Taking a ‘sensory’ approach to ensuring food safety, enhancing visibility

When the pandemic struck 3 years ago, one of the biggest and most difficult to handle side effects was the empty shelves. Be it the infamous toilet paper shortage or the lack of other everyday items – including fresh fruits and vegetables. In India, we were quite lucky and protected in terms of the availability of fresh fruits and vegetables at our doorstep, however, those in the West weren’t so much.

The complexity and daintiness of the food supply chain was highlighted during the pandemic, and in a post pandemic world, the focus is on ensuring food security for a resilient food supply chain.

When the global supply chains for various commodities are using technology to shield themselves from the existing and upcoming disruptions, the food supply chain is not left behind. In order to ensure a safe journey of the harvest from ‘farm to fork’, the industry has been increasingly using new-age technologies like IoT, Machine Learning, GPS and a lot more in the form of sensors.

These intelligent sensors help the farmers keep a track of the shipment in every way, thereby, retaining the control in their hands – which was conventionally absent once the shipment left the farm/source.

The Internet of Things (IoT) has given the industry the gift of sensors that make it possible for the shipment to always be in the farmer’s access via the ‘cloud’, by collecting remote data. These sensors can be applied into any and every leg of the supply chain – right from the source to the destination. They can be fitted onto vehicles being used for transportation, warehouses being used to store and even into the containers/reefers/refrigerators that contain the actual produce.

An example of it is thermal cameras or just ambient sensors that send out an alert whenever there is a shift from the desired temperature of the shipment. These devices are also connected to a battery based source of power so that in case there is a power failure, they are still able to collect and relay data. Such timely alerts can help in fixing the temperature deviation in appropriate duration.

Similarly, GPS data can provide the live location of the shipment to the farmer until it reaches its destination. Sensors even relay data when vehicles on route with food cargo go off the grid. LoRa-enabled sensors, for example, are used to send information to a wide area network (LPWAN) gateway application following the detection of a temperature shift. This information is then transmitted to a network server, where it is then relayed to application servers or the cloud. The information is then made available via a desktop or smartphone app. 

All of this helps to ensure food safety, enhance traceability, reduce waste, and enhances food security. For a country like India, where in spite of being an agrarian economy around 40% of the agrarian produce is wasted every year due to fragmented food and inefficacious supply chain system, the application of such technologies can benefit a lot.

Thankfully, sensors are being increasingly used in India to enhance efficiency, reduce wastage, and ensure a robust food supply chain.

Temperature and humidity sensors that are employed in storage facilities, warehouses, and transportation vehicles monitor and maintain appropriate temperature, moisture and humidity levels. On the other hand, Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags are also being used across the supply chain by attaching them to to individual items or packaging, enabling real-time visibility and monitoring.

Similarly there are various sensors being used to assess the quality of food products. For instance, color sensors can detect color changes or ripeness levels in fruits and vegetables, while pH sensors can measure acidity levels. These sensors aid in quality control and enable early detection of spoilage or contamination issues. Some can also detect gases such as ethylene or ammonia and aid in monitoring the storage conditions of the shipment.

To conclude, technology instruments like sensors are transforming the food supply chain by ensuring efficiency, reducing waste, and enhancing food safety. They offer real-time insights, optimize logistics, and promote traceability, contributing to a more sustainable and secure food supply chains – globally as well as in India.

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