The food supply chain is a complex setup due to its multi-layered partner channels. From farmers to the end consumer, it is deeply interconnected and at every stage of the supply chain, the chance of food being miss-handled is high which makes it extremely vulnerable to food damage leading to concerns over food safety. With over 200 diseases that were spread through food in 2016 and over 420,000 people dying every year as a result of foodborne illnesses, the European Union, UN, and WHO have all voted to make food safety a public health concern globally. Given the alarming facts, ensuring the right handling and safe delivery of the produce is an important task at hand not only at the company level but keeping the national food security concerns in mind. A robust implementation of technology to set up end to end food safety adoption is imperative. Safe food is every individual’s right and to fulfill this, each partner in the supply chain will have to act fast towards implementation and responsibly.
Let us deep-dive and understand the vulnerabilities of the supply chain and how food safety can be achieved with the help of technology.
What is food safety?
Food safety encompasses the proper handling, storing, and preparing food to prevent infections and ensure that the quality and nutrients of food products are maintained. Food supply chains are made up of a complex web of producers, manufacturers, distributors, suppliers, wholesale retailers, and dealers who all partake in the handling and storage of food. One slight misstep in either of these stages could lead to undesirable outcomes. Produce can rot and become unfit for consumption, or in direr states, unsafe handling of food could lead to the spread of infectious diseases such as diarrhea, meningitis, and other life-threatening illnesses.
Developing countries like India are often hotbeds for such foodborne illnesses. And according to the World Health Organisation, India has the third-highest estimate of foodborne diseases. This combined with the research that suggests that most of these foodborne illnesses either originate or develop from within the food supply chain makes it imperative to have robust safety measures in place. Furthermore, the end-consumer also plays a pivotal role in ensuring that consumables that finally reach them are of the highest level of not just quality but safety. It all boils down to the source of the demand. If the end consumer demands a certain standard of quality, only then will the wheels of change begin to move in the entire system.
Many of these infectious diseases could be avoided if Good Agriculture Practices (GAP) are followed and Maximum Residue Level (MRL) are adhered to and monitored while harvesting fresh produce. It is equally important for organizations in the food chain to predict proper measures and execute them. Educating consumers and holding producers accountable should be the focus in order to reduce foodborne diseases.
How can technology help create an end to end food safety?
Tech-based solutions are revolutionizing every sector of the world economy and the food industry is no exception. With AI and other internet-fueled technologies making unimaginable leaps, food safety, and hygiene practices can be revolutionized and enhanced.
Adopting digital systems
Large scale fresh food storage units require proper workflow management, documentation, record keeping, and other such services. Instead of managing these functions manually, implementing a centrally digitized system to store information can help with stricter controls and quality checks. Tech companies today have software that can automate operations such as temperature checks, food allergen checks, and perform many more functions. Adopting digital solutions can thus lead to more robust food safety and hygiene practices at food production and storage units.
IoT – The Internet of Things
The IoT industry is booming with solutions for enhanced food safety practices and has a range of applications in the food industry. Essentially, it is a collection of devices that are connected via the internet; all these devices are equipped to share real-time information as and when required. A chief function that IoT can help with is traceability and transparency. Whenever there is a potential food safety problem that is identified, tracing the origin/source of the food product is extremely important to stop it from reaching the consumer. IoT essentially helps in tracking and identifying issues along the supply chain, including a food item’s physical transportation from one location to another. IoT thus ensures enhanced traceability and improves safety standards in the food supply chain.
Automation at Food Testing Labs
Another notable tech solution is to implement automation processes at food testing labs. Food testing labs are crucial to the process of food safety and hence, their testing capabilities should be as advanced as possible. However, human error often seeps into the best of testing labs and this can lead to infected food produce being passed on further down the supply chain. Developing automation plans for testing labs can weed out human errors and ensure the best quality standards are enabled.
Traceability and technology are recognized as the fundamental mechanisms to enhance safety in the food supply chain. Together, they help to identify and verify the potential source of contamination, providing seamless linkages between stakeholders, and further ensuring safe food standards throughout the supply chain network. As consumers are moving towards transparency, a wide range of technological implementations such as RFID technology, ERP, and deep machine learning can be deployed to safeguard the integrity of the food supply chain.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors’ and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.