, can all be met by their ripeness technology which allows for:

  • fruits and vegetables to remain as undisturbed as possible
  • Genuine controlled atmosphere achievement 
  • Large reductions in human error
  • The removal of sacrificial testing practices
  • Automated control of storage management systems (air filtration, scrubbers, temperature, humidity controllers) via API integration 

It's for these very reasons that coolroom operators will greatly benefit from incorporating Environmental Sensor’s into their storage operations.

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