Food safety is paramount because nobody wants to get sick from what they eat. That is why the global food industry is undergoing significant changes. New technologies are helping companies gain visibility, detection capabilities, and oversight that was impossible to achieve a decade ago.
As concerns over foodborne illness, contamination risks, and supply chain transparency increase, innovation will continue disrupting traditional approaches. Here are some of the most impactful current trends and emerging technologies advancing food safety.
Indicator Inks and RFID/NFC Tags
Indicator inks integrate thermochromic pigments into food labels, seals, or wrappings. Thermochromic pigments are coloring agents that change color in response to changing temperature. With the help of these inks, we can easily ensure that food items are kept at an appropriate temperature during transport and storage.
Big food and drink companies use RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) and NFC (Near Field Communication) to keep better track of their products. Companies stick RFID tags on food in big batches, which lets them follow each food from factories to shops.
NFC chips go directly on food packaging. These special chips have nanorods that change color over time. As food gets older and closer to the expiration date, the rods will change color, which helps companies and shoppers make sure the food is still good to eat. This helps food companies avoid wasting money on expired food and makes shoppers more confident about the food they buy, allowing everyone in the supply chain to ensure quality from the beginning to the end.
Any manufacturer committed to food safety should try food inspection systems incorporating the latest detection technologies, such as metal detectors and x-ray imaging systems that comprise robust inspection processes.
Metal detectors are an essential technology for catching tiny metallic contaminants. Modern detectors can identify metal types like ferrous, non-ferrous, and stainless steel. They thoroughly check bulk ingredients and finish packaging on production lines.
However, metal detectors only detect metallic issues and may miss non-metallic problems. This is where X-ray imaging comes in. It can find non-metallic contaminants like glass, rubber, or bone fragments undetectable by metal detectors alone. Advanced dual-energy X-ray inspection has significantly improved the detection of low-density contaminants compared to basic X-rays.
Sensors in coolers, freezers, and food storage areas are increasingly crucial for automated monitoring. They provide continuous temperature surveillance, and if the temperature rises above safe levels, they immediately alert staff. This allows issues to be addressed promptly before spoilage, unlike manual checks that only spot-check periodically.
Sensors catch temperature changes early to prevent discarded shipments. Automated alerts ensure you don’t miss problems, giving staff time to remedy situations before food safety is compromised.
Blockchain is a distributed digital ledger system, similar to what cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin use to record transactions. It allows information to be registered and shared across a network of computers.
In food supply chains, blockchain provides robust levels of transparency. Each participant in the chain (from farmers to processors to distributors to retailers) can add detailed records to the blockchain about the food products they handle. This includes origins, ingredients, batch numbers, shipping logs, expiration dates, and more. If a recall or contamination issue occurs, blockchain allows food to be quickly traced back to its source within hours rather than the days or weeks it takes without the technology.
Advanced Pathogen Testing through WGS
Pathogen testing refers to identifying harmful microorganisms (called pathogens) that could make consumers sick if present in food. Pathogens include bacteria, viruses, fungi, or parasites known to cause foodborne illness. Some common food pathogens are salmonella, listeria, and e. coli.
Testing is done to detect the presence of these pathogens at various points in the manufacturing process, in raw materials received, on food contact surfaces, and in finished products before distribution. The goal is to ensure consumer safety by identifying potential contamination as early as possible before it reaches customers.
Whole genome sequencing (WGS) provides a powerful new tool to genetically analyze pathogens and trace contamination sources to help prevent foodborne disease outbreaks. Whole genome sequencing (WGS) looks at the complete DNA of a bacteria or pathogen.
It provides a complete genetic profile that you can use to track strains and trace sources more accurately than older testing methods. WGS is now faster and cheaper than before due to new DNA sequencing technologies. It can identify pathogens and tell if outbreaks are interlinked. Food companies and health agencies are using WGS more to test food samples and human illness cases to find links between the two.
Controlled Ozone Application
Ozone effectively kills several pathogens, and unlike many disinfectants, it can fully permeate all spaces, making it impossible for bacteria to hide from its effects. Through Internet of Things sensors and networks, ozone levels can now be precisely monitored and controlled. This allows the gas to be distributed only in carefully measured amounts that kill microorganisms without compromising safety.
The recent advancements in food safety encourage better risk management. However, these new ideas will only help people if implemented widely. It’s through our flexibility, willingness to try new things, and dedication to well-being that we’ll eventually reach a day when foodborne illness is no more.