The Internet of Things (IoT) has been one of the most exciting advancements in the 21st century, and something that lets us believe that the futuristic world we saw in “The Jetsons” is starting to become reality.
Explore this issueFebruary/March 2017
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Jim Cerra, CEO of PlanetTogether, notes in the not-so-distant future, all technologies will be integrated and will cooperate to create a smarter, efficient whole.
“To the manufacturing world, that means that facilities will become smart factories,” he says. “When all aspects of the plant—from shop floor to sales—are interconnected digitally, the data gained from IoT creates transparency into manufacturing operations. Management and IT departments work in harmony within blended data and production areas, transforming the manufacturing process from a complex of isolated silos into a seamless production environment.”
Tech research firm Gartner has predicted that by the end of 2017, there will be nearly 5 billion “things” connected to the Internet, and that number is expected to increase to more than 25 billion in 2020.
IoT is moving from customer applications into professional industries with one heavy adaptor being those in the food industry, be it food manufacturers or those who work in food service or retail.
Steven Kronenberg, an attorney for The Veen Firm, San Francisco, Calif., who focuses his practice on food safety, notes food manufacturers, distributors, and retailers are increasingly implementing IoT to promote food safety and quality.
“IoT products can improve food safety because critical data like storage temperature can be accessed on-demand from anywhere,” he says. “This helps companies prevent and respond to problems before they become health risks.”
Some examples of how IoT can assist in food safety include an IoT refrigerator door sensor that can send an alert when the door is left open, which minimizes the food safety risk of temperature abuse and saves energy; and IoT temperature sensors that can monitor and record data to confirm that hot buffet foods and cold salad bars stay within safe temperature ranges.
Werner Linders, global director for food safety at Diversey Consulting, notes the data and insights the IoT provides will revolutionize how companies clean and perform food safety tasks.
“Many employees, especially millennials, are not only accustomed to, but also expect user-friendly mobile technologies at their fingertips to aid in their daily work tasks,” he says. “The use of technology is also a matter of being agile and increasing productivity to be more competitive. Therefore, employing digital mobile technologies for staff is a necessity and not a luxury anymore.”
Diversey Care’s food safety innovations are geared toward retail/food service rather than manufacturing. For instance, its IntelliDish solution, a cloud-based monitoring system that makes a customized, connected approach to industrial dishwashing across industries a reality, is powered by the IoT and used in restaurants.
The 411 on IoT
Although it’s a phrase that’s thrown around quite a bit these days, not everyone understands exactly what the “Internet of Things” really means. In its simplest definition, IoT is defined as devices that collect and transmit data via the Internet. These devices could include everything from cellphones to wearable devices to coffee makers. The term is closely linked with RFID as the method of communication, although it also may include other sensor technologies, wireless technologies, or QR codes.
The IoT helps companies utilize data to understand and improve their work processes. Analysts at International Data Corp., or IDC, predict the proliferation of advanced, purpose-built, analytic applications aligned with the IoT will result in a 15 percent productivity improvement for manufacturers in terms of innovation delivery and supply chain performance.
Cold Chain Stays Cool
One specific area in the supply chain where IoT is gaining in popularity is in the cold chain.
Matt Moulton, marketing director of Monnit, a Salt Lake, Utah-based IoT solutions company, says the food industry can see a number of benefits from the IoT thanks to devices like temperature sensors and monitoring devices inside walk-in refrigerators and freezers.
“When you go to the IoT, you reduce the human error factor and you get consistent, timely, and reliable data,” he says. “Connected devices provide the ability to receive alerts so if it’s after hours or people aren’t keeping track of things appropriately, you can see if something is wrong. This could make or break a company by preventing product spoilage.”
Today’s food supply chains extend around the world. As the demand for locally produced food increases, these newly emerging supply chains are layered over the global networks, thus creating even more complexity. Additionally, consumers do not consider food to be seasonal and expect greater variety and availability year round. These food chain complexities have led to a need for tight temperature controls to ensure continuous food safety within distribution centers, during transport, and at final point of sale.
“A critical innovation that has enabled monitoring of the cold chain is the in-transit temperature control system,” points out Linders. “Sealed Air’s proprietary TempTRIP solution provides temperature-monitoring services for the cold supply chain that inform companies about their temperature performance throughout the entire supply chain while giving them the ability to easily monitor, track, and analyze the results.”
Its cloud-based information structure is at the heart of the system and its tracking ability is especially relevant for food retailers because in addition to managing food safety, it also helps to guide merchandizing and reduce food waste.
When it comes to quality control, Kronenberg notes that since many fresh products must be maintained within a specified temperature range, a processor can utilize IoT data to prove that its products were stored properly throughout the supply chain. These products may also have a longer shelf life, which makes them more valuable.
For example, chicken must be stored at or below 40 degrees Fahrenheit and not below 26 degrees for food safety, so companies that can objectively verify that their fresh-labeled chicken has been stored in this temperature range may be able to command a premium price for their product.
Bountiful Benefits for Food Industry
Food safety issues consistently appear on the front pages each year and sadly not for positive reasons. Millions of Americans get sick every year due to foodborne illness. Annually, foodborne illnesses cost the U.S. economy more than $15.6 billion, according to the USDA. And most food safety experts say the average cost of a food recalls is around $10 million.
The IoT can improve this situation because knowledge is power. The beauty of the digital technology is its user-friendliness and its capacity to seamlessly pair tasks with complementary information.
“On-the-job training is an excellent illustration. For example, digital food safety HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point) systems can offer video and interactive online training embedded in the HACCP checklists so that employees can brush up on information as they perform their daily tasks,” Linders says. “Empowering staff with knowledge is an important step in increasing food safety culture through understanding why cleaning and sanitation is essential.”
Another example of how technology can improve your food safety culture is access to data. With the help of the modern digital systems, teams can learn more effectively and managers can access operational data 24/7 on secure digital cloud storage. Up-to-date, easy-to-access systems enable managers to take corrective actions proactively when necessary. Risk-based customizations, such as alerts via texts or emails, further enable active oversight and teamwork.
“Applied to food safety and compliance processes and tasks, digitization leads to a simpler and smarter working environment and empowers you to manage risk, ensure ongoing compliance, and ultimately enhance end consumer satisfaction as well as protect and build your brand,” says Linders.
Think about temperature monitoring. Temperature monitoring is primarily about protecting investments. Maintenance of the cold chain is a legal requirement in many countries; however, it is also an investment that maximizes the shelf life of food, thus positively impacting logistics, and ultimately customer satisfaction. Refrigeration and freezer failures can therefore be costly in terms of loss of stock, operational performance and brand reputation.
The way air temperature has been monitored in refrigerators and deep freezers has changed significantly in the last two decades. A task traditionally executed by using classic thermometers and paper logs has now evolved to automated digital systems using wireless technology and digital temperature capturing.
“Manual recording and associated documentation can now be replaced by fully automated methods and 24/7 access to reporting at your fingertips, allowing you to achieve important productivity gains: from 1 hour a day for a quick service restaurant to 6 hours a day for a hotel resort,” explains Linders.
IoT devices can also automate data recording to facilitate compliance with the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). This can help determine responsibility for problems like temperature abuse that affect product safety and quality.
Additionally, IoT data can more precisely identify the products that need to be recalled and be used to expedite food recalls because searching electronic records usually requires less time than paper-based ones.
“Sooner than later, many consumers will expect all levels of the food distribution chain to implement an IoT-based risk management program,” Kronenberg says. “This will help them confirm that a product has been produced and stored properly throughout the supply chain for optimum safety and quality.”
Keeping Transportation on Track
Whether over the road, on the rails, in the air, or on the sea, IoT can help monitor and track inventories around the world. GPS devices can let dispatchers know via satellite exactly where on earth any given shipment is located and what the status is at any given moment.
FSMA’s Sanitary Transportation of Human and Animal Food rule, which requires companies to have documentation processes in place to prevent food safety risks, becomes enforceable as early as April 2017. “Implementing new technology can help those affected not only meet but also exceed the FSMA/transportation rule requirements and ensure food safety best practices—all while improving return on investment,” says Angela Shue, senior vice president/general manager at PeopleNet, which offers a host of IoT solutions for the food industry.
PeopleNet has extended the IoT concept to create the Internet of Transportation Things, or IoTT, platform that integrates enterprise and mobile technologies with real-time predictive analysis, helping carriers make more impactful decisions.
“Fleets involved in transporting food throughout the supply chain journey are working to ensure products are moved safely and efficiently,” remarks Shue. “The right combination of technology products can help fleets reach this goal through improved traceability, efficient route planning, and better connectivity, helping to ensure that retailers and consumers are confident in the safety and quality of their food.”
Fleets can subscribe to specific data based on their needs, view messages, and keep tabs on their hours of service totals to meet requirements for the electronic logging device mandate, among other functions. The platform can also integrate with third-party direct-store-delivery functions so drivers and managers can monitor delivery progress in relation to customer commitments and shipper information, resulting in greater levels of safety and compliance and reduced costs.
Food companies need to also understand how to protect the business from problems that could occur. With so many devices connected to each other, one bug could wipe out multiple functions at once and bring operations to a halt.
IoT food safety devices are just as vulnerable to hackers as consumer devices. That’s why manufacturers need to worry about are cyber criminals—hackers who try to shut down your company, steal classified information, or just cause havoc to operations. A big problem is that many IoT devices were designed for convenience, not security, so many are sans the safeguards that would make a company’s IT leader feel safe. A company needs to really evaluate its systems and see what sort of risks there are.
Russel C. Van Tuyl, security analyst at Sword & Shield Enterprise Security, says some of the security issues an organization should be concerned about when implementing IoT or Operations Technology include insecure wireless communications, data transport over an unencrypted communication channel, firmware/application updates, proper segmentation, and weak or hardcoded passwords.
“Physical security of the device is also an important factor to consider,” he says. “These are common vulnerabilities that create risk which impacts confidentiality, integrity, and availability of devices and subsequently the business.”
A sound IoT security program consists of policies and technical controls that fit with a business and that correctly implement publicly vetted and supported frameworks, such as the Center for Internet Security Critical Security Controls—a prioritized set of cyber practices created to stop today’s most pervasive and dangerous cyberattacks.