Why data is essential for farm-to-table food safety
How will tomorrow’s farmer handle all the regulatory responsibilities and the increasing demands for transparency and efficiency? The answer is technology.
In Canada, about four million people are affected by a foodborne illness each year. In the U.S., 48 million people are affected. The FDA Food Safety Measurement Act in the U.S. and the Safe Food for Canadians Act both require the food industry to track processes along the food supply chain from farm to table.
Every industry has to comply with regulations, of course. According to a report by Panasonic, Enabling Farm-to-Table Track & Traceability with Mobile Technologies, the tracking requirements in food safety regulations “compound [food producer’s] existing concerns, such as maintaining product quality, lowering costs to increase profits.” The report identifies a three-part process to meet new regulatory challenges and address existing concerns:
- Automated data capture with radio frequency identification (RFID) tags or barcodes.
- Data aggregation to provide information along the supply chain.
- Integration with or a redefining of current processes.
Key to this process is connectivity all along the supply chain to ensure real-time or near real-time updates of information.
When data is captured all along the food supply chain, all the affected food in the supply chain can quickly and easily be located when a contaminant is discovered. This minimizes the impact of the contamination and the cost of a recall. RFID tags and barcodes are widely used today, but they may be replaced by Internet of Things (IoT) devices.
RFID tags are ideal for traceability because they can be read from a great distance and the data can be gathered in bundles. RFID tags also employ read/write technology. Data can be added to the tag, and it can be erased or encrypted. Barcodes offer some of the same traceability as RFID tags, but they function purely as an identifier and can’t record any additional data.
IoT devices provide all the functionality of a barcode or an RFID tag with the added benefit of neural network technology that can analyze and act on the data that is being collected. An example of an IoT solution is a sensor that tracks real-time information from a storage unit and can detect a refrigeration issue triggering neural network technology before the food goes bad.
Data aggregation and reporting are the components that provides transparency. RFID tags or IoT devices with data on the farming processes used for crops or livestock provide transparency as well as data that can be used to improve upon those processes. An article in Food Technology magazine, Data in Food Safety and Quality, by Laura Straw et al, suggests data that can – and should – be collected along the supply chain includes video, satellite imaging, and genome sequencing.
Whole genome sequencing (WGS) has been used in the U.S. to successfully track numerous foodborne pathogens. According to Straw et al, the success of this technology “provides a snapshot of how foodborne pathogen surveillance and traceability may greatly improve public health.”
Integration with current processes
Integration with current processes is happening along the entire food chain as producers, distributors, and retailers adopt new technologies. Key to this is the availability of broadband internet in rural regions, particularly necessary when regulators require the submission of video data.
In Alberta, we are lucky. We have 16,000 kilometers of fibre already installed with limitless potential to move data every minute. In January alone, the network traffic was 11866.15 TB. And that number will only grow!
As the food supply system becomes more complex, with more producers, larger markets, and a growing global population to serve, technology solutions have and will continue to be more important to regulators. Whether this means that the farm of tomorrow will need a full IoT setup, only time will tell. One thing is certain, farmers who have fibre optic internet infrastructure in place will be ready for anything.
Our customers agree
Among those forward-thinking farmers and food producers, is Sunterra Farms. They have mastered technology to ensure good stewardship and production on their land through strict health and production standards in all operations. Watch the video below to see just how much they innovate to provide excellence.
For more information on our secure fibre connectivity solutions, contact your Axia salesperson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 1-866-773-3348.