November 28, 2016 | Written by: Jacqi Levy
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If you’re like me, then ice cream is one of your favorite treats. It’s cool and refreshing in the summer, and it’s the perfect complement to a warm pie or molten brownie in the winter. It comes in a mind boggling multitude of flavors. And, it satisfies my craving for sweets with oh-so-marginally less guilt by sneaking in a serving of nutritionally important dairy while I indulge.
If you’re also like me, then you’ll agree that there is nothing worse than getting that creamy, delicious pint of ice cream home, only to discover that, horror of horrors, it is covered in ice crystals. Yuck.
The thing is, ice cream is temperamental. It DOES NOT like changes in temperature. Since ice cream is part water, it is subject to the same forces of nature that ice is. It evaporates over time. Moisture leaves the ice cream and then refreezes as it meets the cool surface of this frozen treat, causing the dreaded ice crystals. And even subtle changes in temperature can cause it to melt and refreeze, forever altering its light and creamy texture.
Grocers know that freezer burn is bad for ice cream sales. Customers will walk past pints displaying the tell-tale crystallization, opting instead for unspoiled looking containers, or even worse – they will go elsewhere. This leaves them with a lot of unsellable ice cream. And having to dump freezer burned or melted ice cream is bad for business, resulting in lost revenue. It’s also not very sustainable. Think about all that food waste that could be prevented with a better refrigeration solution.
Internet of Things saves ice cream
Well, I have some good news for all of you ice cream junkies out there. With help from the Internet of Things, grocers are waging war to eradicate ice cream freezer burn, one pint at a time.
There are a lot of factors contributing freezer burn, both mechanical and human. Freezer units are subject to normal wear and tear like everything else, and anything from a compressor to the gasket that seals the door can fail. On the other end of the spectrum, shoppers have been known to accidentally leave the freezer door ajar from time to time.
By equipping ice cream freezers with sensors that measure parameters like temperature, humidity and defrost, grocers can get a much better picture of what’s going on in their freezers. But data is just the beginning. How they analyze, and even more importantly, operationalize that data, is where the real value comes in.
Most large grocery chains employ skilled technicians that respond to alarms triggered by deviations in freezer temperature. IoT analytics can help streamline their workloads by helping them understand the circumstances around the alarm. For instance, is the freezer door ajar, and an alert can simply be sent to the store manager to close it? Is it a minor problem, which can be added to a backlog of work to be done in the store? Or is it a compressor failure, which requires urgent attention?
Real-time data and prioritising action
Using this real-time insight, retailers can reduce false and/or redundant alarms and automate the creation and prioritization of work orders, leaving technicians to focus on the most pressing tasks. Over time, machine learning can also be used to predict failures before they happen, simply by recognizing patterns in the data. Additionally, other factors like weather data and customer volume can be combined with refrigeration data to provide a more complete picture of refrigeration “health”.
This is good news for ice cream lovers, but it also has broader implications. A solution like this also can have an impact on a host of other food products, for instance meat and dairy. Many countries have regulations that require retailers to immediately dispose of any food that deviates from a safe temperature threshold. An IoT refrigeration solution can play a role in improving food safety. It can also be used to ensure the safety of other temperature sensitive inventory items, such as penicillin and other refrigerated pharmaceuticals.
Could ice cream freezer burn one day be a thing of the past? Probably not, but thanks to IoT, retailers are making big headway towards ensuring that your pint is creamy, delicious, and ice crystal-free.
Visit our website to learn more about how retailers are tackling refrigeration and other retail operations challenges with the Internet of Things.