(Editor’s Note: This is an online-only article attributed to the October/November 2017 issue.)
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Every day, food products with a multitude of problems seem to find their way to market and onto the tables of consumers—but action needs to be taken sooner to prevent danger.
Tracking and tracing of food products can make it easier to gain control of the supply chain when problems occur.
A Rightful Concern of Consumers
The firm TraceOne conducted research by surveying 2,000 consumers from eight countries around the world, finding that 46 percent of respondents say the manufacturer is most responsible for quality and safety, while 34 percent said the retailer.
“Our survey findings tell retailers and manufacturers that they must prioritize their efforts to improve consumer confidence in their brands and private label products,” says Shaun Bossons, chief revenue officer, Trace One. “Overall, consumers have positive sentiments toward private label, but mixed reviews when it comes to trust and safety, which signify opportunities for retailers and manufacturers to work together to find solutions.”
Companies have a responsibility to know the complete path and whereabouts of any lot of shipped products, and act on any crisis situation the product may pose in order to protect consumers. Discovery of food contamination and the need to recall, however, often does not take place until after shipment; sometimes long after the product is shipped. Thus, speedy tracking and tracing is imperative to identify, discover, and react, in order to take control and mitigate wide scale problems.
Using sensors and data transmitted via the Internet, many different variables and parameters can be tracked by the Internet of Things (IoT). Vigilance and surveillance is possible by possessing the key data and information to know where and how to intervene.
Emerson, an engineering and technology firm, uses IoT specifically for quality and safety by monitoring a manufacturer, transporter, or distributor’s cold chain. With remote technology, it can monitor temperatures from anywhere, and act accordingly if temperature or other conditions are below standards or specifications.
“Only a few decades ago, food transporters would put a thermometer in the food once it reached its destination, whether the trip was five or 500 miles,” says Bob Sharp, executive president of Emerson Commercial and Residential Solutions. “Now, we have the technology to give us constant insight into food temperature, from the farm to the warehouse to the store, helping to protect food safety and quality for the customers we serve.”
One emerging traceability technology is blockchain, which consists of a chain of “blocks” that represent transactions and operational milestones in the flow of a product from origin to consumer. The blocks are encrypted, carved, and time stamped by “miners,” which, once incorporated in the chain, cannot be changed or removed. Access to the data can then be specified on a person-to-person or business-to-business basis. The system doesn’t require that companies change the way they are doing things, but that a single step be added to put their data into the blockchain.
By providing a permanent record of transactions, that are then grouped in blocks that cannot be altered, blockchain has the potential to serve as an alternative to traditional paper tracking and manual inspection systems. Farm origination details, batch number, factory and processing data, expiration date, storage temperature, shipping details, etc., can all be digitally traced as a food product’s information is entered into the blockchain.
“Generally, blockchain is good for the industry in recognizing that supply chain visibility through data sharing can be drastically improved from where it stands today,” says Angela Fernandez, vice president of retail grocery and food service, GS1 US. GS1 is the international standards organization that enables information to be shared in order to identify, manage, and share product data between trading partners, supply chains, and customers.