As the new year dawns, it’s time to look at some of unique technologies in the works that are dedicated to improving food safety.
Some of these technologies are in the idea stage, some in research, some are in testing and development — and some are already in use in a variety of businesses around the world. They all mark significant advancements in the food industry.
Here are some of the most innovative food safety technologies worth paying attention to in 2022.
Freezing techniques constantly evolving
Frozen food processors are always looking for new ways to keep food safe while minimising costs. A new freezing concept referred to as isochoric freezing could improve the quality of food and increase its safety — all while slashing energy use.
The method works by storing foods in a hard plastic or metal container that’s filled with a liquid, like water. Freezing food usually exposes it to air, but isochoric freezing preserves food without turning it to solid ice. It prevents ice crystals from forming on the food, thus ensuring food lasts longer and tastes better. The process saves energy as foods don’t need to be entirely frozen, in contrast to traditional freezing methods which result in increased power usage and carbon emissions.
New blanching techniques are also being looked at. Frozen food blanching is typically done to stabilise raw vegetables before freezing them; it halts the cooking process by first plunging the hot food in cold water. Research from the American Frozen Food Institute (AFFI) has established time and temperature parameters for blanching that can reduce the number of pathogens in raw produce, thus increasing safety for consumers. Specifically, the innovation addresses the risks associated with Listeria in freezers.
Using light to target issues in food safety
There are new developments in technology that use light to make food safe. Ultraviolet (UV) processes are being tested, and in some cases, already used in the supply chain and in restaurants. Food contact surfaces and some liquids can now be decontaminated with UV lights — an inexpensive and efficient way to ensure cleanliness and safety.
Light technologies are also starting to be used with fresh fruits and vegetables. Produce is generally not cooked, so there is no “kill step” — the term for the point in food manufacturing when pathogens are eradicated from the product. The goal of using light as a kill step, whether by treatment with pulsed light, ultraviolet light, plasma technology or irradiation, is to reduce pathogens while maintaining the freshness and other qualities of the produce. If, eventually, a kill step could be introduced for bagged salads, the number of recalls could drop drastically, also impacting the amount of food-borne illness and food waste.
Contaminant detection simplified
New metal detection systems are helping small- and medium-sized manufacturers and co-packers comply with regulations and boost productivity, with compact designs that can be adapted over time. These systems are being built to use advanced algorithms to digitally inspect products for traces of metal and all other contaminant types, stabilise core sensors, reduce noise and vibration — ultimately making the reading more accurate and meaning fewer false rejections of food products.
X-ray technology has developed substantially over the last 20 years, with still a long way to go. Physical contaminants like pits or bones are also a major hurdle for producers to overcome. The tech generally can’t detect pits in cherries or peaches — instead, manufacturers will label the item “may contain pits” as a warning to the consumer.
Chicken is one of the most consumed proteins worldwide. Developing x-ray tech that can better detect bones and cartilage in chickens, too, could save time and resources, and increase food safety. Contaminant detection is an area that is ripe for exploration in 2022 and beyond.
Boosting food production with artificial intelligence
Starting in the fields, artificial intelligence is helping to make the inexact science of farming more efficient and reliable. Insects and weather events can make or break a growing season, but AI technology can quite accurately predict yields, which can help farmers inform people and businesses further down the supply chain.
A machine-learning tool uses computer vision and ultra-scale images combined with GPS to categorize lettuce crops, capturing information about size, quantity and quality of the heads. This allows for more efficiency during harvest time.
Food-borne illness is a major problem around the world, impacting thousands of people every year. Since the 1960s, about a quarter of Salmonella outbreaks have been from the Typhimurium variation. Researchers trained a machine-learning algorithm on more than 1,300 Typhimurium genomes with known origins. Eventually, the algorithm was able to successfully predict certain animal sources — mainly poultry and swine — that would have the Typhimurium genome, thus tracing food-borne illness back to its source.
AI is also being used to reduce food waste. Researchers in Singapore have developed an AI-driven “nose” that can detect freshness in meat. It works by reacting to the gases produced when meat begins to spoil. This could help reduce food waste, as food can be tested to confirm if it is safe to eat regardless of the “best before” date.
Managing monitoring processes through automation
Automating processes that normally take a lot of time and effort is one impactful method organisations can use to reduce food waste, increase food safety and even trace food-borne illness.
Some food safety software used in monitoring includes Bluetooth integrations with various smartphone apps, which means these tools are accessible to practically anyone who has a smartphone, reducing complications and the need for a particular person to conduct all checks.
Automatic, real-time reporting can also catch mistakes that could cost a food business money or result in liabilities. Digital reports can track trends, and verify that proper procedures have been followed. This makes it harder to intentionally alter data or make many accidental errors.
For example, sensors that sit in refrigerators and freezers can automatically alert kitchen staff any time temperatures exceed safe limits, so that they can fix the problem right away rather than having to remember to manually check. Manual checks simply aren’t as effective as this tech, and by 2022, automated monitoring may become the norm in commercial food environments.
COVID-19 measures eased by tech
Cleanliness has always been crucial in food businesses — effective cleaning and sanitising are crucial in stopping the spread of food-borne illness and ensuring food is safe to eat. When the pandemic hit, this focus on proper and thorough cleaning only increased.
As COVID protocols evolve in response to the ever-changing pandemic, it’s likely that technologies meant to help with these public health measures — contact-tracing apps, contactless delivery options, employee temperature checks, team communication apps, etc. — will play an important role in the new year and beyond.
Fluctuating societal needs breeding innovation
As society’s needs evolve, technology must improve to meet those changing demands. Improvements in food safety technologies lead to a much safer, healthier — and more accessible — supply of food, not only for Australians, but for everyone.
The Australian Institute of Food Safety’s (AIFS) mission is to reduce food-borne illness through education, promotion and advocacy for comprehensive food safety training. We are dedicated to sharing stories and scientific developments that could vastly improve our overall food supply and safety. Our Food Safety Courses provide you with the knowledge and practical food safety skills that all these innovative technologies are focused on simplifying. Contact AIFS for more information.