The Big Potential of Big Data, and How to Bend the Curve

by, Maria Fernandez Guajardo

Despite the seemingly nascent nature of the “big data” revolution, nearly every industry has already undergone a transformation driven by the increase in volume, speed, and variety of data. By now, the benefits are no secret. Industries across the board have begun leveraging vast quantities of information and unlocking valuable insights to drive better decisions. The food industry is no exception.

The challenge we now face, especially in food, is figuring out how to amplify the impact of big data in a way that not only drives intelligent business decisions, but shapes the entire industry.

The impact of leveraging big data is only as potent as the quality and comprehensiveness of the data itself, and the ability to glean goal-oriented and actionable insights from the information. More data may mean more insights, but more meaningful data is what will bend the curve.

The “Data” in Big Data

For big food data to reach its potential and continue to grow with companies as they become more sophisticated in data gathering and analysis, we need to consider the source.

Modern technology is catching up to the food industry and we’re slowing starting to see higher quality data cropping up and being used to create new efficiencies in the supply chain, determine how to place products in the grocery store, and track quality, to name a few use cases.

At Clear Labs, we see the impact of big data being amplified by the concurrent marriage of food and next generation genomics.

Next-generation sequencing provides an unprecedented level of visibility into all the organisms comprising our food. Continuous improvement of the underlying technology is making it cheaper and faster to employ these tests at scale. In fact, genomic analysis is improving at a rate faster than Moore’s Law. If you’re a retailer or manufacturer and you’re not already thinking about next-gen sequencing now, you will be in the next 12 to 18 months.

The quantity and caliber of data afforded by the testing technologies employed at Clear Labs allows us to record and investigate minimal traces of organisms. Now, we can see dozens of different organisms (plant, animal, fungi, or bacteria) we didn’t even know we were looking for in your frozen pizza.

And your hot dog? Well, you know that story.

Big, quality data with big, actionable potential

The implications and potential applications of next-generation sequencing and Clear Labs’ innovative analytics platform are far-reaching. Food fraud, food safety, and research and development, for starters.

While we know that food fraud is not an uncommon occurrence, actual prevalence is unknown. The estimation is that food fraud is detected only 4% of the time with devastating health and economic consequences. For instance, allergens can go undeclared and detailed HACCP plans become ineffective.

Similarly, traditional methods of food safety analysis have come into question as the extent of the foodborne outbreaks continue to puzzle experts. The ability to trace minute quantities of unexpected organisms back to their source enables us to assess and manage risks before they become large scale outbreaks. Aggregating large volumes of data and identifying trends helps to prevent major quality and safety issues.

In the realm of research and development, scientists are now equipped to engineer food products that are safer and even healthier by construction. Take the probiotic industry, for example, which is predicted to grow to $36B by 2018. The intersection of big data and NGS testing allows us to provide a detailed and comprehensive view of the bacterial content across the manufacturing process, information which can help optimize the probiotic chain.

Bending the Curve

Big data in the food industry still faces challenges. Data mining requires comprehensive mechanisms for analysis, capture, curation, sharing, storage and visualization. Standardization is difficult across businesses.

What’s more, unlocking this new, transparent view of our food supply chain means that we are beginning to hold companies more accountable. The fears of what may be discovered, and the liability attached to these discoveries are far outweighed by the impact on food safety and economics. Big data engineered from quality sources and carefully curated analytics in the food supply chain gives us the possibility to explore correlations between ingredients, sources, processing methods and other external factors.

At Clear Labs, our north star is the ability to leverage these insights to proactively protect retailers, manufacturers and consumers, and optimize the food supply chain with quality control further upstream. With the combination of next-generation sequencing, innovative technology, and our big data platform, we’ve got all of the right ingredients to bend the curve.

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