Tag Archives: blockchain

Wendy Stanley, Radley Corp.
FST Soapbox

The Future of Food Production: IoT and Blockchain

By Wendy Stanley
1 Comment
Wendy Stanley, Radley Corp.

Since the early 20th century, food safety has been a paramount concern for consumers in the United States. Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, which painted a bleak, brutal, and downright disgusting picture of turn-of-the-century food processing facilities led to the creation of some of the country’s first food safety laws. Today, federal agencies and statutes make up a comprehensive food safety system to ensure that the growth, distribution and consumption of foods are safe from start to finish.

While food safety has significantly improved in the century since Sinclair’s time, stories of major outbreaks of foodborne illnesses continue to pop up across the country. Over the past few years, a significant number of outbreaks as a result of pathogens have made the headlines. To mitigate the threat of public health crises and ensure food production and distribution is safe and secure, companies must rely on modern technology to trace the movement of food across the entire supply chain.

How Technology Is Changing the Food Industry

Technology is a powerful, innovative force that has changed the way even well established companies must do business in order to stay relevant. From easier access to nutritional information to digital solutions that make food manufacturing and distribution more efficient, greater consumer awareness driven by technology empowers consumers to make decisions that can greatly affect the food industry’s bottom line.

Technology-driven accountability is playing one outsized role in allowing consumers to make better choices about the foods they consume and purchase. Social media and smartphone apps connect consumers to a wealth of resources concerning the harmful effects of certain ingredients in their food, the source of products, and how particular items are made and produced. In 2015, for example, The Campbell Soup Company removed 13 ingredients from its traditional soup recipes as a result of a greater public demand to understand food sources. Neither food giants nor small producers should expect to remain immune from greater public scrutiny over food health and safety.

Nutritional research is also helping change the conversation around food, granting nutritionists and consumers alike greater access to food-related data. Through easily accessible scholarly journals, apps that provide real-time nutrition information, and meal tracking apps that help users log and understand what they’re eating, consumers can gain a better understanding of nutrition to make more informed choices about their daily food intake. Researchers can also use food-tracking apps to make discoveries about consumer behavior and foods that are eaten.

Technology is also being used to tackle food waste, one of the most pervasive problems facing the food industry. One-third of the total amount of food produced globally, amounting to nearly $1.2 trillion, goes to waste every year. Solving this pervasive crisis has become an industry imperative that is being tackled through a variety of innovative technologies to improve shelf-life, dynamically adjust pricing based on sell-by dates, and allow restaurants to automatically monitor their daily waste.

In the food manufacturing sector, digitally-connected supply chain systems are providing greater visibility into the production of foods and beverages. Supplier management technology delivers data that can be used to optimize processes and improve quality in real-time, making it easy to adjust to consumer demands, respond to logistics challenges, and boost government compliance. The enhanced operational benefits offered through improved supply chain visibility allows manufacturers to produce products faster, safer, and with greater transparency.

Online ordering has also ushered in a new era of food industry behavior. The growing assortment of online ordering apps has just given the consumer more control over quickly ordering their next meal. The trend in online ordering has also allowed restaurants to experiment with new business models like virtual kitchens that offer menus that are only available online.

Connected Factory, manufacturing
The IoT adds a layer of technology to the food manufacturing process. (All photos licensed through Adobe Stock)

IoT: The Future of Food Safety

From the farm to the carryout bag, the impact of technology on the greater food industry is already evident in daily practice. Through enhanced access to data, food producers can run an efficient supply chain that reduces waste, boosts productivity, and meets consumer demand in real-time. Using a variety of online resources, consumers are empowered to quickly make well-informed food purchases that are healthier, more convenient and more sustainable than ever before.

The Internet-of-Things (IoT) adds a layer of technology to the food manufacturing process to ensure greater food safety. A broad series of networked sensors, monitors, and other Internet-connected devices, IoT technology can oversee the entire food manufacturing and distribution process from the warehouse to the point of sale. Boosting transparency across the board, intelligent sensors and cameras can transform any food manufacturing operation into a highly visible, data-backed process that allows for better decision-making and improved real-time knowledge.

While IoT technology is a powerful tool that can improve the efficiency of restaurants and provide enhanced customer experiences, some of its greatest potential lies in its ability to safely monitor food preparation and production. Live data from IoT devices makes it possible to closely monitor food safety data points, allowing manufacturers and restaurants to reduce the risks of foodborne illness outbreaks through enhanced data collection and automated reporting.

Domino’s Pizza, for instance, embraced IoT technology to enhance management processes and monitor the food safety of its products. In the past, restaurants have relied on workers to record food temperatures, a practice that was occasionally overlooked and could lead to issues with health inspectors. Using IoT devices for real-time temperature monitoring, Domino’s automatically records and displays temperature levels of a store’s production, refrigeration, and exhaust systems, allowing employees to view conditions from a live dashboard.

In addition to boosting food safety, the comprehensive monitoring offered by IoT technology can help food companies reduce waste, keep more effective records, and analyze more data for improved operations.

IoT isn’t just a safe solution for improving food safety: It’s a smart solution.

Blockchain: The Future of Food Traceability

The ubiquity of QR codes has made it easy for consumers to quickly gain access to information by scanning an image with their smartphone. From accessing product manuals to downloading songs, QR codes make it simple to provide detailed and relevant content to users in a timely manner.

Blockchain enhances the safety of the business of food production itself.

Blockchain technology provides a powerful opportunity to provide consumers with similar information about food safety. Able to instantaneously trace the lifecycle of food products, blockchain can report a food’s every point of contact throughout its journey from farm to table. By scanning a QR code, for instance, users can quickly access relevant information about a food product’s source, such as an animal’s health, and welfare. Shoppers at Carrefour, Europe’s largest retailer, area already using blockchain traceability to track the stage of production of free-range chickens across France.

Walmart piloted a blockchain implementation by tracing a package of sliced mangoes across every destination until it hit store shelves, from its origin at a farm in Mexico to intermittent stops at a hot-water treatment plant, U.S processing plant, and cold storage facility. Real-time product tracing can be conducted in just two seconds, enabling Walmart and other vendors to provide consumers with access to food safety information that could easily be updated should an outbreak or contamination occur.

Blockchain’s inherent transparency not only makes it possible to identify the safety of food production; it also enhances the safety of the business of food production itself. Because blockchain is based upon an immutable, anonymous ledger, record keeping and accounting can be made more secure and less prone to human error. Payments to farmers and other food suppliers can also become more transparent and equitable.

The High Tech Future of Food

Unlike the days of Sinclair’s The Jungle, food transparency is the name of today’s game. As consumers continue to demand greater access to better food on-demand, food producers must continue to find innovative ways of providing safe, healthy, and ethical solutions.

IoT devices and blockchain present food manufacturers with powerful technological solutions to solve complex problems. Brands choosing to rely on these innovations, such as Domino’s and Walmart, are helping ensure that food is produced, prepared and distributed with a foremost emphasis on health and safety. As these technologies continue to become more intelligent, well-connected, and embraced by leading food producers, consumers should rest assured that they’ll always be able to know exactly what they’re eating, where it’s from, and whether it’s safe.

Benjamin Katchman, PathogenDx
In the Food Lab

Revolutionary Rapid Testing for Listeria Monocytogenes and Salmonella

By Benjamin A. Katchman, Ph.D., Michael E. Hogan, Ph.D., Nathan Libbey, Patrick M. Bird
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Benjamin Katchman, PathogenDx

The Golden Age of Bacteriology: Discovering the Unknown in a Farm-to-Market Food Supply.

The last quarter of the 19th Century was both horrific and exciting. The world had just emerged from four decades of epidemic in cholera, typhoid fever and other enteric diseases for which no cause was known. Thus, the great scientific minds of Europe sought to find understanding. Robert Koch integrated Pasteur’s Germ Theory in 1861 with the high technology of the day: Mathematical optics and the first industrialized compound microscopes (Siebert, Leiss, 1877), heterocycle chemistry, high-purity solvents (i.e., formaldehyde), availability of engineered glass suitable as microscope slides and precision-molded parts such as tubes and plates in 1877, and industrialized agar production from seaweed in Japan in 1860. The enduring fruit of Koch’s technology integration tour de force is well known: Dye staining of bacteria for sub-micron microscopy, the invention of 13 cm x 1 cm culture tubes and the invention of the “Petri” dish coupled to agar-enriched culture media. Those technologies not only launched “The Golden Age of Bacteriology” but also guided the entire field of analytical microbiology for two lifetimes, becoming bedrock of 20th Century food safety regulation (the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act in 1938) and well into the 21st century with FSMA.

Learn more about technologies in food safety testing at the Food Labs / Cannabis Labs Conference | June 2–4, 2020 | Register now!Blockchain Microbiology: Managing the Known in an International Food Supply Chain.

If Koch were to reappear in 2020 and were presented with a manual of technical microbiology, he would have little difficulty recognizing the current practice of cell fixation, staining and microscopy, or the SOPs associated with fluid phase enrichment culture and agar plate culture on glass dishes (still named after his lab assistant). The point to be made is that the analytical plate culture technology developed by Koch was game changing then, in the “farm-to-market” supply chain in Koch’s hometown of Berlin. But today, plate culture still takes about 24 to 72 hours for broad class indicator identification and 48 to 96 hours for limited species level identification of common pathogens. In 1880, life was slow and that much time was needed to travel by train from Paris to Berlin. In 2020, that is the time needed to ship food to Berlin from any place on earth. While more rapid tests have been developed such as the ATP assay, they lack the speciation and analytical confidence necessary to provide actionable information to food safety professionals.

It can be argued that leading up to 2020, there has been an significant paradigm shift in the understanding of microbiology (genetics, systems based understanding of microbial function), which can now be coupled to new Third Industrial Age technologies, to make the 2020 international food supply chain safer.

We Are Not in 1880 Anymore: The Time has Come to Move Food Safety Testing into the 21st Century.

Each year, there are more than 48 million illnesses in the United States due to contaminated food.1 These illnesses place a heavy burden on consumers, food manufacturers, healthcare, and other ancillary parties, resulting in more than $75 billion in cost for the United States alone.2 This figure, while seemingly staggering, may increase in future years as reporting continues to increase. For Salmonella related illnesses alone, an estimated 97% of cases go unreported and Listeria monocytogenes is estimated to cause about 1,600 illnesses each year in the United States with more than 1,500 related hospitalizations and 260 related deaths.1,3 As reporting increases, food producers and regulatory bodies will feel an increased need to surveil all aspects of food production, from soil and air, to final product and packaging. The current standards for pathogenic agriculture and environmental testing, culture-based methods, qPCR and ATP assays are not able to meet the rapid, multiplexed and specificity required to meet the current and future demands of the industry.

At the DNA level, single cell level by PCR, high throughput sequencing, and microarrays provide the ability to identify multiple microbes in less than 24 hours with high levels of sensitivity and specificity (see Figure 1). With unique sample prep methods that obviate enrichment, DNA extraction and purification, these technologies will continue to rapidly reduce total test turnaround times into the single digit hours while simultaneously reducing the costs per test within the economics window of the food safety testing world. There are still growing pains as the industry begins to accept these new molecular approaches to microbiology such as advanced training, novel technology and integrated software analysis.

It is easy to envision that the digital data obtained from DNA-based microbial testing could become the next generation gold standard as a “system parameter” to the food supply chain. Imagine for instance that at time of shipping of a container, a data vector would be produced (i.e., time stamp out, location out, invoice, Listeria Speciation and/or Serovar discrimination, Salmonella Speciation and/or Serovar discrimination, refer toFigure 1) where the added microbial data would be treated as another important digital attribute of the load. Though it may seem far-fetched, such early prototyping through the CDC and USDA has already begun at sites in the U.S. trucking industry, based on DNA microarray and sequencing based microbial testing.

Given that “Third Industrial Revolution” technology can now be used to make microbial detection fast, digital, internet enabled and culture free, we argue here that molecular testing of the food chain (DNA or protein based) should, as soon as possible, be developed and validated to replace culture based analysis.

Broad Microbial Detection
Current microbiological diagnostic technology is only able to test for broad species of family identification of different pathogens. New and emerging molecular diagnostic technology offers a highly multiplexed, rapid, sensitive and specific platforms at increasingly affordable prices. Graphic courtesy of PathogenDx.

References.

  1. Scallan, E., Hoekstra, R. M., Angulo, F. J., Tauxe, R. V., Widdowson, M. A., Roy, S. L., … Griffin, P. M. (2011). Foodborne illness acquired in the United States–major pathogens. Emerging infectious diseases, 17(1), 7–15. doi:10.3201/eid1701.p11101
  2. Scharff, Robert. (2012). Economic Burden from Health Losses Due to Foodborne Illness in the United States. Journal of food protection. 75. 123-31. 10.4315/0362-028X.JFP-11-058.
  3. Mead, P. S., Slutsker, L., Dietz, V., McCaig, L. F., Bresee, J. S., Shapiro, C., … Tauxe, R. V. (1999). Food-related illness and death in the United States. Emerging infectious diseases, 5(5), 607–625. doi:10.3201/eid0505.990502
Karen Everstine, Decernis
Food Fraud Quick Bites

Fraud in Alcoholic Beverages

By Karen Everstine, Ph.D.
No Comments
Karen Everstine, Decernis

Recently, a group of researchers published a paper that documented unique chemical “fingerprints” left by whiskies after evaporation that could be used to identify the origin (specifically, American whiskeys in relation to Scotch and Irish whiskies.) Authentication of value-added label attributes in wine and spirits is important for protection of producers, brands and markets. Other examples include varietal fraud and geographic indication misrepresentation with wines and counterfeit production (intellectual property infringement) of a variety of spirits.

Food Fraud, wine
The Food Fraud Database has captured 220 incidents of fraud involving all alcoholic beverages and 63 specifically involving wines. (Source: Grape Wall of China)

Unfortunately, alcoholic beverages are also prone to fraud involving the addition of substances that can cause illness or death. This often happens at the local level, with the production of “moonshine” or other unlicensed spirits. Some of the substances used have included methanol, isopropyl alcohol and industrial-grade alcohol.
One notable incident from the 1980s had global implications and severe market effects. Diethylene glycol was added to Austrian wines, resulting in recalls around the world when the adulteration was detected. Fortunately, no illnesses or deaths were reported. Just a year later, methanol added to Italian wine caused both hospitalizations and deaths. More recently, incidents involving the addition of methanol to spirits have caused deaths in India, China and Malaysia.

Authentication and traceability for alcoholic beverages, and specifically wines, lend themselves to technology-enabled solutions such as blockchain. On a lighter note, take a look at some of the labels documented by reporters covering the wine market in China. In a high value marketplace such as the wine business, there is no end to creativity in labeling.

Lab grown meat

How Plant-Based Foods Are Changing the Supply Chain

By Maria Fontanazza
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Lab grown meat

The plant-based meat market is anticipated to be worth more than $320 million in the next five years, according to a report released last summer by Global Market Insights. As the popularity of meat-alternative products continues to rise, new challenges are being introduced to supply chain management. Joe Scioscia, vice president of sales at VAI explains some of these hurdles and proposes how technology can help.

Food Safety Tech: Is the growing popularity of plant-based foods introducing hazards or challenges to the supply chain?

Joe Scioscia, VAI
“The growing popularity of plant-based foods has presented a new set of challenges for the supply chain,” says Joe Scioscia of VAI.

Joe Scioscia: The growing popularity of plant-based foods has presented a new set of challenges for the supply chain, especially considering many of these organic items are being introduced by traditionally non-organic retailers. Impossible Foods received FDA approval for its plant-based burger in 2019, showing just how new the plant-based movement is to the industry.

Obviously, the organic supply chain and produce suppliers have long followed regulations for handling produce, such as temperature controls, cargo tracking, and supply and demand planning software, so the produce could be tracked from farm to table and in the case of a recall, be traced back to the source. But for meat alternatives that are combining multiple plant-based ingredients, organizations in the supply chain who are handling these products
have new food safety concerns. Considerations on how to store and process meat alternatives, how to treat each ingredient in the product and, most importantly, how to determine temperature controls or the source of contamination are all discussions the food industry is currently having.

FST: How are plant-based foods changing the dynamic of the supply chain from a food safety perspective?

Scioscia: The food supply chain has changed dramatically in recent years to become more complex, with food items traveling farther than ever before, containing more ingredients and required to follow stricter regulations. Many of the changes to the supply chain are for the better—organic and plant-based alternatives offer health benefits for consumers and are a move towards a more sustainable future. But the reality is that the supply chain isn’t quite there yet. Suppliers, retailers and producers at every part of the supply chain need to work together to ensure transparency and food safety compliance—including for plant-based products. Foodborne illnesses are still a real threat to the safety of consumers, and these same consumers are demanding transparency into the source of their food and sustainable practices from brands. All of these considerations are what’s making this next era of the food industry more complicated than ever before.

Because food safety compliance is always top of mind in the food industry to keep consumers safe, this new and complex supply chain has required companies to rely heavily on technology solutions to ensure plant-based products are equally as safe to consume as non-organic alternatives. These same solutions are also helping supply chains become more transparent for customers and streamline food processes to build a more sustainable future.

FST: What technologies can food companies and retailers use to better manage the supply chain risk while supporting the increased consumer demand for meat alternatives?

Scioscia: Utilizing a centralized software system is one tool many food suppliers and distributors can use to better visualize, trace and process products in the supply chain—including for plant-based alternatives. Having access to a central platform for business data to track assets and ensure food safety regulations are being met allows for companies to optimize processes and cut unnecessary costs along the way.

Heading into 2020, many organizations in the food supply chain are also looking at new applications like IoT, automation, and blockchain as ways to curb food safety issues. The FDA has taken steps to pilot blockchain and AI programs to better track drugs and food products, in conjunction with major food brands and technology companies. Other organizations are following suit with their own programs and many are looking at these solutions to improve their food tracking efforts. It’s clear technology has the most potential to make it easier on the industry to comply with food safety regulations while meeting customer demands for plant-based alternatives and organic options—all the while building a sustainable supply chain for the future.

Sasan Amini, Clear Labs

2020 Expectations: More Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning, Technology Advances in Food Safety Testing

By Maria Fontanazza
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Sasan Amini, Clear Labs

2018 and 2019 were the years of the “blockchain buzz”. As we enter the new decade, we can expect a stronger focus on how technology and data advances will generate more actionable use for the food industry. Food Safety Tech has highlighted many perspectives from subject matter experts in the industry, and 2020 will be no different. Our first Q&A of the year features Sasan Amini, CEO of Clear Labs, as he shares his thoughts on tech improvements and the continued rise consumer expectations for transparency.

Food Safety Tech: As we look to the year ahead, where do you see artificial intelligence, machine learning and blockchain advancing in the food industry?

Sasan Amini: AI, ML, and blockchain are making headway in the food industry through advances in supply chain management, food sorting and anomaly detection, and tracing the origin of foodborne outbreaks. On the regulatory side, FDA’s focus on its New Era of Smarter Food Safety will most likely catalyze the adoption of the above mentioned technologies. On the private side, a few of the companies leading the charge on these advancements are IBM and Google, working in partnership with food manufacturers and retailers across the world.

Along those same lines, another area that we expect to grow is the use of AI and ML in tandem with robotics—and the value of new troves of data that they collect, analyze and distribute. For example, robotics for the use of environmental monitoring of potential contaminants, sorting techniques and sterilization are valuable because they ensure that end products have been through thorough testing—and they give us even more information about the lifecycle of that food than ever before.

At the end of the day, data is only valuable when you can transform it into actionable insights in real-time with real-world applications, and we expect to see more and more of this type of data usage in the year ahead.

FST: Where do you think food safety testing technologies will stand out? What advancements can the industry expect?

Amini: In 2020, technology is going to begin to connect itself along the entire supply chain, bringing together disparate pieces and equipping supply chain professionals with action-oriented data. From testing advances that improve speed, accuracy and depth of information to modular software solutions to promote transparency, the food safety industry is finally finding its footing in a data-driven sea of technological and regulatory advances.

Right now, legacy testing solutions are limited in their ability to lead food safety and quality professionals to the source of problems, providing insights on tracking recurring issues, hence having a faster response time, and being able to anticipate problems before they occur based on a more data heavy and objective risk assessment tools. This leaves the industry in a reactive position for managing and controlling their pathogen problems.

Availability of higher resolution food safety technologies that provide deeper and more accurate information and puts them in context for food safety and quality professionals provides the food industry a unique opportunity to resolve the incidents in a timely fashion with higher rigour and confidence. This is very in-line with the “Smarter Tools and Approaches” that FDA described in their new approach to food safety.

FST: How are evolving consumer preferences changing how food companies must do business from a strategic as well as transparency perspective?

Amini: Consumers are continuing to get savvier about what’s in their food and where it comes from. Research suggests that about one in five U.S. adults believe they are food allergic, while only 1 in 20 are estimated to have physician-diagnosed food allergies. This discrepancy is important for food companies to consider when making decisions about transparency into their products. Although the research on food allergies continues to evolve, what’s important to note today is that consumers want to know the details. Radical transparency can be a differentiator in a competitive market, especially for consumers looking for answers to improve their health and nutrition.

Consumers are also increasingly interested in personalization, due in part to the rise in new digital health and testing companies looking to deliver on the promise of personalized nutrition and wellness. Again, more transparency will be key.

FST: Additional comments are welcome.

Amini: Looking ahead, we expect that smaller, multi-use, and hyper-efficient tools with reduced physical footprints will gain market share. NGS is a great example of this, as it allows any lab to gather millions of data points about a single sample without needing to run it multiple times. It moves beyond the binary yes-no response of traditional testing, and lets you get much more done, with far less. Such wealth of information not only increases the confidence about the result, but can also be mined to generate more actionable insights for interventions and root cause analysis.

This “multi-tool” will be driven by a combination of advanced software, robotics, and testing capabilities, creating a food safety system that is entirely connected, driven by data, and powerfully accurate.

Doug MacDonald, Oracle Retail
Retail Food Safety Forum

To Protect Food Quality, Start With the Data

By Doug Macdonald
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Doug MacDonald, Oracle Retail

Last month, the FDA held a public meeting to discuss its New Era of Smarter Food Safety initiative, with a rallying call to create a more “digital, traceable and safer food system.”

FDA Deputy Commissioner for Food Policy and Response Frank Yiannas made it clear that the FDA is not replacing FSMA. Rather, the goal is to build on it, recognizing changes in the food industry over the last 10 years and the technologies available to tackle new challenges.

This isn’t surprising given continuing quality issues resulting in food recalls and shelf withdrawals. Last year, two major outbreaks of E. coli that were tied to consumption of romaine lettuce made a mark on industry perceptions, impacting customer trust, brand loyalty and the bottom line of companies involved were affected. Research by Allianz found recall costs could reach $10,000,000 for significant events.

To achieve the FDA’s goal of end-to-end traceability, the amount of information carried by every food item needs to increase, as will information about its location and condition in the supply chain. Grocers are at the sharp end of the food chain, meaning everything the FDA is proposing will impact them. As well as being merchandisers, they are brand-owners in their own right. They work directly with farmers and growers, they are directly involved in food safety, storage and distribution, and they feel the impact of recalls more than most. Unlike others in the food chain, they interact with consumers daily. This is important to note, since consumers are expecting communication on recalls immediately. In a recent study of more than 15,800 global consumers, 66% of respondents noted that they expect immediate notification of a product recall and another 28% stated they expect notification within a week.1 Furthermore, 88% said if a retailer immediately informed them of an issue, they would be more likely or slightly likely to trust them. The study also found that only 16% of consumers completely trust the product information provided to them from retailers today. In short, the impact of recalls extends far beyond the empty store shelf, and gives the industry even more reason to strive for safety.

High-Tech Next Steps

The FDA plans to publish a strategic blueprint early in 2020 of planned actions to meet its goal, but food brands and grocers need not wait to act. Proven technologies like brand compliance solutions, combined with emerging blockchain track and trace solutions and Internet of Things (IoT) sensors can add new depth and detail to traceability in the food supply chain, and these new technologies are already helping grocers and retailers keep consumers safe.

As retailers have sought a better means to track supply chain movements, blockchain technology has emerged as a potential way forward. Originally developed to manage financial transactions involving cryptocurrency, blockchain has proven to be capable of providing a verifiable record of the movement of goods through a supply chain. In fact, one major retailer has been piloting blockchain for more than a year and has already proven its value on produce items, cutting traceability times from more than a week to a matter of seconds. Some want to go even further and use IoT sensors to monitor the condition (e.g., temperature) of food products in the supply chain. Together, blockchain can help trace the path a product took through the supply chain and IoT can monitor the environmental conditions en route, providing a more cohesive picture of its supply chain journey.

But while supporting a few simple products with one ingredient and a one-step supply chain, such as fruits or vegetables, is one thing, scaling to address the needs of the average private brand retailer—now handling more than 10,000 active products from 2,000 production sites globally—is another. Managing the complexity of a product like tiramisu or a ready-made meal with dozens of ingredients, all coming from different sources, needs a different approach. To address the complexity, many are turning to brand compliance solutions—trusted, real-time repositories of information spanning the entire supply chain. For example, those using brand compliance solutions now have complete visibility of the ingredients in their private label products, helping them ensure labeling accuracy and transparency for consumers. Brand compliance tools also bring improved visibility of the food supply chain, enabling them to verify the status of manufacturing sites and respond quickly to food quality issues.

This combination of detailed product and supplier information makes brand compliance a foundational enabler for any blockchain/IoT-based initiative to improve supply chain visibility and traceability. For example, using brand compliance solutions, grocers can:

  • Confirm the ethical compliance of the supply chain at the point of selection or review, while using blockchain/IoT to monitor the ongoing conformance to these standards
  • Validate shelf life claims during formulation, while blockchain/IoT monitors logistical movement and environments to optimise products’ freshness
  • Record products’ formulation and ingredients to ensure safety, legal compliance and labeling accuracy, with blockchain/IoT monitoring the ongoing conformance to these standards
  • Rapidly identify potential risks across the entire formulation and supply chain, while tracking the affected batches to stores using blockchain and IoT

This convergence of static factual data (e.g., formulation, nutrition and allergens) linked to near real-time traceability and checking offers grocers confidence in the data and supports the consumer’s confidence of an actual product in their basket.

Looking Ahead

It seems clear that the food business is moving in the same direction as airlines and banks and becoming much more data driven. For grocers looking to keep pace, they will need to:

  • Treat data as a core competency. This means hiring information experts, investing for the future, and using data to identify ways to deliver better, safer products.
  • Create a customer-centric value promise. Grocers must go beyond regulatory compliance and use data to improve consumer transparency, support ethical sourcing initiatives, expand sustainable packaging and speed innovation.
  • Go above and beyond. Rather than waiting for FDA direction or simply complying with requirements, brands should take matters into their own hands, hold themselves to high markers and get started now.

In the future, improving the way that we manage the food supply chain is not just about how well we work with trucks and warehouses; it’s about how use information. The FDA’s initiative makes a clear statement that now is the time to modernize our food supply chains. As we look ahead to a new decade, the industry can come together to improve food safety and protect consumers, and we need not wait for the FDA’s blueprint or even the new year to get started.

Reference

  1. Setting the Bar: Global Customer Experience Trends 2019. (2019). Oracle Retail. Retrieved from https://go.oracle.com/LP=86024.
John McPherson, rfxcel
FST Soapbox

End-to-End Supply Chain Traceability Starts with High-Quality Data

By John McPherson
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John McPherson, rfxcel

End-to-end traceability technology across the food and beverage (F&B) supply chain has many benefits for companies at all nodes of the chain, not least of which is the ability to act to prevent problems such as irreversible damage, loss, and theft. For these technologies to best deliver on their promise, however, they need standardized and quality-assured data. F&B supply chain stakeholders need to take steps to achieve effective data management to truly take advantage of the benefits of traceability and real-time monitoring technologies.

Since FSMA was introduced in 2011, actors across the F&B supply chain have had to change their behavior. Prior to FSMA, companies tended to react to events; today, proactive and preemptive measures are the norm. This is in line with what the legislation was designed to do: Encourage the prevention of foodborne illness instead of responding after their occurrance.

F&B manufacturers and distributors rely on technology to help predict potential obstacles and mitigate issues along their supply chains. But expressing a desire to embrace technologies such as real-time monitoring solutions and predictive analytics isn’t enough to achieve ultimate supply chain efficiency. Only by taking the necessary steps can companies get on track to ensure results.

Any company that is thinking about deploying a traceability solution has a lot to consider. Foremost, data must be digitized and standardized. This might seem challenging, especially if you’re starting from scratch, but it can be done with appropriate planning.

Let’s examine what F&B companies stand to gain by adopting new, innovative technologies and how they can successfully maximize data to achieve end-to-end supply chain traceability.

New Technologies Hold Huge Potential for F&B Supply Chains

The advantages of adopting new technologies far outweigh the time and effort it takes to get up and running. To smooth the process, F&B companies should work with solution providers that offer advisory services and full-service implementation. The right provider will help define your user requirements and create a template for the solution that will help ensure product safety and compliance. Furthermore, the right provider will help you consider the immediate and long-term implications of implementation; they’ll show you how new technologies “future-proof” your operations because they can be designed to perform and adapt for decades to come.

Burgeoning technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI) and blockchain are driving end-to-end traceability solutions, bridging the gap between different systems and allowing information to move seamlessly through them.

For example, real-time tracking performed by IoT-enabled, item-level sensors allows companies to detect potential damage or negative events such as theft. These devices monitor and send updates about a product’s condition (e.g., temperature, humidity, pressure, motion and location) while it is in transit. They alert you as soon as something has gone wrong and give you the power to take action to mitigate further damage.

This is just one example of how data from a fully implemented real-time, end-to-end traceability platform can yield returns almost immediately by eliminating blind spots, identifying bottlenecks and threats, and validating sourcing requirements. Such rich data can also change outcomes by, for example, empowering you to respond to alerts, intercept suspect products, extend shelf life, and drive continuous improvement.

As for AI technologies, they use data to learn and predict outcomes without human intervention. Global supply chains are packed with diverse types of data (e.g., from shippers and suppliers, information about regulatory requirements and outcomes, and public data); when combined with a company’s internal data, the results can be very powerful. AI is able to identify patterns through self-learning and natural language, and contextualize a single incident to determine if a larger threat can be anticipated or to make decisions that increase potential. For example, AI can help automate common supply chain processes such as demand forecasting, determine optimal delivery routes, or eliminate unforeseeable threats.

Blockchain has garnered a lot of buzz this year. As a decentralized and distributed data network, it’s a technology that might help with “unknowns” in your supply chain. For example, raw materials and products pass through multiple trading partners, including suppliers, manufacturers, distributors, carriers and retailers, before they reach consumers, so it can be difficult to truly know—and trust—every partner involved in your supply chain. The immutable nature of blockchain data can build trust and secure your operations.

To date, many F&B companies have been hesitant to start a blockchain initiative because of the capital risks, complexity and time-to-value cost. However, you don’t have to dive in head-first. You can start with small pilot programs, working with just a few stakeholders and clearly defining pilot processes. If you choose the right solution provider, you can develop the right cultural shift, defining governance and business models to meet future demands.

To summarize, new technologies are not disruptive to the F&B industry. If you work with an experienced solution provider, they will be constructive for the future. Ultimately, it’s worth the investment.

So how can the F&B industry start acting now?

How to Achieve End-to-End Traceability

Digitize Your Supply Chain. We live in a digital world. The modern supply chain is a digitized supply chain. To achieve end-to-end traceability, every stakeholder’s data must be digitized. It doesn’t matter how big your company is—a small operation or a global processor—if your data isn’t digitized, your supply chain will never reach peak performance.

If you haven’t begun transitioning to a digitalized supply chain, you should start now. Even though transforming processes can be a long journey, it’s worth the effort. You’ll have peace of mind knowing that your data is timely and accurate, and that you can utilize it to remain compliant with regulations, meet your customer’s demands, interact seamlessly with your trading partners, and be proactive about every aspect of your operations. And, of course, you’ll achieve true end-to-end supply chain traceability.

Standardize Your Data. As the needs of global F&B supply chains continue to expand and become more complex, the operations involved in managing relevant logistics also become more complicated. Companies are dealing with huge amounts of non-standardized data that must be standardized to yield transparency and security across all nodes of the supply chain.

Many things can cause inconsistencies with data. Data are often siloed or limited. Internal teams have their own initiatives and unique data needs; without a holistic approach, data can be missing, incomplete or exist in different systems. For example, a quality team may use one software solution to customize quality inspections and manage and monitor remediation or investigations, while a food safety team may look to a vendor management platform and a supply chain or operations team may pull reports from an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system to try and drive continuous improvement. Such conflict between data sources is problematic—even more so when it’s in a paper-based system.

Insights into your supply chain are only as good as the data that have informed them. If data (e.g., critical tracking events) aren’t standardized and quality-assured, companies cannot achieve the level and quality of information they need. Data standards coming from actors such as GS1 US, an organization that standardizes frameworks for easy adoption within food supply chains, can help with this.

There are many solutions to ensure data are standardized and can be shared among different supply chain stakeholders. With recent increases in recalls and contamination issues in the United States, the need for this level of supply chain visibility and information is even more critical.

Data Security. Data security is crucial for a successful digital supply chain with end-to-end traceability, so you must plan accordingly—and strategically. You must ensure that your data is safe 24/7. You must be certain you share your data with only people/organizations who you know and trust. You must be protected against hacks and disruptions. Working with the right solution provider is the best way to achieve data security.

Incentive Structures. Incentives to digitize and standardize data are still lacking across some parts of the F&B supply chain, increasing the chances for problems because all stakeholders are not on the same page.

Companies that continue to regard adopting traceability as a cost, not an investment in operations and brand security, will most likely do the minimum from both fiscal and regulatory standpoints. This is a strategic mistake, because the benefits of traceability are almost immediate and will only get bigger as consumers continue to demand more transparency and accuracy. Indeed, we should recognize that consumers are the driving force behind these needs.

Being able to gather rich, actionable data is the key to the future. Industry leaders that recognize this and act decisively will gain a competitive advantage; those that wait will find themselves playing catch-up, and they may never regain the positions they’ve lost. We can’t overstate the value of high-quality digitized and standardized data and the end-to-end traceability it fuels. If companies want to achieve full visibility and maximize their access to information across all nodes of their supply chains, they must embrace the available technologies and modernize their data capabilities. By doing so, they will reap the benefits of a proactive and predictive approach to the F&B supply chain.

Laura Nelson, Alchemy

Changing Consumer Preferences and Employee Compliance Training Driving Industry Evolution

By Maria Fontanazza
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Laura Nelson, Alchemy

The food industry is undergoing considerable change, especially as consumers become increasingly more vocal about their preferences and concerns, and as technology improvement and adoption plays a larger role in the conversation. In a recent Q&A with Food Safety Tech, Laura Dunn Nelson, vice president of food safety at Alchemy, shares her thoughts about current industry trends and how they are impacting food companies, where more help is needed, as well as ways in which companies can help advance food safety culture internally.

Food Safety Tech: The food industry is rapidly evolving. What are some of the trends you’re seeing and are these posing different challenges to food manufacturers?

Laura Dunn Nelson: The food industry is rapidly evolving in three key areas: Who produces our food, the variety of our food, and how consumers access our food.

As consumers continue to shift their food preferences toward an increase in healthy ingredients, locally sourced products, and clean labels, companies in turn continue to innovate and reformulate. Mergers and acquisitions continue as larger companies look to partner with niche companies that are focused on products marketed to the health-conscious consumer. Companies like Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat are expanding rapidly, reaching both vegans and meat eaters in the United States and expanding into international markets. Ever-changing consumer preferences create challenges for the industry to accelerate their research and development processes in order to remain competitive in the marketplace.

Changes in product formulas and increases in product lines create the need for new ingredient procurement, changes in production schedules, and new operating procedures. There has been a proliferation of start-up companies using CBD as an ingredient for food and beverages despite the lagging food safety regulations forcing some city and state regulators like New York City to create their own ban of CBD products. As the FDA explores future regulations, producers and consumers are left to determine the safety of these products.

Home delivery of food continues to be a hot trend as the market continues to grow for companies like UberEats, Grubhub, retailers and foodservice companies like Domino’s Pizza where you can Tweet your pizza order. The home delivery service area presents new considerations for food safety including monitoring appropriate product temperatures.

Finally, discussion around blockchain technology continues to gain prominence as companies work to develop transparency within their supply chain. For many companies, this will translate into a significant shift in technology adoption and a move away from disparate data sources and therefore an investment in not only the technology but in revising their procurement processes.

Laura Nelson, Alchemy
Laura Nelson is vice president of food safety at Alchemy and currently serves as the vice-chair of the Food Safety Culture Professional Development Group (PDG) for IAFP.

FST: What are the areas in which you feel companies need a bit more guidance?

Nelson: How we effectively train our employees to ensure learning and comprehension is paramount to our success in the future. IBM Institute for Business Value recently completed their study “The Enterprise Guide to Closing the Skills Gap,” and noted “120 million workers in the world’s biggest economies may need to be retrained as a result of artificial intelligence (AI) and automation in the workplace.” Reskilling will be the new norm as new technologies and automation of equipment disrupt the current state.

Deloitte noted that “reinventing the way people learn” was the number one trend in the 2019 Global Human Capital Trends Report. Many companies are focused almost exclusively on mandatory compliance training and conducting the training the same way they have for years. Typically, orientation food safety training is provided during the employee’s first week of work and annual refreshers are given every year. In the Global Food Safety Training Survey that Alchemy provides to the global industry with Campden BRI, we consistently find that 67% of responding QA managers report that employees do not follow their food safety programs, despite their food safety training. Unfortunately, the emphasis on food safety is often relegated to that one day a year of refresher training with little reinforcement the remaining 364 days of the year. The ‘noise’ of competing priorities of production and customer expectations often distracts employees from their food safety responsibilities.

Some companies still define training as classroom training when, in fact, employees are being trained each and every day by their supervisors and peers. Companies that put additional emphasis in not only their training but validation of training through observations of employees’ food safety behaviors achieve higher food safety compliance. The power of two-way conversations between the employee and the supervisor as a coach creates an environment of communication and trust.

Alchemy worked with independent researchers to determine the effect of active coaching with prescribed behavior feedback on the plant floor. The results were conclusive: every facility included in the study revealed a 38% improvement in aligned employee behaviors.

Ultimately, companies need to evaluate their current learning organization for effectiveness and focus on job competencies and their ongoing assessment of compliant employee behaviors.

FST: What maturity level are you seeing in the industry related to food safety culture and the related implementation of best practices?

Nelson: The food industry is still relatively new to the concept of a mature food safety culture, and even how to define that. The industry focus of this topic has largely been driven by efforts within the GFSI community, particularly with the publication of the position paper “A Culture of Food Safety.” Pioneers in food safety culture research, like Dr. Lone Jespersen, and emerging training assessment tools are working toward pushing these newer concepts to the mainstream of our industry.

As with many important constructs, the QA/QC team is typically tasked with introducing this concept to their organization, defining their company’s level of food safety culture maturity, and establishing a continuous improvement plan. This is a tough ask from individuals who typically have a technical education background with little experience in behavioral science. To address these challenges, there are a growing number of consultants, books, and resources to help define a company’s food safety culture maturity and establish improvement strategies.

To help frame the benefits of a mature culture, a recent publication by Lone Jespersen et al, “The Impact of Maturing Food Safety Culture and a Pathway to Economic Gain,” notes the value of a mature food safety culture in reducing the cost of poor quality and food safety risks. Research indicates that many companies are currently in mid-maturity of their food safety culture. Suggested best practices to help an organization mature their food safety culture include:

  1. Foster cross-company ownership of food safety.
  2. Move from compliance driven operations to risk reduction through continuous improvement.
  3. Improve engagement skills of technical staff.

The first step is an assessment to understand the company’s unique performance gaps, either through an internal review or an external assessment. Once the specific gaps are identified, companies can develop their food safety culture improvement plan and execute. It’s helpful to conduct a reassessment over time to ensure the established improvement strategies are successful.

The effort can be challenging but research confirms that a more mature food safety culture will deliver improved food safety performance of food safety behaviors, improved product quality, and a reduction in food safety risks.

Bob Burrows, Chainvu
FST Soapbox

Five Steps To Overcome the Catch-22 Dilemma Of Blockchain Adoption In Your Food Supply Chain

By Bob Burrows
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Bob Burrows, Chainvu

Have you ever heard the saying, “It takes a village to raise a child”? This saying can easily be adapted to blockchain in the food supply chain, only it would say, “It takes a village to do blockchain successfully.”

Blockchain, by definition, requires the collaboration and consensus of all of its participants. If you look at a commonly accepted definition, blockchain is a sequence of consensually verified transaction blocks chained together, with each of the supply chain members as an equal owner of the same transaction data.

In the food supply chain context, this means that all supply chain participants—from the farmer/grower to the retail store and, in some scenarios, even the end consumer—have to be part of the blockchain or it will fail.

But therein lies the problem.

The Blockchain Catch-22 Adoption Dilemma

While blockchain has the potential to revolutionize the food industry (e.g., the way we handle food recalls), it puts innovators in today’s complex food supply chains in an awkward Catch-22 dilemma.

Unless you are Walmart or another equally big force in the food industry with the buying power to demand that your suppliers adopt blockchain, you cannot implement blockchain successfully without your entire supply chain joining you. But oftentimes, your partners (and sometimes your management) require the commitment of all others jumping on the blockchain bandwagon.

While this situation could feel intimidating, those obstacles are usually easily overcome with the right arguments presented in a sound business case. I want to share with you five tried-and-true steps to get even the most reluctant technophobic supply chain member excited about blockchain and ready to sign on.

1. Clearly Outline Risks Across the Entire Supply Chain

One of the biggest (and most expensive) mistakes companies make when adopting blockchain is to adopt a new technology purely for the sake of it. Therefore, the starting point for any negotiations should be to outline the real business problems you are trying to solve. Put yourself in the shoes of your partners’ management and explain the problems from their perspective.

But don’t try to boil the ocean—just focus on two or three main issues that could either have disastrous (as in business operation/reputation-destroying) consequences or become extremely costly issues. Additionally, you could include a short list of secondary issues to preempt questions about other concerns.

For example, facing a food safety incident and the associated food recalls could be your primary issues. Secondary issues might be product integrity and spoilage (due to the long transit times and possible temperature fluctuations along the way), compliance with government regulations regarding cost and resources, and the consumers’ demand for transparency and traceability.

2. Calculate the Cost of Doing Nothing

Once you have identified the biggest risks, it’s time to put some numbers on paper.
Let’s stay with the example of food safety and recalls. According to the Grocery Manufacturers Association, the average food recall in the United States costs businesses $30–99 million, which only includes direct costs from retrieval and disposal of recalled items without taking additional expenses for lawsuits, reputational damages and sales losses into account.

What would a recall scenario look like for your company, and what costs would be associated with it? What does your liability management for this scenario look like across the entire supply chain? Walk through the scenario step-by-step and put down realistic numbers. Be sure you can back it up with real data at any point in time.

3. Explain the Proposed Solution (Without Getting Too Technical)

Now that you have outlined the biggest risks and walked them through the numbers, it is time to present your proposed solution. When doing so, keep in mind that most people who are not very familiar with blockchain think immediately of Bitcoin and cryptocurrency—including the hype, unpredictability and hacks.

Rather than leading with technical explanations, try to first explain your solution from a business perspective without using the word “blockchain.” Frank Yiannas, the former Walmart vice president of food safety and now deputy commissioner, food policy and response for the FDA, once described blockchain as “the equivalent of FedEx tracking for food.” This is the level of technicality you want to hit.

Once you have buy-in for the overall approach, you can lay out the technical details including how blockchain, IoT-enabled sensors and smart contracts fit into this picture.

4. Showcase Lowest Hanging Fruit First, Then Define Long-Term Benefits & Soft Savings

Pat yourself on the back—you have just overcome the biggest hurdle in the process. Now it is time to bring the deal home by laying out the quick wins (low-hanging fruit) and the long-term benefits.

If you implement a blockchain solution paired with smart sensors to constantly monitor your product’s temperature, shock impact, moisture and location, a huge quick win could be the ability to immediately identify any potentially spoiled or compromised items. All members of the supply chain could get an instant notification if an exception occurs.

While listing the immediate benefits and calculating potential savings is crucial for getting buy-in, the long-term benefits are also important. For example, you could point out that consumers (especially millennials) are willing to spend more money on brands that offer more transparency, brands they can trust (e.g., authenticity of extra virgin olive oil), and brands they can trace back to their origins (provenance).

In addition, there are also efficiency gains through blockchain. When speaking to your own management, point out the ability to improve your own operations due to the increased level of automation, as well as the opportunity for improving the overall supply chain efficiencies by collecting data across the supply chain.

Just be sure that your benefits correlate with the problems you had outlined initially.

5. Have a Detailed Adoption Roadmap

Last but not least, be prepared to have a detailed adoption road map. This is crucial, as it allows you to take their enthusiasm to the next level. All the other steps are for nought if this isn’t put into action. Go the extra mile to set your project up for success and map out the key details, including:

  • Proposed project timelines (e.g., onboarding phase, trial start and end dates, decision deadlines),
  • Must-meet milestones and key performance indicators
  • Expected road blocks and how you will address them

While this puts extra responsibility on your team, it allows you to keep driving the project forward and at least bring it to a trial or pilot stage that will give you more tangible benefits.

Conclusion

Whether you follow these tips step-by-step or you pick and choose, I would like you to take one thing away from reading this: While there is tremendous potential in blockchain, don’t implement it purely for the sake of catchy headlines or bragging rights! To get your supply chain partners and executive management on board, you must tie the implementation to relevant business use cases to achieve tangible results.

Blockchain

GS1 Discussion Group Seeks Education About Blockchain Without the Hype

By Maria Fontanazza
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Blockchain

There are two key points that Kevin Otto of GS1 wants people to understand about blockchain: It is not a traceability solution in itself, and data standards are critical. Otto is the lead for the GS1 US Cross-Industry Blockchain Discussion Group (launched in November 2018) and the Foodservice GS1 US Standards Initiative at GS1 US. Recently the blockchain buzz has been transforming into a more realistic conversation about the future role of the technology in supply chain visibility and the necessary steps to achieve interoperability. In a Q&A with Food Safety Tech, Otto shares what GS1 is trying to accomplish with its relatively new blockchain discussion group, the important role of data standards, and supply chain traceability.

Food Safety Tech: Can you explain the role and goals of GS1’s blockchain discussion group?

Kevin Otto, GS1 US
Kevin Otto, lead for the GS1 US Cross-Industry Blockchain Discussion Group and the Foodservice GS1 US Standards Initiative at GS1 US.

Kevin Otto: It’s a cross industry discussion group, so it’s a bit of departure from how we typically approach industry with verticals such as foodservice or retail/grocery. For the blockchain discussion group, we decided to bring different industries together under one umbrella—leading companies within foodservice, retail/grocery, healthcare, and apparel/merchandise—to discuss the use cases and implementations for blockchain. The common thread among so many industries was a focus on improving supply chain visibility. We thought it was a good opportunity to see where we could get alignment and be industry agnostic around how blockchain can be leveraged.

There were a few overarching goals that we were trying to accomplish with the group: The first thing we heard from industry is they’d really like some education without the hype. There seemed to be some confusion with some industry partners that blockchain itself is a traceability solution, which it isn’t. We know that a blockchain implementation is only as good as the data that is feeding it. We want to help various players in these industries clear up confusion, [and understand] that there’s still a need for data standards in order for blockchain to produce meaningful results. As a neutral not-for-profit organization, we thought we’d be a good place to provide education and industry insight.

In terms of other things that this group is trying to do: One thing that we thought was abundantly clear was the need to identify and align on the necessary core standards and master data elements to even approach a trading partner with a supply chain visibility proof of concept leveraging blockchain. If you want to talk about supply chain visibility with your trading partners and you’re not capturing and sharing any standardized data about how product moves through your supply chains today, there’s really no way you can even begin to discuss blockchain with them.

This goes back to the confusion in the industry where people think they can adopt “blockchain” and therefore have traceability. Supply chain visibility is a priority across all of these industries. Now is the time for them to decide what separate pieces of traceability data and master data are needed in order to have these discussions with trading partners. The discussion group will be putting out guidance on what is specifically needed for a blockchain traceability proof of concept.

Another major thing industry had asked from us: A knowledge management center, which is an interactive space where participants in the industry discussion group can post articles, ask probing questions, and interact with people outside of their four walls, and discuss progress of their own proofs of concept. We have been developing this tool over the last couple of months and will launch this summer.

FST: Are there additional the concerns about the use and implementation of blockchain technology?

Otto: There’s a lot of investment that goes into blockchain technology, and we saw a lot of people jumping in with both feet before understanding what the benefit really was to their organization. It’s almost as though blockchain was being positioned as a solution for all supply chain problems. We thought that being able to provide some of this education and insight from industry would help to elevate some of those issues.

I think one of the other concerns that plays a role is interoperability. When you talk about the ability for these different blockchain ecosystems to effectively speak to one another, there’s certainly a need for data standards in that space. There isn’t going to be just one blockchain solution; there are going to be several different players out there and they will need to leverage standards as one step toward interoperability. Our perspective is that we have companies that are already leveraging GS1 standards today through other data sharing mechanisms, and there’s no need to reinvent the wheel. These standards already exist; let’s make sure we’re using what’s been tested over time, which is a key step in helping ecosystems speak to one another.

FST: How is the use of digitized data provoking a shift in supply chain processes?

Otto: There are still smaller players within the food space who are leveraging paper-based data exchange with their trading partners. As the supply chain grows increasingly more global, the idea that you can have effective track and trace, for example, when the only thing you know is where a product was immediately before it came to you and immediately where it went after it left just doesn’t work anymore. It’s too slow and, quick frankly, dangerous if you have that much manual interaction and that much reliance on paper-based processes in a global supply chain. Certainly we’re seeing more trading partners make digital data exchange one of the prerequisites of their sourcing. The supply chain has gotten so complex that it just isn’t realistic to expect people to play “whisper down the lane” in figuring out where their product went in the event of a recall.

And when you think about the impact of social media and how quickly a recall can become much bigger, it’s imperative that some of these companies within the food and retail industries make sure their processes are buttoned up and that they can communicate with their trading partners quickly, and pull that product out of the supply chain. I think we’re seeing companies saying, if you don’t have a mechanism to electronically exchange data, then we may have to take our business elsewhere.

FST: Talk about your thoughts related to traceability and the need for companies to “speak the same language”. Where are companies in this journey, and where do they need assistance?

Otto: Speaking the same language is imperative. The most sophisticated data sharing methods in the world are of very little use if I don’t understand the data being sent to me. There aren’t any manufacturers, retailers, operators, etc. in the food supply chain whose stated core competency is translating data from their trading partners. That’s why so many of these different companies are relying on GS1 standards—the global language of business—so they can focus on what they do best—providing high quality, safe products to their consumers

In terms of where companies are on this journey: It varies. There are companies that have been adopting standards for traceability for years, and there are always other companies being on-boarded. This is a marathon, not a sprint. The important thing to realize is that this is a business process, not a project. Food traceability is something we need to work at everyday. As we work with all these different companies, they’re increasingly saying that food safety isn’t a competitive advantage—it’s something we all need to do and we all benefit from.

Where assistance might be needed: The food service supply chain is large and complex. When looking at the tens of thousands of independent growers as you get further upstream in the supply chain, we work with other industry associations to make sure they understand our messaging and how GS1 standards can provide value for their business. The challenge is always going to be that if we want to get to farm-to-fork traceability, we have to make sure we are talking to all the independent farmers and growers that you just can’t simply call or talk to on a daily basis. We leverage partnerships to be our voice in those discussions so we can truly connect with the entire food supply chain. That will be a continuous ongoing effort.