As much as a third of the world’s food is lost before it even reaches consumers, but a new mobile canning system could help lower waste
In a world where millions go hungry every day, the scale of operation needed to feed the planet is staggering. Roughly 1.3 billion tonnes of food – worth nearly one trillion dollars – produced for human consumption is lost or wasted every year, according to the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) of the United Nations.
Fruit, vegetables and root crops have the highest wastage rate at 40 to 50 per cent, according to the FAO. In developing countries most of this waste occurs at the early stages of the supply chain due to harvesting techniques and the lack of infrastructure for appropriately storing crops, in particular cooling facilities to stop food from spoiling.
Now though, Tata Steel has developed a concept for a mobile canning facility that could let farmers preserve the food they produce as soon as it’s harvested. That could dramatically cut food losses at the source and allow farmers to make extra money by producing ready-for-market canned goods.
“In India, 44 per cent of food harvested is lost before it reaches consumers through the postharvest stages, often because it simply cannot be packaged and preserved quickly enough,” Steven Dijkstra, head of marketing packaging & Nordics at Tata Steel in Europe, said in a statement.
“Tata Steel’s mobile canning line will allow farmers, even in the remotest of rural areas, to preserve their harvest, producing canned foods, ready for distribution on site. In India alone, we have the potential to save 84 million tonnes of food per year.”
“In India, 44 per cent of food harvested is lost before it reaches consumers through the postharvest stages, often because it simply cannot be packaged and preserved quickly enough”
Steven Dijkstra, Tata Steel
Typically the problem in developing countries is a lack of infrastructure and transport links, which means food spoils before it reaches consumers of processing facilities. So Tata decided to bring the processing facility to the farm.
The concept involves two trucks – one housing machinery to build cans and another with a food processing line. These mobile factories can be driven to a farm in even the most remote areas to provide a way to preserve food as soon as its harvested.
The can making facility uses a draw and redraw approach to create two piece cans. A sheet of steel known is used to create a shallow cup before it is stretched into a can that meets the desired height and diameter. This results in a seamless can body that is then capped with another circular piece of steel once it has been filled.
The cans will be made from Tata’s Protact® steel, which was designed to provide a more sustainable, reliable and safe packaging material. The specialised laminated steel features a three-layer polymer coating on both sides that can be tailored for food packaging processes – for instance, the adhesion layer can be optimised for the harsh sterilisation procedures required prior to packaging.
And thanks to the fact that the steel is already laminated with food packaging-specific coatings there is no need for the cans to be lacquered – a standard step in producing food cans that adds a coating designed to prevent the can from chemically reacting with the contents. This dramatically simplifies the can making process, making it possible to carry it out from the back of a truck.
“Tata Steel’s mobile canning line will allow farmers, even in the remotest of rural areas, to preserve their harvest, producing canned foods, ready for distribution on site”
Steven Dijkstra, Tata Steel
Once the cans are made they will be brought to a filling truck where fruit and vegetables will be sorted, washed, prepared, canned, sterilised and labelled on site to create consumer ready products. Tata’s concept imagines distribution trucks collecting these cans from the farm and delivering them directly to distribution centres or shops.
The beauty of the system lies in its mobility – as soon as one farm has finished harvesting the trucks can move onto the next. That means farmers have access to a state-of-the-art food packaging facility on their doorstep, without the need for heavy investment in a permanent packaging facility.
The solution fits well with the FAO’s advice for combating food loss, which highlights the need to expand the food and packaging industry in developing countries. And as Dijkstra points out canning is probably the best solution for food packaging.
“Canned foods retain high quantities of nutrients and also have a longer shelf life than their non-canned counterparts helping to decrease food loss and waste further still,” he says.
At present the system devised by Tata is at the concept stage, but they are in discussions with a number of partners who are interested in rolling it out in the real world and they plan for it to be in use within three years.