Last week I attended the 2018 Food Safety Summit, a solution-based conference and expo with the latest information and top influencers that are driving the entire food safety industry. I learned more about the importance of food safety throughout the supply chain and how each community that makes up the ecosystem is connected.
Keeping our food supply chain safe is complex and requires communication, transparency and partnership among supply chain partners. The Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) and Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) Section 204 require that businesses establish a method for rapid and effective tracking and tracing of food products which enables the identification of product lots and their relation to batches of raw materials, primary & consumer packaging materials, processing and distribution records.
Some of the specific information that must be tracked includes:
- Farm origination data, growing/raising conditions
- Identification of purchaser & delivery destination for any outsourced product, ingredient or service
- Batch numbers of in-process / final product and packaging at all stages of supply chain
- Expiration dates
- Storage temperatures and conditions
- Shipping data
So how does the industry capture all of this information? This requires cooperation among farmers, processors, logistics companies & carriers, warehousing companies, distributors & retailers. Today there is no single standard data format or user interface. Today’s systems are often paper based, proprietary and disconnected. However, many companies are implementing bar-code systems utilizing GS1 standards. This approach requires smart labeling & packaging solutions and software & hardware systems to read, store & retrieve information as needed.
Looking ahead, what does the future hold?
One technology receiving a lot of attention is Blockchain. Although blockchain’s usefulness is most obvious in financial services (i.e. Bitcoin), it has great potential to improve efficiency, effectiveness and collaboration in supply chains. In its simplest form, blockchain is essentially a shared database technology that uses creative software techniques to enable shared access across the supply chain without fear of tampering. It allows users (nodes/computers) to access/view all transactions simultaneously and in real-time. Information is made permanent when all users verify agreed upon terms/standards/algorithms. Bottom line, blockchain creates trust by decentralizing and distributing information.
Experts in the field of food safety are actively looking at blockchain to facilitate and speed the flow of information between channel partners, particularly when an issue arises. However, there is much work to be done before blockchain is functional for the food supply chain. Some of the near term challenges being asked / addressed include authentication and access, i.e. who controls what information is legitimate / authentic? Who controls what gets stored on a block chain? Who gets permission to access particular information? What about IoT integration & the associated costs? And more. However, this technology holds significant potential.
Outlook Group continues to work on innovative bar-coding and smart packaging technologies to support transparency and safety throughout the food supply chain.
Author – Joel Schmidt
Director of Market Development
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