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How IoT is transforming food processing and manufacturing

New applications using IoT technologies are constantly showing promise for improving food safety in food processing facilities. The possibilities are endless with IoT in the food industry, from tracking products along supply chains to using sensors to monitor the state of food and warn of food safety hazards.

1. IoT-enabled wearable technologies to improve work processes, productivity and food safety

Employees that come into contact with food before, during and after processing may be handling raw foodstuffs or potential contaminants. Any hygiene issues must be dealt with immediately to prevent contamination of food items, recalls, loss of revenue and damage to brand reputation.

The good news is that employee health can be monitored in real time, thanks to IoT-enabled technologies such as wearables and home-based healthcare systems. Employees can monitor their health and share verified data with the company that shows they are unfit for work, avoiding spreading viruses or bacteria.

In the factory, body-temperature monitoring combined with facial recognition and other biometric identification can automatically pick up indicators of illness, such as a high temperature in individuals.

Other IoT-enabled wearable devices, such as smartwatches, smart gloves and smart glasses with augmented reality, can also be used in food processing plants to improve work processes, productivity and food safety.

However, for these technologies to be adopted and work successfully, possible concerns about data privacy, employee willingness and security issues must first be addressed. Data generated from IoT devices for these purposes would be personal and must be treated with high confidentiality.

2. Hyperspectral imaging for continuous monitoring of food components

Many food scandals have been caused by using illegal or unsuitable ingredients in food produced for consumers.

For example, the horsemeat scandal in 2013 that wiped over £300 million off the value of a UK retailer could have been avoided if the adulteration of meat products had been identified earlier in the food supply chain.

The scandal only came to light when the Irish Food Standards Agency analysed samples of meat products from supermarkets in its labs. It caused supermarkets to investigate and monitor their supply chains more carefully to prevent it from happening again. It also resulted in many consumers changing their food habits.

However, new broad-spectrum imaging technology, hyperspectral imaging, could help food processors continuously monitor food components on the production line. Hyperspectral imaging can be programmed to detect the specific spectrum of light emitted by chemical compounds and biological components in any product, potentially making it a powerful tool for food safety.

Combined with an IoT system, it could provide instant alerts across a network to enable rapid response along the supply chain and food safety authorities, if necessary.

Hyperspectral imaging has been used for years in other sectors such as mining, agriculture, biotechnology, environmental monitoring and the military. It has only recently been applied to food analysis because of the demanding requirements for rapid analysis and the need to handle the vast amounts of data generated.

3. Using information like real-time temperature to track contamination of food products 

Many types of sensors can be used in IoT systems to monitor food safety in fields and during transport – e.g. real-time temperature, humidity, carbon dioxide and heavy metal – to warn of food hazards and signs of contamination.

Any foodstuffs that have the wrong environmental conditions or are contaminated – when handled onsite or during other processes – can be identified more easily. They can then be suitably treated or removed from a processing line before they affect a greater volume of foodstuffs or harm the consumer.

4. IoT sensors in product packaging and delivery for food manufacturers 

Products and packaging can often become damaged during the delivery process, causing wasted stock, time and money with company downtime. It can be challenging for food manufacturers who source their packaging from third parties to avoid downtime.

However, IoT sensors can help by automatically detecting packaging degradation and damage. This saves time, ensures the quality of packaging and helps manufacturers mitigate the risk of this reoccurring in the future.

5. IoT for traceability and improved food safety

Consumers are increasingly concerned about where their food comes from. The pandemic reinforced their expectations for transparency and traceability regarding their food sources. 

IoT technology can help meet these demands and build consumer trust by allowing them to track products along the entire supply chain. This means customers can access information about raw materials, supplies, ingredients and final food products, offering them the transparency they expect for reassurance. 

IoT technology can also help to achieve and ensure food safety. Food manufacturers can access real-time food safety information, which allows them to monitor conditions closely and is especially useful for meeting food safety and HACCP requirements. 

IoT technology can also notify staff when they detect a possible food safety violation, so staff can quickly assess whether or not contamination has occurred.

6. IoT and reducing food waste 

A considerable amount of food is wasted during the food manufacturing process and with handling and storage. But, with the help of IoTs, this can be mitigated. 

Orders for new ingredients can be placed based on actual needs. This prevents employees from estimating how much is needed, which can lead to unnecessary food waste and IoT technology can even automate this process for more efficiency and reduced waste.

Furthermore, sensors can collect essential data about food production in real time to help identify and prevent the root causes of food waste. The IoT can also provide crucial information like expiry dates and stock levels so you can easily see which products are overstocked and which aren’t. This prevents overordering and inevitably tackles the problem of food wastage.

All these features help identify and prevent food waste's root cause.

Using IoT to improve your food processing business

In conclusion, IoT devices can manage various operational and quality-control procedures for food processors. This includes the volume of different foodstuffs being processed, the temperature of the processed items, the pressure levels of tinned items and even applying labels to products.

Regarding pest control, IoT-enabled devices provide an opportunity to address various pest challenges the food processing sector often faces. With connected devices, pest controllers can utilise a wealth of data and knowledge to provide the food processing sector with proactive and precautionary measures in a highly targeted approach to pest management. This helps to improve food product safety and assists with other legislations and auditing requirements.

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