The days of pen and paper systems to track food safety standards are fast becoming obsolete, especially with consumers becoming more conscious of what they consume.
New technologies are being deployed by manufacturers to adhere to food safety regulations and prevent food-related illnesses.
While numerous devices like sensors, digital auditing tools and mobile solutions are already being used by businesses in the Asia Pacific region, three key technologies namely blockchain, internet of things (IoT) and next-generation sequencing (NGS) have started in the United States and Europe and will play a growing role in transforming the food industry in Asia.
People seldom associate blockchain with food safety, however, at present it is among the fastest growing innovation in the food sector. Industry experts believed it is set to revolutionize the entire food industry by raising transparency and improving collaboration across food supply chains due to its biggest benefit, which is traceability.
Blockchain will give consumers the ability to track and validate with certainty where a specific produce was grown, handled, processed, stored and inspected every step of the way leading up to its destination in the store, offering complete transparency from farm to fork.
In the event of a problem, the food manufacturer can identify quickly exactly when and where it happened and proceed to isolate the batch of products before it goes further down the chain.
One company providing blockchain solutions is Bext360, which provides comprehensive and measurable accountability for critical supply chains. It currently focuses on supply chains such as coffee, seafood, timber, minerals, cotton and palm oil to provide a traceable fingerprint from producer to consumer.
While blockchain enhances the transparency across the entire journey, IoT ensues food integrity is secured through critical transition leveraging its real-time monitoring benefit. IoT applications are often integrated into the supply chain and into computer systems to ensure that each critical control point, from the farm to the packaging facility right up to the delivery truck, is monitored and secured.
A key driver of this technology used in the food industry are IoT-based sensors. Today’s sensors do not merely monitor the temperature of a storage facility, they are enabled to hear, feel, taste or even smell the products they are storing, safeguarding and transporting. This provides an accurate set of data or data that were unobtainable to help prevent any damages.
C2Sense, a company specialized in providing versatile sensors and applications, have developed sensors that can “smell” ammonia in a poultry house, detect its level and alert operators if it becomes a danger to the animal’s health. The same technology can be applied to meat and fish freshness, or even fruit ripeness at all stages of the supply chain.
Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) technique is the most common approach used for food ingredient identification. However, its higher detection limits prevent it from identifying closely related species.
The use of next-generation sequencing (NGS) combined with powerful bio-informatic approaches is revolutionizing food microbiology. Its high-throughput DNA sequencing can generate 25 million reads per single experiment, making it possible to identify pathogens at the strain level even in mixed-ingredient and packaged foods. The increased sensitivity of NGS produces more accurate results along with much higher levels of specificity and resolution at lower costs.
Thermo Fisher Scientific is an example of a company that is using NGS to protect consumers against food fraud. As the identification of the species present in food and feed samples is a critical step in food production, the company’s solutions provide proof of authenticity, verification of origin, traceability of raw materials and quality control in food handling and processing. This enables food laboratories to identify the plant, fish and meat species contained in the most complex food samples.
These are just some of the fast-emerging innovative technologies that are critical to help businesses keep their food products safe and consumers healthy. While human error and risks can never be eliminated, these advancements surely go a long way in minimizing the risks and make food much safer for everyone.
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Marco Farina joined DKSH in February 2016 as General Manager, Business Line Scientific Instrumentation, Business Unit Technology. He oversees global business development and has spent the last ten years developing and growing business in different emerging markets in Europe, Middle East, Africa and Asia. He now lives in Bangkok with his wife and two kids.