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Nearly a decade ago, the manufacturing industry entered a new chapter that everybody is referring to as ‘Industry 4.0’ and it is all thanks to technology. Through this revolution many of us would have heard the term Internet of Things (IoT) thrown around, but may be unclear as to what it really means and its impact the food industry. There are many different definitions, but in essence IoT is the use of electronic devices with the ability to transfer and exchange data over a network with minimal or no human intervention.

According to Prof. Simon Pearson, Director of the Lincoln Institute for Agri-food Technology (LIAT), each year there are around a million cases of food poisoning, costing 1.5 billion pounds. Furthermore, food generates up to 30 percent of the UK’s road freight, and 10 million tons of food is wasted each year—generating 20 million tons of CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions. Many experts believe the food industry is ready to benefit from the new IoT technologies that have the ability to increase the accuracy and speed of traceability, reduce food waste, and improve efficiencies in the transport and handling of food products. Although the opportunities for improvement using IoT are seemingly endless below are some key improvements this technology could offer:

Traceability

The food supply chain has evolved into a global tangled web as businesses seek to feed the world’s growing population.

IoT in food safety will only grow in demand. It will no longer be merely a novel technological advance in the supply chain, but in due course a mandatory requirement

Recent food fraud scandals have further highlighted the need for businesses to maintain traceability across their entire supply chain as high-profile incidents are making consumers demand for more transparency and control. IoT can make this entire process more convenient and effective with QR coding and similar technologies, which can help to map the entire supply chain. By scanning a QR code on food packaging, the consumer would able to access information and learn about the field where the product was grown, the factory where it was processed and packaged, as well as the journey it took to the supermarket shelf. IoT is helping the company fight against food counterfeiting while elevating food safety practices and their brand’s image.

Logistics

Alongside the improved traceability, data devices can enable food businesses to maintain the appropriate handling and storage conditions of their products through digital monitoring systems. The applications of IoT go beyond just transporting food products from A to B in a safe and secure way, from where the food is first harvested, treated or processed all the way until it leaves its packaging. Advanced Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tracking can offer visibility into the food supply chain, monitoring, controlling temperature and automating the shipping and delivery process. Advanced RFID can enable businesses to track product location using GPS, optimizing transport routes by assessing weather data patterns and traffic conditions during transport.

Waste reduction

Food spoilage and contamination are some of the biggest concerns in a global food supply chain.

This not only results in a loss of revenue for the business but also has an environmental impact as it increases CO2 emissions and waste going to landfill. Software based solutions can transform a supply chain that operates based on assumptions into one that operates based on real-time data, thereby optimizing the decision-making process. By adopting a data-driven approach, the farmers, manufacturers, distributors and retailers can address the issues currently affecting the food supply chain to reduce waste whilst improving food safety and supply chain transparency.

Why the reluctance to change?

Whether you are in agriculture, manufacturing, trading, or logistics, you do not need an expert to tell you that data will make your business more efficient, proactive, and ultimately profitable. Whatever business you are in, you are in the business of serving your customers. You want data that will help you drive customer satisfaction without breaking the bank. Clearly, the interest and appetite in learning more about the IoT and how the supply chain can benefit from this new technology is there. For food businesses, which are yet to adopt the IoT in the workplace, the benefits of doing so seem to outweigh the financial investment, so what could possibly be the issue?

It seems a lot of resistance might be fear of the unknown or a reluctance of businesses to have their data collected and analysed. But are these fears unfounded? It has become apparent that if we were to make the most of IoT and to share data in the way described in this article, the use of public cloud systems is going to be vital. As the food supply chain becomes increasingly complex, concerns among the industry regarding security and data privacy, and a lack of understanding around cloud computing are on the rise.

With that being said, IoT in food safety will only grow in demand. It will no longer be merely a novel technological advance in the supply chain, but in due course a mandatory requirement.

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