What’s cooking: load cells, pet food and edible food waste in work cafeterias

Published On: February 2 2023

Food glorious food! Two new initiatives reveal how load cells help provide owners of the nation’s 11 million cats and 10 million dogs with a variety of small batch pet food choice. Load cells also played a critical role in researching edible food waste in a busy work canteen.

Pet food for pampered pets

The pet food market has experienced incredible growth as dogs and cats which were acquired in the pandemic now growing into hungry adult animals! With predicted growth in the pet food market estimated to be 5.3% in 2023, manufacturers need to keep up with demand – and changes in the market too. Load cells are playing an important role in new technology to allow pet food manufacturers to meet demand and offer a range of options too.

Choosing pet food is much more than just a simple choice between tinned or dried. Specially designed dog foods have been available for many years, but until recently were very much a niche market. Now the situation has changed, as an article in Food Engineering magazine points out:

“Nowadays, pets are a member of the family and pet owners often have the same demands on their pet food as they do on their own diet. New topics such as sustainability or organic products, for example, are playing an increasingly important role in pet food. ”

The discerning pet owner can now choose from:

  • dry food (kibble)
  • wet food (canned, sachets and trays)
  • semi-moist (squishy to the touch)
  • fresh / raw
  • dehydrated
  • freeze-dried
  • frozen

Not to mention a massive range of treats and chews from baked biscuits to dried fish skins. Add in dietary specific options such as grain-free, white meat and fish only, lower protein, senior, etc, and manufacturers need the capability to switch between product lines quickly and easily.

These ‘designer’ foods are often produced in small batches so any production line for food needs to be flexible and adaptable. One major manufacturer of industrial weighing and inspection technologies puts electromagnetic force compensated load cells load cells at the heart of their weighing solutions:

“Our portfolio includes systems for all areas: Load cells and platform scales for use in incoming goods, for intermediate storage of raw materials, for the actual production process as well as dynamic weighing and inspection products for packaging and final quality check. Our solutions are thus optimally designed for the needs of the industry from incoming goods to dispatch.”

Reducing food waste from the plate

Load cells are also being used to encourage less food waste from the plate. According to a report in Nature magazine, a study in Macau aimed to “decarbonise” a staff cafeteria by:

“Upstream optimisation to reduce unserved food waste, midstream education to raise awareness amongst staff about the impact of food choices on the climate and health, and finally downstream recognition to reduce edible plate waste using a state-of-the-art computer vision system.”

In practice, that meant capturing video images of trays returned to a conveyor by workers after eating, referred to as the “soiled tray return conveyor system”. Two load cells weighed the trays before and after edible food waste was thrown away, and a Raspberry Pi did the simple maths to calculate the weight of edible food being wasted.

The team found that:

“About 20% of the initial food tray weight consisted of plate waste … with a mean weight of 253 g per dining cover.”

With the unserved food weighed as well, the team calculated an average of 30kg of unserved food waste was created every day.

Viewing highlighted images on screens above the conveyor enabled the consumers to see how much they were throwing away. As the team noted:

“Downstream recognition … helped reduce edible food waste by using … feedback to the user via a display to increase engagement. This intervention facilitated system 1 (automatic) nudge which aims to encourage users to reduce edible food waste.”

Interestingly, the data wasn’t just used as a measure of waste by the consumers:

“The plate waste tracker equipped with computer vision (provided) statistics which could inform the chef on potential poorly cooked dishes.”

Weighing up your options

If you have an innovative project to help reduce food waste that involves load cells, do let us know. If you’re planning one, and need load cells as part of your testing process or system, we’ll be happy to help. Contact us to discuss your requirements, or buy load cells direct from our online store for quick distribution from our manufacturing based in Reading, UK.