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Listeriosis highlights traceability in food supply

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The outbreak of Listeriosis according to the WHO not only highlights the importance of quality control in the food manufacturing process, but also through the food supply chain, says NEVILLE LEVINTHAL, head of business development at Braintree.

Traceability in the feed and food chain falls under the ISO 22005 standard that provides general principles and basic requirements for system design and implementation. Underpinning this, is the ability to follow the movement of various foods and animal feeds throughout the different stages of production, processing, and distribution.

As such, adherence to the standard makes it possible to locate any product, anywhere in the food chain. Since this [traceability] contributes to searching out where non-conformity to regulations has taken place, it becomes easy to withdraw or recall products when and where necessary.

Track and trace

There are two kinds of movement vital to the success of a traceability system – tracking and tracing.

As the name suggests, tracking is the ability to identify the destination of the product and to follow its path as it moves from the manufacturing unit towards the final point of sale, service, or consumption. It is therefore a forward-moving process.

Tracing, on the other hand, is having the ability to recreate the history of the product in the food chain and identify where it originated from and where its movement went. As with tracking, the information can be for a single unit or a batch of food within the supply chain. It is a retrospective process.

In essence, these are the elements that constitute traceability. However, these systems still need to be practical to apply while complying with the applicable regulations. They can only be effective if the information and systems are verifiable, applied consistently and equitably, result-oriented, and cost-effective to implement.

Negotiating a highly complex web

Ultimately, traceability must be standardised because the entire supply chain is interdependent with numerous stakeholders involved. Without standardisation, the complexity of the food supply chain would mean there would be no common ‘language’ or system to track and trace goods.

One product can involve several companies from where the ingredients, content, and packaging have been supplied. It begins with the origin of the food and its ingredients, and continues with elements such as processing history, definition of the batch, links between manufacturing batches, methods of production, methods of analysis, storage, personnel involved, the entire supply and distribution chain system, and so on.

It is critical that product integrity, authenticity, and identification at all the stages of the supply chain (including food inspection and certification) are  completed and traced to build consumer confidence.

Notably, a spin-off benefit of using a traceability system is to prevent unfair trade practices by putting in place Food Safety Management System (FSMS) and record maintenance.

Harnessing new technology

Arguably, traceability plays an important role in consumer safety through swift and targeted recalls and withdrawals. These can only be performed effectively if a compliant system is implemented. Not only does it protect the health of consumers, but also the brand image/reputation of the organisation.

Developing a traceability system needs something that supports food safety and quality, meets customer specifications, can determine the history or origin of the product, and facilitates the withdrawal and recall of products.

It must also be able to identify those organisations in the animal feed and food chain that were responsible; verify specific information about the product; and communicate information to relevant stakeholders and consumers. Finally, it must fulfil local, regional, national, and international regulations, and help improve the effectiveness, productivity, and profitability of the organisation.

The past month has seen many organisations in South Africa scramble to do damage control and protect the reputation of their brands. While some have been able to mitigate risk and brand damage, the impact on the industry would have been more significant had it not been for traceability systems.

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Smart home arrives in SA

The smart home is no longer a distant vision confined to advanced economies, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

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The smart home is a wonderful vision for controlling every aspect of one’s living environment via remote control, apps and sensors. But, because it is both complex and expensive, there has been little appetite for it in South Africa.

The two main routes for smart home installation are both fraught with peril – financial and technical.

The first is to call on a specialist installation company. Surprisingly, there are many in South Africa. Google “smart home” +”South Africa”, and thousands of results appear. The problem is that, because the industry is so new, few have built up solid track records and reputations. Costs vary wildly, few standards exist, and the cost of after-sales service will turn out to be more important than the upfront price.

The second route is to assemble the components of a smart home, and attempt self-installation. For the non-technical, this is often a non-starter. Not only does one need a fairly good knowledge of Wi-Fi configuration, but also a broad understanding of the Internet of Things (IoT) – the ability for devices to sense their environment, connect to each other, and share information.

The good news, though, is that it is getting easier and more cost effective all the time.

My first efforts in this direction started a few years ago with finding smart plugs on Amazon.com. These are power adaptors that turn regular sockets into “smart sockets” by adding Wi-Fi and an on-off switch, among other. A smart lightbulb was sourced from Gearbest in China. At the time, these were the cheapest and most basic elements for a starter smart home environment.

Via a smartphone app, the light could be switched on from the other side of the world. It sounds trivial and silly, but on such basic functions the future is slowly built.

Fast forward a year or two, and these components are available from hundreds of outlets, they have plummeted in cost, and the range of options is bewildering. That, of course, makes the quest even more bewildering. Who can be trusted for quality, fulfilment and after-sales support? Which products will be obsolete in the next year or two as technology advances even more rapidly?

These are some of the challenges that a leading South African technology distributor, Syntech, decided to address in adding smart home products to its portfolio. It selected LifeSmart, a global brand with proven expertise in both IoT and smart home products.

Equally significantly, LifeSmart combines IoT with artificial intelligence and machine learning, meaning that the devices “learn” the best ways of connecting, sharing and integrating new elements. Because they all fall under the same brand, they are designed to integrate with the LifeSmart app, which is available for Android and iOS phones, as well as Android TV.

Click here to read about how LifeSmart makes installing smart home devices easier.

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Matrics must prepare for AI

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students writing a test

By Vian Chinner, CEO and founder of Xineoh.

Many in the matric class of 2018 are currently weighing up their options for the future. With the country’s high unemployment rate casting a shadow on their opportunities, these future jobseekers have been encouraged to look into which skills are required by the market, tailoring their occupational training to align with demand and thereby improving their chances of finding a job, writes Vian Chinner – a South African innovator, data scientist and CEO of the machine learning company specialising in consumer behaviour prediction, Xineoh.

With rapid innovation and development in the field of artificial intelligence (AI), all careers – including high-demand professions like engineers, teachers and electricians – will look significantly different in the years to come.

Notably, the third wave of internet connectivity, whereby our physical world begins to merge with that of the internet, is upon us. This is evident in how widespread AI is being implemented across industries as well as in our homes with the use of automation solutions and bots like Siri, Google Assistant, Alexa and Microsoft’s Cortana. So much data is collected from the physical world every day and AI makes sense of it all.

Not only do new industries related to technology like AI open new career paths, such as those specialising in data science, but it will also modify those which already exist. 

So, what should matriculants be considering when deciding what route to take?

For highly academic individuals, who are exceptionally strong in mathematics, data science is definitely the way to go. There is, and will continue to be, massive demand internationally as well as locally, with Element-AI noting that there are only between 0 and 100 data scientists in South Africa, with the true number being closer to 0.

In terms of getting a foot in the door to become a successful data scientist, practical experience, working with an AI-focused business, is essential. Students should consider getting an internship while they are studying or going straight into an internship, learning on the job and taking specialist online courses from institutions like Stanford University and MIT as they go.

This career path is, however, limited to the highly academic and mathematically gifted, but the technology is inevitably going to overlap with all other professions and so, those who are looking to begin their careers should take note of which skills will be in demand in future, versus which will be made redundant by AI.

In the next few years, technicians who are able to install and maintain new technology will be highly sought after. On the other hand, many entry level jobs will likely be taken care of by AI – from the slicing and dicing currently done by assistant chefs, to the laying of bricks by labourers in the building sector.

As a rule, students should be looking at the skills required for the job one step up from an entry level position and working towards developing these. Those training to be journalists, for instance, should work towards the skill level of an editor and a bookkeeping trainee, the role of financial consultant.

This also means that new workforce entrants should be prepared to walk into a more demanding role, with more responsibility, than perhaps previously anticipated and that the country’s education and training system should adapt to the shift in required skills.

The matric classes of 2018 have completed their schooling in the information age and we should be equipping them, and future generations, for the future market – AI is central to this.

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