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Blockchain

Promise of Blockchain Could Help Seafood Traceability, Unique Challenges Remain

By Maria Fontanazza
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Blockchain

As our conversation about the potential of blockchain continues at Food Safety Tech, we sat down with Thomas Burke, food traceability and safety scientist, Global Food Traceability Center (GFTC) at the Institute of Food Technologists, to discuss how ready the seafood industry is in the adoption of blockchain, more specifically as it relates to traceability.

Food Safety Tech: What are the current major issues in seafood traceability?
Thomas Burke: Some of the challenges are diversity in product, diversity in regulatory compliance, a hyper-globalized supply chain and variable technology adoption.

I always like to distinguish seafood traceability from other major food commodities for several different reasons. When thinking about traceability and devising traceability systems, you want to think about use cases. For most food commodities, food safety is usually top of mind; there’s also a regulatory compliance component. Seafood still has food safety as a high priority, but there are also issues with illegal and unreported fishing and fraudulent issues in the supply chain. When you’re thinking about devising a traceability system, you also have to consider different key data elements. For instance, in food safety, while location is important, the location is only really important for tracing back in the event of recalling product. In seafood traceability you’re looking at racing back to ascertain if it was caught in the right place with the right method at the right time. With this as context, you also want to think about the technological challenges and food operations wise such as the diversity of commodities in seafood—there’s diversity in species way more so than in poultry or produce. You also have very different geographic locations, different harvest methods (i.e., farmed, wild); because of the diversity of harvesting practices, there are other considerations to think about. There are some traceability service providers that rely on a constant internet connection, and that’s obviously not possible if you’re fishing on the high seas. You might have equipment for data collections that works really well in the field or in the food manufacturing environment, but it may not work under the harsh conditions of a boat or in aquaculture. So we end up seeing a great diversity of technological adoption. Especially further upstream when thinking about other small-scale fishers and smaller processors—they generally only do traceability for regulatory compliance, because they just don’t have the capital to invest in technologically sophisticated data collection management. And sometimes it’s not necessary for what they’re trying to achieve. So, we still see a lot of paper records, basic spreadsheet data management, and then it gets more complicated as you go down the supply chain. Larger processors and retailers will have more dedicated traceability systems.

FST: Where do you see blockchain entering the traceability process and what other technologies should be used in conjunction with blockchain?

Thomas Burke will be presenting, “Blockchain won’t solve the food traceability challenge… but Interoperability and Data Standards will” at the 2019 Food Safety Supply Chain Conference | May 29 –30  Burke: One of the things that we’ve found in our work at the Global Food Traceability Center and with the global dialogue on seafood traceability [regarding] blockchain is that there’s a lot of interest and hype around the application itself, which helps draw in solution providers and developers that are interested in applying a new technology to a new use case.

Blockchain is a data sharing platform. So the technologies that it’s comparing itself to are FTP (file transfer protocol) and transferring data through an EDI (electronic data interchange). This is a new way of sharing data between supply chain partners that has some unique capabilities, some of which are very advantageous for seafood.

When I was talking earlier about how there is variable adoption of technologies (i.e., small harvesters or producers that use paper records or use minimal digital records), blockchain has the advantage that data hosting is shared and decentralized across the notes of the network. What that means is that a small producer doesn’t have to set up a dedicated server infrastructure in order to communicate with their supply chain partners, whereas that’s more of the case with EDI; even with FTP you’ll still have to set up some kind of formal relationship with your servers. What’s nice about blockchain is that in order to host information on that network, you just pay a small amount of the currency that the blockchain runs on. It’s a little bit different if you have a private or consortium blockchain, but the idea is with the open blockchain applications is that you only pay on a per transaction basis (data upload basis). The larger the network is, the cheaper that is to do. So over the month, it’s a lower cost for participants for hosting the shared ledger of updates.

There are also some other advantages: It’s immutable; once it’s on the blockchain it’s very difficult to corrupt that data. There are other components to the problem of data collection and the transportation of data, along with the product along the supply chain. You still need certain legs of that stool such as a global identifier that identifies the product as it goes through the supply chain and gets incorporated into other products; you also need to collect the related data that’s necessary to make your use case. There’s a balance between the data collection and the identification [i.e., fishermen might not want to reveal their best location]. Those all need to be part of the picture, in addition to novel data-sharing platforms such as blockchain. A big part of what GFTC is trying to do in the seafood space is gather industry and work with them to develop standards and best practices to ensure the same data is being collected at each point and that data is able to be transported with the product in an interoperable way that takes into account the diversity of technological adoption along the supply chain.

FST: What level of blockchain adoption do you see in the seafood industry? How prepared is the industry, including retailers?

Burke: As far as adoption: It depends. There are a few different aspects that depend on whether companies will invest in a blockchain solution or not. It depends on what their current adoption is and their market. Where we’re seeing a lot of interest in blockchain being used as a component of data sharing for traceability is in more niche products that have more straightforward supply chains, and they’re using traceability as a market differentiator for their product. Right now, in order to invest in blockchain, you need to devote a significant amount of staff time or invest in a service provider to devise the blockchain scheme that you’re going for. There are a lot of unanswered questions about the implementation of blockchain. There are major players using blockchain in other types of food supply chains, but those are generally very vertically integrated companies that have a lot of resources—both IT resources and monetary resources to devote to this early experimental stage. And that’s where I would see it start first. If there’s success in those more limited trials, then maybe larger multinational companies might have interest in using it as a linkage between some of the information systems.

The biggest challenge with large multinational seafood companies is they have a lot of subsidiaries. And when they have subsidiaries, they might use different ERP systems; they’re looking at ways to transport the data into those disparate systems. And with seafood, as with most food commodities, it’s a fairly low margin industry. So most companies are going to be fairly conservative in investing in a new technology until it’s really being seen as a proven and achievably implementable software solution. Larger companies are still seeing more traditional cloud hosting such as EDI as a viable option for data sharing in food traceability. But blockchain is being seen in those niche areas and as the technology becomes more proven, we’ll probably see greater adoption. There’s just still a lot of skepticism in the industry, and that’s with any new technology.

I will say with other technologies in seafood traceability, I am seeing quite a bit of promise in AI [artificial intelligence] data analytics and image processing technologies just because it’s very difficult to identify products, especially early up in the supply chain. Some of these new technologies in data processing are going to help streamline data collection and be able to process it into those key data elements that you’re looking for to achieve those traceability use cases. There’s been so much development of facial recognition technology in humans that similar algorithms could be used in labeling fish. Those are some of the other promising technologies. There are some [uses of] IoT devices and RFID but those still remain to be seen—they have implementation issues, because there are quite a few environmental interferences on water or in humidity-rich environments, especially when you’re thinking about radio frequency resistance/interference.

In seafood right now, most of the blockchain-oriented applications are in line with NGOs that are experimenting with the use of blockchain as a traceability tool—and those tend to be high-end products like tuna or crab using blockchain in limited use cases. It’s still very much in the piloting and early implementation.

FST: What are the top three advantages to using blockchain for seafood traceability?

Burke: 1. Immutability. Once you put transactions onto the blockchain, because of the way the architecture is set up, it’s really difficult to alter that record. Other data sharing platforms don’t have the advantage of a singular record.
2. Decentralization. Everyone has access to the same leger that can be shared in real time across a global supply chain. Most of the other data sharing platforms are emphasized in one-to-one communication, whereas blockchain is many-to-many.
3. Flexibility and interest from the development community. There’s a lot of creativity associated with blockchain applications right now. There are a lot of developers coming up with interesting ideas of how to maximize the architecture to work for food traceability applications. Because it has an economic structure where you are using tokens that are powering the data processing, you can potentially do interesting things with incentivizing inputting data into a traceability system and monetizing it. We’re exploring that in the global dialogue—looking to see how you can tie the value of traceability data upstream, because that will help incentivize the entire ecosystem. There have been limited trials with startups that have been looking at incentivizing data collection through blockchain.

FST: Where do you see blockchain headed in five years?
Burke: I don’t see the actual architectural idea of blockchain idea going away. It’s a fairly brilliant way of ensuring that valuable data isn’t double counted or deleted. It helps reduce some risk.

The next five years will depend on what the end retailers end up adopting. In western markets, more specifically North America, the retailers have a lot of leverage in what standards and best practices are kept and carried through. So it will depend a lot on those large end retailers and how comfortable they are in adopting blockchain, and the decisions that they make behind blockchain providers.

The largest seafood markets are China and Japan, so [adoption] more depends on what those retailers/customer bases are demanding versus what happens in North America just because the demand is so much stronger there. That will also drive the development of blockchain interfaces and will influence the adoption among smaller scale fishers, which is more of the tendency in East Asia. It’s a very open question. I think it will be influenced by decisions that governments make in East Asia regarding blockchain.

I would emphasize that the success of seafood traceability and food traceability in general will be very dependent on standards, and the development of commonly understood and accepted practices, and the way those data standards are collected. So you can have a robust blockchain platform, but if every supply chain partner doesn’t agree to collect the same data and identify it in a similar way that is interoperable, it still won’t work—even if you have the most advanced technology. There’s a human process of agreeing upon the same way that traceability data is gathered. Interoperability and standards are key, in addition to the new technologies.

FoodLogiQ

Markon Selects FoodLogiQ Product for Global Supply Chain Visibility

FoodLogiQ

FoodLogiQ has announced that Markon has selected its FoodLogiQ Connect Manage + Monitor product for global supply chain visibility and streamlined supplier management. “We vetted several systems providers and felt that FoodLogiQ was best positioned to help us manage data and dramatically increase efficiencies. With hundreds of suppliers, and thousands of farms, a robust system is necessary for us to maintain our industry-leading food programs,” said Markon President Tim York in a press release.

According to, managing hundreds of growers and dozens of processing plants is a massive undertaking that requires more than just manual tracking methods like spreadsheets and paper documents. Markon needed a technology solution to provide a global view of their supplier quality management, and they needed greater transparency across the company’s supply chain..

Markon will use the FoodLogiQ Connect’s Manage + Monitor to:

  • Centralize supplier documentation to achieve corporate food safety standards, implement corrective actions, support supplier verification, and manage required recordkeeping
  • Track and report on food safety across their supply chain and address issues with suppliers directly to drive compliance
  • Leverage data-driven reporting to help leadership make informed decisions about supplier performance and expiring documents

Read the full press release about Markon’s adoption of the FoodLogiQ platform.

Julie McGill, FoodLogiQ

Traceability from Within Starts with Assessing Capabilities

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Julie McGill, FoodLogiQ

Consumers and industry alike want more transparency in the supply chain. In a Q&A with Food Safety Tech, Julie McGill, director of implementation and strategic accounts at FoodLogiQ explains how companies can prepare to meet the increased demands and how technology can help.

Food Safety Tech: In light of the recent outbreaks and recalls, there an increased focus on traceability. What should companies do to get ready?

Julie McGill, FoodLogiQ
With the increased focus on traceability, companies should start assessing their internal capabilities, says Julie McGill of FoodLogiQ.

Julie McGill: There is so much that companies can do today to prepare, and they can start by assessing their current capabilities. What problems are you trying to solve? Have you identified all of your products and locations with GS1 identifiers? Are you using GS1 identifiers in your systems?

Do you have a data quality program in place? Are you able to mark all of your cases with a GS1-128 barcodes? Can you scan barcodes at receiving? At delivery? Are you sending EDI messages to your trading partners?

Those with successful programs will tell you this is a marathon, not a sprint. Securing executive support, aligning internal teams and setting expectations with trading partners is key.

Having the ability to act swiftly and with precision and accuracy is a differentiator during a recall. Trading partners who have made the investment are able to understand where these affected items are in their supply chains in seconds. These programs require a solid program, disciplined approach to implementation, and ongoing monitoring and management of the data. Companies that have committed to implementing these standards are gaining a competitive advantage today, as they are ready to meet the mandates and requirements set by their trading partners.

FST: Is it actually possible to trace products to the source? Can we trace produce back to the field or fish back to the oceans?

McGill: Yes, it is possible to trace products back to the source. Growing consumer demands and regulatory requirements, such as FSMA and SIMP, have led to the need for more detailed information about food and its origins. To achieve this, it’s imperative that companies standardize business practices, product identification and item data to enable interoperability across solutions and systems.

There has been tremendous work done by industry stakeholders to address traceability. They’ve mapped their entire supply chains, identified the key data elements and critical tracking events to be captured to enable full chain traceability. GS1 US hosts initiatives in foodservice and retail grocery, plus there are a number of industry-run initiatives, including the Produce Traceability Initiative (PTI), Supply Chain Optimization (SCO2), and Global Dialogue for Seafood Traceability. Food industry partners agree that full chain traceability will be achieved through education, industry input, and the use of standards.

Track and Trace, traceability, supply chain
The Track + Trace platform allows trading partners to capture and share the movement of products across the supply chain. When there’s the need to run an investigation, data is stitched together to provide visualization so trading partners can effectively and efficiently take action. Screenshot courtesy of FoodLogiQ

FST: When talking about traceability, blockchain is part of many conversations today. How does it differ from existing solutions?

McGill: Blockchain is an emerging technology that offers a way for companies to transact with each other and share information in a secure manner. What makes blockchain unique is that it is a shared, immutable ledger that records all the transactions in chronological order that cannot be altered or deleted. While this approach holds promise on raising transparency in the food industry, there is much yet to be tested and validated on its real-world application within the food chain.

The most common use case for blockchain in the food industry has been traceability. As blockchain technology, solutions and use cases are evolving, industry partners have come together to discuss it’s capabilities and use. We host a Blockchain Consortium, bringing our members together to explore blockchain. Industry groups are coming together as well, such as GS1 US, who is hosting a cross-industry discussion group to help companies better understand the transformative qualities of blockchain, including the use of GS1 Standards.

Blockchain has also made clear the need for companies to automate their record keeping and traceability systems and to eliminate the manual, paper-based processes that often slow down the resolution of a food safety outbreak or issue.

Blockchain is not a “light switch” solution. What’s widely misunderstood is that in order to achieve full chain traceability, all partners across the supply chain will need to implement processes to capture and share this critical tracking event data.

FST: Additional comments are welcome.

McGill: Foodservice companies share common drivers and common goals which improve the reliability of product information, lower costs and reduce risk. There are numerous benefits that can be realized once you have access to accurate and complete traceability data, including:

  • Limiting the scope and costs of recalls
  • Quicker and more accurate product withdrawals
  • Full visibility across the supply chain
  • Speed to market
  • Improved business intelligence
  • Creates operational efficiencies
  • Enhanced inventory management
Maria Fontanazza, Douglas Marshall, Food Safety Consortium, Eurofins

Top Questions Food Companies Should Ask Prospective Suppliers

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Maria Fontanazza, Douglas Marshall, Food Safety Consortium, Eurofins

Building a supply chain verification program can be a complicated task. In the following exclusive video with Doug Marshall, Ph.D., chief scientific officer at Eurofins, we learn the top questions that should be asking their suppliers during the process. Marshall also gives his perspective on the integration of data into the supply chain and how it can mitigate risk, along with where he’s sees the future of food safety testing headed.

Video shot at the 2018 Food Safety Consortium.

Food Safety Vs. Blockchain: Who Wins?

By Maria Fontanazza
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The jury is still out on how (and if) blockchain can contribute to a safer food supply. Whether or not there is a clear understanding of the technology, and its potential and pitfalls, is up for debate as well. “What is blockchain? This is the number one question that people have,” said Darin Detwiler, director, regulatory affairs of food and food industry at Northeastern University, who led a panel of experts as they deliberated over this hot topic during the 2018 Food Safety Consortium.

“Blockchain levels the playing field where we can connect people, resources and organizations in ways we’ve never done before to harness new ways of extracting value,” said Nigel Gopie, global marketing leader, IBM Food Trust at IBM.

What Is Blockchain?

Gopie provided an introductory definition of blockchain: Simply put, it is a series of blocks of information attached together. Each block is a box of information that stores data elements, and this data could be almost anything. Each block has a digital fingerprint associated with it; this fingerprint allows you to know that the block is unique and can attach to other blocks. When new blocks come into the chain, each block has a new fingerprint—one that is unique to that block and of the block before it. This allows the connection to happen, and enables visibility into the origin of each block.

Blockchain enables one book of business and provides three important benefits, said Gopie:

  1. Digital transactions
  2. Distributed ledger with one version of truth throughout the network
  3. Data is immutable
Blockchain, IBM, Food Safety Consortium
IBM’s Nigel Gopie breaks down the basic meaning of blockchain for attendees at the 2018 Food Safety Consortium.

Although blockchain can help to start the process of solving food issues surrounding safety, freshness, reduced waste and sustainability, the technology is only the foundation. A series of other components are important as well, said Gopie, and the following are some insights that the expert panel shared during their discussion.

2018 Food Safety Supply Chain Conference, Blockchain
Is the Food Industry Ready for Blockchain? Check out a dynamic panel about the technology from the 2018 Food Safety Supply Chain Conference.

Can Blockchain Actually Impact Food Safety?

Jorge Hernandez, chief food safety officer at Wholesome International: “To me, it’s a fantastic new technology that would allow the food industry to do a much better job of finding, from seed to fork, all of the processes and things that happen to that product. And in the future, [it] allows us to identify problems first and solve [them]. My problem is it being sold to companies…and not able to deliver on the promise… It bothers me that we are looking at a future that may or may not be there.”

Angela Fernandez, vice president, retail grocery & foodservice at GS1 US: “We’ve been working on traceability and transparency for over a decade—you have to be capturing the data needed, [and] we’re still working on getting it right. We’re just not there yet. I think it’s a great place for us to strive to go towards, but we’re still early in the stages of accepting it as a community.”

David Howard, vice president of corporate strategy at Pavocoin: “Blockchain itself is simply a technology. We’re all here because we’re just trying figure out what application we can use in business. Blockchain is a technology that can help all of you improve operational efficiencies for your bottom line.”

Is Blockchain a Barrier or a Fast Lane to Heightened Liability Concerns?

Shawn Stevens, food industry lawyer and founder of Food Industry Counsel, LLC: “I think the starting point is to ask ourselves what makes food unsafe. It’s a lack of transparency…What blockchain can do is illuminate entire segments of the industry…From a reactive standpoint, blockchain can help us identify a problem [and] solve it. From a preventive standpoint, if I have access to all this information regarding attributes and quality of supplier, I can make better decisions that protect my company.”

“We want to know more and be better informed. Once you know more, you better react and do something. If you’re getting this line of sight and you don’t react to it, that’s what exposes you to liability.”

Darin Detwiler, director, regulatory affairs of food and food industry at Northeastern University: “We need to look at the balance between the reactive use of blockchain and the proactive use.”

2018 Food Safety Consortium on Blockchain. (left to right) David Howard, Pavocoin; Jorge Hernandez, Wholesome International; Nigel Gopie, IBM; Angela Fernandez GS1 US; and Shawn Stevens, Food Industry Counsel, LLC. Not pictured: Darin Detwiler, Northeastern University.

What Barriers Does Industry Need to Anticipate?

Fernandez: “The barrier of the standards and interoperability piece—that’s a big question our community is asking us. Scalability… standards are vital…I think that opens up a different discussion when talking about private versus public blockchain.”

Hernandez: “What is my ROI? The issue I have with blockchain is not only the investment in my organization, but I have to bring my entire supply chain with me if I want to get any benefit. There’s a good value proposition, but it requires you to get everyone on board. When you’re a large organization, it’s probably not that hard to do. But a small organization like mine where my suppliers are an Amish community that sells us cheese, that’s a huge mountain to climb. They don’t have the background [or] the technology, and even if they wanted to do it, it’s a big change for them. You’re asking me to make a change in my relationship with my suppliers.”

“Take a look at it from the business continuity [perspective]. What are the changes you’re going to have to make? And that changes that have to be made by everyone who works with you? We should not stay static. We should continue to look for things. If this is the technology that is going to move us forward, let’s start getting prepared.”

Food Safety Consortium

Making Your Supply Chain Smarter, Safer and More Sustainable

By Maria Fontanazza
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Food Safety Consortium

How to build a smarter, safer and more sustainable food supply chain: This was a big topic at the 2018 Food Safety Consortium last month. David McCarthy of IBM Food Trust led a panel of experts from the retail side of the industry in a Q&A session about their biggest challenges in the supply chain, the role of digital and how to achieve a higher level of transparency.

What are the main areas in the supply chain where there’s a major need for improvement?

Sean Leighton, vice president of food safety and quality, Cargill: One of the biggest challenges that I see from a supplier perspective is people’s assumptions around what is the supply chain—our mindsets, our ability to talk with each other on “what do you mean by ‘supply chain’”?

Cindy Jiang and Scott Horsfall at the 2018 Food Safety Consortium
Cindy Jiang and Scott Horsfall (all images credit: amybcreative)

What is food safety’s role in the supply chain?

Cindy Jiang, senior director of worldwide food safety, quality and nutrition, McDonald’s Corp.: The supply chain is a supply network; it’s not linear. The most fundamental thing is to ensure there’s no disruption—that the supply chain can provide goods and food product to your customers. When you’re looking at the supply chain, [there’s a] change between the traditional thinking and the digital demand. How do you provide information in an effective way to your customers?

Howard Popoola, vice president, corporate food technology and regulatory compliance, The Kroger Company: Our supply chain means nothing if we aren’t able to deliver safe foods to those consumers in the last mile. Consumers are thinking about the experience that they’re going to have with this product. They’re not thinking about whether it’s safe or not. They’re thinking about the meal they’re going to make at home with the ingredients that they purchased.

The biggest pain point from the retailer’s perspective, when you look at us as being the last in the chain, is in transparency [and] knowing where the products are coming from. Transparency is very big for us. And it takes more than the retailer to open that door of transparency to the consumer.

What are the challenges you’re seeing in providing transparency?

Scott Horsfall, CEO, California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement: I think a big challenge right now and in the future is communication.

Leighton: I think the winners….are going to be the ones that try to achieve consumer trust. The future is no place for the three ring binders…it’s digital. Where does the data sit? How can you provide access to them through customers?

Howard Popoola, Sean Leighton, Food Safety Consortium
Howard Popoola and Sean Leighton

How does the digital transformation play into providing transparency?

Popoola: The consumers have already trusted the food industry. There are millions of people walking into retail stores buying product. If the trust isn’t there, they wouldn’t be doing that. We erode that trust when [a consumer] has a terrible experience with that product.

How are you seeing digital transformation across the supply chain?

Jiang: Digital is one of the top three initiatives of McDonalds; how do we connect with consumers? When serving 70 million customers each day, how can we get to the transparency to understand the supply—digital is one of the answers. From the supply chain standpoint, we’re looking at the analytics. We cannot think about only one solution. We have to have different solutions to get the end results.

Popoola: I think the food industry has to see itself as a big ecosystem. If we don’t see ourselves as an ecosystem that strives for the one thing,… digital is always going to be a mirage. We have to look at what is digital and understand the fact that [we have large and small companies]. It’s not going to be one size fits all.

How long will it take the food industry to get to a completely digital operation?

Jiang: Looking at the total industry digitized—the majority of the work can be done within the next five years, [by] looking at leading companies. But in terms of total digitalization of the ood network in the U.S., I think that will take another 10 to 20 years.

Food Safety Consortium
(left to right) Howard Poopola, Sean Leighton, Cindy Jiang, Scott Horsfall and David McCarthy discuss supply chain challenges during the 2018 Food Safety Consortium

Horsfall: I think there’s a challenge with much of the farm community to get to this point. There’s also this issue with how you transmit the information. [Horsfall predicts] 10-15 years for the industry.

Leighton: Even a 100% digitized food industry has limited value if the players in the industry can’t pull together to deliver meaningful insights from it all.

What are the most promising innovations solving transparency?

Jiang: When looking at innovation, not just technology (technology is an enabler)— the most impactful innovation is human innovation: How can we work together? The GFSI platform started 20 years ago, and now it’s so impactful around the globe. [Now we’re] looking at how to harmonize food safety standards.

How can we standardize and harmonize… for ingredient suppliers?
How [can we] use the GS1 platform, numbering system to track on where the ingredient is coming from and how that product is made for us—what’s in my product?

Think about the human collaboration and how to improve where we’re at.

Poopola: I would like to tackle this from a different perspective: When we built technologies (whether off-the-shelf or customized) 20 years ago, we thought [it would be around for] the next 100 years. It’s clear today that the technology you have in place might be obsolete in five years. We have to look at the technology we’re building and acquiring today: Will it be relevant in five years?

Leighton: It’s hard to wrap my head around…deep learning and AI [artificial intelligence]. The insights we can gain from machine learning and predictive analytics. Could AI be human’s last invention?

Horsfall: In produce industry, which hasn’t always been in the front, I think that’s changing. [We’re] trying to bring AI and new technology to bear.

Mahni Ghorashi, Clear Labs
FST Soapbox

Why the Food Safety Industry Needs the Cloud

By Mahni Ghorashi
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Mahni Ghorashi, Clear Labs

Cloud computing and storage, the breakthrough technology that once dominated headlines, conferences and CIOs’ strategic plans, is now commonplace in most industries. That is not to discount the journey it took to get here, though. This easy acceptance wasn’t always the case, and in fact, some of the world’s most important industries are lagging behind.

Food safety is one such industry that stands to gain the most from adopting cloud technology but continues to rely heavily on manual processes, paperwork, and cumbersome on-premise databases. These methods are seen as fail-safe, proven by history to be effective enough and compatible with the overarching goals of the industry. We’re suffering from the age-old adage: If it isn’t broken, we don’t need to fix it.

While the food safety industry has good reasons for taking a more conservative approach to new technology, I’d argue that the most pressing risk to our industry is the failure to invest in innovation. In our own attempts to avoid risk, we’re actually exposing ourselves to far greater losses both in protecting consumers and new opportunities.

A Path Forward For Food Safety

The food safety industry is changing, and changing rapidly. However, despite advances, the industry still faces major challenges. We’ve seen more than 200 recalls just this year. An average recall costs $10 million dollars in direct costs alone. On average, it takes 57 days to recall food, according to a report by the Office of Inspector General.

At the same time, we’re beginning to generate more data than ever, with technologies like blockchain and next-generation sequencing coming online in a big way. We’re about to experience a data explosion arguably bigger than in any other industry. A single NGS test can give industry officials hundreds of millions of data points per analysis, and routine pathogen tests are happening at high volumes around the clock.

This amount of data cannot be contained in the spreadsheets and on-premise databases of today.

The hesitation to adopt cloud-computing is not unfounded, given the initial fear around outages and security, and a disbelief that the technology could ever be as reliable and secure as their existing systems. And the hesitation is even more understandable when you consider that food and beverage is the third-most hacked industry. The damage from these breaches can be extensive, with reports that 70% of hacked food and beverage companies go out of business within a year of an attack. There is a substantial cost for lax security or prolonged outages.

Clearly, any solution has to be comprehensive, and our justifications for switching systems have to be all the more clear. But we cannot as an industry sit idle.

The food safety industry has an opportunity to learn from those who have gone before us and build a stronger, more robust cloud infrastructure.

We’re starting to see this shift take place – some of the top poultry manufacturers have already made the leap into cloud computing. They and others will prove that the value of making the move far outweighs the risk.

Quality Control and Consistency

Right now, it’s not uncommon for food safety employees to record their observations via paper and pencil. In a best-case scenario, these professionals are forced into spreadsheets with limited interoperability. In either scenario, there are huge amounts of friction when it comes to sharing information and, in fact, data can easily be lost as inboxes fill, software crashes, or papers get buried in the shuffle.

By enabling instantaneous data sharing, the cloud makes collaboration across an organization easily accessible for the first time. This, in turn, boosts productivity and also guarantees a higher degree of consistency in both process and results.

Employees can instantly share results, communicate across departments, and easily control permissions and access to information, allowing others to iterate on or apply their findings in real time.

Speed Across an Organization

The drive to increase efficiency actually underwrites the entire food safety industry. Experts are constantly asking how we can be faster at assessing risk, managing recalls, and generally running a business. These questions are only becoming more important as the threat of foodborne illness continues to rise.

The cloud enables greater speed in tracking food information inside and outside of the lab. Perhaps more than any other tool, cloud technology is going to allow the food safety industry to more quickly and effectively manage recalls.

Technology that allows companies to immediately update information company-wide without the burden or drag of an unwieldy IT infrastructure is valuable. Technology that gives you easily interpretable results, so that you can make quick decisions for the good of public health safety is valuable.

Cloud technology enables both. You could easily process terabytes worth of data and spit out easy, comprehensible results that would have otherwise taken days or weeks to produce.

This ability, which on its own is attractive, is especially important as you get into more complicated pathogen tests. For example, with traditional serotyping, a substantial portion of calls are subjective. The speed of cloud computing can take away some of that guesswork.

Dramatic Cost Savings

Not only does the cloud offer a faster system for storing and accessing information, but it also offers cheaper infrastructure, usually an offshoot of its speed. A survey of more than 1,000 IT professionals found that 88% of cloud users pointed to cost savings and 56% agreed that cloud services had helped them boost profits. Additionally, the absolute cost of the cloud is continuing to drop, improving margins.

With the cost savings enabled by the cloud, the food safety lab no longer has to stay a cost center. Adopting cloud technologies can create more wiggle room in a company’s budget and free up resources for ambitious experiments, new product development, and other activities that contribute to the bottom line of the organization.

Security and Regulatory Advancements

The cloud also allows companies to more easily cooperate with HAACP and FSMA regulations. With all of this organizational data easily available and updated in real time, organizations can ensure they’re keeping pace with regulatory requirements by easily producing traceability records and managing compliance requirements across multiple locations and vendors, for example.

While better, more transparent data management company-wide has always been the draw of cloud, the technology has been crippled by simultaneous concerns about security. Food safety executives feel stuck between wanting to comply with best practices and needing to protect sensitive and valuable information.

Fortunately, food safety has waited long enough. Even as recently as 2015, cloud breaches of major organizations’ databases were still making headlines. However, the technology has come a long way in a short time. Cloud providers are beginning to implement automatic checks of systems to analyze threats and identify their severity.

These advancements speak to the food safety industry’s primary pain points, security and speed. By solving for both, the cloud has reached a maturity worthy of the food safety industry.

The Future: Data Pollination

Finally, the cloud makes it much easier to share data across departments, organizations, and even entire industries.

We’re entering an era of data pollination. What I mean by that is there an opportunity to mesh food safety data (genomic data, label information, etc.) with other forms of data—human microbiome data, for instance, to create “personalized” food, enabling consumers to eat ideal foods based on their genetic makeup. While this trend has already taken off, it could be further improved and better validated by bringing food and genetic data out of their silos.

On the opposite end of the production line, data pollination could also help farmers, who have huge amounts of data at their fingertips, understand how they can play a larger role in food safety. If data can enable farmers to produce bigger yields, data can also certainly help farmers prevent any environmental causes of food safety on the farm itself.

Bringing together the data from the entire lifecycle of food—from farmer to consumer—can only be a good thing, powered by the cloud.

Conclusion

The food industry should not look at the task of updating their infrastructure to the cloud as a burden or an extra cost—it’s an investment and when done right, it can provide far greater returns. We have the advantage of late adoption and learning from the implementation mistakes and successes.

This isn’t just incremental improvement territory—we’re talking about making a quantum leap forward in our industry.

Data management, food manufacturing

FSMA and the Importance of Data Visibility and Management in Food Manufacturing

By Jeff Budge
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Data management, food manufacturing

Implementation of FSMA has prompted many organizations to take a closer look at sanitation practices, documentation of food safety plans and the traceability of materials and ingredients used to create food products.

Meanwhile, shifts in technology, such as cloud migration as well as the rise of big data and analytics platforms, present both opportunities and challenges in food manufacturing.

In many cases, digital transformation, including the adoption of a multi-cloud strategy, occurs as part of a roadmap set forth by a food company’s software vendors. Tech giants, including Microsoft, Oracle and SAP, are driving digital transformation through the modernization of ERP systems and dictating how food companies should utilize applications, data and software.

In those situations, digital transformation is not a choice, it’s a requirement. CIOs and IT professionals are seeking help. They are looking to understand the dynamics and characteristics of these new environments because they are compelled to change.

Yet, there are also organizations that would rather do more than simply follow the lead of their software vendors. Instead, they choose their own destiny in terms of IT modernization. They’re looking for opportunities by leveraging data to make better business decisions.

Before a food manufacturer can get to that point, however, there must be a strategy for gathering, storing, connecting and presenting different types of data across an organization as well as to external customers and business partners.

Managing the data required for FSMA compliance is an ideal example of the importance of pursuing digital transformation.

Food Safety Data and FSMA Compliance

A major component of FSMA involves having detailed documentation of a food safety plan and the ability to produce data proving adherence to that plan when the FDA shows up for a plant inspection. Food manufacturers need to show best practices are being followed, and that corrections are being made when concerns emerge. Otherwise, the FDA may impose fines or temporarily shut down production, which cuts into the bottom line.

Because of FSMA mandates such as the Sanitary Transportation Rule, your documented food safety plan needs to be communicated to key participants throughout the supply chain as responsibility for food safety problems typically falls back to the manufacturer.

For that reason, food processors need solutions allowing them to track and trace their product from the farm field to store shelves, or to any other final customer.

Imagine being a food manufacturer trying to document sanitation in a basic spreadsheet or even on paper. The extra work involved with specifying food safety tests, collecting and archiving results, and validating sanitation procedures would be overwhelming. Yet, just as perplexing of an issue is being a digitized food manufacturer with poor visibility and management of all the information that various IT systems and platforms provide.

Most companies acknowledge that the cloud is a necessity in today’s world. Organizations often need multiple cloud solutions to accomplish business objectives, from regulatory compliance to finances, inventory control and distribution.

CIOs, technology professionals and food safety/sanitation leaders should work with existing IT solutions partners or find consultants and experts who can ensure the following questions can be answered:

1. Is the location of your data known?

Data visibility in the cloud is the first step in the process, and it is a challenge for many organizations. You need to know where your data lives, that the right people have access to it and that it is secure. When you know where your data lives, you’ll better understand how to use and protect it.

2. Is your data in a location that allows for integration?

Can the different applications your company uses talk with each other, or is all the information siloed across different cloud providers and departments in the organization? Is it integrated? Can certain information, such as food safety plans, be communicated with partners including suppliers, distributors and your carrier network?

3. Can your data be put into a framework allowing it to be extracted, visualized and leveraged?

Data doesn’t help anyone if you’re unable to take that information and use it to make better business decisions. Whether it’s food safety, operational efficiency, forecasting needs or developing new ideas, the most successful food manufacturers will leverage integrated data to move the organization forward.

Data management, food manufacturing
Managing the data required for FSMA compliance is an ideal example of the importance of pursuing digital transformation in food manufacturing facilities. (Image courtesy of One Neck IT Solutions, LLC

The Advantages of Pursuing Digital Transformation

If you were to go back about a decade and observed a small- to mid-sized food manufacturer using Microsoft as its data platform, that manufacturer would likely have been running applications for the business that created data while receiving little guidance pertaining to how the information should be interpreted and used. Fortunately, that has changed.

Today, companies like Microsoft, Oracle and SAP actively focus on the use of data rather than only data collection. The right IT solution, coupled with expert partners, allows you to eliminate the guesswork and leverage data to your advantage.

FSMA mandates are complicated, and compliance is crucial, but the pursuit of digital transformation supports the efforts of food manufacturers who are prepared to improve transparency and responsibility surrounding food safety.

Digital transformation represents change, which is never easy, but it will be worth the effort. Start by evaluating your organization’s technology needs as they relate to FSMA compliance as well as additional business objectives. Then, identify areas of internal strength and areas where improvements are needed.

Some food manufacturers partner with an IT solutions provider for support developing a cloud migration plan and a subsequent strategy for operating in multi-cloud environments. Others need managed services, helping them handle day-to-day IT needs through outsourcing so in-house resources can develop high-value solutions. Still, others are looking for consultative guidance to help them understand what changes in technology truly mean to their organization.

You want your people to focus on what they do best. Many food manufacturers are in locations where there’s a lack of technical resources for hire. That’s why they turn to IT consultants and service providers who understand their business, can provide expertise that fills the talent gap and are able to interpret business needs into technology solutions.

Digital transformation isn’t one big project, it’s an ongoing journey, a series of waves of new technologies and new ways to use applications and data. Make sure you find trustworthy allies to give you the guidance and solutions you need, not only for regulatory compliance but for growth and continued success.

Blockchain, Food Safety Supply Chain Conference

Is the Food Industry Ready for Blockchain?

By Maria Fontanazza
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Blockchain, Food Safety Supply Chain Conference

Darin Detwiler will lead a plenary session titled, “Practical Use of Blockchain in Food Safety” at the 2018 Food Safety Consortium | Learn moreOn the heels of the deadly, widespread outbreak of E.coli O157:H7 illnesses linked to romaine lettuce—and 12 years after the infamous spinach outbreak of 2006—the food industry is struggling to find the solution to prevent these outbreaks. “I think it’s indicative that we need to do something different,” said Melanie Nuce, senior vice president, corporate development & innovation at GS1 US, during a panel discussion about blockchain at the 2018 Food Safety Supply Chain conference earlier this month. The panel, led by Darin Detwiler, assistant dean and director, regulatory affairs of food and food industry at Northeastern University, delved into the strengths and weaknesses of blockchain, along with industry readiness and acceptance.

In its most basic form, the technology would allow for the addition of information from every step of the supply chain, from manufacturing to packaging to distribution to retail, and would incorporate elements such as auditing, inspection, batch information, certification of auditors, preventive control plans, HACCP information, and allergen identification.

“Blockchain could be the death of the document.” Simon Batters, Lloyd’s Register

Strengths

The increased demand for transparency and traceability could be one of the biggest drivers for the adoption of blockchain. “[Blockchain] offers us the technology for traceability,” said Simon Batters, vice president of technology solutions at Lloyd’s Register. “It allows us to have an immutable record of a transaction; it won’t solve the food safety conundrum overnight—it’s part of the tool kit that we need.”

The fact that the food supply chain consists of millions of transactions, which could not be tampered with under blockchain, while the data could be used as reference points and for verification—those are strengths. However, Batters pointed out, there should be restrictions on who has permission to write the code and who has access to putting the information into a chain.

The technology would also enable smart contracts whereby shipments wouldn’t be finalized if they didn’t meet the conditions of a supplier, for example. “All parties to a transaction have a view to the entire chain at the same time,” said Nuce. “You have real time visibility. This democratizes that.”

Kathleen Wybourn, director, food safety solutions at DNV GL, calls blockchain “the birth certificate for food.” From a consumer standpoint, it would provide information on a product’s origin—and these days, consumers—especially millennials—are very interested in the story of food from farm to fork.

2018 Food Safety Supply Chain Conference, Blockchain
The blockchain panel, led by Darin Detwiler, Director: Regulatory Affairs of Food and Food Industry, Northeastern University featured (left to right) Kathy Wybourn, Director, Food Safety Solutions, DNV GL; Simon Batters,
Vice President of Technology Solutions, Lloyd’s Register and Melanie Nuce, Senior Vice President, Corporate Development & Innovation, GS1 US.

Weaknesses and Threats

The panel pointed out several areas of improvement (and unknowns that must be answered) before blockchain can be taken to the next level in the food industry.

  • Although the technology could aid in faster transaction times, as the size of the ledger gets larger, and it will become more difficult to manage.
  • Industry involvement: “If you don’t get 100% participation, it’s not going to be successful,” Nuce said. “To have true trace back, everyone has to participate.”
  • Blockchain platforms: Will they be able to interact and share data? What type of blockchain architecture is necessary for this?
  • Poor architecture
  • Need a better grasp on the type of data being used and how it delivers value
  • What impact will it have on the role of certification bodies?
  • Politics and the competitive element: Will certain parties seek to control this space?
  • Will the culture shift be a roadblock?
Melanie Nuce, GS1 US
Read Melanie Nuce’s column, Blockchain: Separating Fact from Fiction

Final Thoughts from the Panel

“Nobody can really tell where this is going to go in the future. I think it’s going to be part of food safety in their roles in one shape or form…I think we’ll see more of where this is headed within the next 12–18 months.” – Kathy Wybourn

“I think it’s going to be a fast-moving dynamic area.”– Simon Batters, who suggested that the organizations that embrace blockchain early may be the ones who show the way

“From an information/standards perspective, you have to have foundational business processes to support any type of technology. That’s what we’ve learned through the pilots.” – Melanie Nuce

“It’s not going to make a company any more ethical… a lot of what we need already exists out there; blockchain is just a tool out there. I keep warning people that this is not the only solution.” – Darin Detwiler

FDA

FDA’s Data Dashboard Helps Companies Meet FSMA Supply Chain Requirements

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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FDA

FDA has launched a new section of its Data Dashboard to help food importers, manufacturers and processors meet supply chain requirements put forth by FSMA (specifically FSVP, and the PC rules). The dashboard provides ease in finding compliance and enforcement information related to companies.

Do you trust your suppliers? What about your supplier’s suppliers? | Food Safety Supply Chain Conference | June 12–13, 2018 | Learn more“The Foreign Supplier Verification Programs rule requires importers to perform risk-based activities to verify that their suppliers are meeting applicable U.S. food safety standards. One such activity is an evaluation of a supplier’s performance and the risk associated with the food, a process that includes evaluating a supplier’s compliance with FDA regulations such as whether the supplier is subject to an FDA warning letter, import alert, or other FDA compliance action related to food safety. The Preventive Controls rules require manufacturers/processors to perform supplier approval if the ingredient supplied contains a hazard requiring a supply-chain applied control. Supplier approval includes consideration of the supplier’s compliance with food safety laws and regulations.” – FDA

The agency also made improvements to its supplier evaluation resources page and added it to the dashboard so that companies can simultaneously search several databases. Users can search for information about warning letters, import refusal and import alerts.