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Review of IFST Spring Conference 2018 (SC18)

IFST Spring Conference 2018

With the stimulating title ‘Managing Food Risk: Future Tools and Technologies’, our Spring Conference (SC18) took place on 19 April 2018 at the University of Birmingham.

The event was opened by our President, David Gregory, and chaired by Professor Lisa Jack (University of Portsmouth), who introduced the concept of ‘think like a criminal’ for designing solutions to fraud.

With the initial focus on ‘Technologies for Consumer Health and Safety’, the first session, ‘To be or not to be, that is the question. Shakespeare’s Hamlet addresses life, death and the nature of existence’ by Professor Ian Charles (Quadram Institute) referenced the absence of something that should be there, i.e. the dog that didn’t bark in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s ‘Silver Blaze’ novel, and explained how a better understanding of conditions supporting microbial growth and survival in the food chain is crucial for food safety and reducing antimicrobial resistance (AMR), and that more surveillance is required from the food sector. 

Trumping the US with a paradigm shift in food risk’ by Daniel Hurley (UCD, Centre for Food Safety) discussed: global food security rankings, ‘sequencing alliance for food environments’ (SAFE), improving food safety through advances in whole genome sequencing based surveillance, GenomeTrakr to support management of foodborne outbreaks and how transposon-directed insertion sequencing (TraDIS) facilitates bacterial responses to environmental conditions. 

John Graydon (Siemens), a specialist in food industry software solutions, presented on ‘The Digital Twin for the food consumer: ensuring data integrity’ showing that creating virtual copies and simulation can optimise products and processes. He highlighted the importance of food chain integrated data systems (intra-company and supplier collaboration) from product design stage, concluding that the right technology, observations and data become the right information.

The topics progressed to ‘Tracking and Tracing Technologies’, with James Flynn (Primority) covering the use of technology to rapidly transform food safety and supply chain transparency, e.g. traceability and authenticity, in ‘Everything you need to know about Blockchain (but were too afraid to ask!)’.  James explained how this database technology will potentially create disruptive, transformative innovation, and when applied to food supply chains will provide competitive advantage, hence the need for industry to be informed and ready. Regarding security, blockchains, which are a decentralised way to reach consensus, can be permissioned to maintain commercial sensitivity with costs relating to access of database ‘nodes’. 

James Stafford (Avery Dennison) stressed how radio frequency identification (RFID) can improve business profitability and customer service but appreciated the need for businesses to build a business case to justify investment. The topic was entitled ‘RFID Tracking Technology, short term gains and long-term benefits’ and referenced the application to shipping trays and pilots for individual items (meat and ready meals), including best before dates. Other consumer benefits of UHF RFID labelling are in e-commerce and for faster self-checkout at retailers.

This was expanded with ‘Embedded RFID on pack technology’ by Professor Bob Stevens (Nottingham Trent University), who develops electronic printing inks e.g. in-mould labels (RFID-IML) programmed at the filling stage to support an immutable global food blockchain.  He explained how cost effective smart hybrid labels will transform supply chains to deliver safer food with consumer benefits and features, such as labels that light up. The challenge of introducing new and disruptive features to conventional food packing lines, whilst maintaining productivity and cost-effectiveness, are demanding.

The afternoon’s focus was ‘Future Assurance’ and Vincent Doumeizel (Lloyd’s Register) introduced ‘The future of food audits’.  Less people are living in absolute poverty but there is increased consumer demand e.g. quality, security, sustainability, protection and food safety (classified as ‘data’ and ‘life’ sciences). The challenges for responsible and resilient supply chains are population growth, fraud, climate change, DNA sequencing and new technologies. Assurance mechanisms are changing with the need for more remote audits, due to insufficient resource and the requirement for improved communication as systems are outdated. 

Brian Courchesne (Schneider Electric) introduced ‘Why cybersecurity matters in the food and beverage sector now’ as cyber attacks are growing exponentially. Threats can be posed by hackers, criminals and insiders, as well as from espionage, terrorism and warfare. A comprehensive defence approach requires identification and recovery stages as well as protecting, detecting and responding, focusing on people, process and technology to protect brands, reputation and assets.

‘The world through the auditor’s eyes - alternative global auditing solutions’ by Rob Chester (NSF) discussed remote auditing in more detail with the use of augmented reality (AR) glasses and benefits of artificial intelligence (AI) to eliminate operator error. A system was discussed to predict changing risk, using big data, to enable prioritisation for intervention and continuous improvement. Culture remains a significant challenge and the prediction is that most technologies that will be dominant in 30 years time have yet to be invented. 

The chair concluded the day by providing a useful round up of these topics.

Presentations are available for members on the IFST website.


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