Food Safety and Regulations: Emerging Role of Technology

Author: Dr. Kent Bradley, M.D., MBA, MPH, Chief Health and Nutrition Officer, Herbalife Nutrition
Food Technician

Food safety has become a topic of importance, especially during the pandemic. People are now concerned about the safety of their food. Technology is playing the role of an effective enabler in the new normal. Read the article to know more.

Food safety came to the fore because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Consumers are curious, confused and worried about food handling and the supply chain. In 2020, online searches on “food safety” have been as high as 362K daily, with per day mentions seeing a 70% increase compared to the year before.1

The current pandemic has made it important to have a global standard of food safety; something that needs to be followed by all nations alike.

What entails Food Safety?

With fake news around food safety floating across the internet, consumers could overreact or be confused. For experts, physicians and science academicians, it is critical to understand the different aspects of food safety because in times like these, doctors and physicians are the most credible sources of food, nutrition and health safety information.

Food safety is not limited to just the storage and preparation of food. It starts right from the raw material used and ends with the different aspects of the supply chain which is responsible for delivering the food in the hands of consumers. This procedure involves:

  • Safety in handling food contents (like nuts, soy and mushrooms) to which few consumers could be allergic to
  • The cooking or preparation of the food
  • Preservation techniques
  • Packaging (with proper labelling)
  • Delivery
  • Storage pre-consumption

Role of Technology in the new normal

Moving towards a new normal is leading consumers and food business owners to invest more time in ensuring food safety and hygiene measures are well in place. Part of the issue is that contamination of the food supply can occur at various points of the supply chain from the farm to the table.  Each step may introduce risks and thus should be assessed for proper preparation, storage, and handling. Technology can help play a huge role and introduce uniformity of standards in this process

Multiple technologies already exist in this realm and there are a few which are bringing notable levels of transparency and insight, paving the way for a safer future. They are blockchain, industrial internet of things (IoT) and next generation sequencing (NGS). The use of blockchain technology gives organizations the ability to record and secure the validity of a wide variety of data. In the supply chain, this is already being realized as the blockchain is being used to amplify the traceability of products. Blockchain has been used to document the journey of everything from wine to salmon from source to table.

Another area of promise is the rise of the industrial application of IoT through the widespread adoption of 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. 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.

The third technology is NGS-based food tests and software analytics that have the potential to significantly improve the scalability and accessibility of food safety and quality measures. NGS-based tests 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 an unprecedented insight into supply chains at a rate and scale that has never been experienced before. 

Role of Doctors and Physicians

While technological advances, digitization, novel foods and processing methods provide a wealth of opportunities to simultaneously enhance food safety and improve nutrition, livelihoods and trade, there are additional challenges on the horizon - myths surrounding food safety in times of a pandemic. One of the most effective means we have today, to reduce food safety concerns, is simply to educate consumers - by providing them with information that will help alleviate their concerns.

HCPs can play a significant role in raising awareness around the following aspects:

  • Busting myths by sharing credible information and encouraging them to use reliable information sources like CDC and WHO
  • Educating their patients and consumers about basic hygiene measures and precautions to take in these times
  • Reinforcing their faith in the regulations and processes by implementing technology in this field

Food systems are becoming even more complex and interlinked, blurring the lines of regulatory responsibility. Solutions to these potential problems require multi-sectoral approaches covering areas such as good manufacturing and quality practices; food monitoring programs; and common platforms for shared information, and education. This is where greater international co-operation is needed to prevent unsafe food from causing ill health and hampering progress towards sustainable development. 

References:

1.     Source Meltwater: Search results for “Food Safety” and “Covid19”

This article was originally published in Asian Hospital and Healthcare Management