More and more these days, consumers want to know where their food comes from. From concerns about factory farming to listing the farms of origin on restaurant menus to movies like Food Inc., consumers are becoming more attuned to the food system than they have been in the last two or three generations. In the U.K., the desire to better understand the food supply chain has been credited for a rise in student enrollment in agricultural programs. Even the sketch comedy TV show Portlandia did a skit on the trend in which diners insisted on visiting the farm where their chicken dinner was raised to indeed make sure it was locally sourced before they’d commit to ordering it at a restaurant.
Trending humor notwithstanding, knowing the origins of our food is a serious business that can have serious consequences. How can we know our food is safe? Where must the government look in the event of a recall? How do you trace foodborne illnesses? Is that tomato you just ate really organic and pesticide free?
Enter the growing field of food traceability. More than just a supply chain issue, food traceability is an issue of trust. Food Safety News reports that 15 percent of the food in the U.S. now comes from outside the country, with that number being far higher in some sectors, such as seafood where 80 percent of our supply is imported. According to Modern Farmer, half of all fresh fruit in the U.S is now imported.
With food imports so high, it’s no wonder that food traceability was included as part of the 2001 Bioterrorism Act. Since 2006, food processors have been required to identify the origins of food products, both foreign and domestic, including listing every ingredient. In addition, the 2011 Food Modernization and Safety Act (FSMA) gave the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) the power to order mandatory recalls if necessary, as well as create a food tracing system.
Although the U.S. does already have a number of food tracing efforts in place, the Institute of Food Technologies (IFT) released a report in March 2013 that called for a comprehensive technology based platform that would allow for better and more efficient data processing when it comes to tracking our food. A recent report in the journal Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety ranked U.S and Canadian food traceability systems as only “average,” while countries throughout the European Union were given “superior” ratings. (It’s worth noting that China was ranked as “poor,” the data from countries in the Russian Federation was inadequate to even rank them.)
As such, research firm Visiongain has estimated that the worldwide market for food traceability technologies will reach $11.15B in 2015. What’s more, that market is also expected to grow 9.88 percent (CAGR) between 2015-2019, according to TechNavio.
With more data being gathered, scanned and collected on food, increasingly interconnected global food systems and the IFT’s mandate for a tech-based food tracing platform, new technologies will have a key role to play in helping to maintain the safety of the global food supply chain and food systems for years to come. From food “fingerprinting” or tagging and software systems, a number of companies are coming up with new solutions to ensure our food is safe.
Originally developed at the Lawrence Livermore National Lab, DNATrek is a “spray-on” solution that can be directly misted onto produce or mixed with dry or liquid goods allowing them to be tracked throughout the supply chain. Using natural ingredients that the company claims are 100 percent safe and FDA approved, DNATrek says they have developed an advanced natural “barcoding” system that can retrieve information about food origins with a simple swab and an off-the-shelf instrument to determine whether food has been tampered with or adulterated.
Barcoding and RFID tags
As of September 2014, Whole Foods Market required all of its produce suppliers to comply with guidelines set out by the Produce Traceability Initiative (PTI). This increased pressure from the country’s largest organic food store is sure to boost the traceability industry, particularly, barcoding technologies, which is one of the primary technologies recommended by the PTI.
Developed by product traceability and authentication platform provider Yottamark, Harvestmark is a food traceability platform that allows users to trace products at both the item and case level using barcode technology. A separate smartphone app also lets consumers get in on tracing their foods by allowing them to enter an item’s QR code into the app, where information on the product’s origins pop up. Consumers can also provide feedback to the farmer through the app. Data on each item can also be tracked throughout the supply chain so producers and distributors can monitor product freshness and performance from field to store.
SIMBA, a PTI solution from Dynamic Systems, also provides labeling technology as well as real-time information for plant managers as produce is being packaged. In addition, Honeywell has developed an RFID label that farmers can print that can be used to trace produce back to the tree it came from, when it was picked and shipped. Handheld scanners are then used to track the product and put it into a computer system that can follow it from farm to store.
Part of the University of California at Berkeley’s Skydeck incubator program, startup Pristine Solutions plans to use temperature sensors and QR bar codes to help determine whether wine has spoiled, been tampered with or counterfeited.
Of course, there are also solutions that cover the entire food supply chain. These are primarily software or SaaS-based solutions that tend to cover not only traceability but everything from order management through logistics and warehouse management. Companies such as iTradeNetwork and FoodLogiQ provide full food supply chain packages.
Frequentz, another track and trace technology provider, uses software to link with company ERP systems to provide real-time information on product location throughout the supply chain to help companies do everything from authenticate seafood species or track soil testing to manage recalls.
Key to managing food traceability and supply chains in the future will be standards development. Standards bodies such as the International Standards Organization (ISO) provide support for organizations by developing requirements that help them to comply with a set of guidelines and best practices for food management. As food traceability technologies continue to proliferate globally, we can expect to see standards develop for these systems so that they can become interoperable across borders.
Find out more at our Food Labeling and Traceability panel at Bon Appétech, April 10-12, 2015. Food Safety News and Yottamark will be among the participating companies presenting the latest challenges and solutions to food traceability issues.
If you’re a food traceability startup, we’d love to hear from you. Bon Appétech Conference will be a great way to connect with industry stakeholders, large brands and influential decision makers. We are hosting a startup expo where entrepreneurs can showcase and launch new products, including new food traceability solutions. More information available at www.bonappetech.com