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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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Money talks and electronic gaming evolves

Computer gaming has evolved dramatically in the last two years, as it follows the money, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK in the second of a two-part series.

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The clue that gaming has become big business in South Africa was delivered by a non-gaming brand. When Comic Con, an American popular culture convention that has become a mecca for comics enthusiasts, was hosted in South Arica for the first time last month, it used gaming as the major drawcard. More than 45 000 people attended.

The event and its attendance was expected to be a major dampener for the annual rAge gaming expo, which took place just weeks later. Instead, rAge saw only a marginal fall in visitor numbers. No less than 34 000 people descended on the Ticketpro Dome for the chaos of cosplay, LAN gaming, virtual reality, board gaming and new video games. 

It proved not only that there was room for more than one major gaming event, but also that a massive market exists for the sector in South Africa. And with a large market, one also found numerous gaming niches that either emerged afresh or will keep going over the years. One of these, LAN (for Local Area Network) gaming, which sees hordes of players camping out at the venue for three days to play each other on elaborate computer rigs, was back as strong as ever at rAge.

MWeb provided an 8Gbps line to the expo, to connect all these gamers, and recorded 120TB in downloads and 15Tb in uploads – a total that would have used up the entire country’s bandwidth a few years ago.

“LANs are supposed to be a thing of the past, yet we buck the trend each year,” says Michael James, senior project manager and owner of rAge. “It is more of a spectacle than a simple LAN, so I can understand.”

New phenomena, often associated with the flavour of the moment, also emerge every year.

“Fortnite is a good example this year of how we evolve,” says James. “It’s a crazy huge phenomenon and nobody was servicing the demand from a tournament point of view. So rAge and Xbox created a casual LAN tournament that anyone could enter and win a prize. I think the top 10 people got something each round.”

Read on to see how esports is starting to make an impact in gaming.

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Blockchain unpacked

Blockchain is generally associated with Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, but these are just the tip of the iceberg, says ESET Southern Africa.

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This technology was originally conceived in 1991, when Stuart Haber and W. Scott Stornetta described their first work on a chain of cryptographically secured blocks, but only gained notoriety in 2008, when it became popular with the arrival of Bitcoin. It is currently gaining demand in other commercial applications and its annual growth is expected to reach 51% by 2022 in numerous markets, such as those of financial institutions and the Internet of Things (IoT), according to MarketWatch.

What is blockchain?

A blockchain is a unique, consensual record that is distributed over multiple network nodes. In the case of cryptocurrencies, think of it as the accounting ledger where each transaction is recorded.

A blockchain transaction is complex and can be difficult to understand if you delve into the inner details of how it works, but the basic idea is simple to follow.

Each block stores:

–           A number of valid records or transactions.
–           Information referring to that block.
–           A link to the previous block and next block through the hash of each block—a unique code that can be thought of as the block’s fingerprint.

Accordingly, each block has a specific and immovable place within the chain, since each block contains information from the hash of the previous block. The entire chain is stored in each network node that makes up the blockchain, so an exact copy of the chain is stored in all network participants.

As new records are created, they are first verified and validated by the network nodes and then added to a new block that is linked to the chain.

How is blockchain so secure?

Being a distributed technology in which each network node stores an exact copy of the chain, the availability of the information is guaranteed at all times. So if an attacker wanted to cause a denial-of-service attack, they would have to annul all network nodes since it only takes one node to be operative for the information to be available.

Besides that, since each record is consensual, and all nodes contain the same information, it is almost impossible to alter it, ensuring its integrity. If an attacker wanted to modify the information in a blockchain, they would have to modify the entire chain in at least 51% of the nodes.

In blockchain, data is distributed across all network nodes. With no central node, all participate equally, storing, and validating all information. It is a very powerful tool for transmitting and storing information in a reliable way; a decentralised model in which the information belongs to us, since we do not need a company to provide the service.

What else can blockchain be used for?

Essentially, blockchain can be used to store any type of information that must be kept intact and remain available in a secure, decentralised and cheaper way than through intermediaries. Moreover, since the information stored is encrypted, its confidentiality can be guaranteed, as only those who have the encryption key can access it.

Use of blockchain in healthcare

Health records could be consolidated and stored in blockchain, for instance. This would mean that the medical history of each patient would be safe and, at the same time, available to each doctor authorised, regardless of the health centre where the patient was treated. Even the pharmaceutical industry could use this technology to verify medicines and prevent counterfeiting.

Use of blockchain for documents

Blockchain would also be very useful for managing digital assets and documentation. Up to now, the problem with digital is that everything is easy to copy, but Blockchain allows you to record purchases, deeds, documents, or any other type of online asset without them being falsified.

Other blockchain uses

This technology could also revolutionise the Internet of Things  (IoT) market where the challenge lies in the millions of devices connected to the internet that must be managed by the supplier companies. In a few years’ time, the centralised model won’t be able to support so many devices, not to mention the fact that many of these are not secure enough. With blockchain, devices can communicate through the network directly, safely, and reliably with no need for intermediaries.

Blockchain allows you to verify, validate, track, and store all types of information, from digital certificates, democratic voting systems, logistics and messaging services, to intelligent contracts and, of course, money and financial transactions.

Without doubt, blockchain has turned the immutable and decentralized layer the internet has always dreamed about into a reality. This technology takes reliance out of the equation and replaces it with mathematical fact.

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