Risk Insider: Kate Browne

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

By: | May 1, 2018 • 2 min read
Kate Browne Esq., ARM is a Senior Claims Expert at Swiss Re Corporate Solutions. 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.

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

4 Companies That Rocked It by Treating Injured Workers as Equals; Not Adversaries

The 2018 Teddy Award winners built their programs around people, not claims, and offer proof that a worker-centric approach is a smarter way to operate.
By: | October 30, 2018 • 3 min read

Across the workers’ compensation industry, the concept of a worker advocacy model has been around for a while, but has only seen notable adoption in recent years.

Even among those not adopting a formal advocacy approach, mindsets are shifting. Formerly claims-centric programs are becoming worker-centric and it’s a win all around: better outcomes; greater productivity; safer, healthier employees and a stronger bottom line.


That’s what you’ll see in this month’s issue of Risk & Insurance® when you read the profiles of the four recipients of the 2018 Theodore Roosevelt Workers’ Compensation and Disability Management Award, sponsored by PMA Companies. These four programs put workers front and center in everything they do.

“We were focused on building up a program with an eye on our partner experience. Cost was at the bottom of the list. Doing a better job by our partners was at the top,” said Steve Legg, director of risk management for Starbucks.

Starbucks put claims reporting in the hands of its partners, an exemplary act of trust. The coffee company also put itself in workers’ shoes to identify and remove points of friction.

That led to a call center run by Starbucks’ TPA and a dedicated telephonic case management team so that partners can speak to a live person without the frustration of ‘phone tag’ and unanswered questions.

“We were focused on building up a program with an eye on our partner experience. Cost was at the bottom of the list. Doing a better job by our partners was at the top.” — Steve Legg, director of risk management, Starbucks

Starbucks also implemented direct deposit for lost-time pay, eliminating stressful wait times for injured partners, and allowing them to focus on healing.

For Starbucks, as for all of the 2018 Teddy Award winners, the approach is netting measurable results. With higher partner satisfaction, it has seen a 50 percent decrease in litigation.

Teddy winner Main Line Health (MLH) adopted worker advocacy in a way that goes far beyond claims.

Employees who identify and report safety hazards can take credit for their actions by sending out a formal “Employee Safety Message” to nearly 11,000 mailboxes across the organization.

“The recognition is pretty cool,” said Steve Besack, system director, claims management and workers’ compensation for the health system.

MLH also takes a non-adversarial approach to workers with repeat injuries, seeing them as a resource for identifying areas of improvement.

“When you look at ‘repeat offenders’ in an unconventional way, they’re a great asset to the program, not a liability,” said Mike Miller, manager, workers’ compensation and employee safety for MLH.

Teddy winner Monmouth County, N.J. utilizes high-tech motion capture technology to reduce the chance of placing new hires in jobs that are likely to hurt them.

Monmouth County also adopted numerous wellness initiatives that help workers manage their weight and improve their wellbeing overall.

“You should see the looks on their faces when their cholesterol is down, they’ve lost weight and their blood sugar is better. We’ve had people lose 30 and 40 pounds,” said William McGuane, the county’s manager of benefits and workers’ compensation.


Do these sound like minor program elements? The math says otherwise: Claims severity has plunged from $5.5 million in 2009 to $1.3 million in 2017.

At the University of Pennsylvania, putting workers first means getting out from behind the desk and finding out what each one of them is tasked with, day in, day out — and looking for ways to make each of those tasks safer.

Regular observations across the sprawling campus have resulted in a phenomenal number of process and equipment changes that seem simple on their own, but in combination have created a substantially safer, healthier campus and improved employee morale.

UPenn’s workers’ comp costs, in the seven-digit figures in 2009, have been virtually cut in half.

Risk & Insurance® is proud to honor the work of these four organizations. We hope their stories inspire other organizations to be true partners with the employees they depend on. &

Michelle Kerr is associate editor of Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at [email protected]