Robots don’t eat the food, but they do make it safer
Robots play a large part in the increasing quality and traceability of our food supply.
These days it seems like food product recalls are a weekly if not daily occurrence and, thanks to the Internet, consumers have access to much more information about these recalls than ever before. This new glut of information has led to a growing awareness among consumers of their “kitchen table” life cycle, as well as an associated desire for more information in this regard.
In the U.S., the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) along with the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has even launched a new food safety reporting portal as a sort of clearing house for food safety information. As demand for more fresh food and organic products grows and supply expands around the world, it is expected that the number of safety incidents related to food will only rise in the coming years.
While the industry has been trying to combat these issues already, what they are finding is that one of the biggest challenges is tracking food products and maintaining quality as they travel from farm to factory to grocery store to dinner plate.
“The ‘Farm to Fork’ concept is now a key issue,” says Ian Greaves, Managing Director of IGI Ltd, a specialist firm of consultants working internationally on health and safety issues for the food industry. “Although the food industry has always been able to follow its product, there will be more pressure from agencies on food suppliers, manufacturers and retailers to prove where their food came from and show all the steps it took to get to the consumer.”
Robots improve quality and traceability
As it turns out, most issues with food contamination and traceability are caused by humans. When people are required to do dull, repetitive jobs all day long, it’s inevitable that mistakes are made. Seeing the writing on the wall the industry has made a big effort to automate some of these tasks over time.
“Most food safety issues are caused by people,” says Greaves. “Therefore if you take the ‘dirty hands’ away, the food is safer. However automation can lead to physical contamination if it is not monitored or maintained well. Moreover, there are still areas in the food industry in which automation is too difficult or costly to implement. And when companies do introduce a new process or a piece of equipment, they have to ensure that the staff who interact with it are trained to use it correctly and safely.”
While robots provide a benefit in regards to cleanliness and food safety, they also can help with tracking in that the robot can make it easier to label and trace products automatically as they move through the supply chain. For the companies that get robotic automation right, the benefits are clear: safer products, good reputations, and lowered waste.
Read the entire article here.