Thijs Defraeye appointed as Special Professor ‘Data and Simulations for Self-care Postharvest Fresh-food Supply Chains’

December 2, 2022

Thijs Defraeye has been appointed as Special Professor ‘Data and Simulations for Self-care Postharvest Fresh-food Supply Chains’ at the group of Food, Quality & Design. The position is funded by Empa, the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology. Defraeye sets out to understand where and when exactly postharvest quality loss occurs for each single fruit or vegetable, in each of the hundreds of shipments in a supply chain. In his research he works with physics-based modeling and data-upcycling. Defraeye will be working closely with both university and research side.

Defraeye works at Empa. He works on increasing shelf life, preventing food loss, and making supply chains resilient through better decision-making and logistics. With many driven coworkers, he aims to get a few steps closer to providing consumers worldwide with nutritious, appealing, and affordable fresh food to help fight hunger, malnutrition, and obesity.

I am extremely glad to be at Wageningen University & Research and contribute a piece of the puzzle

Defraeye studied civil engineering at KU Leuven and completed his studies in 2006. "After graduating, I was sure I would never stand on a construction yard, I needed another challenge.” He then dove into a PhD in engineering at KU Leuven on understanding convective drying processes in porous materials. After that, he changed tracks and started to work in postharvest food science and technology.

Science-driven improvement

He visited South Africa several times to work with Citrus Research International on new carton designs and new cooling protocols for citrus export. During these visits, he was really inspired by the potential for science-driven improvement, the fact that his specific skillset could bring a change, and the extreme drive of the researchers and cold-chain stakeholders to make a change and innovate. "This collaboration was one of the key drivers for me to build up a research line in postharvest science."

On his research

In the upcoming years, beside optimizing shelf life and reducing food loss, Defraeye will look for ways to reduce the stakeholder involvement for in-transit monitoring, tailored decision-making, and logistics interventions. He plans to tackle this by self-care food systems. In this concept, the food and its data – not the stakeholders in the supply chain - are the main drivers to steer intelligent decisions, and propose actions to extend the food's life from farm to fork. The focus will be on domestic and imported fruit, vegetables and ornamentals.