Less than one in 10 companies said new digital technology is playing a role to a “great extent’ in food safety, according to a survey of more than 1,600 industry experts.

The survey by the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) and DNV GL, a certification body, found that almost four in 10 plan to use technology to ensure food safety in the longer term. Results were announced this past week at the GFSI conference in Nice, France.

Of new digital technologies, sensors and beacons are most widely used at 44 percent today and planned to be at 56 percent in three years. The next most used technique is blockchain, at 15 percent today, and planned to be at 40 percent in three years.

More than a quarter of companies did not know how much they will invest in digital in the next 12 to 18 months. Fourteen percent said they will not spend money on digital food safety measures.

The survey revealed that 57 percent of Asian companies expect to use blockchain technology in three years, which is significantly higher than other regions of the world.

Operational risks such as contamination are the standout threat at 76 percent. The lack of food safety culture is next at 30 percent, and non-compliance with regulations is third at 28 percent, according to the survey data.

Luca Crisciotti, CEO of business assurance at DNV GL, said the survey indicates that to many food and beverage companies’ digital technologies such as blockchain traceability have yet to transition from buzzwords to real applications.

“At DNV GL we introduced blockchain to raise transparency in the certification process and to help brands bridge the trust gap between their efforts and consumers’ concerns, but it is clear we must work together as an industry to fully utilize the potential of new digital technologies to improve food safety,” Crisciotti says.

A majority of companies, 79 percent, viewed certification as a “passport to trade” in business while more than half, 53 percent, saw it as a means of improving food safety across the industry. Improved ability to comply with regulations is the top benefit of certification at 86 percent, with improved safety and quality coming in second.

Veronique Discours-Buhot, director at the GFSI, said certification is a rising topic of conversation for the food industry because it presents an opportunity.

“Manufacturers and retailers must maintain full transparency in the certification process to help bridge the trust gap between their efforts and consumers’ concerns,” Discours-Buhot said. “Although there is still a tentative approach to technology investment, having the correct framework in place will let organizations focus on producing safer products, while keeping the consumer at the heart.”

Ingunn Midttun Godal, global director business development at DNV GL-Business Assurance, said food safety culture and digitalization are rising opportunities.

“The rise of food safety culture on the agenda emphasizes the human element. New digital technologies do not seem to be a widespread means to address food safety,” Godal said. “However, we already see companies benefitting, increasing transparency in the certification process, managing supply chains, and building consumer trust. Digitalization offers new opportunities to advance food safety and the only way to fully utilize the potential is to continue to work together.”

(To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)