This is the year that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) begins rolling out key components of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), the sweeping law meant to modernize the U.S. food safety system. And, as part of that legislation, FDA is requiring significantly more detailed monitoring and record-keeping on the part of food producers.
One way food producers are choosing to monitor more of their production and handling operations is by utilizing sensors connected to the “Internet of Things” (IoT), the vast network of devices communicating over the Internet without the involvement of humans.
With the IoT, food companies are beginning to use various types of sensors to monitor key production conditions, shipping time, numerous other metrics, and, most important, temperature.
“Temperature has the biggest impact on food safety, and it’s what many food companies are most interested in monitoring,” said Brad Walters, CEO of Monnit, a sensor technology company. “By far the most prominent use is in commercial refrigeration,” he added.
Over the Internet, these sensors are able to keep constant tabs on the condition and quality of food as it’s produced, transported and stored. The resulting paper trail gives companies more assurance that they’re maintaining adequate food safety standards.
According to some estimates, by 2020 there will be four times as many non-traditional devices connected to the Internet as there are computers, tablets and smartphones.
The main purpose for many of them? Collecting data — lots of it.
For food companies, that means collecting food safety data to ensure both that the product stays safe and that they know where they went wrong if anything compromises the product.
Take, for example, a fresh produce company monitoring how its shipments are doing in terms of temperature, location, the amount of light exposure, and how much jostling the products experience. If their fruits or vegetables reach the grocery store bruised or rotten, they’ll be able to look back through the data to see what went wrong — or who’s to blame.
FSMA will require food facilities to comply with Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) regulations and report on all steps associated with HACCP compliance. While those records have traditionally been tracked with paper-based logs, more companies will be turning to devices pre-loaded with HACCP checklists that instantly transmit data over the Internet, according to PAR Technology, a restaurant and hospitality software company.
Those devices might also prompt workers to perform required inspections, verify those inspections, and transmit any other data to the cloud to be easily reported for compliance.
Walters said that he envisions a near-future in which every player in the food supply chain has systems in place to continually monitor their products, as well as be aware of how the supply is looking at any other point in the supply chain. For example, everyone in a beef supply chain will know the temperature and condition of the next shipment before and after it reaches its end-point.
Though Walters’ company supplies Internet-ready sensors to companies in a number of industries, he said that the food industry is leading the way with a huge share of the early adoption into the IoT.
Of those, restaurants and food manufacturing facilities seem to be the most keen to transition into cloud-based record-keeping and monitoring. But farmers and shipping companies are coming on board as well.
Another company has developed an ear tag for cattle that monitors bovine respiratory disease, which can quickly spread if the infected animal isn’t immediately removed from the herd. With the sensor, managers can be instantly alerted to a sign of respiratory disease and treat the animal before it causes an outbreak.
With all the applications related to food safety within the IoT, analysts predict that most all devices in the food industry will be connected before very long.
“I give it a five-year timeframe before the tsunami hits,” Walters said.© Food Safety News