The United States Food & Drug Administration’s 2020 Blueprint for the New Era of Smarter Food Safety outlines the organization’s vision to enhance food traceability, respond more rapidly to outbreaks and foster the development of stronger food safety cultures. This is important to note as the entire food supply chain is experiencing added pressures as restaurants and stores continue to reopen. However, before we can even think about the food on restaurant plates, we need to back up several steps to the fields in which this food is grown and harvested, from the processing plants that package and ship the food as well as to the trucks and planes that carry this food to its final destination.
The food supply ecosystem is complex and full of moving parts. One solution is the Internet of Things (IoT). IoT technology enables efficiencies around material and energy usage as well as waste reduction, which reduces overall environmental impact. Whether it’s monitoring variables on the farm or tracking refrigeration temperatures of food in transit, long-range, low-power technology is ideal as it enables the use of low-cost sensors to send data to the cloud where it can be analyzed to inform real-time decision making.
Let’s start at the farm
Much of the food we consume starts at the farm. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, Total Factor Productivity (TFP) increased at an annual rate of nearly 1.5% with farm production nearly tripling between 1948-2017, even as land and labor used in farming declined. With production at an all-time high and only projected to grow due to future population increases, there should be technology put in place to not only track supply, but also ensure that industrial farming trends smarter, more efficient and more ecologically responsible in the future.
Farmers and ranchers must prepare for the future and tackle tomorrow’s challenges head-on by integrating advanced smart agriculture solutions leveraging IoT applications. With long-range, low-power technology, farmers can measure environmental conditions influencing crop production and track livestock health and behavior indicators which can reduce environmental impact, such as water usage, while still benefiting economically. Securing farm operations, from optimizing the health of live cattle and plants to maximizing farm resources, is the first step in ensuring a safe, efficient food supply as crops, meat and dairy move into the next phase of getting to our tables.
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On to the factory
Once food leaves the farm, the safety and freshness of what we’re about to eat is put into the hands of logistics and supply chain management where digitization and connectivity are the key drivers of improved efficiencies and productivity. Connected vehicles, equipment and devices enable real-time visualization and management of critical goods in the food supply chain. For example, IoT-connected cold storage supply chains can offer real-time safety and quality assessments of perishable goods. Connected fleets can track utilization rates, improve route planning or authenticate products and shipments making sure transit time is as quick as possible ensuring fresh quality and taste.
Whether food is being shipped to heavily populated metropolitan areas or to grocery stores housed outside of food deserts, IoT sensors can readily communicate over public, private or hybrid networks from anywhere – indoors or outdoors. With these tracking solutions put in place, we can keep a watchful eye thanks to real-time data on the conditions of our food. In addition to tracking against potential disease, we can also work to reduce waste. Food that has gone bad en route to grocery stores or restaurants due to improper storage or transportation has a huge impact on food waste, which can have a detrimental impact on a supplier’s finances and environmental footprint.
And, finally, on dinner tables
Whether shopping at local farmers market or a big-box retailer, food travels many stops before reaching homes and plates. From the soil this food is grown in, to the truck it is delivered in, IoT technology can greatly impact food quality and safety. IoT sensors are integral to modern smart agriculture, facilitating data collection and analysis from the farm to factory, which can ultimately help reduce costs from a material, labor and waste management perspective. As the food ecosystem and the world population continues to grow, pressure will continue to rise on food growers and distributors. Deploying smart technology such as long-range, low-power IoT sensors can help mitigate these pressures leading to a more productive and sustainable future.