An article published this year in the Food Control journal says improving food traceability requires the use of the best new technologies and there are a variety of promising technologies today to enhance food traceability systems (FTS), such as fifth-generation (5G), mobile communication systems, and distributed ledger technology (DLT).
“Over the past few decades, food safety has become a growing concern worldwide. Consumers who want to adopt a safe and healthy diet seek all the information about the foods they eat; from farm to fork,” wrote the authors Raouf Mehannaoui, Kinza Nadia Mouss and Karima Aksa. “In addition, new regulations in several countries have been published in which producers are invited to increase the level of transparency and safety of their food products.”
An effective FTS in a Food Supply Chain (FSC), argues the authors, should:
- Provide all necessary information to the consumers.
- Meet the requirements of the relevant agencies.
- and improve food safety as well as consumer confidence.
Internet of Things (IoT) Emerges to Advance Food Tracing
The article says that new information and communication technologies are rapidly advancing, especially after the emergence of the Internet of Things (IoT). Consequently, new food traceability systems have become mainly based on IoT.
“The use of IoT technologies, such as RFID, NFC, WSN QR Code, in food traceability shows its effectiveness to track and record food product information throughout the supply chain, despite the problems and challenges related to information security and availability,” says the report’s authors.
The Global Food Safety Resources says that here are some specific ways to apply IoT when tracking consumables:
- Reduce Food Waste Through Better Visibility: A project called REAMIT (Improving Resource Efficiency of Agribusiness Supply Chains by Minimizing Waste Using Big Data and Internet of Things Sensors) uses technology for real-time monitoring. In one case sensors are put in freezers at a production facility to make sure foods stay within the required thresholds for food and safety. In another, a food company put sensors in its delivery trucks to track temperature fluctuations by frequent opening of doors.
- Improved Food Traceability and Supplier Trust: IoT sensors can provide the necessary visibility and warn the appropriate parties if specific suppliers do not follow quality-control standards.
- Trace Food from Farm to Distribution Center: Some companies are using smart food bins that ensure that mishaps do not happen during transit. Alerts are sent when bins are in unusual locations or receiving shocks, suggesting they have gotten lost or mishandled.
The Three Types of Technologies FTS Can Utilize
The journal article says that an FTS can make use of three types of technologies:
- Identification and Monitoring Technologies (IMT)
- Communication Technologies (CT)
- Data Management Technologies (DMT).
The authors present 5G as a new CT and other DLT besides blockchain as a new peer-to-peer technology.
Here is a closer look at the three technologies that food tracing systems use to track and monitor the movement of food products throughout the supply chain:
Identification and Monitoring Technologies (IMT)
IMT are used to collect data about the identity and movement of food products. Examples of IMT include:
- Barcodes and QR codes: These are simple and widely used methods for encoding information about a product, such as its origin, production date, and expiration date.
- Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags: RFID tags contain electronic chips that can store and transmit data about a product. RFID tags can be read from a distance, making them more efficient than barcodes or QR codes.
- Sensors: Sensors can be used to collect data about various aspects of a product, such as its temperature, humidity, and freshness. This data can be used to monitor product quality and identify potential problems.
Communication Technologies (CT)
CT is used to transmit data collected by IMT to central databases. Examples of CT include:
- Internet of Things (IoT) networks: IoT networks allow devices to communicate with each other over the Internet. This makes it possible to collect and transmit data from sensors and other devices in real-time.
- Mobile devices: Mobile devices, such as smartphones and tablets, can be used to collect and transmit data using technologies such as barcodes, RFID, and GPS.
- Satellite communication: Satellite communication can be used to transmit data from remote locations where there is no internet connectivity.
Data Management Technologies (DMT)
DMT is used to store, analyze, and manage data collected by IMT and CT. Examples of DMT include:
- Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems: ERP systems are used to manage all aspects of a company's business, including its supply chain. ERP systems can be used to store and track data about food products, such as their origin, production date, and expiration date.
- Data warehouses: Data warehouses are centralized repositories for storing large amounts of data. Data warehouses can be used to store and analyze historical data about food products, such as past contamination events.
- Data analytics tools: Data analytics tools can be used to identify patterns and trends in data. Data analytics can be used to predict potential food safety problems and improve supply chain efficiency.
By combining these three types of technologies, food tracing systems can provide a comprehensive and accurate picture of the movement of food products throughout the supply chain. This information can be used to improve food safety, reduce waste, and enhance supply chain efficiency.
Why the Topic Has Been a Focus of Industry and Government
The Council for Agricultural Science and Technology (CAST) and the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) say that the technology and enabling architecture of food traceability is rapidly advancing in response to demand from consumers, food producers, distributors and retailers, and food safety regulators.
“There have been several technological and regulatory developments that make clear that credible, functional, and impactful food traceability is likely to become a reality in the United States, “says CAST and IFT. “Food traceability has become an important focus in both industry and government. The incidence of foodborne transmission of pathogens resulting in acute and long-term adverse health impacts remains stubbornly above acceptable levels.”
Though food traceability supports numerous use cases (e.g., supply chain optimization, sustainability efforts, and product differentiation), food safety remains one of the most critical applications. Food traceability enables corrective actions (such as a product recall) to be implemented quickly and effectively when something goes wrong, says CAST and IFT.