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FOOD SAFETY

Electronic eye, X-rays required to check qty assurances in F&B industry
Tuesday, 02 May, 2017, 08 : 00 AM [IST]
Rahul Sheth and Arjun Singh Budhiraja
A primer to food safety in India
Of late, food safety concerns have been on the rise worldwide, not only affecting public health and economics, but also international trade. This makes it clear that food safety is a contentious issue that remains to be addressed adequately.

There can be numerous causes for food contamination, namely inadequate hygiene at processing units, the lack of laboratory investigations, the absence of latest technologies for quality control or even insufficientlytrained personnel.

The lack of safety measures in the food and beverage (F&B) industry can even threaten a company’s existence and malign its reputation.

In October 2003, confectionery brand Cadbury had to face the wrath of its loyal customers after worms were found in its Dairy Milk chocolate bar in Maharashtra, India, dragging down the sales volume by 30 per cent.

In 2014, Nestle’s Maggi Noodles lost about 80 per cent of its market share in India after large quantities of monosodium glutamate and lead were found in its samples.

Improvement in food safety is still in its nascent stages, with the adoption of fast-growing technology being the key to ensure maximum quality assurance.

But at the same time, controlling these food contaminations has become much more complex than ever, with the existence of antibiotic-resistant pathogens and potential resistance to traditional food preservation barriers such as thermal processing, cold temperature storage, dry or low-water-activity environments and chemical additives.

In 2016 alone, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), which was in the process of harmonising the Indian food standards with international Codex standards, thereby altering a list of 11,000 permissible food additives overnight.

Despite these regulatory bodies, India tops the list in terms of unsafe food globally, followed by China.

FSSAI reveals that about 13 per cent of the 2.4 lakh samples of various products in India have failed lab tests since 2011, against the global average of failed tests that ranges between five and six per cent.

The sunny future
The food retail market in India is expected to reach $915 billion by 2020. The food processing industry accounts for almost 32 per cent of the country’s total food retail market.

It accounts for approximately 14 per cent of the manufacturing gross domestic product (GDP), 13 per cent of India’s exports and six per cent of total industrial investment, hence food processing has aptly been recognised as a sunrise industry in India, as it provides the vital linkages between the two pillars of our economy – manufacturing and agriculture.
With the sector having tremendous potential, it is certainly important for the F&B industry to pull up its socks in the quality assurance space and make it realise its full potential at a global scale.

In addition, it is important to examine and highlight the notable automation technology trends for food safety that are already in practice, and a few that will progressively gather steam over the next few years to make sure the industry flourishes.

Use of artificial intelligence
The use of artificial intelligence (AI) or robotics in the F&B industry is not just to boost productivity and perform repetitive tasks in a difficult environment, but also to improve food safety.

Human contact is often a source of contamination in the food processing industry. This calls for manufacturers to invest in practical use of robots.

Moreover, the environmental conditions in food production are often complex. Both food and machinery can be the source of corrosive properties (water, acid and salt), while the ambient temperature can range from extremely hot to well below the freezing point.

These conditions justify the use of AI in the F&B sector, and make it a sensible choice for improvements in food safety.

The food processing industry is also adopting new non-destructive, fastand accurate techniques for product quality and safety inspection.

Optical sensing and spectroscopic techniques have a high potential for automated real-time inspection of agricultural and food products.

New-age robotic devices for quality assurance

The Electronic Eye (Computer Vision)

Applications: Sorting and grading in the agriculture and food processing industry, monitoring of product ageing/fermenting, scanning/detecting for foreign substances and checking of colour changes in food processing steps such as cooking, frying, baking, deep freezing, etc.

The Computer Vision is a technology used to acquire the product imagery and then further process it with a combination of optical and electromagnetic sensing technologies.

It is a fast, accurate, and non-invasive technique which also helps for testing of visual quality changes in the course of time at every production step.

This system enables the detection of any imperfections for example, in the meat structure, the onset of food deterioration, which is invisible to the human eye.
 
Electronic Nose
Applications:Todetectthe bacterial growth in foods such as meat and fresh vegetables, measure fish on its freshnessand in the process control of cheese, sausages, beer and  bread manufacturing.

Electronic Nose is an analytical device used to identify and detect a of mixture of odorants, which mimic the principles of the  operation and utility of a human smell.

Specific chemical sensors are used in the device which generate a characteristic odour profile, in response to a contact with a gaseous mixture.

The identification of these mixture components is then made by comparing the obtained odour profile with odour standards.

X-rays
Applications: To scan contaminants, such as glass, bone, rubber, stone or plastic and other impurities that are not detected by metal detectors in processed food.

This is a relatively newer technology and one of the most rapidly spreading in the food quality control domain.

The reason behind this growth is  the increasing number of foreign bodies which could not be identified by metal detectors.

Moreover, X-ray inspection is easy to install, safe and simple to use, even without prior experience.

It quickly and consistently identifies substandard products, thereby reducing product recalls, customer returns and complaints.
 
Handheld devices
Food Scanner

Applications: It provides the calorie content, ingredient and molecular break-up of an array of food items, allergy warnings, etc.

Large-scale importers and traders have created a device about the size of a car clicker to give you the composition, mineral, bacterial, fermentation and other relevant content for food materials to be procured.

The scanner harnesses the power of physics and chemistry to figure out everything from the sugar content of a given product.

The device,called SCiO,and it actually uses a technology similar to the one that helps astronomers figure out the make-up of the stars - called spectroscopy.

Through spectroscopy, an analysis of how matter interacts with different wavelengths of light, it can quickly determine the chemical compounds in a given food, helping companies maintain quality controls and procure the right raw materials always.


Biosensors
Applications: To detect unwanted microbial activity and/or the presence of a biologically active compound, such as glucose or a pesticide in food products.

A biosensor is usually an instrument comprisinga biological sensing element coupled to a transducer for signal processing.
The biological sensing elements include enzymes, organelles, antibodies, whole cells, DNA and tissues.

This technique provides sensitive, miniaturised systems that can be used to detect unwanted microbial.

Immunodiagnostics and enzyme biosensors are two of the leading technologies that have had the greatest impact on the food industry.
 

Track and trace technology
Food safety and traceability are like peanut butter and jelly –you simply cannot have one without the other.

While having a traceability programme in place should be of everyday importance, when it really matters the most is when there is an outbreak of an epidemic due to a contaminated product.

Knowing exactly what you bought and who you bought it from - that is true traceability. It is not only important for manufacturers to know their suppliers, but also exactly where their product is going after it leaves their facility.

A track and trace system offers a mass serialisation solution, typically for pharmaceutical and food companies.

It prints a unique identifying code onto each product after it has been packed. This enables individual products to be traced throughout the supply chain and helps in significantly reducing counterfeiting of products.

Radio-frequency identification (RFID) and barcodes are two common technologies used to deliver traceability.

Outlook
Going forward, India needs to strive and establish a benchmark to serve as a role model on safe food in the larger arena, for which it needs to work on the following:
o    Education and collaboration: This can help improve the food safety landscape in the country. This would essentially involve collaboration between the food manufacturers, the government and stakeholders along the value chain right till the food handlers
o    Infrastructure development for monitoring purposes: Infrastructure development, particularly the establishment of central laboratories equipped with sophisticated instruments to facilitate analysis for contaminants, is going to be an essential component of the national food standards
o    Skilled Personnel: Besides infrastructure development, modern food standard systems call for a science-based and transparent decision-making processes and require access to qualified and trained personnel in relevant disciplines. Addressing the specific training needs of technicians/analysts could be another area of consideration for India to achieve global quality standards
o    End-to-end monitoring While supply chain management from farm to fork is challenging for the food industry, traceability will play a critical part in maintaining the safety requirements that businesses should adopt and maintain to reduce the scope of potential contamination
Looking ahead, the coming years will be immensely exciting for the F&B industry in India. A slew of global brands is entering the country owing to the foreign direct investment (FDI) encouragement by the government.
As they foray, they are likely to introduce a host of self-regulatory concepts, which will contribute to the further growth of the industry at large.

It is heartening to witness food businesses proactively adopting food safety measures. The next decade will witness the evolution of the sector like never before, especially since there is a collaborated objective of ensuring that what lands on the consumer’s plate is the safest and purest form of food.

(Sheth is senior manager and Budhiraja is analyst, Avalon Global Research. They can be contacted at rahuls@avalonglobalresearch.com.)
 
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