The food industry is at the intersection of health and technology. Growers, producers, distributors and restaurants are all concerned with how they can optimize their operations and provide a better product. On the other hand, there are Food and Drug Administration and health code regulations to maintain. The goal: successfully marry healthy, safe food practices with advanced technology to bring the entire industry into the modern era.
Fortunately, this revolution is happening on a number of fronts. One area, in particular, that could benefit from the focus on technology is in food tracking. The ability to discover the origins of a particular food item is essential in the event of an outbreak or recall – and also convenient for consumers that want transparency for the sake of their grocery decisions.
Spray-on DNA helps trace produce
According to Food Safety News, a new liquid technology could provide a harmless 'fingerprint' for food tracers. The solution, developed by Bay Area startup DNATrek, contains a DNA identification that can be safely sprayed on foods without taste or health concerns.
DNA tracing has long been used in forensics as a way of tracing criminals. The same principle applies to the new spray – the producer would apply its own one-of-a-kind DNA liquid to its food so that if an outbreak occurs, investigators can locate the original provider.
"Because of the way food traceability is set up, trace-back investigations are very often inconclusive or take weeks or more to complete," DNATrek Founder and CEO Anthony Zografos told Food Safety News. "Without being able to figure out the problem, food companies usually issue these massive, expensive, knee-jerk recalls."
The solution contains DNA not typically associated with the particular food, like that of seaweed, along with minute amounts of sugar in a liquid solution. Because the DNA and solution is non-toxic, it should pose no health concerns.
Honeywell develops food tracing technology
While DNATrek maintains that its spray solution is completely non-toxic and safe for consumption, some providers may shy away from any kind of additive until further, longitudinal studies are performed. Until then, Honeywell has come up with its own response to the growing need for traceable food.
In an interview with FoodProductionDaily, Honeywell's Bruce Stubbs spoke about a handheld scanner that could help employees at food providers and distributors pinpoint the origin of any item.
Using Honeywell's printers, farmers can print RFID labels at the point of sale for any produce. That label can contain the exact location of that food item – down to the bush or tree that yielded it, when it was picked and when it was shipped. Then, an accompanying scanner will let any purchaser, distributor or consumer know where to look should the produce prove to be contaminated.
Because the scanners are handheld, employees have freedom of movement and convenient access to produce records. That way, workers won't be put off by a long, convoluted process for discovering food's birthplace. It is as simple as pointing a hand at the RFID tag.
"Using mobile scanners, computers and labelers allows warehouse and distribution personnel to work where the product is, as with labeling incoming pallets of products," Stubbs told FoodProductionDaily. "When a warehouse employee scans a product's smart tag, the computer compares that information with the system data. Then it creates another label that tells the employee where to put the product."
Stubbs also pointed out that warehouse data accuracy is essential in dealing with a major recall.
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