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August 10, 2018

The Future of Food Safety Compliance in Artificial Intelligence

Written by SmartSense | Food Safety

Although the term “AI” usually reminds us of futuristic scenarios made popular by science fiction, the use of robotic function in food service surprisingly commenced more than a hundred years ago when vending machines first appeared in 1897. We’re now starting to see a significant acceleration in food service automation like never before. New technologies are transforming the way restaurants, food processors, and food distributors are providing food to their customers, specifically in activities that require speed, consistency, repetition, and sanitary controls.


New entrepreneurial companies are patenting machines that do everything from cooking and serving meals to packaging, inventory management, and deliver services. Here are some new AI applications recently making the news:


  • Chowbotics: Creator of “Sally the Salad Maker,” which delivers up to 1,000 different types of salad in 60 seconds using 21 prepared ingredients
  • Miso Robotics: Inventor of “Flippy,” a kitchen assistant that grills, fries, and plates food by using sensors and cameras that enable it to “see” the food and handle functions such as temperature control
  • Eatsa: A chain of restaurants that uses iPads in place of cashiers and servers, and delivers food orders from a wall of high-tech cubby holes
  • Spyce: A restaurant started by MIT robotics engineers in partnership with Michelin-starred chef Daniel Boulud that replaces chefs with automated cooking pots to simultaneously whip up customized meals in three minutes or less
  • Momentum Machines: Patented a device that grinds meat, presses it into patties, chops toppings, and assembles it all into a hamburger at a rate of 360 per hour


foodborne illness brochure


The Benefits of AI to the Food Industry 

Pioneering food companies are looking for alternatives to the traditional ways of producing and serving food for many good reasons:


  • Complex customer expectations (e.g. menu customization, digital ordering, rapid delivery, loyalty programs)
  • Increasing rents for warehousing space
  • Just-in-time inventory pressure
  • FSMA safety regulations requiring large-scale, continuous monitoring
  • A shortage of workers, especially in the restaurant business
  • Labor costs (e.g. increased minimum wage, workman’s compensation payments, vacation and sick leave, health insurance, training)
  • Unreliable human resources (e.g., careless errors, poor hygiene, lack of motivation)


In general, a shift to automated supply chain and service solutions increases profitability by optimizing efficiencies to lower costs and bring in higher revenues. Food industry leaders are hopeful that AI will improve food quality and consistency, worker productivity and safety, inventory management, and customer service.


For example, it is estimated that robots can improve yields significantly where precise cuts of meat and produce make the difference. Robots can also work in harsh environments such as sub-zero freezers, and handle dangerous equipment, thus relieving workers of potential injury. Robots don’t complain about endlessly repetitive tasks, allowing employees to train for more skilled responsibilities. They can lift heavy packages 24 hours a day without fear of back pain. Robots, in short, never get tired or sick, are never absent, are strong, dependable, and always obedient.


AI and Food Safety

Robots are also sterile. That’s a huge benefit. It’s hard to overestimate how much AI solutions can help stem the rising tide of foodborne illness. Not only has FSMA raised the bar on sanitary requirements along the entire supply chain, but pathogens are now finding their way into foods not typically prone to contamination, such as spices, cereals, and other non-refrigerated packaged foods.


Robots could radically reduce the risk of food recalls, since they can eliminate the opportunity for human workers to unwittingly transfer diseases through manual food handling. Not to mention that they’re easy to clean. In fact, Technavio predicts robot use in the food industry will grow almost 30% by 2019, driven by demands for contamination-free production areas.


Beyond the use of robots to replace human workers at critical points in the supply chain most prone to contamination, food companies and regulatory agencies may soon take advantage of two promising technologies that could vastly reduce foodborne illness outbreaks:


  • Electric Noses: These electronic chemical sensors can recognize odors using the same principle as the physiology of smell. By identifying aromas in raw materials that match a coded sensory fingerprint in a pathogen database, electronic noses have great potential to improve quality control during food processing and packaging.
  • Next Generation Sequencing: NGS is beginning to play an increasingly critical role in the evolution of laboratory processes and may soon replace traditional DNA methods of food safety testing. By automating workflows, critical processes such as data capture and preparation of lab samples will become faster and more accurate. NGS tools will ultimately allow organizations such as the CDC and the FDA to better identify trends and threats to prevent foodborne illness outbreaks from occurring.


This is the beginning of a new era. Although critics of AI make good points about some of its potential drawbacks, such as creating a new class of unemployed workers, when it comes to food safety and protection of consumers, the advantages are clear.


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Topics: Food Safety

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