Industrial Automation Insider: The Food and Beverage Industry is Cooking Up Some Interesting Solutions to Current Supply Chain Problems

Plus, my guests dish on what quick serve restaurant owners are doing in the kitchen – and in their supply chains – to show food lovers like you and I that we can trust the quality and safety of our dine-in and take-out meals.

Zebra`s VS40 machine vision camera on a single-serve frozen food tray fill line
by Will Corns
June 13, 2022

Did you know up to 40% of the U.S food supply is wasted each year? That not-so-fun fact was shared by my colleague and food technology expert Amanda Wade on the latest episode of Industrial Automation Insider as we were talking about why automation-based technology projects were heating up in the food and beverage industry.  

Of course, I had to do a little more research into this profound statistic and what I learned was even more jaw-dropping: wasting 40% of the total U.S. food supply is like “every person in America throwing more than 650 average-sized apples right into the garbage.” I can’t imagine throwing away that many apples. I don’t even know if I’ve eaten that many apples in my lifetime yet. Have you? That’s a lot of apples. 

What’s worse is that restaurants, grocery stores and food service providers account for 40% of that wasted food.  We have got to figure out how to stop this cycle, especially if it’s perpetuated by food spoilage, contamination or mismanagement throughout the supply chain.  

Fortunately, Amanda, and my two other guests – Reuben George and John Wirthlin – had some ideas about what quick serve restaurants (QSRs) and others in the food and beverage industry can do, even though I didn’t technically invite them onto the show to talk about the food waste. 

The real reason we sat down to catch up is because all three have been on the front lines recently, working with some of the biggest QSRs, food producers and wholesalers to figure out how to get ingredients for our favorite meals through the supply chain as quickly and safely as possible.  

Why? 

  1. Labor shortages are lingering. 

  2. Supply shortages are lingering. 

  3. We all need to eat. 

  4. We need to know that what we’re consuming is safe. 

None of us like pulling up to a drive thru and hearing that we can’t get french fries with our chicken nuggets – or that we can’t get chicken nuggets either. And we certainly don’t want to worry that the items we buy at the store or order at our favorite restaurants are going to make us sick. We need to be able to trust that food is: 

  1. going to be available when we want/need it. 

  2. handled properly as its produced/picked, stored, shipped, shelved and/or prepared. 

  3. being protected from tampering, contamination and spoilage from farm or factory to fork.  

So, we sat down for 30-minutes to discuss solutions to the industry’s most pressing problems, along with some key learnings from recent technology projects intended to solve compliance, traceability and quality control challenges.  

Industrial Automation Insider Episode #3: What the Food and Beverage Industry is Cooking Up with Technology

Only have a few minutes? Fast forward to what interests you most:

  • [2:40] What Amanda, Reuben and John have been working on lately with food and beverage industry leaders based on the most pressing issues.

  • [6:55] How the FDA’s Food Safety Modernization Act is compelling food and beverage manufacturers, QSR brands and others to start looking at their current technology systems with a critical eye – and what needs to be done by these parties right now to ensure they will be compliant by the deadline.

  • [10:40] How technologies such as RFID, machine vision and fixed industrial scanning factor into the food and beverage supply chain today – from farm to fork – especially as QSRs and others in the last mile start requiring food producers, farmers, ranchers and others upstream in the supply chain to embrace automation solutions for track and trace and quality assurance.

  • [16:30] Ways that RFID temperature tags could fit into the technology mix to help maintain accountability for inbound and stored products at retail stores and restaurants or help provide peace of mind to associates and consumers that the quality of goods has been preserved throughout the supply chain.

  • [17:42] The changes QSRs are making behind the scenes – in the back of the stores or throughout supply chains – to ensure tight control over ingredients and regain public trust in the quality and safety of their food (and help reduce waste).

  • [20:00] Why “visibility” and “traceability” are the two priorities for food and beverage industry leaders and companies like Zebra engineering technology solutions to current supply chain problems.

  • [22:39] Why RFID is such a valuable solution for many food and beverage industry issues now when it wasn’t even a viable option for many meats, beverages and other goods for many years. 

  • [26:12] The forward-looking use cases that food and beverage industry leaders should be planning for – or piloting – today as well as the ideal technology architecture or solution framework that food and beverage brands should adopt to help ensure they meet the safety, quality, speed, availability, and transparency expectations of consumers, regulators and their supply chain partners.

If you want more information on the technologies or best practices shared by Amanda, Reuben and John, give me a shout and I can connect you with them as well as others on the Zebra industrial automation and food and beverage teams who can help you come up with the best solution for your business. 

I’ll be back on the air in a few weeks with John and Daniel Dombach from our EMEA team to talk about how and why industrial automation is gaining traction in the pharmaceutical market at a rapid pace. I hope you’ll join us then for more Industrial Automation Insider. 

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Past Episodes of Industrial Automation Insider:

Episode 1: Machine Vision May Have a Storied Past, but It Is Giving Supply Chain Organizations Hope for a Better Future

Episode 2: Why Zebra Acquired Matrox Imaging and You Should be Excited if You’re Being Driven to Automate Operations 

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Will Corns
William Corns is the Senior North American Sales Manager for Fixed Industrial Scanning & Machine Vision at Zebra Technologies, leading a team of industrial automation experts and driving key conversations with customers about the value of industrial automation in today's challenging business environment. William joined Zebra in 2021 after selling his machine vision company that he founded in 2003. With nearly two decades of machine vision experience, William brings with him knowledge of complex vision systems, artificial intelligence, 3D scanning, robotics and integrated industrial automation workflows.
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