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End-to-end traceability

What Food Watch, Dubai Municipality’s new digital platform, means for the cold chain industry

| | Apr 12, 2018 | 10:05 am
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Bobby Krishna T M

Food Watch is a digital platform the Food Safety Department of Dubai Municipality has developed to enable the exchange of data among authorities, food establishments, vendors and consumers. It uses digital monitoring techniques, data analytics and customised applications to ensure full traceability of high-risk and low-risk foods towards the twin objectives of food safety and nutrition. The exchange of digitalised data, including temperature monitoring records, will allow for real-time observation and provide greater clarity on what went wrong in food poisoning outbreaks and also on possible pitfalls along the way. Most important, it will allow for much-needed data-driven strategies and decisions.

When viewed against the facts that in 2016, Dubai imported over 350,000 consignments of food and more than two million food categories from over 180 countries, the importance of monitoring various parameters, including temperature in handling and storage, from the point of import to the dining tables of consumers, cannot be overstated. More so, with the World EXPO becoming larger and larger in the horizon and with millions expected to come to Dubai’s shores for the mega-event, there is a vital need to consistently ensure food safety, as the wellbeing of visitors is inextricably tied to the reputation of the emirate.

Bobby Krishna T M, Senior Specialist, Food Permits and Applied Nutrition Section, Dubai Municipality, in conversation with Surendar Balakrishnan on the ramifications of Food Watch for the cold chain industry…

What are the implications of introducing Food Watch for the cold chain industry?

Food Watch would provide better traceability, which in turn would mean more pressure on the back end of the supply chain. You are connecting the loose ends, and accountability grows rapidly. Suddenly, vehicle registrations are visible, warehouse registrations are visible. If you see a problem at a retailer, everyone gets alerted in a Dubai Municipality-mediated network, so it is as good as an inspection every second. Even the food producer is monitored. And the fact that everybody is monitoring every time increases compliance.

What is your message for the transport refrigeration industry? What do they need to do to align themselves to Food Watch?
Every problem prompts you to go back and see if there is a problem elsewhere. It could be a body problem or an equipment problem. Food Watch provides a sophisticated level of monitoring. If you know a particular vehicle is a problem, you can assess the condensing unit.

By the end of the year, we expect to collect more data. We will be looking to get the vehicle number and the type of food a transport refrigeration vehicle is carrying on real-time basis.

Currently, the focus is on business registration. We also have an approval process in place for vehicles, but we will also be collecting vehicle details, and it is an enormous traceability factor for us. If 10 vehicles come to anybody, we will know which is the faulty one and be able to isolate it. It is data science. I will be able to automatically pick up data. A transport refrigeration operator can see on their dashboard how many times a truck has been rejected by a client supermarket for poor food quality, and we at Dubai Municipality can also see that.

Wouldn’t Food Watch be an additional layer of administrative data management? I ask, because many are raising the issue of their being a surfeit of administrative work already.
Food establishments don’t need to enter anything. Yes, they can enter, but it is not validated data. A Food Watch team will be collecting data and maintaining that. The entering of the [base] data is a one-time exercise. There is a AED 1,500 subscription fee for food establishments. We have 10 people working now, but it will expand, so we are able to cover all food establishments.

Of course, there is the scenario of a food establishment with multiple vehicles. Now, a hotel client of the food establishment could complain of the food being of a poor quality and enter the data. If somebody else in the chain also enters data, it is a cumulative database. If a vehicle is rejected five times, we will collect more details about that vehicle.

At the end of the day, the reporting is a human activity, isn’t it?

We need to create a digital identity. If I don’t have that, I don’t have anything.

I presume you would apply the same principle to storage as to transport refrigeration. We have for long been talking in the magazine about how cold storage design and construction are plagued by a short-cut syndrome, bringing to question the reliability of the facility to properly store temperature-sensitive food. Would Food Watch bring more enforcement teeth, then?

Every food business has to enter its location and what it is storing. We are building traceability through the food business, not the cold chain company. Food traceability will define the outcome. Would I chase the construction companies? Well, food businesses that don’t do well in terms of storage and

handling are under my jurisdiction. When they see the data made available through Food Watch, the food businesses will themselves see the need for better construction. We will have the data, which will help them in addressing the challenges they might face from a design or installation aspect. It is an indirect process. They get the data. We are offering value to the food establishments to make better decisions. They can stop losing food.

If we have an outbreak, we will pick it up. The entire traceability will give full visibility. I am here to see foodborne outbreaks are not happening. If a food safety risk, we will address it. Someone might pay more for energy, but it is not our problem at this point in time, but if there is a food safety risk, we will know of it.

Is there something that all food establishments would need to do differently, cold chain-wise?

How they do it is up to them. We have data for action, and it is implied, actually.

I am thinking aloud that Food Watch could open the possibility of retrofitting of existing facilities for better performance, because it possibly would capture hitherto uncaptured data.
The data could serve as a good template for feeding into those kinds of studies. In a way, we will give them the information, and it is up to them to take the required action.

The writer is Editor, Climate Control Middle East and Co-Founder and Editorial Director, CPI Industry.

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