Food Safety: A Make-Or-Break Issue

Monday, February 1st, 2021

Improving food safety is now more challenging more than ever, due to the increasing demand and rise of consumers’ expectations. However, with traceability and transparency, the future of food safety and food supply is bright. Contributed by Aik Jin, Tan, Vertical Solutions Lead, Zebra Technologies Asia Pacific. 


How has COVID-19 impacted consumers’ perception of food safety? Are there studies that reflect this?

Food safety, hygiene and storage management are fundamental to the success of any food and beverage or hospitality operation. Companies place a lot of emphasis on these elements as they help ensure that the business remains reputable and safe for their customers. Inadequate management of produce at any point in the supply chain, from warehouse to the restaurant floor, can have wide-ranging consequences. Low confidence amongst consumers can result in revenue loss as they begin to choose alternative options.

As the pandemic continues to spread across the globe, borders are being forced shut, workers are quarantined and food facilities are shuttered, thereby causing chaos and confusion within industries and consumers. At the onset, consumers started hoarding products and manufacturers struggled to keep up with the demand. In many cases, food processors and manufacturers are being pushed to extreme ends, increasing the likelihood of compromised food quality and food safety. 

Zebra Technologies’ inaugural Food Safety Supply Chain Vision Study* found that consumers are now looking for full transparency about their food. Seven in 10 consumers find it important to know where their food comes from, how food and ingredients are manufactured, prepared, and handled. Over half of the consumers (51 percent) cite the fear of foodborne illness and disease as the reason to learn more about where their food comes from, especially with recent reports by Singapore researchers which found that the COVID-19 virus can survive in frozen chicken, fish, pork for three weeks

However, the Zebra study also shows a sizable perception gap between consumers and the food and beverage industry decision-makers. Companies in the food supply chain are challenged to provide transparency—while at the same time meeting food safety standards, avoiding recalls and maintaining compliance. Up to 83 percent of consumers reported that the industry has an important role to play in food safety but only 22 percent of consumers say they have complete confidence in the safety of their food based on all of the information currently available to them. 

This could be a make-or-break issue for companies throughout the supply chain as consumers do not believe they are sufficiently informed. As it is, only 20 percent of consumers place complete trust in companies and brands to ensure food safety.


How can food manufacturers address these concerns and ensure food safety across the food supply chain?

Food manufacturers are confronted with the issues of food supply chain transparency while also needing to meet food safety standards, avoid recalls, maintain compliance, and earn customer trust and loyalty. 

Due to the continually increasing consumer demands—which include the desire for unlimited choice, fast availability, and lower prices—manufacturers in the food and beverage industry are also feeling pressure to maximise production levels and push manufacturing systems to their limits and often, beyond. Under these conditions, food safety can easily be compromised with potentially serious consequences. Up to 83 percent of industry-decision makers in the transportation and logistics segment say that their organisation takes a proactive approach to implementing food safety solutions to prevent foodborne illness and disease outbreaks.

More than half of industry decision-makers say meeting consumer expectations will continue to be a challenge over the next five years. Major shifts toward curb side and e-commerce deliveries, as impacted by COVID-19, will only add to the pressure, but technology can play a key role in meeting demand by optimising food supply chain resilience. Areas of benefit include: 

  • Reduced risk through proper handling, transportation, and storage
  • Tracking of product perishability
  • Food supply chain optimisation
  • Compliance with food quality and safety guidelines
  • Intake management of raw materials and ingredients
  • More transparency in the food supply chain

In addition, nine out of ten industry decision-makers feel that technology geared towards improving safety and traceability could drive competitive advantage, and in turn satisfy consumers’ needs.


What is the role of technology in improving food traceability and delivering transparent information?

Technology in the food supply chain is key in improving food traceability and delivering on consumer expectations for transparency, which is needed to inspire greater consumer trust and enable improved food supply chain operations. Up to 93 percent of food and beverage industry decision-makers plan on increasing investments in food monitoring technology. Interestingly, 41 percent of industry decision-makers say that radio frequency identification (RFID) tags improve traceability more than any other technology, yet only 31 percent currently use them. 

Companies in the food and beverage industry must work with technology providers such as Zebra to ensure food safety is met every step of the way while increasing consumer confidence. With Zebra’s end-to-end portfolio of solutions, we can help businesses in Asia Pacific and around the world transform their food supply chain from farm to fork. By adopting the right technology, businesses will be empowered with the trackability, traceability and transparency needed to improve food safety procedures, ensure compliance, and build a culture of food safety accountability. These businesses are also provided with track and trace solutions that offer unrivalled visibility across the food supply chain enabling inventory visibility, digitised checklists, automated temperature monitoring and sensing, labelling and more. 

A large majority (90 percent) of the industry decision-makers surveyed in the study believe investments in technology geared toward improving safety and traceability would provide their business with a competitive advantage. Technology-led food trackability and transparency keeps consumers informed, which can instill trust and brand loyalty, and enables operational efficiencies for businesses throughout the food supply chain.

Increased and enhanced transparency will also lead to more efficient operations, better risk mitigation, increased brand loyalty and trust and, ultimately, a positive impact on the bottom line – whether measured by the return on investment (ROI), gained value, market share or business growth. Indeed, when issues arise, those issues can be traced immediately to the source. Once identified, they can be corrected expeditiously, and recurrence can be prevented.


What is the future of food safety in a post-COVID world?

The future of food safety in a post-COVID world lies in increased consumer confidence with the help of better visibility in their food safety. This can only be done if food manufacturers and industry decision makers are equipped with the right technology. 

With it, food manufacturers can then progress to adopt more predictive models for their supply chain operations. Operating more predictively is expected to rise from a reported 13 percent today to 21 percent in 2025, which is a 62 percent increase over the next five years. In addition, apart from RFID tags and readers, and similar traceability technologies, we also foresee food companies investing in other emerging technologies such as temperature sensitive labels, blockchain, artificial intelligence (AI), Internet of Things (IoT)-based sensors, real-time location trackers and predictive analytics. 

Consumers will become more confident in brands that can quickly acknowledge and resolve a problem with their digital traceability capabilities. Ultimately, true visibility offers quantifiable benefits in many categories. In addition to increased efficiencies and the ability to anticipate, predict or prevent a problem, better transparency will have a positive impact on consumer confidence, loyalty, and trust.

Improving food safety is now more challenging more than ever, due to the increasing demand and rise of consumers’ expectations. However, with traceability and transparency, the future of food safety and food supply is bright. Companies that can demonstrate robust and effective traceability and transparency capabilities will improve customer confidence and loyalty and are likely have an edge over their competitors in this rapidly evolving market.


*References available upon request.