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Food and Health E-ssentials

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The digitalisation of food safety

Just as technology has helped the food industry keep up with the demand for food in the 21st Century, so too can digital solutions be leveraged in the overall effort to ensure the safety of food and food products. This article provides a brief overview of some of the ways in which digital technologies can support essential food safety practices. 

Safety issues confronting food producers, distributors and retailers

Today’s $3.5 (U.S.) trillion food services industry has continually evolved to meet the rapidly growing demand for safe, nutritious and flavorful food required to feed the global population of nearly 8 billion people. Food supply chains extend halfway around the world to bring a wide variety of fresh and frozen food products to people in far-away countries. Food retailers increasingly offer precooked food options that are available for takeaway and for home delivery to meet consumer preferences and schedules. And researchers and scientists are exploring new ways to use plant-based and laboratory-grown ingredients as a substitute for resource depleting dairy and meat products. 

The problem is that all of these food industry innovations also introduce new challenges when it comes to ensuring food safety. Food products and ingredients can be exposed to chemical or biological contamination all along the supply chain due to substandard handling, poor refrigeration or environmental controls, and inadequate transportation procedures. Insufficient or haphazardly applied sanitation practices among food preparation workers can transmit salmonella, campylobacter or E-coli, contributing to instances of food-borne illnesses. And, while it’s too soon to know all the potential effects, the introduction of lab-grown meat and dairy substitutes to the market is likely to generate a whole new array of food safety risks. 

How digital technology solutions can help improve food safety efforts

Having current and accurate information serves as the basis for almost all policies and practices intended to ensure the safety of food and food practices. That’s why the use of advanced digital technologies can provide an obvious and effective solution to the safety challenges facing food producers, distributors and retailers today. Here are just a few examples of how digital technologies are being deployed to support the effectiveness of food safety efforts:

  • Mobile devices and apps — Mobile devices are ubiquitous in our world, with more and more people relying on mobile devices and apps for many critical aspects of their professional and personal lives. In the food industry, specialised apps can replace traditional “pen and paper” methods of collecting and maintaining routinely collected data such as storage temperature readings, inventory levels, quality assurance checklists and so much more. 
  • Digital auditing tools — Building on the data collected through mobile devices and apps, digital auditing tools and platforms provide a more efficient, accurate and cost-effective alternative to paper-based auditing techniques. Digital auditing tools not only eliminate the challenges of reading and understanding hand-written notes, but they fully support the ability to organise and evaluate data in a meaningful way, facilitating the prompt identification of potential safety issues. Digital auditing tools also eliminate the need to store and retain paper files, saving space. 
  • Digital product labelling — Digitised product labels incorporating QR (quick response) codes gaining rapid acceptance in the food industry. They can be quickly scanned with a smart phone app to provide immediate, accurate and up-to-date information on food product composition or ingredients, date and location of manufacture, or the results of relevant food safety testing that may have been conducted. Digitised product labels are also nearly impossible to alter or duplicate, especially important for counterfeit-susceptible food types. 
  • Blockchain technologies — Originally developed in 2008 as the underlying technology for digital currency, blockchain is becoming an essential tool in the digitalisation of supply chain information. Systems based on blockchain technologies can be used to maintain records on the provenance of food ingredients such as the country of origin, producer specific information, date of production and production batch codes, and food inspection, testing and certification results. Records are securely maintained in an online ledger and are easily retrievable by authorised users. 

These and other digital technology solutions offer significant advantages over legacy methods of collecting and maintaining a wide range of current food safety data, and enable food safety professionals to more easily identify potential safety concerns.

How TÜV SÜD is contributing new digital technologies to modern food safety efforts

TÜV SÜD has long been a leader in the development of advanced digital solutions in support of efforts to keep food safe. Beginning in 2014, TÜV SÜD was one of the first testing organisations to implement the use of QR codes and holograms on food and other products. The QR codes provide users with direct access to online copies of all current certifications to relevant product safety standards, thereby allowing users to instantly verify compliance with relevant product safety standards. TÜV SÜD also released a Smart Certificate Explorer (SCE) application for smart phones and other mobile devices to allow users to quickly and easily scan product certificate QR codes. 

More recently, TÜV SÜD helped to bring hazard analysis and critical control point (HACCP) practices in the food industry into the 21st Century with the introduction of its new eHACCP offering. Founded on a cloud-based HACCP platform developed by German start-up flowtify, TÜV SÜD's eHACCP programme offers a complete digital solution for the collection, reporting and storage of HACCP data. The flowtify on-line platform offers a suite of data analytics and reporting tools to help food facility management evaluate the effectiveness of their hygiene programs. And the flowtify app for handheld devices facilitates the electronic collection of data, eliminating the cost and risks associated with paper-based HACCP systems.  

Digital technologies have the potential to radically transform how we address today’s complex food safety issues. TÜV SÜD’s eHACCP offering and its use of QR codes and holograms are making important contributions to that effort and to the current and future state of food safety in the world. To learn more about TÜV SÜD’s eHACCP and eAudit offerings, see our article “The Industry 4.0 Impact on Food Safety Testing”. For more information about TÜV SÜD’s QR product testing label, see our article “Increasing Transparency in Food Quality”. 

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