dispatches from IPACK-IMA 2015, Milan

Bühler evaluating how IoT might improve food safety

The Bühler stand at IPACK-IMA

Bühler has said the Internet of Things (IoT) could be one way of improving the safety of food and feed in the future.

The firm gave its view on food safety during a media event at IPACK-IMA featuring Lucio Quaglia (owner of Molino Quaglia), one of its customers.

Béatrice Conde-Petit, food safety officer for the firm, said the IoT was one of the technologies it was evaluating.

“With numerous sensors networked to each other, it will soon be possible to monitor the storage conditions of raw materials, as well as complex production processes in real time, with regard to parameters such as moisture or temperature,” she said.

“This technology could make a further substantial contribution to increasing safety in the food industry.”  

Traceability and documentation

Conde-Petit, who is also scientific director of the analytical laboratory in Uzwil, said manufacturers must prove to customers they have done everything to ensure safety.

However, if products must be recalled at some point, complete traceability is all the more important,” she said.

“If we want to achieve the highest possible safety in the complex and often cross-national processing chains, the documentation of processes becomes even more important in the future.”

There is no catch-all solution to control food safety which each hazard and practice requiring customization, said Conde-Petit.

“In our experience, the key to food and feed safety is a combination of measures such as careful hazard analysis along the entire processing chain and an intelligent process design, which minimizes the development and transmission of hazards or specifically eliminates these,” she added.

“This is in addition to the high level of hygiene required in factories and facilities.”

Complex processing chains

Bühler said the task is made more difficult by complex processing chains.

From harvesting grains to the grinding of flour or semolina and production of pastas or breakfast cereals, there are countless possible entry points for bacteria, mold, insects or foreign materials.

Contamination can occur in the fields or during the production process – through improper storage of raw materials, deficient hygiene during processing or ineffective packaging.

Food manufacturers must do a comprehensive risk analysis along the processing chain for each hazard and define the specific point at which each danger can best be put under control, the firm added.

Conde-Petit said food is increasingly being processed industrially around the world.

“Consumers are changing their consumption habits, are cooking less frequently, and are increasingly delegating food safety assurances to food processors. On the other hand, the threat posed by microorganisms or mycotoxins has increased in recent years,” she said.

“Furthermore, and especially in western industrial countries, food allergies are an acute problem: non declared allergens such as peanuts, soy, or gluten are major contributors to the recall of food products and cost the industry millions every year.”

Bühler said perceptions of dangers have changed, such as Salmonella being previously thought to pose a hazard only in animal-based products.

However, it is now known these disease-causing microorganisms can be present in plant-based foods such as cereal grains, nuts or chocolate.

Microorganisms such as Salmonella can be killed with a thermal treatment. In breakfast cereal manufacture, this happens during extrusion, when the mixture of meal and water is cooked. 

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