Synthetic DNA Barcodes on Fruits and Vegetables Could Open the Door to Food and Agricultural Transparency

Featured in the Genetic Literacy Project

Written by Richard Owen | January 21, 2021

Few technologies can transform the relationship between growers and consumers like the promise of transparency. And with Covid, many of us demand even greater assurance that our food supply chain is as safe as possible. How are growers, distributors, processors, and grocery stores implementing transparency at each point in the supply chain?

I have been working in the agriculture industry for a long time. Over 30 years to be exact. But it wasn’t until I entered the highly-perishable fresh produce sector a decade ago that I gathered a true appreciation for how complicated – and how powerful – a transparent supply chain can be.

For many deep-rooted and emotional reasons, consumers have a close relationship with their fresh produce, scanning the produce aisle high and low for just the right piece of fruit to take home. And if at a farmer’s market, they’ll often quiz the farmer on how the product was grown, what crop protection products were used, and when was it picked. Arguably, the consumer’s relationship with fruits and vegetables is the most complicated one in the supermarket.

Those are the old days. Or at least that is the past, and singular, view of how consumers connect with the most perishable of products in their shopping cart.

The promise of technology and its impact on transparency will forever change the produce aisle, just like moving from 3G to 5G technology.

 

Different Views on Produce

When I speak to consumers about transparency, they reflect with varied responses. Some will say they want to get to know the specific grower that produced the beans or apples. What type of land was the crop raised on? What chemicals were sprayed, if any? What similar products can I purchase from that particular farmer?

When I speak with growers, transparency means building deeper loyalty with retailers and the consumers they serve (with hopes the loyalty is returned). But equally important, it’s a way to keep track of the product in case of food safety inquiries and also ensuring the quality of food arriving at its final destination — a nudge for growers to improve transparency.

A Push for Transparency: Savings & Security

Like with most technologies, there must be a benefit for increased transparency to become more ubiquitous. The most tangible benefit is financial, of course. That could come in the form of cost savings by eliminating a portion of the supply chain, or through increased margin at the checkout stand demanded by a premium label.

At the same time, it could also be an opportunity to protect market share. We’ve all seen the many recalls for romaine lettuce. We’re told of a few brands and bar codes to be aware of, but how do they know? The ability to trace-back a product to a particular warehouse or field is very important for a retailer and the consumer.

In the case of a food safety incident, quick trace-back can mean the difference between a small recall involving one or two growers, or a larger investigation that involves tens of millions of dollars of impacted product. And, if consumers fall ill from the incident, a bruised reputation for the retailer or brand, regardless of the outcome.

 

A Tool for Telling a Story

According to a 2020 study by the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) and Label Insight, shoppers have higher expectations for transparency when shopping online compared to in-store. Think back to the early days of COVID-19. According to FMI, online grocery purchases soared to 27% of all grocery spending for the March/April period of this year, compared to 14% in February.

This increase in online sales will undoubtedly drive consumers’ interest in a more transparent system. Why? In the store, you can look and feel the product you are about to purchase. Online, you need something more to tell the complete story of a product – how it was grown, when it was picked, size, and other quality attributes. That’s where transparency fills the gaps.

When you go to a grocery store, what do you want to know about your fruits and veggies? Why would you pick a particular brand of berries over another? Or what is it that you like about a particular store’s produce section? We often look for certain benefits when we purchase a product. It starts with the basics of getting a good product at a fair price. But beyond that, transparency helps the consumer make a purchase.

According to IRI Research, “consumers are more concerned than ever about where their food comes from. They are not only making their concerns widely known on social media; they are editing their shopping lists based on those concerns”. Not a surprise to see that the food transparency trend is growing, especially in the younger generations.

 

A Demand From Millennials

The effect of transparency on purchase decisions is even starker among the Millennial generation. According to a Snacking Trends Report, this demographic is increasingly making purchasing decisions based on “the tenets of self, society, and planet”, which feeds into sustainability.

Millennials have a real connection to the betterment of the planet, and brands need to be careful not to miss this. They must embrace the new level of transparency that Millennials have elevated. Just “talking the talk” will no longer cut it.

Farmers Demanding Price Visibility & Insights

Farmer acceptance of transparency technology is growing for multiple reasons. In the case of fresh produce, transparency allows the grower to look for efficiencies in the supply chain. Not only with their operation, but in the part of the chain above and below them.

Through an open purchasing platform, a grower may learn what the distributor pays the manufacturer for inputs, which puts them in a better negotiating position with the distributor, or even directly with the manufacturer.

Going the other direction in the supply chain, a grower may be able to directly access consumer insights on their products and brand. In the past, that information may have been maintained by retailers or distributors that, in turn, passed it along to the grower. The net result of this shift is quicker and better-informed decisions about what to grow.

And more importantly, they can look for particular attributes to provide the highest return from the marketplace. Similar to the consumer, it often comes down to economics: can I increase my revenue or lower my costs through the use of new technology that pulls up the shades somewhere else in the supply chain?

 

Promising Technologies in the Works

New technology has a way of telling the story of ‘what’s possible’. Here are two promising examples:

Founded in 2013, a Californian company called SafeTraces developed DNA “barcodes” that can be added to fruits and vegetables via a liquid spray or wax. What’s so special about that? The company takes a small piece of synthetic DNA from organisms not typically found in the produce section – like seaweed – which they mix with trace amounts of sugar and create a sprayable solution. According to the company, the spray is odorless, tasteless, and poses no food safety risk.

If a problem with the product arises, the DNA on the surface can be swabbed and identified within minutes. Placing the DNA barcode directly on fresh produce significantly reduces the potential for traceback information to be lost. Produce boxes, which traditionally carry the tracking information, are discarded long before anyone catches on to a problem.

In a different twist on innovative traceability technology, software company HarvestMark partnered with iFood Decision Sciences to create a solution that allows consumers to not only view each step along the supply chain, but to provide feedback and reward those brands they feel are doing the best job of transparency.

The product information is collected and shared with the consumer on an item-level basis. The consumer has instant feedback linked to the product’s age, origin, and location. This allows the grower to see how a specific product performs on the grocery store shelf and then make short and long-term production decisions.

In addition to the quality and analytical measurements provided to the grower, like temperature control, inventory monitoring, and supplier notifications, this traceability system also provides a mechanism for product recall in case there is a food safety incident.

The real power of the HarvestMark technology comes through the integration of both the consumer and analytical supply-chain feedback. A highly perishable raspberry variety, for example, might have great flavor and visual appeal according to consumer feedback. Through the analytics of the traceability software across the supply chain, the grower can maximize the shelf-life of the raspberries and reduce perishability at the store level. The result is increased income for both the grower and the retailer…and a happy customer who returns for repeat business.

The promise of this technology will be optimized even further using blockchain applications, which enables the industry to share data up and down the supply chain while maintaining the integrity of the data at each source.

 

The Bottom Line

A demand for transparency stems from both the consumer and the farmer in the hopes of ensuring affordability, safety, and sustainability. Implementing these advances will radically change supply chains in the years ahead. And although consumers may only notice slight differences in the produce section, we’ll reap its benefits by paying less for safer food that’s less likely to end up in the garbage.

Richard Owen has been a part of the Produce Marketing Association since 2009, when he joined as Director of Global Business Development and has served as Vice President of Global Membership and Engagement for the past three years. Find Richard on Twitter @richardo_pma

This content originally appeared on Dirt To Dinner and was also adapted for the Genetic Literacy Project.

The SafeTraces Podcast – Episode #5

Episode #5
Melanie Nuce, SVP Corporate Development at GS1 US

In this episode, COO Ulrike Hodges welcomes Melanie Nuce, the Senior Vice President of Corporate Development at GS1 US, an organization that develops and maintains global standards for business communication, and a collaborator to SafeTraces. Melanie leads a team that investigates new technologies, partnerships, and business opportunities to increase the relevance and reach of GS1 Standards worldwide. Ulrike and Melanie discuss persistent track and trace issues within the supply chain, in particular GS1’s experience leveraging emerging technologies to drive business process efficiencies and innovation.

Is Your Supply Chain Putting Your Company at Risk?

Written by Krista Earl of TagOne | December 7, 2020

Ingredient traceability. Once merely a concern for select consumers and extraordinarily transparent brands, has become a more frequent concern of consumers and has been highlighted in the FDA’s “New Era of Smarter Food Safety” initiative.  The FDA, retailers and consumers are increasingly invested in the safety, efficacy and quality of the ingredients and their source that are the foundation of what we are putting in our bodies.  This foundation is built on one of the key components in “The New Era of Smarter Food”: Tech Traceability.  Tech traceability will combine a culture, best practices and technology to enable your organization to know, at a minimum, who provided your ingredients, and who purchased your ingredients. Sounds simple, right? Well, it depends. Let’s look further at the steps which will help you effectively manage your supply chain.

It Starts with Culture

Implementing a company culture that is focused on quality is critical to ensure that you have a safe, detailed process that keeps your consumers safe. The problem, however, is that many companies are not living up to these standards, and do not have the proper process in place to capture and analyze critical data and documents throughout their supply chain.  As recently as August 2020, a salmonella outbreak in onions caused 167 hospitalizations nationally. A study by Countless investigations around the globe have uncovered mislabeled ingredients and unsafe handling of consumable food products. A study by the Journal of American Medicine identified that less than 50% of CBD products had accurate labeling. The result? Consumers aren’t trusting food and supplement companies anymore. Additionally, this drives up legal fees and insurance premiums.

So, what can you do to protect yourself now?

  • Develop standard operating procedures. Identify and document your key process areas. And equally important, assign named individuals to own them. When something is assigned to everyone, it’s assigned to no one.
  • Get GMP/ GAP certified. This is a long, challenging process, but this will build in the discipline necessary to scale your operation and reduce your risks while you push out a quality product. Additionally, any major retailer or enterprise partner is going to require GMP certification prior to conducting business with you.
  • Know your Suppliers and Buyers. You should have a clean database of each of your suppliers (and have documentation of their respective certifications) and also each of your buyers and the products they delivered or purchased (respectively). All documentation needs to be up to date and verified (yes, companies fake their paperwork). Start with a spreadsheet and move to a cloud-based system when you have the budget.
  • One up and one back. Once you have your supplier and buyer list locked down (and an approval process to ensure you are working with safe suppliers), make sure you track EVERY transaction that occurs (date, item, lot #, location, CofA’s, etc). If your business is early stage, a spreadsheet and shared cloud drive may suffice, but as you expand, a more sophisticated technology will be required.
  • Inactive ingredients matter too. In fact, your packaging could be a risk to your product. Remember, every item that touches your product- adds risk.
  • Inspect your processor or contract manufacturer. Many of you may be thinking “I use a partner, and they say they are certified” and then stop. Well, don’t assume. You need to collect and keep all documentation, conduct an audit to ensure that they are meeting your quality standards. Remember, it is your label on the package, so you are liable in the event of an incident.

Taking it to the Next Level

  • Risk reduction. Class action lawsuits and civil disputes can put us in court, which is a significant distraction from growth, an undue financial burden and can destroy your reputation. Don’t risk it.
  • Product provenance. If you have taken the time to ensure that you have the best quality product on the market (organic, no-GMO, etc) how can you validate this claim? Blockchain traceability systems can help you differentiate your product and increase sales.
  • Chain of custody. Having proper documentation, CofA’s and buyer/seller information isn’t only for your records, it is extremely important to illustrate who was in possession of specific ingredients at what time period. This is especially critical with foreign imported items.
  • Tech traceability. Consumers want to know where the product they are putting in and on their body came from. Domestic? Organic? Allergens? And equally important, in the event there is a recall, a quick, surgical action can make the difference in lives, and millions in lost revenue. The only way to achieve this is with both a tight supply chain process and a technology system which can “connect” the data from your suppliers, ingredients, products and track to your buyers.
  • Get digital. It is time to move on from paper, spreadsheets, dropbox and your accounting system and invest in a digital platform that consolidates, organizes, and measures all of your supply chain and inventory information.
  • Predictive Analytics. Anything that is measured improves. Imagine if you could identify your more reliable suppliers based on a graph? Or which seed is going to perform better in a different climate? Being able to track your data and analytics will keep you ahead of the competition.

Building a great brand starts with building a great product. Yes, we can drive sales and have nice packaging, but your product is a compilation of all the ingredients and critical events in your supply chain. The companies that master quality and their supply chain and know where all their ingredients came from, will win by developing a reputation of excellence leading to trust from consumers and retailers.

 

– Krista Earl, Marketing Coordinator at TagOne.

TagOne is a cloud based, blockchain enabled integrated supply chain technology solution delivering groundbreaking transparency to the food and natural products industry. Learn more at www.TagOne.com or subscribe to podcasts on natural product transparency visit www.GettingTransparent.com

Using the Power of DNA and On-Product Traceability to Exceed the Security of Conventional Packaging

Featured in TagOne’s BlogOne!

Written by Ulrike Hodges, COO of SafeTraces | December 4, 2020

With increasing urgency, consumers and regulators are demanding transparency and assurances from companies, manufacturers, and distributors regarding their safety practices and the authenticity of their products. To illustrate the magnitude of the issue, the U.S spends an average of $152 billion annually on foodborne illness related costs and an average of $10 million a year per food recall. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration responded by ushering in the New Era of Smarter Food Safety, highlighting critical shortcomings of the current system in rapidly tracking and tracing food: records being largely paper-based; lack of end-to-end product traceability; and limitations in data sufficiency, compatibility, and quality for identifying products along the supply chain. These shortcomings can result in loss of life, millions of dollars in avoidable product loss, and lasting damage to consumer trust.

There is a persistent gap between the physical product being tracked and traced, and paper and digital records in the supply chain, providing the opportunity for bad actors in the supply chain to manipulate paper-based records, product labeling and packaging, and to profit from the misrepresentation of products. Product integrity can also be compromised through unintentional adulteration of records and products, due to human error resulting from an overly manual, inefficient recordkeeping process.

The good news is that blockchain and other existing supply chain solutions and digital technologies have made significant advances toward enhancing traceability and ultimately product integrity and consumer safety. Yet, the question remains on how to link a product’s digital record directly to the product.

A groundbreaking technology that leverages the power of DNA addresses the gap between the physical product, packaging, and digital-based records. SafeTraces, an innovative technology company in Pleasanton, CA has patented and deployed the miniDART® solution in the food industry and pharmaceutical industry, where it integrates seamlessly into existing production and processing steps, such as bulk commodity transfer points at the farm-level, produce wax lines or automated bag-filling lines.

SafeTraces’ revolutionary process of DNA tagging combines short, non-coding, non-living DNA sequences into edible, invisible, FDA-Generally Recognized as Safe (FDA-GRAS), DNA tags that leverage GS1 standards. The flavorless DNA tags, called safeTracers®, are applied directly to food, an API, excipient, or finished dose, in parts per billion (ppb) or less. By adding safeTracers directly to a product, the miniDART provides an immutable, covert, physical link between the product and digital traceability solutions. Using a simple test kit, downstream partners can read lot-level information directly off the product in 25 minutes, thereby rapidly accelerating the time it takes to authenticate a product even after its packaging has been removed.

When compared to conventional traceability solutions, SafeTraces’ solution delivers superior performance, ease of use, and scalability. It enables manufacturers and downstream partners to empirically support farm-to-fork claims, strengthen transparency and sustainability stories with consumers, and mitigate cost and risk associated with recalls and adulteration.

 

– Ulrike Hodges, COO of SafeTraces

Ulrike Hodges is the COO of SafeTraces, a Bay Area-based technology company and leader in DNA-enabled solutions for safety, traceability, and environmental quality. By harnessing the power of DNA, SafeTraces’ solutions meet the increasing demands of customers in the built environment, pharmaceutical, and food industries. Visit safetraces.com or contact a representative at info@safetraces.com for more information.

 

This content originally appeared on TagOne’s BlogOne! Online. Read it here.

Welcome to a New Era of Food Safety

Written by Thomas Skernivitz | October 1, 2020

This article originally appeared on Growing Produce. Read it here. 

The miniDART technology from SafeTraces applies edible, invisible, DNA-based tags directly to fruit and other produce. Photo courtesy of SafeTraces

Food traceability companies will remember the summer of 2020 for more than the coronavirus and lockdowns.

On July 13, the FDA announced its new approach to food safety, the goal of which is to bend the curve of foodborne illness in the U.S. by reducing the number of illnesses. The organization had planned to announce the initiative in March but was forced to turn its attention to addressing the public health emergency posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The New Era of Smarter Food Safety leverages technology and other tools to create a safer and more digital, traceable food system. The blueprint seeks out simpler, more effective, and modern approaches and processes.

Tasked with educating growers on the FDA program and its significance are food traceability companies such as iFoodDecisionSciences (iFoodDS), rfxcel, and SafeTraces.

“Produce growers, packers, and shippers need to meet and exceed the performance of conventional packaging and requirements of the initiative,” Ulrike Hodges, the COO of SafeTraces, says. “As consumers and regulators demand higher food safety standards and visibility into supply chain practices, on-product traceability can provide them and their customers much needed assurance of the safety and authenticity of food products.”

The FDA is focusing on four core elements that it believes could significantly reduce foodborne illness in the country: tech-enabled traceability; smarter tools and approaches for prevention and outbreak response; new business models and retail modernization; and food safety culture.

“Industry- and regulator-led efforts and standardization will set the rules of the road for the key data elements (KDEs) and critical tracking events (CTEs) that must be captured,” John McPherson, Director of Global Solutions with rfxcel, says. “For the growers/harvesters, we think that data-capture innovations will allow field-level/harvest data to be leveraged for traceability, data analytics, and many other business uses. Growers who adopt digital strategies today will be not just ahead — they will be the ones that survive. “There will be a new era of food safety.”

THE NEED FOR SPEED

Every shipper’s traceability data should be in the cloud, according to iFoodDS Vice President Minos Athanassiadis.

“The PTI (Produce Traceability Initiative) standard of ‘one up one back’ traceability is too slow to respond to future outbreaks because the fresh fruit supply chain is complex, and the traceability data is locked up in data silos within each organization across the supply chain,” Athanassiadis says.

Hodges concurs: “The lack of complete, rapid, and accurate traceability systems significantly impedes the speediness and effectiveness of traceback investigations during outbreaks and recalls. They also fail to effectively support global sustainability initiatives and prevent food fraud, undermining the public’s faith in global and even domestic food supply chains and creating financial harm to growers and manufacturers.”

Growers should realize that digital supply chains and the benefits they offer are within their reach, McPherson says. New innovations in product labeling, Internet of Things (IoT), mobile, radio frequency identification (RFID), and Bluetooth are being built to scale at the levels that growers work in. “Such innovations mean that the cost and implementation are easier to see as an investment, not as an expense,” McPherson says.

iFoodDS is working with packer/shippers to not just be PTI case-labeling compliant but also be PTI compliant in tracking their pallet shipments with Serial Shipping Container Code (SSCC) pallet tags and submitting advance ship notices (ASNs) to their customers for instantaneous trace forward.

“We are also encouraging the grocery retailers to make the most of our industry’s investments in PTI traceability by tracking cases at the DC (distribution center) and on to the store level,” Athanassiadis says.

END GOAL

Growers continue to make strides in digitizing their supply chains, McPherson says, but they need to continue evolving their operations to meet new demands of the marketplace. This includes complying with the PTI as well as potential new requirements from the FDA under the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).

“The FDA has been candid about wanting supply chains to be more digital and transparent, and growers will need to consider breaking down supply chain data from current silos and having a unified approach to that data,” McPherson says.

Adds Hodges: “Without incorporating end-to-end traceability back to the source in the produce industry, produce growers, packers, and shippers fail to meet consumers’ needs for food transparency, legal requirements, and potentially increase their risk in the event of an outbreak or recall.”


TECH ROUNDUP

iFoodDS (Kenmore, WA) — The company on May 6 acquired Trimble’s food traceability and quality inspection business, HarvestMark. “We now provide growers and shippers with comprehensive real-time food safety records along with the state-of-the-art traceability,” Athanassiadis says. “This means that, for the first time, we’re linking real-time food safety information, not annual or quarterly audits, with every case of fruit going out the door, to be able to instantaneously access and respond to food safety and trace requests.”

rfxcel (Reno, NV) — The company boasts products that growers can use to digitize — from mobile and web to sensor/IoT tech — all run from the cloud, McPherson says. “We have deep experience creating a single-source of truth for every item in a supply chain, then sharing that data with trading partners to be compliant with current and future needs, such as blockchain integration,” he says. “Our experience working with federal regulatory bodies is another big advantage we bring to our customers.”

SafeTraces (Pleasanton, CA) — The company’s miniDART technology speaks to the problem of packaging that bears conventional barcodes and other digital identifiers being removed or damaged during normal supply chain transactions. The product uses unique edible, invisible DNA-based tags (FDA-GRAS) that are applied directly to the fruit during normal processing and can be read by a downstream purchaser with a rapid, inexpensive, onsite test to verify product source and authenticity in 25 minutes.

 

This article originally appeared on Growing Produce. Read it here.

Safety & Traceability in New Industries

Expanding Traceability to New Industries

Date: May 18, 2020

We hope that you and your loved ones are staying safe amidst the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

We wanted to provide an update on exciting developments at SafeTraces. At our core, our company is a mission-driven organization committed to solving the biggest, toughest safety challenges in the world. Until recently, we have been exclusively focused on food and agriculture-based applications of our technology. And for good reason. There is tremendous need for technology-enabled solutions for food safety and authenticity – consumers demand it, regulators mandate it, and food companies invest in it as a key source of value and competitive advantage.

Our miniDART and saniDART solutions represent major technological breakthroughs for food safety. miniDART is the first and only on-food traceability solution, leveraging edible, invisible DNA-based barcodes (FDA GRAS) that are applied directly to the food or ingredient and that a downstream purchaser can read with a rapid, inexpensive, on-site test to verify product source and authenticity. saniDART is the first rapid solution for verifying sanitation effectiveness at a microbial level to receive approval from AOAC-International, the gold standard for proprietary testing methods in food safety.

However, in recent months, opportunities beyond food and agriculture have increasingly demanded our attention for three important reasons. First, COVID-19 has created seismic global health and economic challenges that our technology is uniquely suited to help mitigate. Second, many companies outside of food and agriculture have sought our support, seeing our technology as a valuable solution to safety and security challenges confronting their operations. Third, our technology is highly versatile, enabling deployment in a wide variety of applications at scale. And that is why we have been compelled to support two other global industries facing enormous, urgent challenges:

Verifying Safe Airflow in the Built Environment

COVID-19 represents an unprecedented threat to public health and the global economy. As of mid-May 2020, Johns Hopkins counts nearly 300,000 deaths and four and a half million confirmed cases of COVID-19 globally in less than six months, sadly with these statistics forecasted to continue increasing until a vaccine is successfully developed.

Ranging from office buildings to nursing homes to food processing plants, the virus presents a major safety and health risk to the built environment given the complexity of airflows and the risk of airborne transmission. Currently, property managers lack adequate tools for assessing and mitigating this risk safely.

In response, we are excited to launch veriDART, our groundbreaking solution that leverages airborne tracers that safely mimic the mobility of pathogens like COVID-19 in order to verify safe airflows for building occupancy and re-occupancy. veriDART empowers property managers with a powerful tool to identify high-risk transmission vectors, ensure effective filtration, ventilation, and other protective measures, and target remediation actions. veriDART draws on SafeTraces’ deep expertise in surrogate particle development, built over years with support from leading institutions like the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Anti-Counterfeiting for Pharmaceuticals & Nutraceuticals

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that the $200 billion global market for counterfeit drugs, touching nearly every therapeutic class, kill hundreds of thousands of people annually. Additionally, counterfeit nutraceuticals pose a serious threat to consumers as more than 50% of FDA Class I recalls between 2004 and 2012 were for dietary supplements. Product security stops at the unit of sale level, enabling significant risk of fraud, adulteration, and diversion during manufacturing and distribution.

To meet this growing need, we have introduced our on-dose traceability solution that leverages edible, invisible, FDA-GRAS, DNA barcodes that are mixed with coating or ingredients and applied to directly to pharmaceutical and nutraceutical pills during regular production. In turn, downstream supply chain partners can verify the authenticity, origin, and safety of a dose or its ingredients within 25 minutes more accurately and reliably than with traditional packaging-based serialization.

In closing, broadening our mission to ensure the highest safety standards of the food we eat, the medicine we take, and the air we breathe is an exciting and natural evolution of our company. Now more than ever, people demand transparency and assurances from food companies, drug manufacturers, and property managers regarding their safety practices. We are honored to tirelessly support our customers in making a better, safer world.

Sincerely,

Erik

 

 

Erik Malmstrom


Erik has been a leader at the intersection of agriculture and technology in senior roles at Farmers Business Network, Cargill, and the White House. He is a co-founder of CrossBoundary, a leading frontier market investment advisor, and is a combat veteran and graduate of U.S. Army Ranger and Airborne Schools. He received his undergraduate degree from the University of Pennsylvania and a joint M.B.A. – M.P.P. from Harvard Business and Kennedy Schools.

 

SafeTraces Awarded Thrive Top 50

SafeTraces Awarded THRIVE Top 50

Date: March 26, 2020

PLEASANTON, Calif. (March 26, 2020) – SafeTraces is honored to announce that it has been ranked in the “THRIVE Top 50” by SVG Ventures — an annual ranking of leading global AgTech and FoodTech companies exemplifying the best in agriculture and food-focused innovation — for the third consecutive year in recognition of its leadership in food safety and traceability solutions. 

Amid sky-high concerns about COVID-19 as well as on-going risks to food safety and authenticity, consumers are demanding greater visibility into food chains and corresponding safety measures from food companies. According to an extensive global Nielsen study, “the product benefit consumers were most willing to pay premium for were those with high quality assurances and verifiable safety standards,” with 49% of consumers globally saying that “they were highly willing to trade up in price for this benefit.”

Recognizing an unmet need in the food industry, SafeTraces developed the first and only on-food traceability solution called safeTracersTM – edible, invisible, FDA-GRAS, DNA-based barcodes that are applied directly to food and that a downstream purchaser can read with a rapid, inexpensive, on-site test. safeTracersTM are especially valuable in food chains with elevated risk of pathogenic contamination, counterfeiting, and environmentally destructive sourcing practices, where rapidly verifying product provenance and authenticity is vital and where traditional packaging and paper documentation-based methods of tracking and tracing have proven to be ineffective, slow, and vulnerable to tampering and error.

Additionally, SafeTraces has developed a groundbreaking, AOAC-certified rapid sanitation verification solution, saniDART™, to quantify the microbial load reduction of cleaning and sanitation on Zone 1 surface in food processing facilities through the use of FDA-GRAS, non-living bacterial surrogates. While traditional solutions often require sending samples to a third-party lab and waiting days for results long after product has left a food processing facility, saniDARTTM provides results on-site within 20-25 minutes, enabling food processors to make in-process corrective actions and ultimately mitigate the risk of contaminated product reaching consumers.

“It is an honor to be recognized with the THRIVE Top 50 Food Tech award for the third year in a row,” says SafeTraces CEO, Erik Malmstrom. “Now more than ever, consumers are demanding food safety and traceability from their food companies, rewarding leaders and punishing laggards. As the global food system evolves, we are here to empower industry actors with market-leading technology and data to ensure that they are delivering the safest, most authentic, and most sustainably sourced food to their consumers.”

Over the past year, SafeTraces has significantly expanded its market reach into food chains exposed to significant risks related to food safety, fraud, and sustainability — including produce, bulk commodities, and protein. SafeTraces has partnered with leading food companies and technology solution providers in order to advance the mission of food traceability and safety.

About SafeTraces

Founded in 2013, SafeTraces provides the only patented on-product food safety solutions that protect the food industry and consumers from food recalls, adulteration, and fraud. The company is committed to providing complete, low-cost solutions that deliver results in minutes. Its traceability solutions enable customers to gain full transparency, protect their brand, and reduce processing and recall costs. SafeTraces sanitation verification solutions provide insight into the effectiveness of the sanitation process – on-site and in minutes. The company is led by an expert team of entrepreneurs, scientists, and engineers dedicated to using nature’s own DNA to make food production safer, more transparent, and sustainable. Learn more about SafeTraces at www.safetraces.com

 

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Lessons in COVID-19

Lessons in COVID-19

Date: March 25, 2020

Takeaways for the Future of Food Safety

Erik Malmstrom

The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed our dangerous lack of public health readiness to contain the rapid spread of a deadly virus in the US, demonstrated by our insufficient testing capabilities and our inability to effectively track and trace in the early days of the outbreak. While there is no evidence that COVID-19 can be transmitted by food or food packaging, it is fair to question the US food system’s preparedness for pandemics in which food has greater potential to be a carrier. Identifying and addressing weaknesses now has the potential of mitigating the risk of catastrophic health and economic consequences in the future.

In the US, a multi-stakeholder coalition of the Center for Disease Control (CDC), Food and Drug Authority (FDA), Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Authority (USDA-FSIS), and state and local public health authorities is responsible for responding to infections and outbreaks transmitted through food. Enacted in 2011, the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) upgraded the US food safety system for produce and processed food, governed by FDA, by requiring stronger tracking of foodborne illnesses, stronger oversight of food production, stronger preventive controls, and empowering FDA with mandatory recall authority. However, at the time of FSMA’s enactment, Congress did not simultaneously upgrade safety standards for meat and poultry, governed by USDA-FSIS, with food recalls continuing to be almost all voluntary and initiated by manufacturers and distributors.

Consequently, critics believe that fragmentation of the food safety system in the US has resulted in “inconsistent oversight, ineffective coordination, and inefficient use of resources.”¹ Moreover, the current system has led to bifurcated outcomes – total produce and processed food recalls governed by FDA have decreased 34% since the implementation of new food safety plans for food companies in 2016, with the most hazardous recalls (Class I) dropping 54%. Meanwhile, total meat and poultry recalls governed by USDA-FSIS have increased 65% since 2013, with the most hazardous recalls (Class I) increasing by 85%.²

Technological modernization is another challenge and opportunity for food safety. In 2019, the FDA launched a major initiative called “The New Era of Smarter Food Safety” in order to “leverage technology and other tools, to create a more digital, traceable, and safer food system.”³ In many respects, the US food industry lags behind other industries with respect to its level of technological sophistication for ensuring the safety and security of its supply chain. One of the most glaring gaps between current food industry practice and commercially available technology used in other industries pertains to rapid testing for food safety and traceability. As we’ve seen with South Korea and other Asian countries that have most effectively responded to COVID-19, deploying rapid testing, tracking, and tracing technology in healthcare, early and often, can have a decisive impact on containment. Similarly, rapid testing, tracking, and tracing technology is extremely valuable in identifying and removing lethal contaminants in the food chain.

Currently, much of the food industry employs outdated low-tech solutions for food safety and traceability. These solutions have repeatedly demonstrated their shortcomings with fatal consequences. Over the past two years, high-profile recalls of romaine lettuce, beef, and flour, among others, due to e.coli contamination not only failed to identify contaminated product before it hit retail shelves and endangered the lives of consumers. Disturbingly, post-recall investigations often took months to complete, failed to identify the original source of contamination, and failed to prompt meaningful reform of food safety practices.

Recognizing an unmet need in the food industry, our company developed the first and only on-food traceability solution, leveraging edible, invisible DNA-based barcodes (FDA Generally Recognized As Safe) that are applied directly to food and that a downstream purchaser can read with a rapid, inexpensive, on-site test. Our solution is especially valuable in food chains with elevated risk of pathogenic contamination, counterfeiting, and environmentally destructive sourcing practices, where verifying product provenance and authenticity rapidly is vital and where traditional packaging and paper documentation-based methods of tracking and tracing have proven to be ineffective, slow, and vulnerable to tampering and error. 

Additionally, we developed a groundbreaking rapid sanitation verification solution to quantify the microbial load reduction of cleaning and sanitation in food processing facilities, and thereby significantly mitigate the risk of pathogenic contamination being present in consumer food. While traditional solutions often require sending samples to a third-party lab and waiting days for results long after food product has left a food processing facility, our solution provides results on-site within 20-25 minutes, enabling food processors to make in-process corrective actions and ultimately protecting consumers. We represent one of many innovative food tech companies, several of whom we partner closely with, with breakthrough technology to deliver on the lofty ambitions of the FDA’s “New Era of Food Safety” initiative.     

While several market leading food companies have jumped at the opportunity to work with us, occasionally we have received positive feedback from others, but with the disappointing qualifier that they will not purchase our solutions unless regulators impose more stringent requirements upon them. Moreover, many of these same companies recognize food safety risks in their supply chains but believe that liability resulting from the powerful food safety data provided by our solutions, particularly if available to regulators and auditors, outweighs the risk of maintaining the status quo and the potential of being implicated in a food recall. In other words, otherwise good actors felt that they would be penalized for doing the right thing and proactively bolstering their food safety program.  

Amid sky-high concerns about COVID-19, consumers may ultimately be a greater driver for significant food safety reform and modernization than regulators. Already, consumers are becoming increasingly concerned about the safety of fresh products with greater likelihood of multiple human touchpoints. Moreover, consumers are demanding greater visibility into food chains and corresponding safety measures being taken, rewarding leaders and punishing laggards. According to an extensive global Nielsen study, “the product benefit consumers were most willing to pay premium for were those with high quality assurances and verifiable safety standards,” with 49% of consumers globally saying that “they were highly willing to trade up in price for this benefit.” 

In response to the 2008 financial crisis, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel famously stated, “A crisis is a terrible thing to waste.” To Emmanuel’s maxim, I would add the corollary, “Technology is a terrible thing to waste.” Groundbreaking technologies like ours and others have the potential to dramatically enhance the safety and security of our food system in good times and bad. However, this potential will only be realized if the food industry is incentivized and compelled to modernize by consumers and regulators, and to bring technology off the sidelines and into the fight. They should seize the opportunity to act now before it is too late. Our company and other innovative food tech companies stand ready.

– Erik Malmstrom

Erik Malmstrom is CEO of SafeTraces, a Bay Area technology company and provider of DNA-enabled diagnostic solutions for indoor air quality. Further information can be found at www.safetraces.com.

The Companies Trying To Track Everything We Eat

Featured in Fast Company

Date: September 8, 2019

For a startup founder, Charlie Sweat carries a particularly heavy burden. In 2006, he was CEO of Earthbound Farm, the California-based farm and factory that produces the majority of the country’s packaged organic salads, when an E. coli outbreak struck the company’s spinach. Three people died, and 200 more were sickened. The source, investigators later surmised, was likely at the source of the spinach: an Angus cattle ranch that had leased land to a spinach grower.

The experience left Sweat unnerved, but it gave him an idea, too. Preventing outbreaks was a matter of knowing where the tainted food came from. But for legacy food companies, supply chain transparency is a daunting task, complicated by a vast number of suppliers, plants, distributors, and products. Different producers use different tagging systems and different sensors to track different things. Piecing together the details of what comes from where and goes where from seed to table had never really been done successfully before. If it could be, the implications for both public health, corporate transparency, and anti-counterfeiting efforts would be huge: Between food and pharmaceuticals, the market for tracking technologies is expected to grow to an expected revenue of $14.1 billion by 2020, according to a report by Allied Market Research in 2014.

That year, Sweat stepped down from Earthbound, capping a 16-year stint at the company, but he took his idea with him. A few months later, with money from the owners of Earthbound, friends and family and investors, he founded Frequentz, a Palo Alto-based startup that touts a comprehensive “track-and-trace” system for food safety—like FedEx tracking, but for each piece of the food supply chain, from seed to table.

Sweat says that by uploading and integrating any kind of data collected from any kind of tag or sensor, the system can discover the source of a food-borne pathogen, be it a contaminated farm or a broken refrigeration unit. The data could not only help companies identify inefficiencies on their supply chain, but also meet a rising crop of food safety regulations, and help satisfy our growing hunger for more transparency about the foods we eat. Named for the frequency of updates required for a transparent food supply chain, Frequentz aims to slash the number of food-borne illness outbreaks—and make a killing among efficiency- and transparency-conscious food companies.

“Since it is possible now to know everything about your product, the stakes are much higher if you haven’t done everything you can to validate what you sell,” says Sweat.

The food safety problem alone is immense and costly. Last year, Food Safety magazine counted 622 food safety recalls globally due to contamination, with each recall estimated to mean losses on average of $10 million. Food-borne pathogens affect as many as 48 million Americans a year, and according to research by Robert Scharff, an associate professor at Ohio State University, the annual cost of medical treatment, lost productivity, and illness-related mortality is $55.5 billion.

There’s also the threat of illegal practices like unregulated fishing or adulteration, in which suppliers might add something to food to lower their costs. Said to be most prevalent in liquids such as olive oil and in powders such as spices, this form of fraud is estimated to cost the industry $10 billion to $15 billion a year. In one example last year, ground cumin had been covertly mixed with peanut protein, prompting about 20 recalls and leading the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to issue a consumer warning.

The Frequentz software, custom-designed for each client, depends in part on a growing transportation “internet of things,” including sensors on food crates, in trucks, and on packages. It’s built to accept mobile data from sensors measuring the condition of produce, such as freshness and temperature, as well as scanners picking up packing label data and geographic coordinates. Unlike its handful of competitors, including HarvestMark and FoodLogiQ, Sweat says Frequentz has been designed to combine any data collected from any sensor.

Data from even the smallest farms and fishing vessels can be uploaded on the fly. Eventually, says Sweat, consumers at supermarkets will be able to access that data on their smartphones, including whether a product is fair trade, was harvested or made by workers earning living wages, or contains GMOs or gluten.

 

This post originally appeared in Fast Company. Read it here.

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