As GFSI returns in Barcelona this month, there’s one topic that I’m sure will be on everyone’s minds - how technology is influencing the way we understand supply chains and manage risk in the food sector.
The pandemic has acted as a catalyst for digital technologies, enabling continuity and increasing agility at precisely the point the world needed the food system at its most robust. But as businesses adapt and return to ‘normal’, the question becomes where do we go from here? I firmly believe there’s no going back. When it comes to using technology to support food safety, the only way is forward.
Remote technology is the obvious starting point. The flexibility and capability offered by remote approaches s adding huge value to the auditor’s toolkit. It matters less that the right skills and expertise may not immediately be available locally and sites all around the world can be audited within days of one another. It’s good for our clients, good for our people and good for the environment too.
As technology comes to the fore, so too does the volume of data at our disposal. Certainly, at LRQA we’re seeing more interest from clients on the use of data and analytical tools to highlight and predict risk. These tools will only become more powerful as models and data sets improve, but before we can run we must learn how to walk. The biggest challenge is often the fundamentals - the ability to integrate internal and external data sources on to one platform. AI can help, particularly if supported by a clear taxonomy for risk, but data science to support risk management still has a long way to go to match the sophistication of, for example, the use of data in insight and marketing functions.
What excites me most, however, is the potential for emerging technologies to transform the visibility of our supply chains and in doing so, transform the way food companies manage them. In the UK, for example, LRQA is leading a consortium - SecQuAL (Secure Quality Assured Logistics for Digital Food Ecosystems) – to explore how smart labels and blockchain can achieve ground-breaking levels of transparency, reduce food waste and drive consumer confidence. These unique digital IDs can trace, track and monitor in real-time, providing data on food provenance, cold chain conditions, predicted shelf-life and much more.
Whether it’s the way we audit, the data that our activities can now generate or how we use that data to learn, refine and improve, one thing is clear. Technology is the big new conversation for food safety professionals - and where better to have that conversation than in Barcelona at GFSI? I hope to see you there.
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