Since I started working at Zest Labs I have not been able to look at a strawberry the same way as I did before joining the company. Each morning when I make my breakfast and take the berries out of my refrigerator I pause to think about everything that went into growing, harvesting, packing and shipping those berries. It’s really a rather phenomenal process when you understand it. Beyond the planting, growing and harvesting – which is no doubt an achievement in itself – the post-harvest processing and distribution is remarkable. We can buy quality berries pretty much year around.

Despite this, it’s still frustrating that sometimes I purchase strawberries and they last me five days and other times only one.  They all look fresh when I buy them. I used to ask myself “Why?”

Now I know why.

All the strawberries are picked with maximum freshness. Most people involved with the cold supply chain assume that those berries will all age consistently.  That is, all fruit picked in a field on the same day will have the same shelf life.

Unfortunately, that’s not true.

Depending on how the berries are handled post-harvest can impact the shelf life by five days or more and that’s why sometimes my berries last one day after I buy them and other times five days.  When it comes to remaining freshness, it’s all a function of time and temperature.  A pallet can sit in a field for hours or be immediately taken to the pack house.  It can go immediately into pre-cool or wait. Pre-cool could be working effectively or be inconsistently cooling the berries.  Research has shown that once berries are placed into the trailer for shipping the temperature continues to vary based on location inside the trailer.  You get the point.  There are lots of variables and they’re all at the pallet level, not the lot or trailer level.

Growers, shippers and retailers rely on their best guess, visual inspection and experience when it comes to freshness and shelf life. They route product based on unscientific methods.  They often insert a temperature tag to check if there were any “excursions” that might impact safety, but it doesn’t help with determining freshness.

The result is that retail stores often don’t know if the product they received has enough freshness for consumers to get the desired five days of life when we purchase it and take it home.  So, product gets wasted, either by the retailer or by the consumer. The NRDC says that 40% of food is wasted. And, that’s not just the food but the time, resources, fuel and labor it took to process it too.  That’s a lot of waste.

One of the reasons I joined Zest Labs is that we have a solution for that. We’re passionate about solving this problem. Why?  Because food waste consumes valuable resources. Because consumers deserve the freshest food possible. Because growers, processors, shippers all want to provide the freshest product. Because wasted food costs all of us money. And because, ultimately, we’re also going to have to feed a few more billion people in this world before long and land, water and other resources are finite.

Our blog is going to focus on how we can solve this problem together. We’re working with growers and retailers to help them ensure the maximum possible delivered freshness. We’ll share some of the results of our efforts. We’ll talk about new technologies like blockchain that can help with food safety and traceability. We’ll talk about the implications of market forces such as online shopping and delivery.  We’ll welcome your thoughts and ideas and hope you’ll join us on this journey to improve the cold supply chain, reduce waste and ensure delivered freshness.

Kevin Payne
Vice President of Marketing