Most of the food loss comes during the process of getting it to you. A staggering fourteen percent of the food loss actually occurs in transit. Therefore, a new approach is needed. This is where farm to table logistics is a plan where the entire food’s journey ...

From Farm to Table
From Farm to Table

Len Calderone for | AgritechTomorrow

We have seen shoppers searching stores for fresh local foods. There is even a demand for fresh produce at restaurants. The way food gets from the farm to your table is surprising to many. Although the farmer supplies the food, the process of getting it to you is the “supply chain.”

Most of the food loss comes during the process of getting it to you. A staggering fourteen percent of the food loss actually occurs in transit. Therefore, a new approach is needed. This is where farm to table logistics is a plan where the entire food’s journey from start to finish is well planned. This planning could possibly cut food losses up to 90%.

The trouble is that the delivery of the food is a complicated matter. Metropolitan areas of the U.S. grow less than 2% of the food consumed. Therefore, the vast majority of all food must be shipped into the cities, and local produce must be assimilated into the distribution system. Although the produce is grown locally, the farmer does not actually deliver the food to the stores and restaurants.

This means that the majority of the food that we buy travels an average of 1,500 miles. Of course, this does not fit the picture that we have of farm to table local supply. In the supply chain model, the food must be transported through five different suppliers. The food travels from the farmer to a processing center, where that food is collected; then to a regional distribution center and on to the local retailer or restaurant; and then finally to the hungry consumer.

To make matters worse, those shipments must be coordinated with the thousands of other orders transported in the same trucks, freight cars, or planes, which is no easy task. To keep the food fresh, the supply chain must be quick, so that the food remains certifiably fresh.

To meet faster turnaround times, supply chain companies are moving toward high-tech, utilizing highly developed order management software, electronic data exchange (EDI) and analytics. By automating the shipping process, companies are making farm to table delivery as low-impact and efficient as local farming itself.

Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) is the electronic exchange of business information using a standardized format, which is a process which allows one company to send information to another company electronically instead of using paper. This makes tracking food shipments easier and quicker.

Transportation Management Solutions (TMS) helps with the automated shipping processes. It is software designed to help businesses plan, implement, and evaluate deliveries across the supply chain.

Because consumers are far from the farm, tracking food throughout the supply chain is more complex now than before. Supply chain operators must focus on safety during the growth and processing of food, as well as manage food preservation and transportation networks. The food to table progression now places a large amount of focus on contamination prevention and maintaining quality standards. Every stage of the food supply chain is highly regulated by government agencies such as the FDA and the newly implemented Food Safety Modernization Act.

Because of the long distances that food travels, food products are exposed to a greater probability of contamination or spoilage. Therefore, it is estimated that 30 – 40% of the food production is wasted, according to a joint report by the World Bank and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN.

To avoid spoilage at the farm, farmers are using IoT technologies, including sensors and drones, to monitor production. Then, there needs to be an unbroken chain of custody during transportation, using information systems to ensure the delivery of fresh food from farm to table, whether it is delivered to a grocery store, or restaurant. This involves real-time monitoring of the shipment while in transit.

A cold chain is a sub-segment of supply chains.  This entails transporting frozen food and food that needs to be kept cool. Using IoT technology makes it possible for the supply chain to share real-time information about the location and conditions of the shipment from farm to table. This data needs to be auditable to verify that the food arrived in good condition.

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In order to determine how food contamination or spoilage occurred, this information is needed by investigators so that the food can be traced back to its origin. If the information is not readily available or missing, undue blame might be placed on the wrong parties. This causes consumer mistrust in a brand because of a lack of traceability into the supply chain.

Some foods need to be shipped within certain temperatures. If the temperature is too high or low, real-time alerts can help logistics partners to remedy the situation before the entire shipment is damaged or lost. Because the smart sensors are connected to the cloud, the data is available no matter whether the shipment is with the shipping company, a customs inspector, a third-party logistics firm or another participant in the supply chain.

IoT technology lowers the cost and risk for perishable cargo such as produce, meat and dairy products. This technology has come at the right time for the farm to table concept. IoT technology is demonstrating that it can help consumers get fresh, delicious food that they can trust.

With blockchain, each step in the supply chain adds its transaction to the accumulated data in a “block.”  New data is added, as it is received, to make a “chain.” Each block contains a cryptographic notice from the previous block, a timestamp, and transaction data that all parties to the supply chain can access.  Trials are now underway for the use of blockchain for authentication and security of the supply chain, which will assure the integrity of track and trace across the whole supply chain—from farm to table.

The FDA requires that all food manufacturers have the ability to promptly identify and track every ingredient used in every one of their products from receipt through processing, packaging, and shipping to the exact customer location. In the case of an investigation or recall, companies must be able to validate that they have recorded this information at least one step back and one step forward in their supply chain.

Many components are steering the adoption of digital technologies in the food and beverage supply chain, providing flexibility to oversee the progressively dynamic market environment. Another aspect involves governments’ growing concentration in food safety for its populations, which has caused new regulatory requirements, including track and trace initiatives.

The content & opinions in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of AgriTechTomorrow

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