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The food and beverage industry is undergoing a digital transformation. From large corporations to smaller, more flexible brands, companies are using digital technologies to collect more data regarding their workflow processes and to ensure safety and quality in food processing, packaging, and distribution. They use this information to transform their production systems and redefine how employees, processes, and assets work in the new environment.
Data is the foundation of this digital revolution. Manufacturers are using smart sensors to understand how their equipment works, and they are collecting data in real time to monitor energy consumption and evaluate product and service performance. These data points help manufacturers optimize production while ensuring and improving food safety controls.
From rising demand to supply chain disruptions, the food industry has been tested more than ever during the pandemic. This disruption has brought the digital transformation of the food industry into full swing. Facing challenges at every front, food companies have stepped up their digital transformation efforts. These efforts are focused on streamlining processes, maximizing efficiency, and increasing supply chain resiliency. The goals are to dig out of pandemic-induced challenges and prepare for new possibilities. This article explores the overall impact of digital transformation on the food and beverage sector and its contributions to ensuring food safety and quality.
Digitalization is Leading Evolution
Digitalization is solving many problems in the food and beverage sector, ranging from providing food that caters to busy schedules to the desire for greater traceability along the supply chain to the need for real-time information on process controls at remote facilities and for goods in transit. Digital transformation is at the heart of everything from maintaining food safety and quality to producing the vast quantities of food needed to feed the world’s population. Digitalization of the food and beverage sector includes the application of technologies such as smart sensors, cloud computing, and remote monitoring.
Consumer demand for healthy and hygienic food and beverages has risen exponentially in the past few years. Various manufacturers are optimizing their services for consumers and business partners to stand out in the evolving industry. Tech companies are developing AI-powered machines to detect anomalies in food originating from farms. Furthermore, the increasing number of consumers who engage in plant-based diets are seeking high levels of sustainability from production to the dispatch cycle. This level of sustainability is only possible through advances in digitalization.
Technologies Leading the Digital Transformation
Food and beverage manufacturers are adopting automation and modern production technologies to streamline their manufacturing, packaging, and delivery systems. The following sections discuss recent technological developments and their impacts.
Temperature Monitoring Systems
One of the biggest concerns among food and beverage manufacturers is maintenance of product temperature from farm to fork to ensure that the product is safe for consumption, and that its quality is maintained. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in the U.S. alone, 48 million people suffer from foodborne illness each year, and approximately 3,000 people die due to foodborne illness. These statistics show that there is no margin for error for food manufacturers.
To ensure safe temperatures, manufacturers employ digital temperature monitoring systems that automatically record and manage data during the production lifecycle. Food technology companies are using low-energy Bluetooth devices as a part of their safe and intelligent cold-chain and building solutions.
These validated Bluetooth temperature-monitoring solutions can read data without opening the cargo package, providing delivery drivers and recipients with proof of destination status. New data loggers speed product release by providing intuitive mobile apps for hands-free monitoring and control, clear evidence of alarms, and seamless synchronization with the recording system. Seamless, one-touch data synchronization with the recording system means that the courier and the recipient avoid managing multiple cloud logins. Secure reports can be easily shared via the apps.
Innovations in robotics technology have enabled automated food processing that improves the overall quality of the final product by preventing food contamination during production. Recent studies have shown that around 94 percent of food packaging companies are already using robotics technology, while one-third of food processing companies use this technology. One of the most notable innovations in robotics technology is the introduction of robot grippers. The use of gripper technology has simplified the handling and packaging of food and beverages, as well as reduced the risk of contamination (with proper sanitation).
Leading robotics companies are launching large grippers to promote more efficient automation in the food industry. These modern grippers are usually made in one piece, and are simple and durable. Their contact surfaces are made from materials that are approved for direct food contact. Vacuum-type robot grippers are capable of handling fresh, unwrapped, and delicate foods without the risks of contamination or damage to the product.
Robots are also finding their place in food processing. In some segments, robots are used for automated cooking and baking applications. For example, robots can be used to bake pizza without human intervention. Pizza startups are developing a robotic, automated, touchless pizza machine that is capable of producing a fully baked pizza within five minutes. These robotic machines are a part of the “food truck” concept that can consistently deliver large quantities of fresh, gourmet pizza at a faster rate than the brick-and-mortar counterpart.
Digital sensors have gained immense traction, owing to their ability to monitor the accuracy of automated processes and improve overall transparency. They monitor the food production process starting from manufacturing through to distribution, thereby improving supply chain visibility. Digital sensors help ensure that food and raw materials are consistently kept in optimal conditions and do not expire before reaching the customer.
A large-scale implementation of food labeling systems for monitoring product freshness is taking place. These smart labels contain smart sensors that show the current temperature of each item and its compliance with storage requirements. This allows manufacturers, distributors, and customers to see the freshness of a particular item in real time and receive accurate information about its actual remaining shelf life. In the near future, smart containers may be able to self-assess and regulate their own temperature to remain within prescribed food safety guidelines, helping ensure food safety and reduce food waste.
Digitalization to Further Food Safety, Sustainability
Digitalization in the food and beverage industry is on the rise and will not slow down anytime soon. Automation advances and optimized digital solutions hold the potential for significant positive impacts on the global food value chain by helping enterprises maintain compliance. The world needs greater safety and sustainability in both production and consumption practices, and advances in digital technology will help
Nandini Roy Choudhury is Client Partner, Food and Beverage, at ESOMAR-certified Future Market Insights (FMI). She is an experienced research professional and client research partner.
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