Image Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
While IoT is likely to come to mind when we think of groundbreaking improvements in automotive safety and innovative safety solutions for industrial workers and first responders, another way IoT is helping make life safer for all consumers is in its ability to improve food safety—specifically by bringing today’s food ecosystem into the modern technological era.
September is National Food Safety Education Month, which is dedicated to spreading greater knowledge of food safety issues and how to avoid them. Unfortunately, illnesses related to contaminated or poorly handled food are still all too common. Just how common? Approximately one in six—around 48 million—people per year get sick from eating contaminated food in the United States alone.
Historically, illnesses caused by food chain problems have been difficult to pinpoint. And even when the exact source of contamination can be identified, it often takes quite a while to track it down—in some cases several weeks or even months. These delays not only cause further illness, but also wasted product, lost revenue and sometimes, lost lives. The deadly 2011 listeria outbreak that killed 33 people began at the end of August 2011, but its exact source—contaminated cantaloupe from Colorado’s Jensen Farms—wasn’t identified until October of that year. And while most food-borne illnesses aren’t fatal, they leave a great deal of damage in their wake. The burrito chain Chipotle suffered from yet another food-borne illness outbreak this summer, leading to a stock selloff that left a $516 million dent in its market cap.
Then there’s also the issue of compliance. Passed in 2011, the FDA’s Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) was a sweeping reform of food safety laws aimed at making the U.S. food supply safer—not just by focusing on responding to contamination problems, but by taking greater steps to prevent contamination from happening to begin with. So companies’ motivation to improve food chain related processes are not only coming from within, but also from the need to conform to these new requirements.
Fortunately, IoT is well positioned to help achieve greater safety in the food ecosystem on both fronts, facilitating improved prevention and improving response and traceability.
Smart Solutions Prevent Problems
To prevent contamination from happening, smart technologies are being leveraged in the food ecosystem to improve outdated food safety protocols and to increase operational efficiency. Thanks to IoT technologies, manual checks of equipment temperatures are starting to become a thing of the past, replaced with wireless sensors that directly connect refrigerators and other kinds of temperature controlled environments to the cloud. A smartphone is all an operator needs to be able to view tracked temperatures in real-time, ensuring both food chain equipment and food product temperatures are meeting set standards and regulatory requirements. Designated parties receive instant alerts letting them know if any issues arise, allowing problems to be remedied as quickly as possible.
Companies like ORBCOMM, a leading global provider of machine-to-machine and IoT communication solutions, have embraced meeting the FSMA requirement. Its new PT 6000 next generation cold chain monitoring solution is aimed at helping fleets of all sizes meet the regulatory requirements within the Food Safety Modernization Act.
The tracking unit is available as a 3G or LTE cellular or dual-mode satellite-cellular version, and allows companies to monitor fuel and temperature management, maintenance, logistics and regulatory compliance for refrigerated transport assets.
The real-time capabilities enable complete visibility and control of cold chain operations, ensuring the quality of temperature-controlled food products as they move through the supply chain.
IoT-powered solutions like these help prevent problems by providing a reliable way for companies to remotely track, monitor and control fixed and mobile food product assets.
Blockchain Brings Greater Accessibility and Transparency
When it comes to addressing a food ecosystem problem once it has already occurred, a major roadblock has been the inability to quickly track down the exact source of the issue. This is often due to a lack of traceability and access to pertinent information—which is where IoT, again, can vastly improve the process.
In August of this year, IBM teamed up with a group of leading companies across the global food supply chain to form a major blockchain collaboration with the intention of further strengthening consumer confidence in the global food system. The consortium, which includes Dole, Driscoll’s, Golden State Foods, Kroger, McCormick and Company, McLane Company, Nestlé, Tyson Foods, Unilever and Walmart, will be working with IBM to help identify new areas where the global supply chain could benefit from blockchain.
Image source: IBM
Blockchain’s characteristics are perfectly matched to overcoming the obstacles that slow down the process of tracking and identifying problem points in the food ecosystem since it establishes a trusted environment for all transactions. It enables every player in the supply chain—from growers to suppliers, processors, distributors, retailers, regulators and consumers—to gain secured access to trustworthy information about all transactions related to the food chain process.
With the ability to access the full range of information of the food product in question, all permissioned blockchain members can swiftly trace any contaminated product to its exact source, ensuring its timely and safe removal from purveyors’ shelves.
IoT Plants Seeds for Better Food Safety