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What does the future of food safety look like?

January 29, 2018

National Restaurant Association - January 29, 2018

The use of new technology will help foodservice businesses respond more quickly and efficiently to foodborne illness outbreaks, according to food safety expert Beth Johnson. Johnson, CEO of Washington, D.C.-based Food Directions, recently addressed our Quality Assurance Executive Study Group (QA ESG) on the future of food safety. She observed that in the near future, “we’re likely going to see a change in the amount of data available,” and it “will allow us to understand better how foodborne illness happens, what makes a pathogen occur in the first place and how it goes through the supply chain.”

New technology will determine more quickly what caused a food borne illness outbreak to occur.

Operators, Johnson said, would know, perhaps within as little as one day, what food caused the outbreak, the identity of the pathogen, the structure of its DNA, and the location where the problem originated. More accurate and timely data would allow companies to remove potentially contaminated food from the supply chain more quickly, and restaurants would be able to respond much faster.

Four of the most anticipated advances in technology are:

  • Whole genome sequencing, which allows public health agencies to trace back data some 10 or 15 years and determine where the pathogen originated from
  • Wearable technology, which will help with food safety audits
  • Predictive analytics, which will assist experts with their data collection to determine how and where to focus their efforts
  • Blockchain technology, which will significantly speed up the trace-back process​

Google and NSF International are working on eyeglasses that can guide untrained auditors through the audit process.

She also said Google and NSF International are working to develop eyeglasses that can guide untrained auditors through the audit process. “Imagine you’re maybe in a foreign country or a place where you need more information,” she said. “By using wearable technology, you could have access to information that, literally, would help you know what to do.”

The food industry has collected a tremendous amount of information, but the data hasn’t been well aggregated or analyzed. Johnson noted that blockchain technology could be used to address this problem because it’s based on a decentralized data system. Everyone could quickly upload their individual data, which could help inform inspectors on emerging pathogens and issues.

“Things are moving quickly,” she said. “The food safety environment is going to be very different. We’re still going to have pathogens, but how we handle them and how they’re managed will change.”

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