The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is planning to release a set of proposed rules that would require facilities that make or handle food for humans and animals to put measures in place to help prevent food-borne illness. Manufacturers will be required to adopt standards for monitoring their preventive measures to ensure they are working, and they will be have to keep records of that monitoring.
For those companies managing supply chains for food and beverage firms, there are concerns about tracking food for food safety, and also for food freshness and time to market.
For most consumers, these actions can’t come too soon. Unofficial data reported from one laboratory that regularly tests for E. coli alone suggests that as many as 20,000 cases occur in the US annually. This problem is not limited to the US, either.
Enter Internet technology, which is helping to contribute to the FDA’s program in the folloing ways:
Food contamination and lot tracking. A combination of GPS and Internet communications is being developed to track end-to-end food shipments -- from the farmer’s field to delivery in a grocery store. One goal is earlier detection and identification of possible sources of food contamination, which will facilitate aggressive food safety intervention.
Cold storage and trucking monitoring for freshness. A combination of both wireless and Internet communications is being teamed with new ruggedized mobile devices to improve the monitoring of foods for freshness in cold storage. “From the device standpoint, we know that plastic gets brittle in cold environments,” says Mike Wills, vice president of sales for Psion Inc. (London: PON), a ruggedized handheld device manufacturer. “New breakthroughs in resins, glass, and lightweight materials like magnesium have moved us to the point where we can deliver mobile devices that measure the effectiveness of food cold storage environments in warehouses and distribution centers.”
Logistics companies must also consider cold storage on the trucks that transport perishable goods to market. Improved sensors and IP-enabled monitoring not only check the temperature of trucks using cold storage, but also the moisture content in food being transported. Being able to route this information rapidly over IP to supply chain managers enables nimble decision-making on which goods distributors should get to market fastest, based upon food freshness indicators.
Redistribution based on changing market demands. Intent on satisfying customer demands and also on limiting losses from spoilage, food retailers now monitor truck routes over IP and assess these routes against very fluid market demands. If a truck carrying California lettuce is enroute to Washington, D.C., and there is a sudden upturn in demand in Atlanta, the truck can be immediately rerouted to Atlanta. This addresses fluid customer demand, reduces shipping and expediting costs, and ensures that food inventory is consumed as quickly as possible.
The FDA project is one of several ongoing efforts to use technology to boost food safety and freshness worldwide. As early as 2008, an Internet of Things roadmap for the food and beverage industry through 2020 was introduced in Europe. Similar food safety and contamination initiatives are being pursued in China.
These projects all aim to improve the ability of food supply chains to deliver quality goods. For providers and consumers, that’s tasty news indeed.
— Mary E. Shacklett, President, Transworld Data