Food Supply Chain and Internet of Things

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July 6, 2022


Food & Nutrition / IOT


Food Supply Chain and Internet of Things

The increasing population mainly depends on the food supply chain to meet the growing demands across cities and towns. The food supply chain continues to extend to meet the changing needs of modern consumers ranging from exotic foods to organic food at their doorstep. With an extensive supply chain, it becomes more complicated than ever to be managed efficiently.

According to National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), around 40% of food remains uneaten, roughly estimated at $165 billion each year. Most of these uneaten foods end up rotting and causing significant health risks with methane emissions. If food wastage is reduced by 15%, there would be a significant amount of food to feed 25 million people. Increasing the efficiency of the food supply chain with better control and management and tracking of the products in the supply chain network requires state-of-the-art technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT) and reduces the challenges in food transportation and handling in the food supply chain network.

The IoT network largely contributes to trimming down the losses of food waste, transportation costs, and other supply chain risks. IoT enables food suppliers and distributors to firmly control the traceability within the supply chain network and constantly check on food safety to ensure high-quality food products are delivered to the end-consumers with a great network of devices and sensors. It is evident from recent advancements that the food industry is gradually getting acquainted with IoT technology and gaining immense benefits.

Existing Problems in the Food Supply Chain

In recent years, the improved quality of living standards has led to consumers becoming more demanding. Today, specific food products are expected to be available all year round. The taste preference has changed significantly and has become more exotic. Similarly, health consciousness has given rise to the demands for organic food products. While the demands exist, most consumers are not aware of the hidden cost of procurement alongside. Food suppliers have been forced to source certain food products from global sources. The extended supply chain faces timely delivery of these products, thereby leading to wastage before reaching the stores.

Transparency in the food supply chain is yet another factor of primary importance as more consumers prefer to have detailed information about the products they are buying and be assured of the compliance of brands related to food safety. The majority of the food industry faces the challenge of communication and traceability as paper-based tracking procedures still exist in this industry. The key players in the food supply network also face a blind spot due to a lack of optimization of the services and communication. The problems have been everlasting, but it has become a hindrance with a complex food supply chain. Thus, the need for technologies has become more significant than in the past decade.

IoT-Enabled Solutions for the Food Supply Chain

Although there is no one solution for all, the contribution of IoT technology can help find solutions for some of the problems in its grassroots.

Maintaining Food Safety Standards

The integration of IoT in the food network can equip themselves well to manage the challenges associated with food quality and spoilage. Different IoT sensors in the food supply chain can monitor the food product quality and temperature maintenance during transportation. The utilization of IoT enables real-time monitoring by food suppliers and distributors and appropriate measures to be taken if optimal temperatures are not maintained. Additionally, if there is any vehicle breakdown during transit, prompt response and solutions can be adopted to ensure the food products don’t get wasted in transit and the waiting period for vehicle recovery. The data generated from the devices and sensors within the trailers can provide real-time auditing data for maintaining food safety standards and understanding the root cause of the problems.

Food Supply Chain Logistics

The food supply chain gains enhanced visibility with IoT. It is possible to track the product batch from the warehouse, distribution, and point of sale. Most of the food wastage happens during the logistics. Zest Labs offer IoT technologies for targeting the food supply chain for freshly harvested products with real-time analytics and food monitoring and tracking services. The insights on temperature and humidity conditions related to the products provide crucial information to maintain the quality of the food products.

Processing plants and warehousing can benefit from IoT sensors as they can monitor the fruit’s respiratory conditions, which is critical for the freshness of the products. The processing plants can add more respiratory preformation during packaging to manage fruits to stay fresh even with more respirations. Simultaneously, fruits with lesser respirations can be packaged with fewer perforations. This process ensures that the products remain fresh for more extended periods and are not likely spoiled quickly. Besides, the warehouses can be aware of which shipments to be moved faster as they can be spoiled quicker than the other batches.

IoT-driven solution for food supply logistics ensures the integrity of the cold chain used to transport food products. The IoT devices can maintain the thresholds of optimum humidity and temperatures in the warehouse and inside the vehicles.

Traceability and Inspection

IoT devices allow traceability by providing real-time feeding of analytical data across the entire supply chain. Geo-locations can be obtained from the farm through the food suppliers and the distribution and retailers to safeguard the interest of the major players within the supply chain. These sensors can also provide auto-alerts to the supply chain managers about any failure of the cold chain or damage to the container seals with AI-enabled smart IoT sensors. Certain food products require the vehicles to be pre-cooled to a set temperature. The key personnel can track the temperature and pre-cool it by themselves on an inspection with IoT devices. This works much like the intelligent driving systems that exist today, where one can switch on and switch off the air conditioning beforehand.

With various possibilities, the integration of IoT in the food supply chain can reduce costs and wastage with controlled mechanisms to efficiently track and tracing the food products. Companies like Tagbox provides IoT automation offerings with analytical capabilities for the food supply chain. The company aims to bring down the spoilage rate of the cold chain with the high-quality maintenance and end-to-end traceability provision of the stocks. The company focuses on reducing damage or mishandling during transit, avoiding unnecessary delays or breakdowns with improved shelf-life predictions, and benchmarking the cold chain device performance.

IoT for Inventory Management

Smart IoT sensors can keep track of the inventory automatically at all times. The sensors can continually monitor the shelves and alert the management about which products are running out of stock and requires restocking. Such an approach reduces warehousing costs and storage as items that are not required or are slow-moving do not have additional inventory pending as it leads to expiration and spoilage. The data from these sensors give insights for suppliers to understand the market demand and predict the future demand and supply requirements of a particular product. Besides, the use of IoT-based technologies can increase productivity and avoid any delays in the supply chain network.

The Future Outlook of IoT in the Food Supply Chain

With multiple variables to track and record in the food supply chain network, farmers, food suppliers, distributors, and retailers required an integrated and robust technology capable of automating several strenuous activities in the supply chain network. In today’s consumer standards and the overall health risks, a slight error can lead to rejection of the food products causing a considerable loss for the entire food network from the suppliers to the retailers. In recent years, the food industry has achieved new standards by leveraging IoT technologies to meet any demands in any period with a well-managed inventory and transportation measures for delivering food products across borders with the assurance of meeting the highest quality standards.

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