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Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Using AI to address food waste in the hospitality industry

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The Winnow Vision System is using artificial intelligence to help curb food waste in commercial kitchens and the hospitality industry.

There are millions of people currently sleeping on an empty stomach as you read this. The food shortage crisis is a devastating reality across the entire world. Yet a shocking amount of food gets wasted every single day. Have you ever thought about what happens to the food that doesn’t get sold at supermarkets?

Well, think no more. A huge proportion of supermarket food gets tossed away. A whopping 43 billion pounds of food from supermarkets are thrown away each year in the US alone. Just imagine the amount of food waste on a global scale.

Vilifying the supermarket industry alone isn’t fair. This crisis is present across many industries, the hospitality industry being one of them. The food wastage crisis isn’t just contributing to world hunger but also has declared a war against sustainability and the environment. So, what is being done to curb this crisis?

Supermarkets are adopting a zero-waste policy, hotels are donating leftovers and restaurants are charging for food waste. But the fight against food waste isn’t just limited to these initiatives. Companies like Winnow are using technology and artificial intelligence to curb food waste in the hospitality industry.

If you have ever dined out and not asked for a to-go box for your leftovers, then you have contributed towards the food waste crisis. According to Winnow, 1.3 billion tonnes of the food produced in the world for human consumption every year gets lost or wasted, which is equal to more than $1 trillion in waste, or over 1% of global output.

Winnow says the global hospitality sector loses around $100 billion every year to food waste. These disastrous statistics are what inspired the company to introduce Winnow Vision, which helps chefs and hoteliers around the world reduce food waste.

It is essentially a measurement device that informs chefs about the daily amount of food required for the business. Winnow told The Vegan Review that it uses “a camera, a set of smart scales and the same type of machine learning technology found in autonomous vehicles” for its AI.

restaurant food wasteIt is built to identify the type and amount of food items being discarded and provides the environmental and financial cost calculation to the company. The company’s Winnow Vision helps commercial kitchens “save time and money” by capturing, tracking and managing “food waste with ease”.

The AI is a form of data collection and an analysis tool that helps chefs implement wiser decisions for product quantity and purchasing. The Winnow Vision system “takes human input, [provides] a shortlist of possible menu items for kitchen staff to select, [and] quickly improves its predictions based on feedback”.

The ingenuity of the system is appreciated by several big names. Today, Hilton, Armani Hotel, and Fairmont Hotels and Resorts are amongst some of the big players using the Winnow Vision system.

In 2019, Winnow Vision was launched in collaboration with IKEA in the UK, which reported halving food waste, saving 1.2 million meals from being wasted. The AI is used by chefs across 40 countries and helps save around “36 million meals and 61,000 tonnes of CO2e per year”.

The Winnow Vision system is built to improve as it receives more and more data, and with time, the brand says, it “automatically [recognises] food with almost no human interaction”.

Currently, the system is made to only accommodate the needs of commercial kitchens. However, Winnow is keeping “an open mind about” bringing the technology to help everyday home kitchens. It says we all can do our part to minimise food waste by keeping track of our intake and purchases. The brand also suggests moving past the superficial looks of food and consuming the “wonky-looking” fruit and veggies.

The company also recommends looking into surplus food distribution apps such as Olio and Too Good To Go to help you in your food waste prevention. This amalgamation of technology and the food industry is an innovation that Winnow believes will change commercial kitchens forever for the better.

Winnow also hopes that its AI system’s future becomes standard across commercial kitchens and as irreplaceable as a fridge. It envisions a future for such kitchens, where they are “lean, efficient, and deliver quality food to customers with minimum impact on the environment”.

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