Proving the Business Case for the Internet of Things

Intel shows how IoT can protect food supply chain

Steve Rogerson
January 14, 2020



The IoT can help reduce food supply waste and theft and combat foodborne illnesses, according to Laura Rumbel (pictured), a director in Intel's IoT group.
 
Rumbel works with Intel's customers to make IoT-based supply chain options that provide real-time data. Those data allow enterprises to make decisions as food shipments are in transit and better predict the future needs of their supply chain.
 
Every year $400bn of food in production never reaches consumers, according to Bloomberg.
 
"There is a major disparity between the amount of food that's never consumed versus the number of hungry people worldwide," Rumbel said. "This is where IoT comes into play."
 
Intel recently partnered with a produce distributor to help increase efficiency and create less waste by tracking blueberries from harvest to the distribution centre. Intel's IoT-based sensors tracked the berries' temperature, humidity, shock (which monitors damage, such as from being dropped) and changes in light, which indicate a pallet is being tampered with. Even a slight change in temperature can significantly affect the quality of the fruit.
 
"Instead of berries going to waste if they are overripe, they can be sent to a consumer that can use the berries to make juice," Rumbel said.
 
Real-time data allow these decisions to be made quickly, before the berries spoil, saving time and money, and protecting consumers' health.
 
Another benefit of the IoT in the food supply chain is the early identification of foodborne illness. Outbreaks affect individuals and the entire industry. Not only are people getting sick, but others hear about the outbreak and stop buying the product altogether, even though the contaminant is coming from a particular source, not the industry at large.
 
However, it can take a lot of valuable time and energy to track down a foodborne illness' origin.
 
"If you use the sensors to tag your produce from the lot where it was harvested and follow that all the way through to the store where it was purchased, that's where you're golden," Rumbel said. "Because if that product is tagged and it's sitting in a distribution centre, or even if it goes all the way through to the store – say it's recalled in a listeria-like situation – you immediately know. You have all the data that you need in the cloud."
 
Real-time data can also help enterprises provide a safer environment for drivers transporting goods and for the goods themselves. Theft is a major risk facing the supply chain industry, with $33m worth of goods stolen from cargo in 2018 alone, according to the FBI.
 
In response, Intel created the Castle Canyon mobile platform, which uses a light sensor to help identify cases of theft in real time. For example, if a pallet is being tampered with, the sensors will detect the abnormal activity and immediately notify staff, who can then alert the driver and potentially local law enforcement.
 
Though the uses of IoT sensors and tracking software are currently focused on enterprises, Rumbel believes they have the potential to revolutionise consumers' purchasing decisions by allowing them to trace their products through the entire supply chain.
 
"Retailers are trying to grapple with the power of the consumer because ultimately consumers care more than ever before about the ethics and sustainability of products," she said. "Consumers want to make their own decisions; they want access to the data."
 
But, she pointed out, it's important for the data to be broken down and contextualised for the consumer to make meaning of the raw data. Informed consumers will be able to decide whether the product aligns with their values, which can reinforce trust with consumers of that brand.