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IoT and food safety spell more CIO involvement

Bob Whitaker, chief science and technology officer at the Produce Marketing Association, thinks the Internet of Things (IoT) will draw CIOs and CTOs into the field of food safety.

In his role at the Produce Marketing Association, a trade organization for companies in the fresh produce and floral supply chain, Whitaker focuses on food safety and security as well as supply chain technical innovation. He said CIOs and CTOs historically have not been involved with food safety initiatives, but predicted that the emergence of IoT will change that situation.

Indeed, IoT is already intersecting with food safety, with projects getting underway or soon to begin. Over time, sensors installed across the supply chain — from local growers to processing plants to distribution centers — will gather data that will provide greater visibility into food safety from farm to fork.

“I think the IoT is going to make food safety transparent within our supply chain and eventually to consumers,” Whitaker said.

And as IoT becomes more embedded in food safety programs, CIOs and CTOs may find themselves being pulled into those initiatives.

That’s largely due to the amount of data expected to be generated from various points along the food supply chain. Bags and boxes of produce equipped with RFID tags will report location data as items traverse the supply chain. Temperature sensors will keep tabs on whether food is being stored or transported within a safe temperature range.

In addition, more equipment in the food supply chain will be built to give off digital signals. Whitaker pointed out that produce washing systems in a number of food processing plants already include equipment that monitors and reports the level of disinfectant in the wash water and the water’s pH level to ensure the disinfectant is at the right acidity level to be effective. Operators use disinfectants in wash water to kill microorganisms that might exist on the surface of fruits or vegetables when they come in from the fields.

“If [microorganisms] slough off into the water, you want to kill them so they do not build up to potentially dangerous levels and contaminate all of the product that might be washed over a given period of time,” Whitaker explained.

The monitoring systems generate data that can be captured and used to analyze wash water quality, he said. Armed with that data, operators can make decisions on whether to add more disinfectant, adjust the pH or change the water to maintain proper operating conditions.

Both processing plants and growers will increasingly find themselves awash in data. Whitaker said even small or mid-sized operations can potentially generate thousands of data points.

He said many people in the industry are starting to ask which types of data are the most important and how they can put that data to use. IT leaders in the food supply chain, he believes, will be called on to help with data analysis.

“You will see the CIO and CTO become much more involved in food safety,” Whitaker said.

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