Machine learning might keep our fruit from going bad

Produce display in a grocery store with fruits and vegetables
Photo: ColorBlind (Getty Images)

Praise be to scientists, who work behind the scenes, with little fanfare, to make our lives better. Case in point: Apeel, a company dedicated to reducing global food waste. In 2018 the company introduced a plant-based coating that helps extend the shelf life of produce, including avocados. No more avocados going from rock-hard in the grocery store to mushy brown goo on our kitchen countertops the moment we take our eyes off of them! The coating has been used commercially on avocados, organic apples, and citrus fruits, and it has been helping grocers save over 20 million pieces of fruit annually.

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This week, Apeel announced that it has taken another step in the fight against food waste by acquiring ImpactVision, a software start-up that uses AI and machine learning to monitor changes in the chemical composition of perishable food. This is possible thanks to hyperspectral imaging, which scans the electromagnetic field around produce to gather data on its freshness, ripeness, and nutrients. In a press release, Apeel says it plans to use ImpactVision’s technology to gain critical insights into how the composition of perishable food changes as it makes its way from farm to market, which will hopefully help suppliers, distributors, and retailers develop a better, less wasteful supply chain overall.

According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization and EPA, nearly 25% of the world’s fruits and vegetables are lost to spoilage each year, and North America is one of the largest contributors the global food waste problem. Currently Apeel’s produce coating is used at major national retailers like Costco and Kroger, and regional supermarket chains like Harp’s and Wakefern Food. So three cheers for all the folks coming up with ideas to (incrementally) save the world—and helping us live in a world where it’s always peak guacamole season.

Allison Robicelli is a JBFA-nominated food & humor writer, former professional chef, author of four (quite good) books, and The People's Hot Pocket Princess. Need cooking advice? Tweet me @Robicellis.

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