2015 was not a great year for the food industry. One food safety nightmare after another made the news. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration listed 28 separate recalls and alerts for the month of December alone. Those recalls represented products ranging from dietary supplements to fresh farm produce which were recalled for a whole array of problems —salmonella, E. coli and listeria contamination, undeclared milk, soy and eggs, contamination with glass and metal fragments.
Brand after brand struggled when problems with their products arose, which sometimes made their customers seriously sick, and lead to food recalls. Once problems were detected, these companies at times found it difficult to pinpoint just where the problems had originated. Was it with the original supplier? Did contamination take place during production? Was the food mishandled during shipping? All of this confusion left many consumers with a bad taste in their mouths, and many brands saw their customer base shrink.
What the Industry Is Doing Right
With so much of the news surrounding the food industry filled with stories about what went wrong, wouldn’t it be refreshing to hear about what is going right? Some businesses – food manufacturers, in particular – are really stepping up to the plate. They are heeding the demands of their customers for a safer, more accountable food chain and are prioritizing the safety of their products. These companies are starting to implement exciting new technologies that would allow for closer monitoring of their foods throughout the supply chain. These technologies not only improve food safety outcomes, they also improve the efficiency of manufacturing processes. That’s a win-win for food manufacturers in today’s competitive marketplace.
The Bacon Manufacturing Plant of the Future
So, just what will the food processing plant of the future look like, a future that in some cases is already here? Below are some of the highlights.
- The Industrial Internet of Things. The Internet of Things, or IoT, refers to the interconnectivity of physical objects which allows internet-enabled systems and devices to share data with each other. On an industrial scale, this means making use of these same technologies in manufacturing. This can include incorporating machine learning and taking advantage of real-time data analysis therefore enhancing traceability of product and understanding of processes.
- Next generation sensors. High tech sensors can track products as they actually move through production process. When it comes to curing pork bellies for bacon, these can measure production factors such as cooking temperatures and dwell times. The data collected is transmitted through radio frequency identification tags affixed to product carriers. Real-time data is instantly available for analysis.
- Wireless technology. Wireless technology streamlines the whole communication process. Changes in interconnectivity can be made almost instantaneously. Even security data and video can be added into the mix, creating a truly comprehensive picture of the manufacturing process to increase visibility and enhance safety for end users and workers alike.
Is It Realistic to Expect the Use of Future Technologies from Today’s Manufacturers?
The customer who demands food supply chain accountability is no longer the outlier. They are, according to Food Manufacturing, now the average customer. These food "eVangelists," a recent article on the site states, now account for "24 percent of the general population."
As food supply chain management becomes more and more complex, and as an informed customer base demands that food safety issues be resolved, cutting edge technologies will no longer be a luxury. They will be a necessity. After all, the cost of food recalls and lost customers is immense. The most forward thinking companies recognize that technology can reduce the risk of recalls, enhance traceabilityand reassure customers. These technologies are well worth their initial investment.