How digital technology revolutionises food safety

In the pursuit of enhancing food safety, digital technology has emerged as a game-changer, says Jason Kay, chief commercial officer, IMS Evolve.

Milton Keynes, UK: In an era where food safety concerns are of paramount importance and interest to both consumers and the media, examples such as the horsemeat scandal demonstrate the gravitas needing to be assigned to the provenance of food. The supply chain stands as a critical player in ensuring the preservation and quality of perishable goods.

Most recently, this increasing need has been evident in the possible listeria contamination that resulted in product recalls across a range of foods, from Cadbury’s products to a selection of raw-milk cheeses.From farm to fork, maintaining the integrity of temperature-sensitive products is a complex task that demands precise control, constant monitoring, preventative action, and rapid response to potential risks in order to establish safety, quality, and shelf life. To ensure this is achieved, organisations all the way across the supply chain must provide optimum conditions during production, storage, and transportation, and must effectively monitor and track individual ingredients to establish absolute provenance to prevent unsafe food from getting anywhere near a supermarket shelf.

In this pursuit of enhancing food safety, digital technology has emerged as a game-changer. It empowers supply chain organisations with unprecedented visibility, real-time data, and proactive decision-making capabilities, while enabling a connected and communicative chain to establish effective traceability of ingredients. Digitalisation is the key to achieving these outcomes, and sophisticated software companies with deep industry expertise will provide the helping hand for organisations across the chain to unlock the potential of a connected and optimised supply chain.

While the cold chain industry plays a vital role in ensuring food safety, it also faces unique challenges that can compromise the integrity of perishable products. Under and over cooling, temperature fluctuations, and equipment malfunctions are just a few factors that can lead to spoilage, contamination, or reduced shelf life. If a fridge is running just one degree off, it can reduce a product’s shelf life by up to two days. As a result, a more sophisticated cooling model than the one currently in place is required.

With IoT software, monitoring and management of asset data combined and contextualised with relevant third-party data, more sophisticated cooling management is possible. Traditional methods of cooling often chill all food to the temperature required by the most sensitive product – in most cases meat. This results in massive amounts of over-chilling, which is not only an expensive and unnecessary energy spend, but it also compromises the quality of many other products. With the ability to manage cooling in real-time, retailers can now embrace effective food-specific cooling models, which is attractive in an industry that experiences upwards of 30% wastage annually.

Moreover, traditional monitoring and control of the cold chain often relies on manual processes making it difficult to detect and respond to problems in a timely manner. However, digital technologies have opened new avenues for addressing these challenges and have elevated food safety standards to unprecedented levels. Real-time monitoring, advanced analytics, and asset management can proactively identify risks and implement preventive measures, from initiating emergency maintenance to making changes in temperature settings. This ensures that food products remain safe and fresh throughout their journey, thus, limiting the spreading of harmful bacteria and ensuring a high standard of food safety across the whole supply chain.

A connected chain
Currently, most supply chains operate as a flow of siloed entities that often share little more than the produce as it passes through each link in the chain. The emergence of new technologies has paved the way for a connected supply chain by bridging the gap between various stakeholders. From farmers and producers to distributors and retailers, digital solutions enable seamless communication and collaboration to transform the way food is traced across the supply chain.

By implementing such sophisticated solutions, crucial, real-time data can be captured and shared to allow for enhanced levels of visibility and transparency. Timely information exchange enables quick identification and response to potential issues, reducing the risk of contamination, minimising waste, and ultimately safeguarding consumer health, while the interconnectedness improves productivity and inventory management. Furthermore, the ability to track and trace products throughout their journey establishes absolute provenance and food safety and will instil confidence and trust among consumers.

Jason Kay, chief commercial officer, IMS Evolve

Bringing the cold chain into the digital world
Although this level of real-time visibility sounds difficult to achieve across such a complex and fragmented cold chain, advanced Internet of Things (IoT) technology can be deployed over both new and existing infrastructure to collect and manage the billions of raw, real-time data points from machines. Imperatively, this software layer is agnostic, and can integrate to any asset, regardless of age or manufacturer, preventing the need for infrastructural upgrades and large upfront costs to adopt the latest technology.

This previously untapped data provides valuable insights, such as temperature or location information, and allows for monitoring and management of everything from refrigeration and lighting to HVAC and energy infrastructure. The IoT software can then leverage the insights gathered through the data-rich environments to drive automation and take corrective action to optimise asset health and performance, identify, triage and even remotely correct maintenance issues, while minimising excess energy consumption and increasing uptime and productivity. Essentially, the technology does the heavy lifting to ensure assets are as efficient as possible to safeguard and improve the safety and quality of the produce.

The Digital Sandwich project
A recent example of technology connecting the supply chain is the government-backed project, aptly named ‘The Digital Sandwich Project’, which fuses multiple technologies, including IoT and blockchain, to provide end-to-end traceability of ingredients in the production of a pre-packaged sandwich.

The project connects primary production and supply chains to retail to increase productivity and flexibility within the chain for suppliers and producers, whilst increasing food safety for the public. By bringing disparate systems and siloed organisations into one, standardised platform, the safety and provenance of ingredients can be validated, and by digitising the supply chain, inventories can be better managed, waste reduced, and productivity increased. By gathering and monitoring product data all the way from farm through to production and distribution, organisations and consumers alike can be confident about the provenance of the food they are selling and buying.

Redefining food safety
The revolution of digital technology in this space is set to redefine food safety across the supply chain. An era of unprecedented efficiency and traceability is being established to mitigate contaminations and provide accurate, verified information about how ingredients have been sourced, stored and transported. With enhanced visibility, control, and data-driven decision-making, digital technology arms stakeholders with the tools needed to safeguard both their products and the public health, reduce waste, and optimize operational efficiency like never before.
The digital revolution has arrived so we must embrace the limitless possibilities of innovation that paves the way for a future where food safety becomes an unyielding standard, instilling trust and confidence in every step of the journey.