Monday, August 15, 2011

Technology and the distribution of food

The food industry has seen a variety of technology changes in recent years, including just-in-time inventory and ordering systems that eliminate the need for large warehouses full of food.  Those scanners in the check-out lanes in the supermarkets not only provide you with a total due, but they feed a system that tells the stores just when and what to re-order.

The newest example of this is highlighted in today's Hartford Courant.  A new device the size of a credit card can monitor the temperature of food throughout the transit and storage process.  The goal is to have less food wasted due to poor temperature controls.

Why are these changes important to Foodshare?  Two reasons:

First, sometimes these technological advances can help Foodshare do our work more effectively.  For example, we use an online ordering system, allowing the food pantries and community kitchens to place their orders with Foodshare right on our website.  We have also installed "ethylene eaters" in our coolers to prolong the life of the fresh produce donated to Foodshare.

And second, these technological advances can sometimes mean less food available for donation.  Food banking's business model has been built on the idea of working with food companies to salvage food which might not be marketable, but is still good to eat.  Thirty years ago, when food banks started out, food companies had large warehouses full of non-perishable food products and the inventory tracking mechanisms were not as efficient as today.  As a result, it was relatively easy for food banks to secure donations of non-perishable food.  However, both the technology changed, meaning better inventory tracking, and consumer preferences changed, meaning more food going to market was fresh and perishable.  Foodshare has had to change its business model over the years to keep up with these trends and today, more than half of the food we distribute is perishable food!

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