How AI can improve Food Safety at Retail

Food retailers play a crucial role in implementing food safety procedures across the entire supply chain, in their stores, and on e-commerce platforms to minimize the risk of foodborne illnesses for consumers. From the producer to the retail shelf, a strong food safety culture, efficient data management, robust databases, and technical expertise are essential. Artificial intelligence (AI) has been suggested as a promising tool to enhance and revolutionize food safety practices and outcomes.

Food Safety Trainings

Fostering a food safety culture is crucial for consumer trust and reducing product contamination. AI technologies like VR and AR can advance retail food safety training for employees and consumers. By using simulation-based training, employees can practice crucial safety steps. VR and AR can improve training in areas such as handwashing, assembly of raw products, reporting of employee’s illness, cross-contamination prevention, cleaning procedures, temperature control, traffic and product flows, response to incidents, proper bag segregation, and mock recalls. These advancements enhance food safety practices and outcomes in the retail industry.

AI-based predictions

Analytical AI tools play a crucial role in retail food safety by creating and organizing data sets and providing insights from existing data sources. Retailers require actionable data throughout the supply chain to make informed, risk-based decisions related to product safety and outbreak response. Predictive analytics can enhance retail food safety in the following ways:

  • Designing environmental monitoring programs based on the likelihood of contamination in retail delis and fresh preparation areas.
  • Minimizing the size and impact of foodborne outbreaks, by utilising ML algorithms and public-private data sources to identify contaminated food sources.
  • Enhancing supplier risk assessment and ensuring supply chain reliability and transparency. This includes preventing high-risk imports and forecasting elevated risk for specific commodities, based on environmental and industry conditions.
AI for informational consistency

Retailers are investing in new information technology and database management systems to collect, store, and share food safety information. This allows for consistent food safety practices across physical and digital platforms, enabling effective recall and outbreak responses. Text AI services play a vital role in achieving consistency by powering internal and industry-wide databases in various ways:

  • Preventing the sale of recalled products in both online and physical marketplaces.
  • Predicting food recalls by analyzing online product reviews.
  • Ensuring accurate labelling of bakery products to minimize allergen misbranding.
  • Categorizing and responding to consumer complaints regarding food safety.
  • Translating food safety information and labels from international suppliers.
Personal food safety AI assistants

Using voice assistants and chatbots for grocery shopping and kitchen needs is getting more and more popular with consumers. Retailers can also leverage interactive AI tools as personal food safety assistants to enhance in-store operations. These tools can help determine items included in a food recall, identify products with major allergens, suggest corrective actions for food safety deviations, conduct supplier audits, promote safe food handling for consumers, and interact with consumers reporting foodborne illness symptoms to improve outbreak detection and public health efforts.

Robotics and IoT

Functional AI tools, such as robotics and IoT, combine hardware with data analytics to automate repetitive and error-prone tasks. In the retail sector, these tools are being explored for several purposes. Monitoring the retail environment is a possible important application, to identify unsanitary surfaces, damaged products on shelves, and potential temperature deviations in food. In addition,  cleaning and sanitization processes can be an automated routine, to minimize the risk of transmitting viruses and bacteria in environmental areas. Finally, collaborating with growers and shippers to enhance preharvest risk assessments can be significantly upgraded by utilizing drones that monitor and report field conditions, such as pest infestations and water management.

In conclusion, integrating AI in the food retail industry has immense potential for enhancing food safety practices. AI technologies like VR and AR improve training, while analytical tools enable data-driven decisions and outbreak prediction. AI ensures consistent information, assists with personal food safety, and automates tasks through robotics and IoT. Embracing AI empowers retailers to enhance food safety, minimize risks, and instil consumer confidence in the entire food supply chain.

All the information has been retrieved from the paper “Artificial Intelligence Opportunities to Improve Food Safety at Retail” by Adam Friedlander and Claire Zoellner, originally published in “Food Protection Trends”, July/ August 2020 Issue. 

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