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Transportation and the supply chain play a critical role in ensuring the safety of food as it moves from farm to the ultimate consumer, says Wilbur Deck, solutions engineer with Trimble.
SCB: How does the supply chain impact food safety today?
Deck: Food safety is top of mind for a lot of industries right now, especially after the romaine lettuce contamination last Thanksgiving. But the supply chain impacts food safety on a number of levels. It doesn't just happen in the field with managing pesticides and chemicals. As food moves along the supply chain, it goes through primary processing, secondary processing, transportation, and handovers to multiple vendors before reaching its final destination at a restaurant or retailer. There are so many opportunities for issues to arise with food quality.
SCB: How can transportation help to ensure the quality and safety of food?
Deck: Transportation is kind of a black box right now. That's part of why they created the FSMA [Food Safety Modernization Act] regulations. There are seven main tenets. One is focused on the transportation portion, ensuring that carriers are compliant from a temperature standpoint, and that you can download and view that information.
The other main thing FSMA did is shift the onus on food safety from the carriers back to the shippers themselves, giving them more of a stake in the game. Shippers now need to ensure that they're working with good quality carriers; that the equipment is clean, inspected and safe, and that product is being tested and inspected as it comes in. As a shipper, you want to work with carriers that are compliant, that are ahead of the game from a technology standpoint.
SCB: What are some best practices that shippers can employ to make sure they’re choosing the right carriers?
Deck: Having a solid carrier-management strategy in the first place. Treating your carriers like true partners and not as a commodity. Making sure they have the correct equipment, and that they’re providing real-time track-and-trace and temperature updates, so you can monitor shipments while in transit. It’s also about
building a forward-looking strategy, thinking about the end consumer. Everyone wants to know where their products came from, how they were processed, what chemicals were used.
SCB: What’s the state of technology today with regard to tracking, tracing and monitoring of food in transit? Is it sufficient?
Deck: I'd say it's definitely getting there. It's an emerging technology right now. We have sensor technology and IoT [Internet of Things] devices that can be communicated into the cloud. Or you can monitor things in real-time, and provide more proactive and prescriptive management of your supply chain. It's still very fragmented from a transportation perspective, with all the different carriers and types of technology. Shippers also want to invest in their own technology, to pull all that information together and use it to make good decisions overall.
SCB: How do you see the future of this technology?
Deck: Everyone's trying to adjust to what Amazon’s doing — to be able to order not just retail products to your doorstep, but also groceries, and know where it all came from. There's a lot of technology and products coming out now that specifically address those challenges.
SCB: We hear about blockchain as a potential means of improving food safety through tracking and tracing and transactional recording. Do you think that's a future possibility as well?
Deck: It's possible. It's really dependent on the quality of data coming in. You’re dealing with such a fragmented carrier market right now. People are drowning in a sea of data. It's a garbage-in, garbage-out scenario, where if you don't have good data coming into the blockchain, it's going to break down overall. I like the concept that it provides, but each handoff along the process has to be clean.
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