COVID-19 disruption and the new tech norm

By Gwen Ridler

- Last updated on GMT

COVID-19 disruption and the new tech norm

Related tags: Technology & Automation, hygiene & cleaning

Digital technology and the disruption caused by COVID-19 has helped accelerate technology adoption in the food and drink industry and advance food safety practices, according to a panel of industry experts.

Speaking at the Global Food Safety Institutes virtual conference 2021, Nestlé’s head of quality management Natasa Matyasova, Ecolab president and chief executive Christophe Beck and Cargill chairman and chief executive David MacLennan discussed the rapid adoption of tech and its uses in the past year.

Matyasova argued that an unprecedented 2020 has greatly accelerated the adoption of digital technologies that she didn’t predict would start becoming mainstream for at least another five-to-10 years.

For Nestlé, this has included everything from all in one solutions so factory operators can identify and solve issues with the line through the use of a single tablet computer, to the use of augmented reality devices like Google Glass to allow offsite experts observe and fix issues remotely.

What we’ve learned

“Whatever we have learned during this pandemic, it is now something we can start to enjoy every day and will become routine practice,”​ added Matyasova.

Powering many of the advances in food and drink technology has been the cloud, and the ability for manufacturers to share information quick and easily between sites and – in some cases – other manufacturers.

EcoLab’s Christophe Beck pointed out that the great leap in technological advancement over the past 10-15 years had created an environment where manufacturers can draw on a well of insight generated by data captured in the cloud.

“We can compare across plants, companies and industries to really understand what best looks like and what worst looks like,”​ he explained.

24/7 monitoring and insight

“All our customer systems are connected to the cloud, which means we have 24/7 monitoring. The more data we gather, the more crisis we go through, the more we learn and the more we prepare our customers to address those challenges coming up. It might not always be good news, but it’s helping us get better.”

Cargill’s David MacLennan urged the food and drink industry to embrace the sweeping wave of technological advancement and argued that change was inevitable either way.

“Disrupt yourself, or someone else is going to disrupt you​,” he said. “Agriculture as an industry has a little bit slower to adopt technology, but the pace of change and the pace of disruption in food production is increasing very rapidly.”

He went on to identify the three key areas that food producers should look to when investing in tech – traceability, online communication (both internal and external) and artificial intelligence.

“Use tech to get food where it’s needed, to where it can be most productive and so people can see where their food is coming from,” ​MacLennan concluded.

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