Keeping the food supply safe is a monumental job that is incredibly important to the health of Americans. When things go wrong, people get sick, or worse. Here are some ways that technology and artificial intelligence are helping to ensure a safer food supply.
1. Creating more nutritious foodsBiofortification can create more nutritious foods. Examples include maize with 50% more vitamin A, wheat that provides 50% of daily zinc, and beans fortified with 80% of daily iron. Harvest Plus at the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) aims to help improve the nutrition of a billion people through the expanded farming of biofortified crops.
2. Promoting local foodsThe farm-to-table and farm-to-school movements are helping ensure that food is sold and eaten locally. This often relies on technology to pair buyers with local food suppliers. Forum one worked with USDA’s Farm to School Census to help promote the importance of buying local and connecting farmers and ranchers with local schools.
3. Farming with artificial intelligenceArtificial intelligence is being used to gather dozens of data points about crop growth in order to create more effective yields. Bowery Farming, for example, claims to grow 100 times more food per square foot of land, with 95% less water than a traditional farm. By measuring plant information and environmental data in their warehouses, they are able to control the light, temperature, humidity and other factors to ensure optimal growth. They also grow plants on many layers, accounting for some of the yields per square foot improvements.
4. Drones for farmingIt can be difficult and time consuming for farmers to monitor crops from the ground. With drones, however, they can quickly get a bird’s eye view of their fields and see crops in ways that were previously unthinkable. For example, drones can be equipped with multispectral and thermal sensors to understand which crops are doing well, which need water and look for other sources of stress. Farmers are also starting to use drones for everything from dropping seeds extremely quickly and precisely, to distributing pesticides and fertilizer.
5. Alexa for food safetyThere are several Amazon Echo (Alexa) and Google Home skills related to food and safety recalls. The “Food and Drug Recalls” skill, for example, lets you ask Alexa about food safety and report back on recall alerts posted to foodsafety.gov, which is maintained by the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
6. Ask Karen about food safetyHave a food safety question? Ask Karen is an online and mobile tool you can use to ask your question directly to a food safety expert. I’ve used the service and the answers are fast and helpful. It is a free service that is available to anyone, so I would encourage you to “Ask Karen” if you have a food safety question. Ask Karen is a service provided by the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS).
7. Stable and abundant food supplyThrough technologies such as GMO food, supplies are becoming more drought resistance, and have higher yields. This is important because it ensures that crops can better sustain changing weather patterns. Inform the public of food safety threats.
8. CRISPR – Gene Edited CropsCRISPR is enabling scientists to quickly and easily modify genes in plants and animals, which has the potential to revolutionize how we eat in the coming decades. The first commercially-available gene-edited crop — a soybean oil with zero trans fats and less saturated fats than its natural cousin — was recently launched in early 2019 by Calyxt.
9. Data for Food SafetyData is only useful if it is used. Typically, data is used to help make decisions, improve processes or change actions. Forum One has helped numerous food-focused organizations to use data to improve food safety and security, including working on issues related to farm-to-school programs, WIC programs, international trade in agricultural products, and mapping food security information.
10. Tracking food safety violationsThe USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) uses an array of technologies to track and log inspections of meat and poultry suppliers. Their Food Safety Information System is critical to ensuring a safer food supply. The above are just a few examples of the myriad of ways in which technology, machine learning, artificial intelligence, and gene editing have the power to change the way that we produce and eat food in the coming decades. As innovations in food safety advance in the private and public sectors, producers will have more complex tools at their fingertips. Consumers will have healthier and safer alternatives. This will support and protect the health and safety of Americans for decades to come.
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