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Anuga FoodTec India 2022

Technologies augmenting the current food traceability systems


Tetrapak's Connected Package allows food and beverage producers to turn their packages into full-scale data carriers offering increased traceabilityPhoto - TetraPak

Author -  Insha Naureen

Food traceability has a huge impact on food safety. It helps track, trace, and document the movement of products across the entire supply chain. This assures manufacturers that their products are safe and of high quality. Additionally, traceability allows the mitigation of expensive recall risks and informs consumers of the origin of the food they consume.

The food traceability sector is undergoing an uprising by way of advanced technologies and innovation that foster accuracy and efficiency in tracking food from farm to fork. New tools such as blockchain-enabled track and trace systems, smart labels, and integrated platforms ensure that food safety standards are followed, in turn leading to consumer confidence in the food they consume. These novel technologies help brands respond quickly to food safety issues and offer superior consumer transparency. This advocates a safer and stronger supply chain and makes it important for food companies to be aware of the latest developments taking place in this field.

In today’s world, globalization has increased, the importance of record-keeping has increased, and conventional methods are sometimes not sufficient. New techniques and concepts bring forth new opportunities for augmenting the compatibility and productivity of the current traceability systems. These are discussed below.

RFID- Radio Frequency Identification

RFID is a form of a wireless communication system that uses electromagnetic or electrostatic coupling in the radio frequency portion of the electromagnetic spectrum to uniquely identify a product. It consists of two components- tags and readers. Readers are devices that emit radio waves from the antenna and receive signals from the tags. Tags utilize radio waves to transmit their identity to readers in their vicinity.  

RFID identifies products without physical contact and allows information sharing with systematic customization and handling. It helps food manufacturers save time in tracking their inventory, which can be tracked at the lot level. This gives them an insight into the overall condition of their warehouse. Even if the product is dense or stored close to each other, RFID can read the tags through them.

RFID systems can be of three types-

  • Low frequency- Ranging from 30 KHz to 500 KHz, short transmission ranges from a few inches to less than six feet
  • High frequency- Ranging from 3 MHz to 30 MHz, standard range from a few inches to several feet
  • UHF (Ultra high frequency)- Ranging from 300 MHz to 960 MHz, and can generally be read from 25-plus feet away.
  • Microwave RFID systems- Running at 2.45 GHz and can be read from more than 30 feet away

There are some challenges faced while using RFID. One is reader collision, where one reader interferes with another. This can be avoided by using an anti-collision protocol that makes RFID tags transmit to their reader alternately. Another issue encountered is tag collision, which occurs when an RFID reader is confused by receiving data from too many tags. This can be avoided by selecting a reader that collects tag information one at a time.

Stable isotope analysis

Stable isotopes are the unique chemical signatures that allow the products to be traced and detected. They can be measured experimentally to give an isotope ratio that acts as a research tool. Analyzing them can trace the geographical origin of food and beverage products. Stable isotope analysis, along with techniques like Isotope Ratio Mass Spectrometry (IRMS), inductively coupled plasma mass (ICP-MS), chromatography, and near-infrared spectroscopy provides a positive approach to the authenticity and traceability of food products.

Isotope fingerprinting can differentiate products based on

  • geographical region (cheese, coffee, sugar, fish)
  • botanical processes (beans, seeds, olive oil, vanilla)
  • soil and fertilization processes (fruits and vegetables)
  • fraudulent practices (sugar addition to honey, watering of wines and spirits).

These processes can be traced using the isotopes of carbon, nitrogen, sulfur, oxygen, and hydrogen with their variations indicating the origin and history of food and beverage products. According to research, the method has successfully been used to identify and differentiate products like milk, meat, wine, cereal crops, and oil.

Stable isotope analysis is a robust tool in food safety and traceability because it provides explicit evidence of food adulteration or substitution in cases where the adulterated food seems to be chemically and physically identical to the genuine product.

DNA barcoding

DNA barcoding is a cutting-edge molecular-based technology that is used to identify biological samples and for the identification of raw materials and processed food. DNA barcoding is a sensitive, fast, cheap, and reliable method for tracking a wide range of raw materials and derived food commodities (even strongly processed food). It also helps in detecting potential allergens or poisonous components in food matrices.

In Europe, the method is being used to identify some types of processed foods like tea, purees, fruit in yogurt and juices, and chocolates. It has also been proven to be especially effective in the traceability of seafood and can be considered a potential method to trace mammalian meat or raw milk.

According to European researchers, the use of DNA barcoding as a tool for traceability is advantageous. There is, however a lot of work to be done before it becomes widely implemented in the food industry. Owing to its sensitivity, fast results, and reliability, soon DNA barcoding is set to become a routine test in many fields, and that includes food quality control and traceability.

Intelligent traceability

Researchers say that traceability should be an integral part of logistics management. This will facilitate information storage on the go and retrieval at any moment is possible. A proposed quality-oriented tracking and tracing system (QTT) represents a great alliance between traceability and logistics, thus improving the supply chain. For instance, the integration of QTT with FEFO (First Expire First Out) can enhance supply chain efficiency.

With globalization, worldwide trade partnerships are increasing. This is leading to an increase in the demand for food traceability solutions. They make it easy for companies to track and trace items that have been contaminated. They also help companies incur lower losses due to product recalls and ensures consumer safety. These factors point towards the future growth of food traceability as its benefits and role in the supply chain are realized by companies around the world.  

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