#191: Foodback

It’s sometimes quite disturbing to see the amount of food wasted in a large canteen when the trays are returned to the trolleys. Maybe people turn out to be less hungry than they thought they were, but I suspect it’s due to a combination of standardised portion sizes and unappetising fodder.

Today’s invention attempts to address the latter problem.


Trays would be provided, as often happens now, with a space for each component of a meal (ie meat, vegetables, salad, dessert, drink container etc). They would be made in translucent material. Servers would be shown which recess should accommodate which component for each sitting. (The trays themselves might actually be available in big-recess and little-recess variants, in order to limit the first problem mentioned above).

After each meal, trays would be returned to a conveyor belt for cleaning, instead of being piled on trolleys. The conveyor would allow trays to be placed on it in only one orientation (by the use of eg moulded-in lugs). Each tray would then be illuminated from below and viewed by an overhead camera. The amount left of each component could then be measured by standard image processing techniques.

This would allow a very rapid assessment of what parts of a meal were well received and thus guide future menu design in order to lessen waste in a very cost-conscious application. Evidence of a failure to choose eg salad or fruit could then also be used to drive healthy eating education programmes.

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