How IoT-Enabled Condition Monitoring Technology Keeps Produce Safe – Automation.com

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How IoT-Enabled Condition Monitoring Technology Keeps Produce Safe

Foodborne disease causes48 million illnesses and 3,000 deaths each year in the United Sates. When it comes to foodborne illness, the average consumer often looks toward raw meat, milk, or eggs as the main culprits. It may sound surprising, but contaminated produce is what really poses the greatest risk of illness across the United States. Leafy greens like lettuce, kale, spinach and sprouts are the most common source of potentially deadly bacterial infections such as E.coli, Salmonella and Listeria.

Leafy greens are often consumed raw and uncooked. In addition, they are grown in mass scale irrigation fields where pathogens can easily spread via contaminated water. And since most of America’s leafy green supply is processed in bulk at a small number of facilities, all it takes is one outbreak to impact millions of products across the country. It’s no coincidence that in the latest Food Safety Modernization Act final ruling, the Food and Drug Administration flagged a myriad of produce products as high risk–including leafy greens, cucumbers, herbs, melons, mangos, peppers, tomatoes and more.

With new FSMA 2026 regulations on the horizon, there is growing urgency for growers, manufacturers and food retailers to better collaborate to reduce produce’s food safety risk. The new rulings will require them to provide verifiable data records of Critical Tracking Events (CTEs) across key hand-off-points in the end-to-end food chain where products are at risk of spoilage. That could be fruits on a distribution truck or spinach inside a salad bar right before the point of consumption.

FSMA 2026 compliance will undoubtedly require integrated adoption of agile food chain technologies. It’s impossible for an enterprise to manually record accurate data across 40 or 50 locations without automation. And on top of that, manual data recording processes are often siloed, incomplete and hindered by human error. IoT-enabled condition monitoring can serve as a key digitalization tool that helps keep produce fresh, clean and safe to consume.

Condition monitoring at a glance

Most condition monitoring solutions consist of a centralized platform and integrated remote IoT sensors. The solution collects and stores vast amounts of data, creating a comprehensive record of the journey each piece of produce takes from farm to table. This data can be used for traceability purposes, pinpointing the source of contamination in the wake of an outbreak. It also enhances transparency, giving food retailers and grocers data-driven visibility into the growing conditions, storage and transportation of the products they are selling to consumers.

In addition to effective food safety, condition monitoring solutions also support loss prevention by generating accurate and actionable insights that confirm produce is entirely safe for consumption. It allows companies to differentiate the safe from spoiled, removing anecdotal guessing from the equation to reduce the rate of unnecessary food waste that drives financial losses. Every piece of produce that ends up getting thrown out is fully justified.

Condition monitoring in action

For an example of condition monitoring in action, envision iceberg lettuce inside a regional grocery store. The leafy green is designated as a Temperature Control for Safety (TCS) food that must be stored and handled in conditions below 41 degrees Fahrenheit with relative humidity levels above 95%. If a bag of lettuce has been exposed to suboptimal conditions for a designated period of time, it must be discardedfor consumer safety purposes.

A condition monitoring solution automates temperature readings within the facility’s back-house refrigerators. The remote IoT sensors operate inside food chain storage assets and remotely monitor environmental settings to confirm optimal safety standards are maintained. In the wake of a temperature reading above 41 degrees, the sensors send a data feedback loop to the centralized system of record. Leveraging AI-powered prescriptive analytics functionality, the system identifies the anomaly, determine the affected products and direct employees to discard them to prevent reaching customer-facing shelves. Giant Eagle, a U.S. regional grocer, utilizes IoT condition monitoring technology for similar use cases across more than 175 grocery locations and 92 convenience stores. The grocer’s workforce leverages it within walk-in freezers, chillers and refrigerators–combining wireless IoT sensors, food probes, digital checklists and remote monitoring software and analytics tools into an integrated framework that keeps their customers safe.

Similar workflows are replicated in produce production and distribution settings as well. Condition monitoring tools can be leveraged inside greenhouses to monitor humidity, light levels and irrigation quality to reduce the risk of pathogens that thrive in those settings. After a concerning pattern of reported foodborne illnesses, growers and suppliers can rely on real-time condition monitoring data to confirm which buyers received impacted shipments and work to implement a quick and effective widescale recall. 

Conclusion

Condition monitoring technology represents the future of food safety. It’s a critical tool today that will continue driving pathways for improvement tomorrow. By analyzing numerous sources of telemetry data and identifying patterns, produce growers, suppliers and retailers can proactively refine their processes and identify areas for further optimization. This data-driven approach can lead to the development of new workflows and practices that further enhance food safety throughout the produce distribution chain.

There’s never been a more important time to embrace food chain digitalization. The rate of foodborne illness isn’t slowing down. We’re not just talking about keeping produce fresh–we’re talking about saving lives. 

About The Author


Guy Yehiav is president of SmartSense. SmartSense was created to use the power of the Internet of Things (IoT) to help our customers protect the assets most critical to the success of their business.

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