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Initial Proposal

Have you ever opened your refrigerator only to be overwhelmed by the

foul smell of spoiled food? Most people have experienced the frustratingly
wasteful experience of storing food in modern refrigerators. Often people
forget that certain perishable items have been purchased until they find
themselves digging through the refrigerator trying to track down the origin of
a rancid smell. Its safe to assume that most people dont purchase food with
intentions of throwing it in the garbage wasting their hard earned money.
Despite our best intentions the amount of food waste generated per person
is a startling statistic. This claim is supported by a news release from the
USDA Department of Communication that stated; Food waste the single
largest type of waste entering our landfills -- Americans throw away up to 40
percent of their food.i My proposal is to automate the detection of foods in a
refrigerator that are spoiled or that may be nearing expiration. The problem
lies with the inability to keep track of which foods were purchased when as
well as how long they take to spoil. Even if foods are purchased during the
same trip to the grocery store they have drastic differences in shelf life,
which can be very difficult to keep track of. While there are numerous food
items, each having multiple paths to degradation I began with an attempt to
narrow the scope of this automation process by considering three main
categories of perishable foods. Some of the most common foods that are
thrown away due to spoilage are produce, meat, and dairy.
Each of these three categories of food poses variation in their
degradation processes, which can be identified using specific gas sensors
that can detect very low concentrations. This automation technology could
potentially be licensed to major appliance manufacturers with the idea that
degradation sensor technology could be a standard in all refrigerators. When

considering the potential consumer market for refrigerators it is clear to see
the wide market base that would benefit from this type of automation.
According to the website; There are an estimated
60 million units manufactured each year and some 500 million refrigeratorfreezers in use worldwide.ii
In order to create an idea of how this automation process would work it
makes sense to consider one specific food category to explore the details. If
we consider produce as an example, we can think of the space in the crisper
drawer as our system that we will monitor for changes that we can associate
with spoilage time. Most of the fruits and vegetable spoilage that we suffer is
a result of ethylene gas, which serves as a ripening hormone for produce.
When produce is exposed to elevated levels of ethylene the spoilage process
is accelerated and it can cause other fruits and vegetables to spoil
prematurely. The proposed automation would take advantage of an ethylene
sensor placed in the crisper drawer that will continuously measure the
change in the ethylene concentration over time. It is important to relate the
quantity of ethylene to the remaining lifetime of the produce. This
relationship is summarized concisely by Frontline Services, who specializes in
the use of ethylene for the forced ripening of produce. The article states; All
fruit produce at least small quantities of ethylene during ripening and the
internal ethylene concentrations of non-climacteric fruit varies little during
their growth and ripening. Exposing non-climacteric fruit to external
concentrations of ethylene can transiently increase their respiration rate
proportionally to ethylene concentrations.


The rate of decay could potentially be modeled by an exponential

function since respiration increases as the ethylene concentration increases.
The correlation in the figure below can be used to determine how long it will
take for concentrations to reach a preprogrammed threshold. Once the
concentration reaches a certain set point, a message would be sent to a
display in the format of an expected expiration date while simultaneously
sending a signal to an actuator to vent the crisper drawer through a small

activated carbon filter to lower the ethylene concentration. This would serve
two purposes; the first would be to minimize spoilage due to increasing
ethylene concentrations. The second function of the venting would be to
make sure the sensor stays within a desired operating range. The figure
below shows the relationship over the first days of ripening that can be used
to model data.

Example emission profiles for CO2 and C2H4 for a ripening tomato

Figure 1: Image provided by Frontline Consulting Services


In this case the measured input would be the increasing ethylene
concentration as the produce spoils and the output would be a signal to a
numerical display as well as a signal to an actuator that turns on a vent fan
in order to purge the ethylene concentration back to a baseline level at
which time a signal would be sent to turn the vent fan off. The process
variable for this automation is the current ethylene concentration. The
assumptions for this process are that it is understood that this form of
automation couldnt possibly account for all of the potential ways that food
could go bad, but instead focusing efforts on the major culprits.
It is important to address expectations in regards to market perception
of the product to assure that an investment would be the right decision for
Great Ideas Inc. The first and most obvious perspective to consider would be
that of the consumer. We expect to be well received by manufacturers as
well as the end user customer. When considering the end user perspective of
our product, its easy to see how wasting less produce will translate directly
to dollars saved. From an appliance manufacturers point of view, we
anticipate a certain degree of skepticism until the technology is suitably
tested for accuracy and longevity. Once initial concerns have been addressed
we expect that manufacturers will be interested in licensing opportunities to
ensure that their appliances have the newest technology that demonstrates
their commitment to the consumers best interest. Another perspective to
consider would be that of any market competition or anyone that may have a
negative reaction to our product. It makes sense that grocery stores may not
appreciate the dip in sales associated with people keeping produce fresh for
longer periods of time. Competitive products that currently exist could suffer
greatly in sales with the release of this product. The closest technology to
our product that serves the same market is an ethylene absorbing matt that
is designed to be placed in a crisper drawer and replaced periodically.


Work Cited

i "News Release." USDA and EPA Launch U.S. Food Waste Challenge. USDA Office
of Communications, 12 Jan. 2013. Web. 8 Oct. 2015.
3632 Household Refrigerators and Home and Farm Freezers. Catalytic Generators,
2003. Web. 8 Oct. 2015
iii "Fruit Ripening Gas - Ethylene." Frontline Services. 2015 Frontline Services
Australia Pty Ltd, 2015. Web. 4 Nov. 2015.
iv "Fruit Ripening Gas - Ethylene." Frontline Services. 2015 Frontline Services
Australia Pty Ltd, 2015. Web. 4 Nov. 2015.