IoT and the future of the food safety supply chain

Food & beverage

In the aftermath of the recent E.Coli outbreak that was traced back to Romaine lettuce coming out of Yuma Arizona, which reportedly led to 197 illnesses, 89 hospitalizations of people who had eaten the lettuce across 35 states, including 26 who developed a type of kidney failure, and five deaths, the future of food traceability and real-time monitoring are top of mind in the food safety environment. 

The food industry recently experienced one of the largest food recalls in the last ten years, with more than 200+ million eggs being recalled for Salmonella, and dozens of confirmed illnesses so far. With the right traceability and product movement monitoring technology, both outbreaks could have been tracked down and contained within hours instead of days or weeks, if not prevented altogether.

Leveraging IoT and cloud for better food safety practices

While the FDA’s Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) sets high standards for producers and growers, food retail and restaurant chains, and logistics partners, these outbreaks call for stronger food safety practices generally. IoT and cloud-based solutions are already making food safety easier by increasing transparency and collaboration across the supply chain, reducing the number of risk points, and also making any problems more traceable.

Real-time temperature and product movement monitoring 

There are a number of current misconceptions about IoT’s ability to facilitate a smarter, safety food chain. For one, there’s a general belief that true end-to-end real-time visibility isn’t possible. In reality, IoT sensors are becoming essential components of the supply chain, with temperature sensors being one of the primary concerns.

Temperature has one of the greatest impacts on food safety. Adding smart sensors and devices into the shipping and storage process provides an integrated seamless approach to tracking that keeps food cold and prevents pathogens. Historically, IoT data loggers have been analog, providing critical temperature data only at the end of a shipment and after a temperature deviation has occurred.

New technology, like Controlant’s cloud-based platform that tracks temperature, humidity, pressure, light, and product movement in real-time via IoT sensors, make it possible to connect all aspects of the supply chain centrally.

A subscription and service-based model makes it not only possible, but also cost-effective to scale across the cold chain, which counters another misconception: that real-time tracking and traceability solutions are cost-prohibitive and therefore can only apply to parts of the supply chain. Traditional models require upfront purchases in IoT data loggers, and added services cost more. Hardware purchases are a thing of the past.

Reusable data loggers fall in line with the goals of waste reduction, but a common misconception is that they can only be used in parts of the supply chain that involve a closed loop: the sender manages logistics throughout and can send the loggers back from the receiving site. Traditionally, this has been the case. However, Controlant’s reverse logistics services automate the process of returning and servicing devices, ensuring that sites are replenished and furnished with an adequate supply of IoT loggers.

Finally, there is a lot of talk about blockchain and the future of traceability, collaboration, and trust across the food chain. While the technology poses potential benefits, the integrity of a blockchain is only as good as the data going into it. Cloud and IoT already provide the ability to automatically and securely collect, transmit, and publish data centrally to track, monitor, and manage shipments moving throughout the supply chain, and share that data with others, including logistics partners and insurance providers.

To improve and optimize food traceability, it is highly recommended to start implementing a real-time tracking and remote food monitoring program today and not wait and see whether blockchain adoption takes off. Companies like Chipotle are already leveraging the possibilities of IoT and SaaS technology to gain end-to-end visibility and more control than ever before, mitigate risk, proactively monitor shipments, and collaborate with all relevant stakeholders.

Building the next generation food safety cold chain

With FSMA bringing more regulation into the industry as a result of recent foodborne illnesses, IoT in food safety will only continue to grow in demand. It will no longer be merely a novel technological advance in the supply chain, but it will be a mission-critical part of it.

A mandatory electronic trail that tracks temperature-controlled shipments ensures safe practices throughout the food supply chain and allow us easy traceability to the source if an outbreak does happen. It shouldn’t take weeks or months to get back to the source. And IoT will be blazing this electronic trail ensuring a food-safe future.

IoT and cloud provide many opportunities to collect smart data and to leverage it to improve logistics and create new business opportunities. Instead of tracking shipment data through paperwork and speadsheets, the capabilities are present to store and share all this information electronically. Over time, data can help identify and mitigate risk areas, optimize route performance, ensure sufficient food supply at locations, and protect brand integrity and customer loyalty.

All these concepts apply to the cold chain, where most of the goods transported or stored are characterized by a limited shelf life, and the intensive control can lead to cost savings. Real-time tracking and remote monitoring can reveal, in many cases, unseen issues, reduce undesired situations, reduce handling of goods, improve food safety, and reduce overall food and operational waste.

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