Although most people assume that once an apple is off the tree it’s effectively dead, in fact -as Katherine Sizov understands- apples continue to be living entities, chock full of biological information.
As founder and CEO of Strella Biotechnology, she has invented a device that reads that information to solve one of the world’s biggest problems: food waste. Strella’s patented sensor sits in the cold storage room of produce packing houses, where it detects spikes in ethylene, the chemical that prompts the ripening process.
Using the Internet of Things (IoT), a system that transfers data over a virtual network, the sensor alerts Strella, which then tells suppliers which apples should be distributed first. The client then has two months to get the produce onto grocery store shelves before it spoils, keeping it out of the landfill and saving farmers hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Sizov came up with the idea in 2017 as a molecular biology major at the University of Pennsylvania after realizing that the field she had committed to wasn’t actually her cup of tea.
“Part of the issue with the research I was doing was that I didn’t really see it helping people anytime in the near future,” she says. “And I wanted to do something with my life that was actually going to help and contribute to society.”
She read academic papers, searching for a new area of interest. That’s when she came across the startling fact that 40 percent of the world’s fresh produce is lost along the supply chain, before it can even reach consumers.
“The grower loses some fruit because they don’t have enough workers to help pick the fruit or maybe the quality is insufficient, so they just leave it on the tree,” Sizov says. “In packing, they have no idea where the ripest fruit is so they just move stuff and sometimes they open these storage rooms and a flood of moldy apples runs at them. On the retail front, they have no idea which fruit is going to last for how long.”