Smart Technology, Safer Foods
Friday, November 16th, 2018
Food safety has entered a new phase in its ongoing development due to fast-moving technology. By Nur Fazana, Food & Technology Writer
The world of food today is all about consumer power. No longer contend with making purchasing decisions based on what is available on the shelves, consumers are questioning the value of food and what it brings to the table. They want to know everything, from how and where the food is produced, to how it is produced and what is in it. And in light of foodborne illnesses and product recalls that pop up every now and then, it is not surprising that food safety remains top of mind when it comes to consumers making food decisions.
From farm to fork, data along the global food supply chains is becoming more ubiquitous to different players in the market. Consumers expect transparency. Regulatory agencies demand stricter product reporting. Manufacturers are constantly being challenged to keep pace with the changing demographics, consumer preferences, and nutrition trends.
“The food industry must be able to respond quickly to meet the expectations of a new generation of consumers. New product innovations, improved processes, and sustainable supply chains—manufacturers have to factor these into the equation when it comes to delivering safe, quality foods to market,” says Nalin Amunugama, General Manager of BOGE Kompressoren Asia Pacific.
Food safety, he adds, has entered a new phase in its ongoing development due to fast-moving technology. Specific devices and new applications are making it easier for food businesses to monitor, process and report on food safety controls, in order to keep foods safe and prevent spoilage and wastage.
In fact, properly connected technology is taking food safety to the next level, and these companies are already making their mark.
For producers of perishable goods, one of the most difficult challenges is to keep produce in optimum conditions. Food waste can occur at any point in the supply chain. The Food and Agriculture Organisation estimates that about 40 percent of food production is lost before it even reaches the market.
Until recently, there was no way to connect a digital sense of smell. Gases are mostly invisible, and the food environment is subject to a complex mixture of different compounds that are difficult to distinguish. Now, a start-up from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is taking the sniff test to a whole new level.
C2Sense’s patented gas-sensing technology detects almost any compound, and through its own data platform and service, customers can access information and make recommendations quickly and easily. The breakthrough technology is based on a new material developed by the company, and comes in the form of a small chip that is capable of detecting traces of ethylene, a colourless gas that is released as fruit ripens. Ethylene hastens the ripening process, eventually leading to a concentration of the gas that is enough to over-ripen all the fruit in the crate. The chip chemically reacts to ethylene as a resistor in a small electrical circuit, and when the ethylene levels rise, the material’s current decreases, triggering an alarm.
With a product that provides accurate, real time data, C2Sense’s digitised gas chip is the first of its kind, enabling scalable air quality management. This cost-effective sensing system allows even simple devices like a smartphone to take reading measurements—aimed at improving food quality and addressing the problem of waste at every stage.
Food losses and waste amount to roughly USD 680 billion in industrialised countries and USD 310 billion in developing countries, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) reports. For example, produce picked on the same day will not necessarily have the same shelf-life, depending on metrics such as humidity, field and storage temperatures.
The Zest Intelligent Pallet Routing (ZIPR) Code, an IoT sensor technology developed by Zest Labs, an agri-tech company specialising in post-harvest shelf-life offers a fresh food management solution that focuses on consistent quality, reduced waste, and improved food safety. The code captures autonomous product condition data for each pallet of produce from harvest to retail. The way it works is through wireless IoT temperature sensors inserted into the pallets at harvest to monitor the product’s condition and processing. This combined with cloud-based artificial intelligence, machine learning and predictive analytics, provides growers, shippers and retailers with a freshness metrics that improves inventory and distribution management. All these players stand to benefit from intelligent routing. For example, produce with a closer best-by date can instead be re-routed from a shipment to the city centre to a juice manufacturing company at a nearby location. Measuring freshness at the source thus prevents waste from happening later in the supply chain.
Modern food facilities rely on compressed air in their manufacturing processes. Oil-free compressors can be used in direct contact with the product, while oil lubricated compressors can be used in packaging processes, and in the operation of production machinery such as filling machines and pumps, or in the generation of other gases. It is also used in conveying systems to move food and ingredients. When contaminated air comes into contact with a food product, it can affect its taste, appearance, colour and shelf-life, rendering it a health risk.
“Food processing plants have to maintain the upmost standards when handling food products for consumers. Anything from airborne debris to facility moisture can form harmful bacteria that could ultimately affect the end product,” Mr Amunugama cautions.
A periodic compressed air monitoring program provides critical information about air quality and helps prevent contamination in food processing facilities. However, a diagnostics tool developed by BOGE, a leading specialist in air compressor systems can provide the service in real time. Aimed at increasing safety in compressed air production, the BOGE Airstatus effectively monitors and manages complex production systems in manufacturing plants. The tool enables measured data to be called up from any station. The system monitoring is turned on by simply locating the relevant compressors and components via the Modbus Scan. The data is transferred directly via GSM/GPRS or via a LAN connection in real-time and are accessed on the Airstatus web portal or the BOGE app. The app provides users with an overview of the status of their compressed air systems anywhere and at any time, and sends maintenance messages, via email or text alerts, on temperatures and pressures that allow operators to instantly identify, analyse and react to faults. Aside from identifying potential contamination along the production line, the app ensures that plant operations are compliant with industry regulations and that the products pose no health risk to end-consumers.
Beyond the Tech Buzz
Through digitally enabled devices, consumers are relying more and more on technology, whether it is for transport, music, fashion or food. They are becoming more comfortable and savvier with online shopping with the array of options and channels available to them, especially when it comes to buying household items, groceries and ready-to-eat meals. Popular platforms like Honestbee, Redmart and GrabFood compete to deliver fresh food and produce right up to the doorstep, in much less time than before to satisfy the needs of busy customers.
With all these developments, it is important for the food industry to not get caught up in the tech buzz and focus on delivering safe, and the highest quality foods possible to win over loyal customers.
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