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Innovations in Food Safety at GFSI Tokyo

By Laura Dunn Nelson   |   

We saw a real revolution underway at this year’s GFSI’s Global Food Safety Conference in Tokyo. Recent innovations in data and technology are making it possible for food companies to create more effective methods of advancing food safety. Likewise, customers are using technology to their advantage. They’re no longer passive in their purchases, and have become more empowered to make informed buying decisions and influence others.

Here are a few ideas from the conference on how innovation can lead to better food safety.


Customer Feedback “Prime” for Food Safety

More and more customers are interacting with food industry brands online and through social media. One global company has leveraged this as an opportunity to address food safety concerns as soon as possible — before it becomes a major issue. Amazon receives 2.5 million customer comments in 40 different languages — every day.

Carletta Ooton, Amazon’s VP of Health and Safety, Sustainability, Security & Compliance shared a great example of the impact of customer interaction at her company. To separate food safety comments from general feedback, the Amazon team applied machine learning to detect the comments requiring immediate response. Using trillions of data feeds gathered over many years, Amazon was able develop a model for detecting key words related to food safety that require escalation. Once these key words are detected, the Amazon food safety team follows a specific process to address the issue, including rapidly eliminating the suspect supplier product from commerce. This technology has the power to alert Amazon of a possible supplier product issue — even before the supplier is aware.


Big Data to Detect Pathogens

Big data and new technological tools are also being used for new pathogen detection methods and more effective root cause analysis. Over the last 20 years, as we have moved from using early PulseNet to Whole Genome Sequencing, we’ve seen a significant spike in Listeria outbreaks. Why? Better detection methods. Applying WGS technology enables us to more definitively differentiate pathogens from non-pathogens — potentially saving the industry costly recall expenses.

Dr. Martin Weidmann, Gellert Family Professor in Food Safety at Cornell University shared his thoughts on how “the age of precision food safety” presents a paradigm shift in food safety including:

  • Improved outbreak detection and surveillance
  • Improved source tracking
  • Improved definition and identification of pathogens
  • Shift to predictive and pro-active rather than reactive approaches
  • Machine learning
  • Artificial Intelligence

Another thing to watch for: Dr. Weidmann discussed how ‘metagenomics’ – the characterization of all genetic material in a sample (example: milk) is increasingly being used by FDA and other regulatory agencies worldwide to provide valuable opportunities for assuring food safety and quality.


Technology to Fight World Hunger

We also heard about how technology is being used to address world hunger. Food companies are always looking for ways to address this humanitarian issue. Dr. Yuki Hanyu, representative of Shojinmeat Project & CEO of Integriculture, shared one possible approach to our challenge in feeding 9 billion people in 2050.  Given the future challenges of energy resources, land use, and water use, new approaches are needed. 

Shojinmeat has developed technology to grow “clean meat” in the laboratory. (Need a visual? Check out this clean fois gras demonstration). One project even has elementary children growing artificial meat in their homes. Does a seven-year old growing meat in a petri dish sound impossible? Clearly there are challenges associated with this approach, including how this product might be regulated. Is it agriculture or processed meats?)  Anticipating these challenges, Shojinmeat has embraced “radical transparency” in their ongoing communication efforts.

So many interesting panels and presentations seen in Tokyo and many more to come! How have you noticed big data or technology impacting food safety? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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