How Technology Can Ensure Food Safety
India needs the right mix of stringent compliance norms and consumer awareness about food safety.
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Sometimes, one technological innovation can bring about transformational change in human lives and businesses lives. What thermometer did for healthcare and compass did for navigation.
When it comes to the most essential thing for human existence - food - we have always been very concerned about the quality, but even today, we don't have tools that tell us what is safe. Businesses still have to depend on expensive labs, take a lot of time and are out of reach of many. Consumers still go by age-old rudimentary methods of touch and feel or have to trust what is told to them.
As a result, almost 1 in 10 people in the world fall ill after eating contaminated food and 420,000 die every year. For businesses, the losses are massive. Food safety incidents cost the economy around $7 billion per year in USA. Similarly, food fraud and safety scandals have cost over $8 billion USD every year in APAC alone.
Digital tools to the rescue
The time has come for digital tools that will have the same impact that a thermometer did. Gladly, the technology is already here.
Blockchain-Based Traceability: Food safety at the core is nothing but a data issue. If every stakeholder had the right data and there is a way to share with others in the value chain, a lot of unsafe food can be weeded out. Imagine tracking your food from the retail aisle back to the warehouses, trucks they were transported in, land it was grown on, farmer who grew it and what inputs were used. This is already possible and we have implemented this across several commodities already.
AI-Based Analysis: Soon, sending food to labs for testing will only be an exigency, not the norm. There are image analysis solutions that work with mobile apps or handheld devices that can instantly analyse the physical quality of grains, spices, fruits and vegetables and more. Businesses can now get an instant chemical analysis done on their premises with spectral analysis. Imagine pointing a device at a stick of turmeric and knowing the percentage of curcumin or at a tomato and knowing pesticide residue, Brix, pH, TSS, dry matter and more. All these tools are already available.
IoT Based Sensors: Soil testing and warehousing monitoring are two areas which will have a massive impact on food safety. Currently, unavailability of cold chains and optimal storage conditions result in 14 -million tons of food grain worth of Rs. 7,000 crore is lost every year. In perishables, the loss is more immediate. IoT sensors are now both cheap and effective when it comes to warehouse monitoring. Anyone can remotely monitor moisture, temperature and ambient conditions of the warehouse.
When it comes to soil testing, most sensors currently monitor temperature and moisture. There is a lot of work going in sensing nutrients and chemicals in soil. Once that is achieved, a business or consumer can achieve full visibility into the life of food they consume.
Where are we on adoption
Currently, all these solutions work on a B2B model. So, the users are large food and agri businesses. While the use case is very self-explanatory in high-value commodities like spices, seafood, coffee and condiments etc and we have seen enough traction there, many solutions are aimed at perishable and challenging value chains like fruits and vegetables. The whole ecosystem will transform when these technologies are put in the hands of individual retail customers.
India and Food Safety
Adoption currently is higher in countries where legal and compliance conditions are strict and consumer awareness is high. In India, we need measures on both counts. During the COVID lockdown, as FSSAI CEO G.S.G Ayyangar pointed out, the functioning of food safety labs was hampered. We need digital and automated tools that cut down our dependency on labs.
The Finance Minister recently announced Rs 9,000 crore for the infrastructure activities for marine and inland fisheries. Digital infrastructure should be made a part of it. She also announced traceability to be made a part of beekeeping initiatives. Stress has been laid on cold chains and warehousing solutions. There is a need to move from the demand for just storage to safe storage. India needs the right mix of stringent compliance norms and consumer awareness about food safety.
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