Food safety concerns underscore need for tech-based tracing

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    By Aik Jin Tan
    Vertical Solutions Lead, Zebra Technologies Asia Pacific 

    As restaurants, bars and hotels cautiously reopen to mitigate the impact of the pandemic on the food and beverage industry, food safety remains a primary concern for food manufacturers and suppliers alongside personnel health. Strict implementation of proper food safety and handling protocols across the supply chain is crucial.

    Consumers’ food safety concerns include restaurant kitchen and wait staff hygiene, foodborne outbreaks, illnesses from contaminated food, and food and beverage recalls, according to the Food Safety Supply Chain Vision Study conducted by Zebra Technologies. The survey shows that consumers can be quite unforgiving if they experience an undesirable food incident, with 6 in 10 reporting that they would never eat at a restaurant again if they contracted a foodborne illness or experienced food poisoning.

    Slightly more than 80% of surveyed consumers said companies have an important role to play in implementing food safety solutions and an ethical responsibility to ensure the safe handling of their food. Most consumers (70%) said it is important that they know how their food and ingredients are manufactured, prepared and handled while 69% agreed that knowing how their food is sourced is also important.

    Given the increased focus on health and wellness, it is unsurprising that both consumers and industry decision-makers are showing a great level of interest in the source, quality, and safety of their food. However, a disconnect exists between what consumers believe and what industry decision-makers think. Seven in 10 (69%) decision-makers said the industry is prepared to manage food traceability and transparency, but only 35% of consumers agreed. Furthermore, only 13% of consumers felt that the industry is extremely prepared today to manage food traceability and be transparent about how food travels through the supply chain, whereas 27% of decision-makers reported feeling this way. Unfortunately, this is not just a short-term challenge as half (51%) of the surveyed food and beverage decision-makers said meeting consumer expectations will remain a challenge in the next five years.

    Findings from the study show that while the industry is taking measures to ensure a more transparent supply chain, more work needs to be done in order to increase consumer confidence and improve food traceability. Businesses naturally have more information available to them. To improve consumers’ faith in their food sources, businesses can provide them with access to the same information.

    In fact, the current Philippines law mandates that traceability should be established for food at relevant stages from production to distribution.  As such, food business operators must have in place a traceability system that can indicate the source(s) and intended destination of food and/or food ingredients, in order to control possible foodborne outbreaks.

    Another key finding identified in the Zebra research is the role that technology can play in closing the gaps in both the short- and long-term. An overwhelming majority (90%) of decision-makers acknowledged that investments in traceability-focused solutions will provide them with a competitive advantage by enabling them to meet the expectations of consumers. When asked about the top benefits that technology-based track and trace solutions would provide, 6 in 10 decision-makers cited risk reductions with proper handling, transportation and storage, and tracking product perishability. Forty-one percent of industry decision-makers reported that RFID tags improve food traceability within the supply chain more than any other technology, yet only 31 percent of businesses currently use them within their own organizations.

    Mobile computers and tablets, mobile barcode label printers, scanners, and specialty labels and tags will also be key enablers in winning consumer trust and delivering more transparent information to consumers. Approximately 90 percent of surveyed industry decision-makers expect to use rugged handheld mobile computers with scanners, barcode scanners and mobile barcode label printers in the next five years to digitally manage and track food products and related information.

    Zebra offers a portfolio of solutions that transforms the food supply chain from farm to fork. Businesses can choose from basic track and trace solutions by pairing up the likes of Zebra’s ZQ511 and ZQ521 mobile printers with the CS60 Series companion scanner for barcode printing and scanning. Otherwise, they can opt for RFID solutions by pairing up the likes of the ZQ511 and ZQ521 RFID mobile printers that produce RFID-enabled labels with handheld RFID readers and RFID-enabled scanners. By doing so, businesses will be empowered with real-time visibility that takes their track and trace efforts to a whole new level.

    To find out more about Zebra’s food safety supply chain solutions, please visit HERE.

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