Anna is a food safety professional, working for an international retailer that has a major Greek branch. During the COVID-19 lockdown measures, she has been working fully from home, trying to ensure that the food that their supermarkets sell is healthy and safe. In the past, she would have travel to the production sites of her Greek suppliers to inspect their facilities and how they ensure hygiene throughout their processes. Or if the supplier was based in another country, she would have hired an accredited food auditor to perform such an inspection on her behalf.
But during the COVID-19 era, this is impossible to do. So how does Anna, and thousands of other quality and safety professionals working in food manufacturers, distributors and retailers around the world, ensure that what gets on our plate is clean and safe?
Enter the digital era of smarter food safety. With what seems to be one of the most radical transformations of the food supply chain in decades.
The pandemic is having tremendous effects on the companies that buy food and agriculture ingredients, materials and products to then cook, package or sell to consumers:
- Their supply chains have been disrupted, as the production cycles and transportation logistics faced significant delays or breakdowns.
- Their supplies have been in shortage, as less quantities have been produced or made available in the market.
- Their production, packaging, sales or service facilities have been locked down due to health outbreaks in their regions of operation.
This led to a drastic change to the way that food quality and safety experts in such companies do their very important job. They still need to perform their everyday hygiene and safety monitoring tasks, even while working from home. They can only rely on digital tools to monitor whether any food safety incidents have occurred in their supply chains. They need to perform fast and efficient supplier audits and facilities inspection using big data and digital software tools, from a distance.
This is where online software tools and services come to help. Tools like the UK-based HorizonScan (https://horizon-scan.fera.co.uk) that offers access to a rapid overview of potential and emerging food safety issues. Or the US-based Recall InfoLink (https://www.recallinfolink.com), an online software platform that helps companies manage product recalls for food and other products in the supply chain. Another solution which Greeks are offering globally is called FOODAKAI (https://www.agroknow.com/foodakai), an enterprise food safety intelligence platform that supports food risk monitoring and prediction across the international supply chains of very large food manufacturers and retailers.
More and more food safety professionals in the food and retail industry are turning to such digital services and tools during the COVID-19 time. We have received over 150 new trial requests during the past few weeks, by people that want to understand how such an online software platform can help them perform tasks that they used to be carrying our offline. We hear from people in the market that the demand for other digital and remote software tools has increased in a similar manner.
The pandemic has brought difficulties, disruptions and shortages in food supply. Things might get tighter in the months to come, until the production and supply logistics return to normal. But the technology is here to stay – a radical digital transformation of the food supply chain is currently taking place.
As Dr. Rob Leclerc from AgFunder (https://agfunder.com/about-us/team/rob-leclerc/) recently noted: “Five years of change in our food and ag system will happen in the next five months.”
Nikos Manouselis is founder and CEO of Agroknow, the food safety intelligence company that extracts tailor-made data insights for the global supply chain. He is a Computer Engineer that holds a PhD on Agricultural Information Management. With more than 15 years of expertise in the intersection of data and technology for food and agriculture, Nikos is frequently consulting international organizations and food industry stakeholders on the way that big data and AI may be used to help solve critical challenges in the food supply chain. He is actively involved in local and global entrepreneurial networks, through his participation in the Entrepreneur’s Organization (EO).