The Internet of Things can be used to determine if a food product is contaminated or is past its due date.
RISK REPORT: FOOD SUPPLY
How the IoT Is Making Food
use the Internet
of Things to help
clients have adequate
processes in place.
The Internet of Things is improving transparency within the food supply chain — from farm production, to monitoring processing and shipping, to determining food quality on grocery store shelves and even in home refrigerators. “Io T is becoming increasingly important, especially within the food
supply chain, as consumers want to learn more from farm to fork,” said Shaun
Kirby, a director at Cisco Consulting Services in San Jose.
“Io T helps companies collect and track information to address issues in a
timely manner, such as problems that could cause foodborne illnesses.”
Cisco, in conjunction with Penelope S.p.A. and NTT DATA, helped the
Barilla Group implement a platform called Safety for Food, enabling consumers
to trace the production chain for the ingredients in their food. Powered by
ValueGo® software, consumers scan a QR code on the back of products to access
a website that tells the story of the specific batch of the product they bought —
from where the ingredients were grown to how the product arrived on the store
More companies are using “fog computing” in the field to analyze data from
Io T devices faster, Kirby said. For example, a sensor on a truck could catch a dip
in temperature, transmit the information to the cloud and take local action to
correct the situation, he said.
“Fog computing enables companies to make more intelligent decisions at
the edge, where devices are very low cost and constrained, or the actions can be
coordinated at higher levels on [the] cloud.”
Other devices include ethylene gas sensors that detect produce spoilage on
trucks, in warehouses or on grocery shelves, and hyperspectral cameras that detect
light reflected from foods to determine whether they’ve gone off, Kirby said.
“These applications could one day be used throughout the supply chain, but
right now, they are large and expensive to install, so they’re better suited for large
centralized facilities,” he said. “As the sensors become more commoditized, they
will become smaller and less expensive, so they can be used downstream within
the supply chain.”
Cisco’s experts are watching the development of a new infrared spectrometer for
consumer use. It’s a pocket-sized device that conducts chemical spectrum analysis
on almost any product, Kirby said.
A significant challenge is managing data collected from all of these devices.
Today, there are about 200 devices per information technology worker to manage,
but as the use of Io T increases that number could jump to 1 million devices.
Sean Riley, global industry director of manufacturing and transportation at
Reston, Va.-based Software AG, said companies can utilize sensor data related to the
food products to ensure optimal quality.
“Spoilage … is not necessarily noticed in advance, especially when it is a
product that is going to be utilized in the processing of a finished food,” said Riley,
who works from Chicago.
“Testing can be used to determine the state of the product at that time and
then be used to draw inferences to the life left of that product, but it requires time
Data from Io T devices throughout the food supply chain can be coordinated to
ensure products are handled appropriately with regard to temperature, light and
other environmental metrics, he said.
“For example, bananas spend a
significant amount of time ripening
and the amount of airborne chemical
used to ripen them is selected at the
beginning of the journey,” Riley said.
“An Io T sensor can provide
information regarding the ripening
process and may be used to trigger an
event to inject more or less chemical
into the environment to shorten or
lengthen the ripening process. This
would, of course, be based on the in-
“As IoT evolves, I envision
it will help us proactively
contamination from happening
— Richard Bladek, national underwriting manager
of food and beverage, Starr Companies
• Io T can significantly reduce the
risk of food spoilage.
• As Io T evolves, the devices will help
prevent foodborne contamination
from happening altogether.
• The technology will make the
liability equation within the supply
chain more complex.