As technology is developed, new applications using IoT technologies are constantly showing promise for improving food safety in food processing facilities. From tracking products along supply chains to the use of sensors to monitor the state of food and give warning of food safety hazards the possibilities are endless.
IoT-enabled wearable technologies
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 own health and share verified data with the company directly that shows they are not fit for work, avoiding the spread of 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, could enter food processing plants in the near future and 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 would first need to be addressed. Data generated from IoT devices for these purposes would be personal in nature and need to be treated with a high degree of confidentiality.
Many food scandals have been caused by the use of 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.
Now, however, new broad-spectrum imaging technology, called hyperspectral imaging, will enable food processors to continuously monitor the components of food 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 very 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 also to 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.
Tracking contamination in food-processing systems
Many types of sensor can be used in IoT systems to monitor food safety in fields and during transport – eg temperature, humidity, carbon dioxide, heavy metal – to provide warning of food hazards and signs of contamination.
Any foodstuffs that have the wrong environmental conditions or are contaminated – either when handled on-site 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.
Using IoT to improve your food processing business
IoT devices can manage a whole host of 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.
However, adoption of IoT-enabled wearables for detecting and reducing employee sickness may not be so straightforward. Possible concerns about data privacy, employee willingness and security issues would first need to be addressed as personal data generated from such IoT devices will need to be treated with a higher degree of confidentiality.
The key for many businesses will be to prioritise what should be automated through IoT to provide the best return on investment.