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Do We Eat Good Food?

In a quick-paced, busy society, eating may be one of those things we do routinely, without giving much thought about the quality of the food we eat.

We assume is good, but is this really the case?

In this article, we will delve into the food supply chain to learn how traceability technology can raise awareness of where things come from and increases trust towards manufacturers and suppliers.

What is “good food”? The answer may differ according to individual preferences, of course. Let’s start from the United Nations’ Good Food For All to understand why it is so important: ‘good food keeps us healthy, helps us reach our potential, strengthens our communities, powers our economies, and protects our planet.’ The impact of good food is not just linked to good farming practice, but to the whole supply chain.

To verify if food is safe, healthy, and good for us to eat, it is important to understand what stages it goes through before appearing on our plates.

The key stages of the food supply chain are the following:

1. Agricultural production

  • Crop farming - the journey of most foods begins on farms, where crops such as grains, vegetables, fruits, and legumes are grown. Farmers may use a combination of traditional and modern agricultural practices to nurture and harvest their crops.

  • Livestock farming – that is the initial stage to obtain animal-derived products like meat, dairy, and eggs, livestock farming.

2. Processing and Packaging

  • Harvesting and gathering - after crops are ready, they are harvested by machinery or handpicked, depending on the crop. Livestock is often transported to processing facilities.

  • Processing - once harvested or slaughtered, the products undergo various processing steps according to their nature. For example, grains are milled into flour, fruits may be canned or juiced, and meat is butchered and prepared for distribution.

  • Packaging - Processed foods are packaged in containers that protect them from contamination and maintain their freshness. Packaging also serves to label and brand them.

3. Distribution

  • Transport - food products are transported from production facilities to distribution centres and warehouses. Finally, the reach the retailers. Transport can involve a complex network of trucks, ships, trains, and planes.

  • Storage - at distribution centres and warehouses, food products are stored in controlled environments to preserve their quality and safety.

  • Retail - food products are made available to consumers through various retail outlets, including grocery stores, supermarkets, farmers’ markets, and restaurants.

4. Consumption

  • Preparation - consumers purchase food products and prepare them for consumption in their homes. Restaurants do the same for their clients.

  • Consumption - at this stage, any food is enjoyed and nourishes the individuals and families who consume it.

In 2020, the European Institute for Innovation & Technology (EIT) published The Food Trust Report, that shows the outcome of a survey about the confidence in the integrity of food products amongst European consumers. People from 18 European countries, including the UK, took part in this study. Their trust in manufacturers, farmers, retailers, and authorities (regulating the food system) was analysed. Farmers scored the highest level of trust, with 67% consumers trusting them versus 13% consumers who did not, followed by retailers (53% vs 20%), authorities (47% vs 29%). Manufacturers were the least trusted, scoring 46% positive answers with 26% consumers lacking trust in them.

The complexity of the contemporary supply chain means that our shop shelves often offer different, delicious, and exotic products, but they make quite a long journey to be brought to us. Hence, current food production can cause challenges such as the following:

1. Sustainability: sustainable food production is a growing concern due to its impact on the environment. Issues like deforestation, overuse of water resources, and greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture are major concerns.

2. Food Safety: ensuring the safety of food products is essential to prevent foodborne illnesses. Proper hygiene and quality control measures are critical.

3. Global Supply Chain: the increasing globalisation of food production has made supply chains longer and more complex, raising concerns about food security and resilience.

4. Waste Management: Food waste is a significant issue, both at the production and consumer levels. Reducing waste and improving food distribution can help address this problem.

Consumer awareness, trust, and food safety can be achieved thanks to traceability and product digitisation. Traceability technology for food can help fight food fraud and become a requirement for regulations regarding food safety and authenticity (E. Lequerne, 2022).

According to the World Economic Forum definition (L. Roy, 2019), ‘traceability is the capacity to verify the history, location or status of an item by means of documented identification. Merging serialization – assigning unique identifiers to products ranging from consumer goods to complex medical devices – with smart manufacturing and traceability is the first step towards complete, end-to-end visibility over supply chains.’

Disruptive technologies, such as artificial intelligence, IoT, blockchain and collaborative platforms, can take traceability systems to another level, offering detailed reports on the status and movements of any product and creating direct links between the various stakeholders along the supply chain, from producers to end users (WEF, 2022).

Precision agriculture approaches on farm and throughout the supply chain can enhance traceability and gradually bring benefits to the final quality and safety of food.

Farmer Charlie (FC) technology, including sensors, data collection and connectivity can support your sustainable farming practices. Send us an email to find out how!

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