We’re entering an era of food safety when new technologies hold more promise and transformative potential than ever before. Technology is poised to help the food industry finally realize the long-term goal of nearly eradicating foodborne illness.

While we’re seeing advancements in many exciting places, three technologies in particular—blockchain, the industrial internet of things (IoT), and next-generation sequencing (NGS)—will radically help the industry strengthen their food safety programs, deter food fraud, and improve tracebacks and recalls.

Blockchain

The compelling use-case for blockchain technology is that it gives organizations the ability to record and secure arbitrary and disparate kinds of data. Food safety is poised to benefit from this new method of data management.

If we look at traceability done well in the food industry, we see examples where it is possible to identify—down to a specific time and location—where the problem happened and then isolate the products that need to be recalled.

Blockchain will exponentially amplify this traceability. The ability to securely share and track data across organizations, across continents, from farm to processing plant to grocery store shelves, means the food safety industry will gain unprecedented insight into exactly what’s going on in our supply chains.

Industrial IoT

The rise of the industrial internet of things has helped prompt widespread innovation in sensor technologies that accurately and consistently capture and communicate data. Advances in networking, storage, and processing have created a mass market for sensors delivering real-time data from across the food supply chain.

We’re starting to see commercially viable sensors that not only advance computer vision but also enable machines to hear, feel, taste, and even smell. These new categories of sensors now allow us to tap into whole new layers of data.

There’s every reason to believe that the net-new data gathered by innovative sensors will be leveraged to build safer food manufacturing plants that will operate more efficiently, monitor for unintended contamination, and protect against food fraud. Each one of these potentialities would strengthen food safety programs and help brands identify problems more accurately and earlier.

NGS

NGS is something of a catchall term describing the most modern, parallel, high-throughput DNA sequencing available. NGS has greatly reduced the time and cost of DNA and RNA sequencing, revolutionizing both the study and application of genomics and molecular biology.

It can sequence hundreds of samples at a time and generates up to 25 million reads per a single experiment. This level of information makes it possible to identify pathogens at the strain level even in mixed-ingredient and packaged foods.

NGS-based food tests and software analytics have potential to significantly improve the scalability and accessibility of food safety and quality measures.

NGS is now poised to replace PCR and antigen-based methods as the standard in food safety testing. PCR-based tests have higher limits of detection and cannot be used to distinguish between closely related species. NGS-based tests, on the other hand, have very low limits of detection; the increased sensitivity of NGS produces more accurate results along with much higher levels of specificity and resolution in a single unified test. This results in more actionable information, faster and at lower costs.

The result of NGS adoption will be bulletproof food safety testing programs that provide unprecedented insight into supply chains at a rate and scale never experienced before.

All these technologies will enhance food safety in vastly different ways. What they have in common is their power to bring unprecedented levels of transparency and insight. On the foundation of increased transparency, we will build a safer food future. These technologies give us hope that we’re already moving in the right direction.

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