The 11th edition of Food Chain (the Middle East Cold Chain Food Safety Conference), on June 15 in Dubai, spotlighted the Dubai Food Code 2.0, and enabled a collective expression of intent from government agencies, private sector enterprises, food establishments, digital technology providers and consultants. The conference witnessed insightful discussions around the latest advancements, crucial for the smooth and efficient operations of the food hygiene management and cold chain industries. It also emphasised the importance of better collaboration among stakeholders.
Brent Melvin, CEO, AI Driving Metaverse Group, and Chairperson of the conference, opened the floor to discussions that underlined the significance of collaboration among private sector enterprises, government agencies and industry professionals in ensuring the smooth and efficient flow of food from farm to table. The cold chain industry has experienced tremendous growth in recent years, Melvin said, thanks to innovation and technological advancements. “We have witnessed incredible developments in the utilisation of artificial intelligence and other cutting-edge technologies in transportation, warehousing, logistics processing and processes,” he said. “AI-powered systems have revolutionised the monitoring and management of temperature-sensitive products, ensuring quality and safety throughout the supply chain. Furthermore, integrating advanced sensors and real-time data has enhanced the efficiency and reliability of trucks, warehouses, supermarkets and other critical components of cold chain infrastructure.”
During his opening remarks, Melvin also emphasised consumers’ high expectations in today’s fast-paced world and the emergence of the UAE and the Middle East region as vibrant and dynamic markets. He stated that the diverse and multicultural population in the Middle East region demands a wide range of products, and the UAE serves as a global hub for trade and commerce, due to its commitment to innovation and infrastructure development. Furthermore, Melvin underlined the importance of sustainability, food security and the urgent need to address the issue of food waste. He concluded his speech by pointing out that the UAE places a strong emphasis on quality and recognises the need for collaboration and dialogue to create a more sustainable and resilient future for the food industry.
Bobby Krishna T M, Senior Specialist, Food Permits and Applied Nutrition Section, Dubai Municipality, spoke after Brent Melvin and shared an overview of Food Code 2.0 in his keynote address. He discussed several highlights of Food Code 2.0 in detail, which include:
1. New requirements for food safety management certification
2. Enhanced training programmes, and performance monitoring of training centres
3. New requirements for food transportation vehicles
4. More than 150 updated standards
5. Regulation on trans-fatty acids
Krishna began his speech by mentioning the introduction of the Food Code in 2013, which was a significant step towards establishing food safety regulations. Krishna then discussed in detail the new standards and requirements in Dubai Food Code 2.0 and emphasised their importance in the food industry and their role in driving its future. He highlighted the changes that have occurred between the two versions of the Food Code and highlighted the need to go beyond addressing current issues and to focus on preparing for the future.
Krishna also discussed the use of data in shaping the Food Code and said that the various data sets, namely food sample collection, testing, and reporting outbreaks and information on food imports are considered. Incorporating data from multiple sources is essential to have a comprehensive understanding of the industry, he said. There will be changes in licensing and processes, Krishna said, particularly with regard to the shift towards digitalisation and digital competency among the stakeholders in the food industry. He said data should not just be recorded but can be utilised to make better decisions to drive the food safety culture. In addition, Krishna underlined the importance of training and emphasised the need for ongoing education and the utilisation of e-learning modules, as they are important not just for demonstrating skills but also for putting data to the best use in decision-making processes.
Krishna also emphasised the importance of allergen management, considering the increasing number of people with allergies, particularly in relation to popular food items, such as sushi. He mentioned the existence of new guidelines for novel foods and processes, such as cell-based meat, and highlighted changes occurring in food processing methods, including smoking and hydroponics. Additionally, he discussed changes in inspection approaches, noting that businesses are expected to achieve higher levels of maturity in food safety management. Krishna concluded his address by emphasising the significance of utilising data in food safety management systems, enhancing competency, and embracing a food safety culture to ensure food quality and authenticity. In summary, his speech provided an overview of Food Code 2.0 and stressed the need for continuous improvement and the utilisation of data to forecast and predict future trends in the industry.
While Krishna touched on the significance of data in driving the future of the food industry, Brent Melvin, giving a Special Address, discussed the indispensability of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and its role in logistics and supply chain management. In his detailed presentation, Melvin highlighted the benefits of AI and how it can improve various aspects of business operations. He also acknowledged that AI can be a sensitive topic and carries risks in its use and development. However, he emphasised the importance of focusing on the positive aspects and recognising the potential for AI to revolutionise industries.
Melvin emphasised the importance of AI in demand forecasting and inventory management, highlighting its ability to predict demand and optimise inventory levels accurately. Additionally, he discussed how AI can enhance warehouse operations by increasing accuracy and efficiency, reducing complexities, and minimising errors in receiving and stock management. In his address, Melvin also explored how AI can be leveraged in data analysis and decision-making, stating that visibility and real-time tracking are critical factors in logistics. He also discussed the significant role AI can play in providing better insights and data analysis to facilitate improved decision-making. Furthermore, Melvin mentioned the use of telematics and the Internet of Things in monitoring temperature, location and other conditions in supply chain operations, enabling proactive actions to prevent issues such as food waste.
Elaborating on the importance of AI in supply chain management, Melvin emphasised its potential impact on optimising routes, improving delivery efficiency and enhancing customer experience. He also mentioned how AI can be used to enhance last-mile delivery and communicate with customers through chatbots. Furthermore, Melvin highlighted that AI has the potential to extend its benefits to predictive maintenance, risk management, fraud detection and data-driven decision-making.
During his address, Melvin also encouraged businesses to embrace AI and leverage its potential benefits. He emphasised the importance of understanding the fundamentals of AI and of engaging with experts to implement AI strategies effectively. However, he also discussed the challenges and limitations associated with AI, including infrastructure costs, data quality concerns and privacy considerations.
Subsequent to Melvin’s address, Mohammed Qadri, Regional Sales Manager-IR/FR MENA, Danfoss FZCO, made a technical presentation, in which he discussed in detail Danfoss’ focus on sustainability and its efforts to reduce CO2 emissions by promoting energy-efficient solutions, utilising renewable energy sources, such as solar panels, and working with natural refrigerants to combat global warming. Furthermore, he said that Danfoss aims to contribute to a greener future by reducing energy consumption, minimising waste and providing sustainable solutions in the food supply chain.
Qadri’s presentation gave the audience an overview of Danfoss’s sustainability and energy efficiency efforts. He mentioned that Danfoss promotes the use of advanced technologies, such as inverter compressors and electronic expansion valves, to reduce power consumption in refrigeration systems. Additionally, he said that the company offers monitoring and management solutions through its System Manager device, which can analyse data from various components and optimise system performance. Qadri also highlighted how retrofitting existing systems with energy-efficient components can lead to significant energy savings. Furthermore, he discussed the durability of inverter compressors, which have a longer lifespan compared to traditional compressors. He said: “Inverter compressors operate at varying speeds based on the cooling requirements, resulting in less wear and tear. However, when retrofitting to inverter compressors, it is essential to consider other system components, such as expansion valves and condenser fans, to ensure compatibility and maximise efficiency.”
The latter half of the conference focused on end-user perspectives on food safety and what they expected out of cold chain technology providers. It featured presentations by Dr Suheel Ahmed, CEO, Arabian Farms (Al Saha eggs); Prapthi Rai, Head of Quality & Strategic Initiatives, Barakat Group; and Bjorn Ostbye, Project Development Manager, Lulu Group International.
Dr Ahmed, speaking first, shared insights about the poultry industry in the region and globally, along with the challenges it has witnessed over the years. He stated that the demand for food, including protein, a crucial diet component, has been growing rapidly due to the increasing global population, projected to reach 9.7 billion by 2050. He said: “The poultry industry has undergone significant changes and advancements to meet the demands of the growing population and address the challenges in terms of food production. The industry has evolved into a multi-billion-dollar sector and has become the top consuming protein source worldwide, surpassing pork consumption.”
He said advancements in technology and production techniques have played a crucial role in the industry’s growth. For instance, the breeding of chickens has focused on improving productivity and increasing the number of chickens produced. Housing systems have also been developed to accommodate more chickens, ranging from cages to free-range and to barn systems. Furthermore, he emphasised the importance of healthcare, disease management and processing techniques, which are essential factors in increasing efficiency and reducing waste. Additionally, transport and logistics play a vital role in ensuring the quality and freshness of poultry products during their transportation from farms to consumers, he said.
Ahmed said that customer preferences and market demands have also influenced the poultry industry. He said: “Consumers are becoming more conscious of factors such as freshness, taste, appearance and welfare standards of the poultry products they consume. Moreover, there is a growing trend of online shopping and a preference for fresh and locally sourced products.”
Ahmed also touched on the challenges faced by the poultry industry, including maintaining food safety and quality standards, meeting the diverse demands of consumers, ensuring sustainability and environmental protection, and addressing issues of food security and affordability. However, he mentioned that there are also opportunities for growth and innovation in the industry, such as adopting robotics and automation, the development of new product ranges, and catering to the rising demand for packaged and value-added poultry products.
Speaking after Ahmed, Rai, in her presentation, focused on a sustainable food cold chain. She highlighted the statistics that indicate a significant portion of food is lost or wasted, contributing not only to food waste but also to carbon emissions. She said, “The numbers are staggering, with 526 million tonnes of food waste, which could feed nearly one billion people, while 811 million people go hungry, and three billion people cannot afford a healthy diet.” She also underlined that these alarming figures raise questions about waste management and the need to reduce food waste.
Further, she discussed Barakat’s transformation into a platform offering value-added products and how the organisation tackled the challenges posed by the pandemic through innovative solutions. She said: “Initially, we relied heavily on imported products, and the share of locally sourced products was only 11%. However, with the support of the local agricultural unit, the Municipality and government ministers, we have increased the percentage of locally grown products to 26%.” She added that this shift has allowed Barakat to reduce its carbon footprint, enhance its products’ freshness and shelf life, and support local farmers. She also underlined the importance of working closely with farmers to align their production with consumer demands and ensure the quality of end products. “By analysing consumer patterns and market requirements, we have been able to guide farmers in growing the right products,” she said. “This approach has resulted in success stories, like locally grown strawberries that rival the quality of imported varieties.”
Rai’s presentation also underlined the importance of maintaining temperature levels throughout production and transportation and its crucial role in ensuring product quality and reducing waste. She said: “Barakat has implemented cold chain management systems to monitor temperatures and closely address deviations. The use of technology, such as Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems and sensors in delivery trucks, enables us to maintain optimal conditions and prevent product spoilage.”
In her presentation, Rai highlighted the significance of a sustainable food cold chain. She also touched upon the transformation of unused desert lands into state-of-the-art agricultural facilities. She discussed hydroponics and smart systems, which reduce water consumption by up to 40%. Her presentation also highlighted data-driven approaches to tracking carbon footprints, such as providing customers with invoices that show their reduction in miles and carbon emissions. Additionally, Rai emphasised the importance of coaching in ensuring a sustainable food chain, promoting food safety and environmental responsibility.
The last speaker for the day was Bjorn Ostbye, and his presentation addressed the key issues and challenges in the various touchpoints of the cold chain. He discussed in detail the cold chain in Lulu Group as well as the organisation’s expansion strategies. In particular, he discussed the importance of investing in the right equipment, retrofitting existing equipment and replacing old refrigerants with new, environmentally friendly ones.