Risk Insider: Kate Browne

Food & Tech: Using AI and Automation to Improve Food Safety

By: | May 1, 2018

Kate Browne Esq., ARM is Senior Counsel Executive & Professional at Berkshire Hathaway Specialty Insurance. She has spent her entire career in the insurance industry, and speaks and writes extensively on the impact on the legal implications of drones, autonomous vehicles, the internet of things, and other emerging risks. Kate can be reached at [email protected].

From farm to table, food production is labor intensive. Even in the 21st century, planting, harvesting, processing, packaging, and distribution requires an enormous amount of manual labor. However, improvements in sensor technology, robotics, and artificial intelligence have the potential to significantly improve food safety.

Experts say it’s no longer a matter of “if” but “when.” Throughout the chain of food production and distribution, automation is coming.

Farmers around the globe are increasingly embracing “smart agriculture” by using technology such as drones and sensors to improve yields and food safety. Farmers using sensors in their fields can access detailed maps of the topography as well as accurate “real time” data on variables such as soil acidity and temperature.

They no longer have to apply water, pesticides and fertilizers uniformly across entire fields. Instead, farmers can target very specific areas and use drones to precisely deliver what is needed where. Both on the farm and in the factory, food processing robots powered by artificial intelligence and equipped with x-rays, lasers, and cameras can instantly “pick and place” items by color, shape, and size.

Farmers around the globe are increasingly embracing “smart agriculture” by using technology such as drones and sensors to improve yields and food safety.

Robotic processing can reduce costs and improve quality and safety. Robotic arms are not bothered by extreme temperatures, odors, or chemicals. They can improve sanitation since they don’t require safety gloves, masks, or hats. Robots built from advanced metal alloys are resistant to mold and bacteria, and can be easily sterilized at the end of the work day.

With automated processing and packaging, defects can be detected and resolved quickly, ensuring faulty products do not enter the market and manufacturing issues are quickly identified.

Since temperature controls help prevent foodborne pathogens, temperature measurements are one of the cornerstones of the Hazard Analysis and Risk Based Control (HARPC) mandated by the FDA’s Food Modernization Safety Act. Rather than manually record temperature readings on a clipboard, automated temperature readers can upload data to the cloud from any connected mobile device. Temperature and other data can be immediately shared with all partners in the supply chain.

Rapid data access can also instantly identify non-compliant readings, which may prevent costly recalls, shorten response times when there is a compliance issue and reduce production downtime.

Today many food and beverage manufacturers rely on Clean in Place (CIP) systems to wash and sterilize equipment. CIP’s are designed to run as long as necessary to prevent worst case scenarios and operate “blind” as they can’t see inside the equipment. However, researchers are currently investigating the use of ultrasonic sensors and fluorescence imaging technologies which have the potential to be more accurate and efficient.

The world of food has always been complex and dynamic and the industry, which is well known for creativity and innovation, appears ready to embrace the future.