The Indian food industry is a giant, providing plenty of choices and serving an ever-increasing number of people. Yet, communicating food safety in this vast and complicated system is challenging. Traditional methods take a long time and are primarily reactive, leaving consumers at risk with little warning. However, the situation is improving.

Technological advancements have recently launched a new era of food safety in terms of change in how food is produced, traced, and delivered to your table.

“Blockchain is leading the way” is the idea driving innovation. Unlike a centralised ledger, it is a self-enflaming distributed ledger, which documents each step food takes from farm to plate. In simpler terms, blockchain technology is like a digital, unchangeable record book that tracks the journey of food.

For instance, consider an apple that has been from Alphonso, Maharashtra, in your mind. Blockchain technology can follow the apple throughout its travel – from the orchard to the processor, the processor to the store, and the local grocery store – thus being the true source of traceability. This visibility, in turn, gives consumers the power to make informed decisions, hence determining with certainty the variety and quality of the food they buy.

Traceability isn’t the only domain of transparency; it also helps quickly stall the contamination process in case of any sourcing error or infected lot.

Blockchain technology enables public health authorities to trace the origin of foodborne illness within just a few minutes, and it is one of the most efficient ways to stop the spread of infection in the environment. Plus, blockchain can enhance a fast food recall process, which only involves the removal of potentially contaminated products from the shelves.

Inspecting food via artificial intelligence (AI) automation is another game changer regarding food safety. The technology involves the application of smart algorithms and machine learning to detect and recognise visual defects, contaminants and other potential hazards in the analysed food products.

For example, AI can be used to identify foreign objects in food, such as metal or plastic, that may not be visible to the human eye. The era where only manual inspection is solely relied on is over, and it is subject to human error and fatigue. Automated inspection is the best quality control that is precise, distinctly fast, and non-stop; this reduces the chances of contaminated food being consumed by consumers by a bigger margin.

Sensors have revolutionised the manufacture of food safety technology. Integrated into packaging, storage, and transportation vehicles, these magical nanothings generate hypothetical temperature, humidity, and spoilage magnitude data.

The application of this data is mainly constrained to improving storage conditions, predicting food spoilage, and guaranteeing a safe and fresh delivery of food. Imagine a sensor in your milk carton that signals you if the temperature goes beyond the safe limit. Such an action helps you make the right decisions.

Here’s a glimpse into how these technologies are impacting India’s food safety landscape:

  • Walmart India, a key player in the food industry, partnered with IBM, a technology leader, to implement a blockchain solution for tracking imported mangoes. This collaboration ensures transparency and facilitates faster customs clearance, demonstrating the power of public-private partnerships in driving technological advancements in food safety.
  • ITC Ltd., a leading Indian conglomerate, is leveraging blockchain to track the provenance of its spices, offering consumers greater confidence in the product’s authenticity and quality.
  • Bigbasket, a prominent online grocery retailer, is exploring automated inspection systems to ensure the quality and freshness of fruits and vegetables before delivery.

Benefits of Technological Advancements in Food Safety

Empowering Consumers

  • Empowering Choices: Technology equips consumers with comprehensive information about their food’s origin, processing, and journey. This transparency empowers them to make choices that align with their values, such as supporting local farmers or opting for organic produce, enhancing their sense of control and security.
  • Increased Trust: Traceability fosters trust in the food system. Consumers can be confident about the quality and safety of the food they purchase, leading to a more positive relationship with food companies.

Enhanced Visibility and Traceability

  • Improved Outbreak Response: Real-time data from sensors and blockchain records enable authorities to pinpoint the source of contamination swiftly in case of outbreaks. This minimises the spread of foodborne illnesses and facilitates targeted interventions.
  • Reduced Food Waste: Improved monitoring throughout the supply chain allows for optimised storage conditions and transportation practices, minimising food spoilage and waste.

Improved Efficiency and Reduced Costs

  • Streamlined Processes: Automating inspections and record-keeping through blockchain and digital tools reduces manual labour and streamlines processes, leading to significant efficiency gains. This optimistic outlook on the future of food safety underscores the potential for cost savings and improved operations.
  • Faster Recalls: Precise traceability allows for targeted recalls of only contaminated products, minimising business disruption and financial losses.

Stronger Public Health

  • Protecting Public Health: Technological advancements in food safety have significantly reduced foodborne illnesses, safeguarding public health and well-being. This reassures the audience about the safety of the food they consume.
  • Improved Food Quality: Enhanced monitoring throughout the supply chain ensures food products maintain the highest quality standards, delivering a safer and healthier food experience for consumers.

Challenges and Considerations

Infrastructure and Integration Costs

  • Upfront Investment: Implementing advanced technologies like blockchain and automated inspection systems requires significant upfront investment in infrastructure, hardware, and software. This can be a hurdle for smaller players in the food supply chain. However, it’s important to note that the long-term benefits, such as improved food safety and reduced costs, often outweigh the initial investment.
  • Integration Complexity: Integrating these technologies with existing legacy systems within the food industry can be complex and time-consuming. Businesses must invest expertise and resources to ensure seamless integration and data flow.

Standardisation and Regulations

  • Clear Regulations: The rapid pace of technological innovation necessitates the development of clear regulations and standards for data security, privacy, and the use of these technologies within the food supply chain. This ensures consistency, consumer trust, and fair business practices.
  • Global Harmonisation: Food production and trade are increasingly globalised. Establishing harmonised standards across different countries is crucial to ensuring the seamless flow of safe food and avoiding potential trade barriers.

Digital Divide

  • Rural Connectivity: Many of India’s population resides in rural areas with limited access to reliable internet connectivity. Bridging this digital divide is essential to ensure equitable access to the benefits of these advancements. Initiatives are needed to create awareness, educate farmers and consumers, and provide affordable technology solutions in these communities.

Cybersecurity Threats

  • Data Security: The rise of interconnected systems within the food supply chain creates new cybersecurity vulnerabilities. Robust data security protocols are necessary to safeguard sensitive information and prevent potential breaches that could disrupt operations or compromise consumer privacy.
  • Technical Expertise: Implementing and maintaining these technologies requires a skilled workforce with expertise in cybersecurity, data analytics, and system integration.

Conclusion

We are approaching a bright future in terms of food security in India. Technical developments like blockchain, automated inspections, and sensors are impacting how food is supplied and how food is traced and distributed. With its high precision, transparency, and efficiency, the changing environment created by these innovations is vital for strengthening the food systems.

Through blockchain implementation, potential consumers can learn about the background of their food and how it came into being. They will be able to make decisions that build relationships between their values and their choices.

Traceability also benefits the food system as it allows consumers to verify whether food is of good quality and safe. Furthermore, real-time sources from sensors and blockchain data enable authorities to trace the origin of contamination quickly if an outbreak occurs, reducing the spread of disease.

Innovative AI-driven inspection systems provide high-level accuracy, time efficiency, and around-the-clock reliability, significantly diminishing the chance of consumers finding contaminated food on the market.

These factors, combined with enhanced policing within the supply chain using sensors, significantly reduce food spoilage and loss. In general, such solutions are leading to a stronger system for public health and healthier cuisine for all.

Nonetheless, the way ahead is not without its obstacles. Massive funding must be allocated to infrastructure development and ways to integrate these technologies into India’s vast traditional food culture.

Regulations and data security rules must be systematised and transparent to the information systems and the technical use of devices within the food supply chain. Besides, the digital gap must be overcome in rural areas to get a fair representation of the benefits derived from these advancements.

Although they pose various difficulties, the upsides are too good to be ignored. When we align all the players involved in the food system—consumers, producers, regulators, and tech experts—we can collectively create a future where food safety is not a privilege but a requirement.

Consumers can become the path of necessity for businesses to be transparent by demanding such actions from food companies and favouring these businesses that are focused on the food industry’s safety. Companies would have to consider these innovations and work with different groups of people to develop a secure food system. The government can create the rules for the technology to flourish and innovation to take place while ensuring data privacy and security are guaranteed.

Addressing the future of food safety in India is a shared responsibility of all of us. Using technology, creating collaboration, and providing consumers with trust can serve as tools to build an ecologically friendly and safe food future for generations to follow.

Let us, through coordination, achieve that every meal in India is served with healthy, nutritious and tasty meals.

Must Read: From Bugs to Burgers: Can Insect Protein Revolutionize Food Production?