Food industry professionals know how supply chain transparency plays a major role in keeping everything running smoothly. Brand representatives want confirmation that their agricultural partners can fill upcoming orders. If things go wrong and people get sick from what they eat, better visibility is vital in addressing and curbing such issues.
Artificial intelligence (AI) is a critical part of better food supply chain awareness among all applicable parties. This article briefly discusses some interesting examples.
Applying AI to Crop Management
Even the most experienced agricultural professionals know farming is far from an exact science. Everything from pests to droughts can negatively impact a growing season, even if a farmer does anything they can to influence production in their favor.
However, AI can help predict yields, enabling farmers to maintain transparency and set accurate expectations for parties further down the supply chain. That’s especially important in the increasingly popular farm-to-table movement, which shortens how far produce travels and may entail using it on the same day someone picks it.
One newly developed machine-learning tool relies on computer vision and ultra-scale images taken from the air to categorize lettuce crops. More specifically, it captures details about the size, quality, and quantity of the heads. Combining that with GPS allows more efficient harvesting.
Tracing Foodborne Illness
CDC Statistics indicate foodborne illnesses sicken one in six people every year in the United States. FSMA contains rules and actions for food processing facilities to prevent such instances, but outbreaks still happen. AI could be yet another useful mitigation measure.
Researchers at the University of Georgia determined that, since the 1960s, approximately a quarter of Salmonella outbreaks have been from the Typhimurium variation. They trained a machine-learning algorithm on more than 1,300 Typhimurium genomes with known origins. The model eventually achieved 83% accuracy in predicting certain animal sources that would have the Typhimurium genome. It showed the most accuracy with poultry and swine.
Reducing Food Waste
Waste is a tremendous problem for the food supply chain. In the United States, data shows that upwards of 40% of packaged consumables get discarded once they reach the use-by date. That happens whether or not the products are actually unsafe to eat.
However, better visibility into this issue has a positive impact on food distribution. For example, some restaurants give people discounted meals rather than throwing them away. In other cases, grocery stores partner with charities, helping people in need have enough to eat.
Scientists in Singapore have also created an electronic “nose” that uses AI to sniff out meat freshness. More specifically, it reacts to the gases produced during decay. When the team tested the system on chicken, fish and beef, it showed 98.5% accuracy in its task. Using AI in this manner could bring transparency that cuts food waste while assuring someone that a food product is still safe to eat despite the appearance of it being expired based on Best Before’ labeling.
Removing Guesswork From Dynamic Processes
People are particularly interested in how AI often detects signs that humans miss. Thus, it can often solve problems that previously proved challenging. For example, even the most conscientious farmers can’t watch all their animals every moment of the day and night, but AI could provide greater visibility. That’s valuable since animal health can directly impact the success of entire farming operations.
One European Union-funded AI project took into account how animal health is a primary factor in milk production. The tool compared cows’ behaviors to baseline levels and characteristics of the animals at the most successful farms. It then provided users with practical insights for improvement. Europe has at least 274 million dairy cows, and their milk makes up 11%-14% of Europeans’ dietary fat requirements. Those statistics show why keeping herds producing as expected is critical.
AI is also increasingly used in aquaculture. Until recently, fish farming professionals largely used intuition and experience to determine feeding amounts. However, that can lead to waste. One company uses artificial intelligence to sense fish and shrimp hunger levels and sends that information to smart dispensers that release food. The manufacturers say this approach causes up to a 21% reduction in feed costs. Other solutions track how much fish eat over time, helping farmers adjust their care protocols.
Fascinating Advancements in Supply Chain Transparency
These instances are only a sampling of what AI can do to support the food supply chain. Although most of them are most relevant to producers, consumers will likely reap the benefits, too. For example, some food labels already show the precise field associated with the potatoes used for a bag of chips. Once technology reaches a point where most consumers could have advanced AI apps on their phones, it could be a matter of aiming a smartphone’s camera at any food product and instantly seeing the path it took before reaching the consumer. It’s too early to know when that might happen. Nevertheless, what’s already possible with innovative technology is compelling in its own right and makes people rightfully eager to see what’s on the horizon.
Today the USDA announced an initiative to help reduce the incidence of Salmonella illnesses linked to poultry products. In an effort to reach the national target of a 25% reduction in these illnesses, the agency will be looking for feedback on strategies related to Salmonella control and management in poultry slaughter and processing facilities. This includes pilot projects, the data from which the agency will use to determine whether different methods could be implemented to reduce Salmonella illnesses.
“The effort will leverage USDA’s strong research capabilities and strengthen FSIS’ partnership with the Research, Education and Economics (REE) mission area to address data gaps and develop new laboratory methods to guide future Salmonella policy. Meanwhile, the National Advisory Committee for Microbiological Criteria in Foods, an independent federal advisory committee, will be asked to advise on how FSIS can build on the latest science to improve its approach to Salmonella control. Since it is not just the presence or absence of Salmonella, but the quantity of bacteria that can impact the likelihood of illness, FSIS will examine how quantification can be incorporated into this approach. Moreover, with emerging science suggesting that not all Salmonella are equally likely to cause human illness, FSIS will focus on the Salmonella serotypes and the virulence factors that pose the greatest public health risk.” – USDA Press Release
Watch On Demand
Food Safety Hazards Series: Salmonella Detection, Mitigation, Control and Regulation
Food safety experts will discuss challenges and tangible best practices in Salmonella detection, mitigation and control, along with critical issues that the food industry faces with regards to the pathogen. This includes the journey and progress of petition to USDA on reforming and modernizing poultry inspections to reduce the incidence of Salmonella and Campylobacter; Salmonella detection, mitigation and control; and a case study on the pathogen involving crisis management.
The immediate benefit for pest management professionals is clear: An electronic remote monitoring (ERM) system can increase service efficiency and save technicians time checking traps because they know exactly which traps have activity. But, how exactly does that benefit you?
The short answer: These technologies enable your service technician to receive real-time notifications of pest activity that is recorded with a time stamp. That means you receive a quicker response to resolve an active pest issue, allowing for more prompt corrective and preventive action. But, that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Shifting From Trap Checking to Always-on Pest Control
No one wants a service technician who simply checks traps. When tasked with checking 100 traps week after week, a technician tends to go into “checknician” mode – simply going through the motion of checking traps. It’s human nature; they have a road map to follow, and they’ll follow that road map, missing those trouble spots, such as new evidence of pest activity, along the way. It also means they are only reacting to what they find versus proactively looking for opportunities to prevent pests.
By using ERM technology to essentially enable the traps to check themselves, the technician can do the job they were hired and trained to do. By freeing up their time from trap checking, technicians can proactively seek out issues that leave you vulnerable to pest problems.
In addition to checking traps with activity alerts, service technicians can spend their time reviewing pest sighting logs, looking for signs of pest activity and seeking out its source, as well as identifying conditions favorable for pests. This proactive and strategic inspection ultimately results in more detailed documentation and reporting of their findings for further root cause analysis, corrective action and overall prevention.
Audit-Ready Elevated Documentation
Another benefit is the documentation that ERM systems can provide. For instance, pinpointed, time-stamped data some of these systems deliver fits right in with the trending and active hot spot data most auditors are looking for when they visit a plant.
Auditors understand that you’re going to have a mouse from time to time, but what they truly want to know is: What did you do about it, how did you protect your product and how will you prevent the problem from happening again. ERM systems make that data readily available.
Data Is Meaningless Without Expertise
There’s no point in collecting data if you aren’t going to put it to use and to do so, you need a strong partner in your pest control service provider. Your service provider’s expertise stretches far beyond killing pests. ERM systems allow your technician the time to apply that expertise while on-site, while also supplying the pinpointed data they need to get ahead of pest issues.
Without that strong partnership, it’s like hiring a heart doctor because you had a heart attack, but you do nothing else to help your heart condition. It’s no different when a food processor suffers a rodent infestation and an auditor finds a problem with their program or there’s a customer complaint. Often, the first reaction is to blame the pest control company. In actuality, pest management success is rooted in a strong partnership between the pest control provider and the facility management.
A pest management program with ERM technology is just one piece of the larger pest prevention puzzle. Knowing where pest activity is happening and identifying the root cause only goes so far in resolving the problem. The preventive steps, such as fixing a damaged door sweep or improving sanitation, is a shared responsibility with facility management.
Investing in Data-driven Pest Control
Everyone likes to save a little money, but your pest prevention program isn’t the place for penny-pinching. Like all new technologies, adopting an ERM system may mean additional costs, but it’s important to realize that no amount of cost cutting is worth it if there’s a recall or a disgruntled customer.
When you hire a pest control company, it’s an insurance policy for pests and an investment in your food protection program. By using ERM technology, you enable your service technician to monitor rodent activity in real time so they can provide a quicker response for corrective and preventive action. That data-driven approach to prevention aligns directly with FSMA and GFSI standards, ensuring not only your compliance, but also that your facility and your product is better-protected in the long-term.
Data breaches, ransomware attacks and now, operational shutdowns. Recent events bear out that cyber strikes are not reserved solely to data breaches and IT systems but now include Operational Technology (OT) and industrial controls to disrupt operations, distribution and the entire food supply chain.
JBS Foods, the one of the world’s largest meat producers, was leveled by a cyberattack in early June, affecting U.S. and Australia operations. In a public statement, the organization revealed that it paid the equivalent of $11 million in ransom in response to the criminal hack against its operations. “At the time of payment, the vast majority of the company’s facilities were operational. In consultation with internal IT professionals and third-party cybersecurity experts, the company made the decision to mitigate any unforeseen issues related to the attack and ensure no data was exfiltrated,” according to company documents.
There’s a security divide that shouldn’t be there—distinct lines between Cyber, OT and physical security teams that has resulted in disjointed and ineffective detection, mitigation and response to risk—forged by years of siloed departments.
It’s not a new problem—in fact the vulnerability of the critical infrastructure has been a discussion for decades. Moving to a converged approach across all departments, including HR, IT/cyber and OT/SCADA can effectively secure our most critical food production and distribution resources while actively enforcing compliance and company policies. Identity and Access is at the center of it all and the best way to holistically protect the enterprise.
In the example of high-profile enterprise Molson-Coors, a cyberattack in March centered on ransomware. In its SEC filing after the event, the beverage giant stated that the attack “has caused and may continue to cause a delay or disruption to parts of the company’s business,” which includes brewery operations, production and shipping.
The February attack on a Florida Water Treatment plant, hacked by compromise to a remote access software program on a facility computer, is still another stark reminder of the growing dangers of cyber-physical threats and that even employees can be part of the problem.
You can see just how fragile and vulnerable our supply chains and critical business processes have become. Cybercriminals now realize how disruptive and lucrative attacks targeting these systems can be so they will continue unabated without immediate stop-gaps.
Because these attacks have become blended and omni-present on every part of the critical infrastructure, executives need to move beyond IT-centric cybersecurity to minimize supply threats. This emergence of new attack vectors has other implications. It highlights the dire need to transition from siloed IT, OT, HR and physical security to a converged approach, yet executives remain at odds with how to execute this while working in their own bubbles.
The threat has become even greater than the organization itself. According to predictions by Gartner liability for cyber-physical security incidents will “pierce the corporate veil to personal liability,” for 75% of CEOs by 2024.
Security Convergence Key Ingredient to Digital Transformation
As the food industry continues to digitally transform, systems and processes move to rapidly connect. Security convergence, centered around identity and access governance, links all these separate departments and operations, so communications and processes actively and collectively address and shore up risk preemptively. Events, exceptions, alerts, alarms and targeted attacks on all points, including the network, control systems and physical security can be integrated for a coordinated and cohesive response.
Securing our most important critical resource—the food supply chain—means correlating threats across underlying HR, IT, physical security and OT used in production and processing. Physical access control and identity now links to specialized plant applications like manufacturing execution systems (MES), plant historians and demand management from ERP that can deliver information directly to production. Monitoring insider and contractor access to modifying batch recipes provides alerts and detection when the addition of a preservative has been suppressed, causing a contaminated batch to be produced, for example.
Integrating seamlessly with HR applications, converged software further prevents insider threat by automating background checks and risk analysis during the on-boarding and off-boarding process for employees and contractors.
The threat landscape today demands a single solution to manage operational risk and security. The following just one example of how this converged approach works.
A fictitious company named Big Food was dealing with disgruntled production foreman Tom. Tom not only had physical access to the production floor, but was intimately familiar with the control system settings to configure recipes for the MES.
Security software’s real-time link to SAP SuccessFactors HCM provided critical real-time data that identified Tom’s history of workplace issues. When Tom accessed the plant area after his normal shift hours, the security platform detected that he was making unusual changes to the production settings to eliminate the addition of preservatives. An alert was immediately sent to security operations staff as well as the plant manager. Incident prevented, with huge savings from avoided downtime and protection from loss of reputation to the company brand.
The food and beverage industry must meet high quality standards and adhere to rapid production cycles to preserve nutrition value and freshness. Convergence and automation are the keys to achieving these goals. As OT and IT networks become increasingly interconnected, OT environments become more exposed to cyber-physical attacks, which can result in tainted products, downtime and revenue losses. Security solutions secure enterprise IT applications and plant applications deliver continuous monitoring that prevents sabotage, acts of terrorism and other malicious acts. There’s also the ability to manage other supply chain risks, including changes to master data and transactions as well as the movement of goods and arrival notifications requirements by the FDA.
Today’s malicious actors don’t think in silos but most companies still do. As security and technology leaders we are compelled to rise and meet the challenge. It’s clear that only a converged approach, beyond IT-centric cybersecurity, is the way forward.
The past year has tested and stressed the food system, putting tremendous pressure on worker safety and supply chain resilience. Despite the challenges, the industry continued to work day in and day out to meet the needs of Americans. “Consumers could still go then and now to their favorite supermarket or online platform and have access to thousands of food SKUs that are available,” said Frank Yiannas, FDA deputy commissioner for food policy and response. “We have the people in the food and agriculture sector to thank, and that’s you.”
Last week Yiannas gave his third Food Safety Consortium keynote address as deputy commissioner, reflecting on the past year and recognizing the progress and the work ahead. “I appreciate the larger conversation that the Consortium facilitates on food safety.” The Spring program of the Food Safety Consortium Virtual Conference Series takes place every Thursday in May.
Since the Fall of 2020, FDA has made advances in several areas, all of which take steps to advance the agency’s New Era of Smarter Food Safety initiative. The goals set as part of the New Era aim to help the agency more efficiently and efficiently respond to outbreaks and contamination, and other food safety challenges. The intent is to go beyond creating food safety programs into fostering a culture of food safety and truly bending the curve of foodborne illness, said Yiannas. In September the FDA issued the proposed FSMA rule on food traceability with the intent on laying the groundwork for meaningful harmonization. Nearly 6200 comments were submitted to the docket on the Federal Register, and the agency held three public meetings about the proposed rule in the fall, hosting more than 1800 people virtually. Yiannas anticipates the final rule will be published in early 2022.
The pandemic has shown how enhanced traceability might have helped prevent supply chain disruptions during a public health emergency, and the FDA continues its efforts to establish greater transparency and traceability. It is supporting the development of low-cost traceability technology solutions that are accessible to companies of all sizes. The agency also continues to explore the role of predictive analytics via the use of artificial intelligence. It has moved its AI program involving imported seafood from proof of concept into the field. Based on the results, it is expected that AI will help the FDA better manage the ever-increasing amount of imported foods by targeting inspectional resources in a more informed manner.
Efforts to strengthen food safety culture within organizations include collaborating with partners, industry, academia and consumers to define food safety culture in a transparent way. The agency will also be developing and launching internal training modules for FDA inspectional staff to introduce them to important concepts such as behavioral sciences. “We want to make food safety culture part of the dialogue and part of the social norm,” said Yiannas.
The agency will also be proposing new agricultural water requirements, a move as a result of feedback that FDA received in response to the Produce Rule. “Produce safety is one of the last frontiers because of product being grown outside,” said Yiannas.
In addition, FDA continues to review and evaluate feedback from proposed lab accreditation rule. It is expected that the FDA will issue the final rule early next year.
“We just lived through a historic year and historic challenges. These have been the most difficult of times in my profession. We have been able to move forward nonetheless,” said Yiannas. “We’re going to get through this stronger and more resilient than ever.”
In today’s digital-first world, it might be surprising for those outside of the food manufacturing industry to learn that paper and pen are still considered state-of-the-art documentation tools. Answering food safety and quality questions such as: “What was the underlying cause of this customer complaint?” or “What caused the production halt this morning?” still require hours of research across paper documents, emails and spreadsheets. Maybe even the odd phone call or text message.
The good news is that many food safety and quality problems can be solved by leveraging modern-day technology. The challenge is taking that first step. By applying the following best practices, organizations can take small steps that lead to substantial benefits, including optimized food safety and quality programs, happier employees and safer operations.
Digital Transformation Best Practices
What if all the information food safety professionals require could be accessible through one unified interface and could proactively point to actions that should be taken? It can, with the right mindset and the right strategy.
While there is no “flip of a switch” to become digitally empowered, best practices exist for where to start. And, early adopters are injecting innovation into food safety programs with simple, but powerful technology.
Too often, food safety professionals push forward on a path to digital transformation by evaluating software and business applications against features and/or cost. But before taking this approach, it is important to look at existing food safety programs, identify where incremental improvements can be made and determine the potential return on a new technology investment.
Self-awareness is a beneficial leadership skill, but it’s also the key driver in understanding an organization’s business needs for food safety. Food safety professionals need to get real about common pain points, such as inconsistent or insufficient data, non-standardized practices, and delayed reporting. This is not the time to gloss over problems with processes or tools. Only by clearly documenting the challenges upfront will organizations be able to find the best solutions.
As one example, a common pain point is managing different formats and timing of reporting across facilities. See if this sounds familiar: “Well, Dallas sends an Excel spreadsheet every week, but Toledo only sends it on a monthly basis, while Wichita sends it monthly most of the time, but it’s never in the same format.”
Start out by identifying similar problems to help define the business objective, which will help determine how technology can be most effectively applied.
Eat, Sleep, Food Safety, Repeat
Food safety processes should constantly evolve to enable continued improvements in food safety outcomes. With that in mind, it’s helpful to dust off the corporate SOP and review it, especially if an organization is moving to a digital program. A common mistake many food manufacturers make is asking technology providers to configure an application based solely off the corporate protocol, only to discover at go-live that users don’t follow that protocol.
To avoid this situation, consider the following questions:
Why are food safety professionals not completing processes by the book?
Is that similar with every site?
Why has it been that way for so long?
Why did food safety professionals start to stray?
By locking down processes and identifying the desired way forward, leaders can configure a new application with the latest information and updated decisions. At a minimum, this step will help identify current issues that should be addressed, which can become measurable goals for the use of the new technology, ideally emphasizing the most pressing problems.
Less is More
Digital transformation doesn’t always need to become a “fix-all” project. Instead, it may revolve around a single operational initiative or business decision. For example, food safety professionals often maintain a spreadsheet with usernames and passwords for countless applications, some of which overlap in functionality and/or require a separate login for each facility. This is not only a safety concern, it’s an easy entry point when moving to a digital approach.
Consolidation of applications is a natural step from the standpoint of feasibility and fiscal responsibility. So, look for digital transformation opportunities that result in fewer applications and more consolidation.
Don’t Rush It
While digital transformation is inevitable, Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither should be an organization’s digital strategy. Unfortunately, the decision to go digital is often made, and a go-live date chosen, before determining what transformation requires, which is a clear-cut recipe for failure.
Technical vendors should play a key role in developing an effective implementation strategy, including sharing onboarding, planning, configuration and go-live best practices.
While technology is here to help the world become smarter about food safety, it is not here to replace human experience. Food safety leaders should continue to augment processes through supplemental technologies, rather than view technology as a full takeover of current approaches.
Barriers to entry for digital transformation are being lowered, as the ease of adoption of the underlying technologies continues to advance and access via cloud-based applications improves.
What to Do With All This Data? 5 Outcomes Food Manufacturers Can Achieve
Food manufacturers have benefited from digitally transforming environmental monitoring programs (EMPs) using workflow and analytics tools in a variety of ways. In the end, what matters is that the resulting data access and usability enables new insights and accelerates decisions that result in reduced risk and improved quality. Keep in mind these key outcomes that food manufacturers can achieve from digital transformation.
Enhancing an internal audit framework with digital tools will greatly reduce the burden of ensuring compliance for schemes such as BRC, SQF and FSSC food safety standards. Flexible report formats and filtering capabilities empower users with the right information at the right time.
Imagine, no more sifting manually through binders of CoA’s and test records to find a needle in a haystack. Exposing teams to a digital means of performing internal audits will not only boost confidence to handle requests from an auditor but will also help drive continuous improvement by providing easier access to insights about the effectiveness of internal policies. At the same time, digital tools will help ensure that only the required information is shared, reducing confusion and uncertainty as well as audit time and cost.
Outcome #2: Proactive Alerting and Automated Reporting
Threshold-based report alerts are an excellent way to reduce the noise often associated with notification systems. Providing quality and safety managers with automated alerts of scheduled maintenance or pending test counts can help them focus on activities that need attention, without distractions.
The benefit of threshold-based reporting is that it is a “set it and forget it” method. While regular “Monday Reports” are still a necessity, alerts and reports can be generated only when attention is needed for anomalies. A great example of this is being able to set proactive alerts for test counts in a facility that are approaching nonconformance levels. Understanding the corrective action requirements needed to control an environmental issue before it impacts quality, production and unplanned sanitation measures is a critical component of risk management and brand protection. In addition, reports can be automatically generated and delivered on a regular schedule to help meet reporting needs without spending time collecting data.
In other words—imagine a world where data comes and finds users when needed, rather than having to search for it in a binder or spreadsheet. Digital tools can provide email reports showing that a threshold has (or has not) been met and link the user directly to the information needed to take action. This is called “actionable information” and is something to consider when deploying technology within an organization’s food safety program processes.
Outcome #3: Optimize Performance with Tracking, Trending and Drilling
The Pareto Principle specifies that for many outcomes, about 80% of consequences come from 20% of causes. Historical data that is digitized can be used to quickly identify the root cause of top failures in a facility in order to drive process improvements. Knowing where to invest money will help avoid the cost of failure and aid in the prevention of a recall situation.
Dashboards are a powerful tool that organizations can use to understand the risk level across facilities to make better, data-driven decisions. Reports can be configured through a thoughtful dashboard setup that enables users to easily identify hot spots and trends, drill down to specific test locations, and enable clear communication to stakeholders. Figure 1 provides an example of a heat map that can be used to speed response and take corrective actions when needed.
Outcome #4: Simplified Data Governance and Interoperability
Smarter food safety will drive standardization of data formats, which allows information to flow seamlessly between internal and external systems. One of the major benefits of shifting away from paper-based solutions is the ability to be proactive to reduce risk and cost. FSQA managers, within and across facilities, can benefit from a 360-degree operational view that reveals hidden connections between information silos that exist in the plant and across the organization. This includes:
Product tracing through product testing to environment monitoring and sanitation efforts
Tracing back a product quality issue reported from a customer to the sanitation efforts
Understanding why compliance is on track but quality results aren’t correcting
Outcome #5: Reduce the Cost of High Turnover
Successful GMPs, SSOPs and a HACCP program require leaders that continually ensure that employees are properly trained, which can be difficult with high turnover rates. To address this challenge, digital tools can aid in providing easily accessible documentation to empower users and reduce the cost, time and risk associated with having to re-train new employees on the EMP process. While training cannot be replaced with technology, it can be accelerated.
For example, testing locations within facilities can be documented with images and related information enabling new employees to visually see the floorplan and relevant testing protocols with accompanying video and click-through visualization of underlying data. Additionally, corrective action protocols can be enhanced with videos and standardized form inputs to ensure proper data is being collected at all times.
The Path Ahead
As the digital transformation of the food safety industry continues, food manufacturers should seek out and apply proven best practices to make the process as efficient and effective for their organization as possible. By avoiding common pitfalls, companies can achieve transformation objectives and realize substantial benefits from more easily accessible and actionable food safety data.
Futurist Ross Dawson has said that AI and automation will shape the future of work, and it also promises to transform our lives beyond the office. According to the World Economic Forum, when AI, which provides the ability to “enable devices to learn, reason and process information like humans,” is combined with Internet of Things (IoT) devices and systems, it creates AIoT. This super duo has the potential to power smart homes, smart cities, smart industries and even our smartwatches and fitness trackers, a market estimated by Gartner to be worth $87 billion by 2023. More importantly, this “interconnectedness” will change the way we interact with our devices as well as the way we will live and work in the future.
In the restaurant industry, we’re already seeing glimpses of this interconnectedness take shape, and in the past year, we’ve experienced major technological advancements that have transformed every facet of the way food establishments work. Reflecting on those advancements, I want to take a moment to share three areas of AI impact that are bubbling up in the restaurant sector in 2021.
1: AI-powered Intelligent Kitchens
From ghost kitchens to traditional kitchens, the “back of the house” continues to be a prime target for AI and automation. While great progress has been made, in many ways it seems like we’ve only scratched the surface when it comes to how far AI can take today’s restaurants. But every now and then, we hear examples of AI powering the future of our industry. For example, Nala Robotics, Inc. will be opening what it calls “the world’s first state-of-the-art intelligent restaurant” in Naperville, Illinois this year. The company says the AI-based robotic kitchen “can create dishes from any cuisine around the world, using authentic recipes from celebrated chefs”. A press release from Nala Robotics states that its flagship restaurant is taking “the first step in the food service industry with AI-powered service, addressing many of the issues affecting restaurant owners during COVID-19,” and it will “provide consumers an endless variety of cuisine without potential contamination from human contact.” This is the new frontier in intelligent kitchens, and it couldn’t have come at a better time, with the pandemic forcing restaurants to reimagine the way they do business.
2: AI-Driven Labor Shifts.
You can’t talk about AI in the restaurant industry without also having a conversation about the implications for the modern workforce. With AI in restaurant kitchens and beyond, the impact on the labor force is undeniable. By 2024, Gartner predicts “that these technologies will replace almost 69% of the manager’s workload.” But that’s not entirely a bad thing. Instead of manually filling out forms and updating records, managers can turn to AI to automate these and other tedious tasks. “By using AI…they can spend less time managing transactions and can invest more time on learning, performance management and goal setting,” Gartner adds.Managers can also use the extra time to focus more effort on the customer and employee experience. And indeed they should: In a recent Deloitte report, 60% of guests surveyed indicated that a positive experience would influence them to dine at a restaurant more frequently.
Looking at the impact of AI on labor at all levels, from the CEO to the entry-level wage earner, the shift, at its best, will be a transition to more meaningful—and less mundane—work. The evolution of humanity has taken us to the point we’re now at now, with food production and delivery processes becoming increasingly automated. This has been an evolution generations in the making. In an ideal world, everyone at every level of the organization should benefit from this new wave of technology. For example, automation can and should be used to open the door to new training and new opportunities for low-wage earners to learn new skills that elevate career paths, increase income and improve quality of life.
3: AI and Global Supply Chain Transformation
From the farm all the way to the table, AI is now poised to transform the global supply chain. From my perspective, the biggest impact will be around driving sustainability efforts. Restaurant and grocery brands are already beginning to leverage AI to forecast their food supply needs based on customer demand, leading to less over-ordering and less food waste to support sustainability initiatives. One company in this space, FourKites, is creating what it calls “the digital supply chain of the future.” Using real-time visibility and machine learning, FourKites powers and optimizes global supply chains, making them “automated, interconnected and collaborative—spanning transportation, warehouses, stores, trucks and more.”
In addition to predictive planning, more and more brands will start to use AI to create incident risk management models to identify trends and risks in the supply chain to determine whether bad or recalled products are originating from a specific supplier, distributor, or due to an environmental variable.With all of these changes, the need for comprehensive data standards will multiply as suppliers and distributors around the world work together to bring us produce and packaged food from all corners of the globe. Data standards will be critical to traceability and the exchange of critical tracking events and key data elements, and advances in data standards will power the meta-data needed to provide better insight for food quality and regulatory compliance, crisis management, and recalls—at scale.
Research firm Forrester states that, in the end, the greatest impact resulting from an investment in robotics and other technologies that automate operational tasks is improved customer experience (CX). “Most companies believe that investment in AI, automation, and robotics for engagement will decrease operational costs. While this is true, our research shows that the revenue upside from delivering better CX could deliver a greater impact on the bottom line over time,” Forrester states.
As a business engaged in digitizing and transforming supply chain operations, our team couldn’t agree with Forrester more. But we believe it will take striking the right balance between technology and the human touch to not only drive stronger CX, but to also create a world in which AI is implemented for the greater good—a world in which people, processes, business and technology all win.
Managing the complexities of a management system is challenging for any food and beverage company, particularly for the team tasked with implementing the system throughout the organization. That is because every regulatory agency (e.g., FDA, USDA, OSHA, EPA) and voluntary certification (e.g., GFSI-benchmarked standards, gluten-free, organic, ISO) calls for companies to fulfill compliance requirements—many of which overlap. Supply chain and internal requirements can create further complications and confusion.
In today’s “New Era of Smarter Food Safety,” having a common system to organize, manage and track compliance offers an ideal solution. Dynamic tools are becoming available—systems that can manage employee training, pest control, laboratory testing, supply chain management tools, regulatory compliance and certification requirements, etc.
Unfortunately, these systems are often not set up to “talk” to each other, leaving company representatives to navigate many systems, databases, folders, and documents housed in many different locations.
The Solution: Compliance Management Systems
An integrated compliance management system (CMS) is intended to bring all these tools together to create one system that effectively manages compliance requirements, enables staff to carry out daily tasks and manage operations, and supports operational decision making by tracking and trending data that is collected daily by the team charged with implementation.
A CMS is used to coordinate, organize, control, analyze and visualize information to help organizations remain in compliance and operate efficiently. A successful CMS thinks beyond just access to documents; it manages the processes, knowledge and work that is critical to helping identify and control business risks. That may include the following:
Ensuring only authorized employees can access the right information.
Consolidating documents and records in a centralized location to provide easy access
Setting up formal business practices, processes and procedures
Implementing compliance and certification programs
Monitoring and measuring performance
Supporting continuous improvements
Documenting decisions and how they are made
Capturing institutional knowledge and transferring that into a sustainable system
Using task management and tracking tools to understand how people are doing their work
Enabling data trending and predictive analytics
CMS Case Study: Boston Sword and Tuna
In early 2019, Boston Sword and Tuna (BST) began the process of achieving SQF food safety certification. We initially started working with BST on the development, training and implementation of the program requirements to the SQF code for certification—including developing guidance documents for a new site under construction.
The process of attaining SQF certification included the development of a register of SQF requirements in Microsoft SharePoint, which has since evolved into a more comprehensive approach to overall data and compliance management. “We didn’t plan to build a paperless food safety management system,” explains BST President Larry Dore, “until we implemented our SQF food safety management program and realized that we needed a better way to manage data.”
We worked with BST to structure the company’s SharePoint CMS according to existing BST food safety management processes to support its certification requirements and overall food safety management program. This has included developing a number of modules/tools to support ongoing compliance efforts and providing online/remote training in the management of the site and a paperless data collection module.
The BST CMS has been designed to support daily task activities with reminders and specific workflows that ensure proper records verifications are carried out as required. The system houses tools and forms, standards/regulatory registers, and calendars for tracking action items, including the following:
Corrective and Preventive Action (CAPA)
Chemical Inventory/Safety Data Sheets (SDS)
Employee Health Check
Food Safety Meetings Management Program
Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) Audit
Maintenance (requests/work orders/assets/repairs)
Nightly Cleaning Inspections
Sanitation Pre-Op Inspections
Thawing Temperature Log
Key Considerations for Designing a Successful CMS
An effective CMS requires an understanding of technology, operational needs, regulatory compliance obligations and certification requirements, as well as the bigger picture of the company’s overall strategy. There are several key considerations that can help ensure companies end up with the right CMS and efficiency tools to provide an integrated system that supports the organization for the long term.
Before design can even begin, it is important to first determine where you are starting by conducting an inventory of existing systems. This includes not only identifying how you are currently managing your compliance and certification requirements, but also assessing how well those current systems (or parts of them) are working for the organization.
As with many projects, design should begin with the end in mind. What are the business drivers that are guiding your system? What are the outcomes you want to achieve through your system (e.g., create efficiencies, provide remote access, reduce duplication of effort, produce real-time reports, respond to regulatory requirements, foster teamwork and communication)? Assuming that managing compliance and certification requirements is a fundamental objective of the CMS, having a solid understanding of those requirements is key to building the system. These requirements should be documented so they can be built into the CMS for efficient tracking and management.
While you may not build everything from the start, defining the ultimate desired end state will allow for development to proceed so every module is aligned under the CMS. Understand that building a CMS is a process, and different organizations will be comfortable with different paces and budgets. Establish priorities (i.e., the most important items on your list), schedule and budget. Doing so will allow you to determine whether to tackle the full system at once or develop one module at a time. For many, it makes sense to start with existing processes that work well and transition those first. Priorities should be set based on ease of implementation, compliance risk, business improvement and value to the company.
Finally, the CMS will not work well without getting the right people involved—and that can include many different people at various points in the process (e.g., end user entering data in the plant, management reviewing reports and metrics, system administrator, office staff). The system should be designed to reflect the daily routines of those employees who will be using it. Modules should build off existing routines, tasks, and activities to create familiarity and encourage adoption. A truly user-friendly system will be something that meets the needs of all parties.
Driving Value and Compliance Efficiency
When thoughtfully designed, a CMS can provide significant value by creating compliance efficiencies that improve the company’s ability to create consistent and reliable compliance performance. “Our system is allowing us to actually use data analytics for decision making and continuous opportunity,” said Dore. “Plus, it is making remote activities much more practical and efficient”.
For BST, the CMS also:
Provides central management of inspection schedules, forms, and other requirements.
Increases productivity through reductions in prep time and redundant/manual data entry.
Improves data access/availability for reporting and planning purposes.
Effectively monitors operational activities to ensure compliance and certifications standards are met.
Allows data to be submitted directly and immediately into SharePoint so it can be reviewed, analyzed, etc. in real time.
Creates workflow and process automation, including automated notifications to allow for real-time improvements.
Allows follow-up actions to be assigned and sent to those who need them.
All these things work together to help the company reduce compliance risk, create efficiencies, provide operational flexibility, and generate business improvement and value.
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought challenges to all industries, and many restaurants have been forced to close their doors permanently. Restaurant owners have struggled due to COVID-19 restrictions that have drastically cut the number of customers they can serve—whether as a result of an indoor dining ban or capacity limits. Those that have been allowed to re-open are being stretched to meet new guidelines to keep guests safe and comfortable while dining. Not only do restaurant owners need to make sure their restaurants are COVID-safe, but they also need to ensure they are providing the quality service and meals their customers have come to know and love. The Internet of Things (IoT) can not only ease the burden of implementing new protocols while also ensuring a clean and safe environment for both employees and patrons, but also help restaurants enhance efficiency.
The following are some points on how the IoT can help restaurants not only survive, but thrive amid the pandemic.
Easy-to-deploy IoT-enabled devices provide several benefits to QSRs, including the monitoring of employee hand washing stations, dishwashing water temperatures, sanitizer solution concentrations and customer bathroom usage frequency to ensure constant compliance with cleanliness standards.
By placing sensors on tables and work lines, restaurant owners can collect valuable data and insights in real time. For example, the sensors can share information about how often tables are being cleaned. This information will help owners trust that tables are being cleaned thoroughly in between each use.
Sensors can also be placed on washbasins to monitor employee hand washing. Sensors on the sinks will not only confirm that employees’ hands have been washed, but they will also share exactly how long employees washed their hands. That way, owners can have peace of mind knowing employees’ hands and restaurant surfaces are properly sanitized before customers sit down to eat. With door sensors monitoring customer bathrooms, store owners can ensure adequate cleaning is allocated based on frequency of usage.
Owners can also have peace of mind knowing their restaurant is rodent free by using IoT monitored sensors. Rodents are especially dangerous to be found lurking in restaurants because they carry diseases and can cause electrical fires. Devices can be placed throughout the restaurant to detect any motion that occurs. When the devices detect a motion, restaurant owners will receive notifications and will be immediately aware of any rodents that may have snuck into the restaurant.
These sensors give restaurant owners a chance to proactively address a rodent issue before it causes damage to their business.
In addition to monitoring sanitation and detecting motion, restaurant owners can leverage the IoT many other ways. For example, IoT devices can be placed on trash bins to alert when they are full and ready to be taken out. They can also be placed near pipes to detect a leak. Sensors can also be placed on all refrigerators to detect temperature. With accurate updates on refrigerators’ temperatures, restaurant owners can easily monitor and ensure that food is stored at the appropriate temperature around the clock—and be immediately alerted if a power issue causes temperatures to change.
IoT devices can offer restaurant owners insights to help them change their operations and behavior for the better. While everyone is eager to go back to “normal” and want our favorite restaurants to re-open as soon as possible, it is important that restaurant owners have the tools needed to reopen safely—and create efficiencies that can help recoup lost income due to COVID-19 restrictions. Restaurant owners looking to receive real-time, accurate data and insights to help run their restaurants more efficiently and ensure a safe and comfortable experience for customers can turn to the IoT to achieve their goals.
Phase one of the pilot looked at using machine learning to find violative seafood shipments. “The pilot program will help the agency not only gain valuable experience with new powerful AI-enabled technology but also add to the tools used to determine compliance with regulatory requirements and speed up detection of public health threats,” FDA stated in a news release. “Following completion of the pilot, FDA will communicate on our findings to promote transparency and facilitate dialogue on how new and emerging technologies can be harnessed to solve complex public health challenges.”
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