Food Safety In APAC—Technology To Create Transparency And Traceability

Friday, May 3rd, 2019

Driven by strong demand from consumers, companies are making investments into food safety technology and packaging to mitigate risks related to food crises. Ria Imandin, Consultant, Visionary Science, APAC, Frost & Sullivan.

Approximately 52 percent of viral headlines globally are about food—food represents tradition, culture, and an expression of identity. In Asia-Pacific (APAC), food has increasingly become important as a status symbol. One in five Chinese consumers post about a food experience daily on some form of social media, and one in ten South Koreans do the same.

As food has become more important to everyday consumers, they’ve become more aware, more educated, setting higher expectations of the food industry. The demand for naturalness and free form products in APAC largely arises from consumer concerns about pollution, pesticides and microbial contamination. Concerns about the environment and other ethical trepidations drive demand for sustainable practices. Above all, consumers are holding food and beverage manufacturers accountable in the wake of food fraud and safety scandals which have cost over $8 billion USD every year in APAC alone. Implementation of traceable value chains and other technologies enabling food safety are in the best interest of both consumers and manufacturers.


Driving The Need For Food Safety—Manufacturer Or Consumer?

Increasing perception of threats to food integrity from both companies and consumers is driving the need for food safety measures. Adulteration of foods, such as dilution of olive oil with sesame seed oil or counterfeiting luxury wine brand through duplication of authentic bottles creates significant losses all parties involved.

Contaminated food products are also of significant concern to APAC consumers—31 percent of all food integrity violations in China over the last decade have been contaminated products. Food companies are looking toward packaging technologies to mitigate financial and reputational risks to their products and brands from intentional and non-intentional threats. There are a few proactive market leaders who are managing risks associated with food safety, however, there is a large degree of uncertainty with respect to illegal practices that lie outside manufacturers control and visibility. This is where packaging technology can be the unsung hero, performing not only its intended function (e.g. tracking technology) but also likely to be much harder for counterfeiters to replicate. However, the most successful technologies will require collaborative efforts from stakeholders across the value chain.


Technologies Supporting Food Safety

Rising consumer awareness and accountability for food companies has driven growth opportunities for emerging technologies to enhance food safety across the value chain. The biggest challenge for technologies in a food value chain is overcoming the increasingly complex networks, and creating a system that all players can utilize and benefit from. Most of these technologies are likely to have significant impact in the next two to five years.


Blockchain is a digital ledger system, keeping records of transactions in a synchronised database which can be shared with all members in a network like a food value chain to make the process more traceable. Blockchain is likely to be instrumental in the future, for tracing the origins of raw materials and ingredients, throughout every stage of the supply chain from farm to fork. Big companies with existing IT setups in their value chains have been the initial adopters of blockchain technology.

Alibaba, a Chinese e-commerce platform with the ninth highest brand value globally, has implemented blockchain technology as part of their Food Trust project, tracking healthcare and dairy shipments to China. Blockchain will consolidate and support food safety infrastructure processes substantially. In rare instances of contamination or other quality issues, mass recalls will also be processed in a more efficient manner. Fraudulent products will also be easier to identify due to the availability of information pertaining to the food’s production and supply chain. Consumers are the main benefactors of blockchain technology, as companies will be able to provide transparency and traceability at an ingredient level for all their food products. Regulatory authorities will also benefit from having greater control over food production and access to information.

Point Of Care Devices:

Point of Care (PoC) detection devices are portable systems that are used to detect micro-organisms and contaminants in food, such as food additives or pesticide residue. Traditional methods of food analysis such as mass spectroscopy or gas chromatography require skilled specialists and are time consuming and labour intensive. PoC devices are designed to be quick and easy to use so that even an average consumer could use it in a restaurant or to check packaged foods at home. Devices could also be used in food production plants for spot checking or in retail settings to prevent cross contamination or illnesses or even to decrease food wastage. The types of PoC devices include fluorescence analysers, sensor technologies, optical technology and microfluidic-based detection. Veritide, based in New Zealand, use optical procedures to detect contaminants in beef and lamb exports in real-time.

Intelligent Packaging:

Printed electronics encompasses the printing of functional, lightweight and flexible electronic components such as sensors or memory labels onto a substrate such as plastic. Printed electronics is a key process used in the creation of intelligent packaging, enabling perishable food items to be monitored across the entirety of the value chain. Currently, the technology is still emerging, so the cost of production is not optimal and impacts the price of the final end consumer product. Intelligent packaging provides end consumers with real time information on the condition of the food. Key technologies in this space include:

Freshness indicators—Colour change indicators that provide microbiologically informed responses upon food’s deterioration.

Time-temperature indicators—Specifies whether the food has exceeded the threshold storage temperature, and the amount of time spent above this threshold. High potential for use in products that require cold chain such as milk and dairy products.

Gas concentration indicators—Gas composition in food packages changes slowly over time as a result of microbial activity or the environmental conditions. For fresh produce, this could indicate slow decay or product damage.

Mitigating Risks

Demand for these types of technologies is coming from both a consumer and corporate level. Consumers are worried about their health and potential illnesses, as well as sustainability and naturalness of products. Companies are being held accountable by consumers and potential reputational and brand losses can be unrecoverable should a food scandal occur. In light of the pervasiveness of social media, word spreads quickly and there is little room for redemption. Instead, companies are making investments into food safety technology and packaging to mitigate these risks. Uptake of these technologies also has the potential to reduce food waste, food fraud and improve transparency and traceability within the value chain and for end consumers.