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Innovation, Technology

HOW BLOCKCHAIN CAN IMPROVE THE FOOD SUPPLY CHAIN

20/09/2021
HOW BLOCKCHAIN CAN IMPROVE THE FOOD SUPPLY CHAIN

The digital era we live in entails an ongoing digital revolution that changes technology rapidly. The interesting part of these fast changes is the versatility shown by technological innovations that seem to develop new potential when applied to different sectors.

Take blockchain, for example. Initially created to regulate the transactions made in cryptocurrency, it now stands as the most revolutionary way to innovate the food sector and its supply chain. We all know by now that a blockchain is a digital distributed ledger, maintained by a network of multiple computers that store data in the form of blocks which are cryptographically secured and immutable. In other words, we are talking about a process of passing information from stage to stage that takes places in a fully automated and safe environment. It is in this perspective that blockchain becomes truly interesting for all of us involved in the food industry, as it can indeed create a new system that grants a better traceability and improved food safety while building relationships based on trust.

So far the food supply chain system has been based on the reliability of all the numerous professionals involved: crucial information were shared by each one of them but these data used to be stored in their local serves or shared on paper documents. Chances of fraud were high. As soon as blockchain becomes integrated in our respective businesses, we will able to share a secure environment where each of the participants in the supply chain can access relevant, unmodifiable data. It is not just about reliability anymore, it is about accountability.

If we then consider the final hyperconnected consumers, whose trust can now make or break the success of a food company, more advantages need to be taken into account. These consumers will be able to check the data concerning a certain product while shopping, simply using their smartphones with QR code readers: in this scenario, giving transparency to sustainability and quality will become of paramount importance to preserve brand reputation. Involving the final consumer as an active inspector of the production and supply chain will also help a specific market like ours protect the original Made in Italy products from those “Italian sounding” ones that do not respect the standards and traditions of our agrifood excellences, thus safeguarding their high quality.

Innovation, Technology

HOW ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE CAN IMPACT ON THE SUPPLY CHAIN

26/07/2021
HOW ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE CAN IMPACT ON THE SUPPLY CHAIN

As we all know by now, Artificial Intelligence (AI) is the ability of machines – especially computer systems – to perform tasks commonly associated with human intelligence. Since the term was coined, back in 1956 at a conference in New Hampshire, AI has become a trending topic spanning various sectors. Many are its applications but what mostly interests us is its implementation within the supply chain.

The capabilities of AI are already significantly increasing companies’ efficiency in the areas of predictive demand, warehouse management and operations costs. Intelligent systems can rapidly process and analyze a huge number of data thus guiding companies to be more proactive by allowing them to forecast new consumer habits and anticipate demand trends. Intelligent algorithms can also minimize the risk of overstocking, reduce the need for additional warehouse staff and – generally speaking – optimize speed and accuracy which, in turn, lead to lower operational costs.

The downside of its application in our sector is linked to a series of challenges that are still to be solved. Typically, AI systems are cloud-based and powered by expansive bandwidth which requires costly hardware. Significant investments – both in terms of money and time – need to be done also in training personnel during the integration phase. If predictive analytics solutions are already in place in some areas of the logistics sector, there is no denying that professionals who make sense out of the data produced are still scarce. Last but not least, maintenance of AI-operated machines can also be expensive and so might be the overheads, impacted by the possible amount of energy involved.

Still, Artificial Intelligence is revolutionizing the world of logistics thus proving to be essential to innovating supply chain transformations. AI entails a holistic approach that demands us to (re)set our priorities as far as investments in technology, processes and personnel are concerned. To get them right, more collaboration is foreseeable in the next few years between logistics companies and AI providers.

Innovation, Technology

HIGH PRESSURE PROCESSING: THE NEW FRONTIER OF FOOD PRESERVATION

09/06/2021

High pressure processing (HPP) is a non-thermal technique that allows food preservation by inactivating harmful pathogens and vegetative spoilage microorganisms that cause food-borne diseases. With this system, most foods can be efficiently preserved while minimizing the impact on taste, texture and nutritional value.

HPP utilizes intense pressure (about 400–600 MPa or 58,000–87,000 psi) at a process temperature of less than 45°C. Products in flexible and water-proof packages are conveyed within plastic baskets into a vessel which gets filled with water; this, in turn, gets pressurized at 6,000 bar. Acting uniformly, isostatic pressure inactivates food-borne microorganisms and spoilage enzymes in a few minutes while leaving no evident crushing effect on the products. After the pressure treatment, the vessel is depressurized, water is drained and products in baskets are conveyed out of the vessel.

This pressure treatment can be applied to both liquid and high-moisture-content solid foods which are treated in their final packaging, thus minimizing the risk of recontamination from any other step of the production chain. By eliminating the use of additives and heat, HPP minimizes also the risk of costly recalls therefore it can rapidly enhance business growth. The longer shelf life it guarantees helps reducing food wastage in the supply chain.

While proved lethal to microorganisms, HPP does not break covalent bonds and it barely affects food chemistry. Recent studies have shown that high pressure processing is particularly effective for fruit and meat products as, after the treatment, their appearance and consistency remain unchanged for a long time.

In a world where the vast majority of consumers have shown a growing interest in healthy, minimal-processed food products that can be stored for longer periods without losing its nutritional value, high pressure processing seems to be the new frontier of food preservation that allows food processors to develop products with a superior quality, a ten times longer shelf-life (in comparison to non-treated fresh products) and – since HPP excludes preservatives – with a clean label.

Innovation, Technology

INNOVATIONS IN FOOD PACKAGING

24/05/2021
INNOVATIONS IN FOOD PACKAGING

Food packaging is a global industry that has experienced a constant growth in recent years: plus 6.8% in value terms since 2013, a figure that confirms packaging as an essential element in modern trade. Due to the growing interest that consumers are showing in fresh products with extended shelf life, the biggest challenge that the food packaging industry is currently facing concerns continuous innovation in concepts and technology to satisfy and somewhat anticipate their needs.

Starting from the visual appeal that significantly influences the consumers’ choices, one of the most interesting innovations is vacuum skin packaging. With its clear, attractive packaging that showcases the product, this segment is rapidly beginning to outpace other case-ready market ones. The advantages are not only aesthetic, though: because vacuum skin packaging removes almost all of the residual oxygen from the package, it also minimizes the need for preservatives while increasing the shelf life of the food and reducing product loss. Furthermore, besides the appetizing presentation, the peel-off effect makes the products rather easy to unpack, thus adding another benefit for the final customer.

All in all, if until a few years ago food packages had the passive role of containment, protection and marketing of the products, today they are requested to have also a dynamic role in food preservation in order to retain the safety and quality of food throughout the entire distribution chain. For this reason, whereas traditional packaging materials were meant to be as inert as possible, innovative packaging concepts are now based on an efficient, active protection of food via the interaction among the food itself, the packaging and the environment inside it. In this perspective, active packaging promotes enhanced food preservation thanks to particular features of the materials used which help reduce food waste by preventing microbial and chemical contamination, as well as maintain visual and organoleptic properties of food.

If the safety of materials that come into contact with food is a prerequisite for the food industry so is the development of sustainable packaging that ensures that those materials are eco-friendly, recyclable and obtained from renewable energies. “RefuCoat” is an interesting European project that aims to develop two new types of bio-based food packaging materials: an active coating consisting of polyglycolic acid and modified silica oxide as alternative to current metallized and modified atmosphere (MAP) packages and a new grade of compostable and bio-based polylactic acid with improved barrier properties, compared to those currently available on the market. Aiming to achieve a zero waste target, other innovative studies concern the addition of nanometric fillers to biodegradable materials to improve their structural properties and consequently the shelf-life of the packaged product, while minimizing the environmental impact.

Logistics and supply, Technology

FROZEN FOOD IS A HEALTHY AND WASTE-CONSCIOUS CHOICE

12/04/2021
FROZEN FOOD IS A HEALTHY AND WASTE-CONSCIOUS CHOICE

Frozen food has earned a negative reputation over the years for being highly processed and less nutritious than fresh food. You may be surprised to learn that this is far from the truth. Frozen food can be just as healthy, if not healthier, than its fresh counterpart: it all depends on how quickly and efficiently the food has been frozen and also on how professionally the supply chain has been managed before that frozen food reaches our kitchens.

Freezing food to avoid spoilage is a practice that has been popular since 3000 BC when the ancient Chinese used ice cellars to preserve food through the cold winter months. Also the ancient Romans used to store food in compressed snow in insulated cellars. Even if technology has made a remarkable progress over the centuries, the basic principles behind this method remain the same: by lowering the temperature of the food to a degree where germs and bacteria are unable to thrive we can prolong its life while keeping the nutrients intact.

In the food industry, technological progress is happening at such high speed that when it comes to mechanical freezing even the once popular Cold Store freezing, with its slow freezing time and the consequent formation of big ice crystals that stress the membrane and the delicate structure of the product, is now rather obsolete and it has been replaced by IQF. Individual Quick Freezing is the most recent development in freezing technology: this high-tech, intelligent system relies on components, materials and operating systems that provide the best food safety, low maintenance and energy efficiency. In a few words, the advantage of IQF freezers is their capacity to quickly and separately freeze small, flat, unpackaged food products without creating large ice crystals that damage the cells of the product. The high quality achieved by using IQF pairs well with the benefit for the final customers to defrost the exact amount of food they need for their meals thus reducing waste.

As the frozen food market is experiencing a rapid expansion, new freezing methods supported by innovative technologies are being trialed to better control the crystallization process and to accelerate the freezing rate: high pressure freezing, ultrasound assisted freezing and radio-frequency assisted freezing are some of them.

Innovation, Technology

FOOD PRESERVATION TECHNIQUES

22/03/2021
FOOD PRESERVATION TECHNIQUES

The COVID‐19 pandemic significantly disrupted the food supply chain: think of all the food normally going to restaurants that had to be diverted to other outlets to avoid its waste or all those gaps in the supermarket shelves due to the absence of common items whose availability has always been taken for granted. In this context, having a system in place that allowed distributors to extend the shelf life of foods proved to be essential: it was not just about being able to meet the unforeseeable peaks and falls in demand but also – and above all – about preserving the health of billions of consumers worldwide.

All the new technologies we had already implemented – that control the deterioration of food while preserving the properties associated with quality and health benefits – helped us stay strong during this unexpected, bizarre time. By combining the study and understanding of food science with an in-depth analysis of innovative technologies, we have always opted for food preservation techniques that could fit within the framework of sustainable and healthy practices.

As food safety is the main priority, incorporating innovation and sustainability in every step of our supply chain – from production to distribution via storage and preservation – led us to adopt different methods according to the diverse types of food we process. Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) and HACCP protocols taught us to favour all the most innovative techniques that contribute to keep pathogens under strict control and reduce food spoilage. Depending on the level of microbial destruction required, a pasteurization or a sterilization process may be necessary: in their conventional application though, these thermal food preservation methods can significantly impact on the retention of nutritional values and the preservation of the actual colour and shape of the original raw material. Considering that these are the two characteristics that consumers nowadays appreciate and find reassuring, we are very interested in seeing how these techniques will improve thanks to the progress of technology. As for the non-thermal food preservation, freeze drying has produced excellent results for us and so has done IQF (Individual Quick Freezing), the most recent development in freezing technology which we adopted many years ago. In order to provide optimal solutions to our clients worldwide, we are also considering HPP (high pressure processing) and active packaging techniques like MAP (Modified Atmosphere Packaging) that contribute to keeping food quality at its best during storage.

Food preservation is no longer as simple as it was in the past, it has become an interdisciplinary science that involves all the players in the ‘farm to fork’ supply chain: it requires knowledge and consciousness as each step of the process – harvesting, handling, processing, packaging, storage and distribution – may easily affect the characteristics of food. Our integrated approach, based also on the constant and open dialogue with both our suppliers and clients, allow us to offer top-of-the-range Italian products all over the world, overcoming what used to be the impossible combination between long-distance shipments and short shelf life and the old prejudice about frozen food being perceived as low quality.

Innovation, Technology

OUR ADVANCED COLD CHAIN

22/02/2021
OUR ADVANCED COLD CHAIN

As governments all over the world began the distribution of Covid-19 vaccine, cold chain management has emerged as a crucial factor for ensuring the effectiveness of the vaccine itself. An efficient management of the vaccine cold chain requires several degrees of coordination among multiple stakeholders such as – just to name a few – pharmaceutical manufacturers, specialized laboratories for storage and logistics providers who can ensure climate-controlled transportation and distribution.

Even if for a completely different range of products, this process is not dissimilar to the one we experience on a daily basis in our business. The cold chain and logistics management for the food industry is just as complex as the one implemented in the pharmaceutical sector: it entails science to understand the chemical and biological processes linked with food perishability and technology to guarantee that appropriate temperatures are maintained throughout the entire supply chain.

Since we started Alifood our main goal has been to promote Italian food excellences worldwide; at the same time, as the culinary tradition of our country is mainly based on fresh food, it has also been our biggest challenge. For this reason it has always been fundamental for us to have in place an integrated cold chain logistics system that would allow us to safeguard the integrity of the products we export. At the beginning we started off with refrigerated food then, twenty years ago, our love for fresh Italian food made us one of the first global food traders to invest in the research and implementation of cutting edge food technology and advanced food preservation techniques such as IQF. Colloquially known as “flash-frozen”, Individually Quick Frozen foods retain all their nutritional qualities, flavour and texture. Completely safe to store for a long time in domestic freezers, IQF foods show no bacteriological development, are easy to portion and need shorter cooking times. Easy to distribute and store, they also enjoy a longer shelf life as they remain fresh up to roughly one year – or even more – from the date of production.

Today our integrated cold chain management system – that starts from our local producers and ends in our clients’ storage facilities – not only preserves the organoleptic properties and nutrients of all the varieties of food we offer but it also significantly reduces the shipments costs connected to airfreight. Continuous research, training and a constant, open dialogue with both our clients and our suppliers are the catalysts of every innovation we keep introducing. Each advancement is made in compliance with the most recent EU regulations about frozen foods that aim at preventing potential damages and ensuring optimal shelf life. This provides us with the advantage of being able to market in faraway countries even our freshest products like cheese and cold meats which could not otherwise be enjoyed by Italian food enthusiasts all over the world.

Technology

CLEAN ENERGY FROM WINE PROCESSING WASTE

17/12/2019

 

Is it possible to generate clean energy from wine processing waste? Today, it is indeed. The innovation is a result of the partnership between Ca’ Foscari University of Venice and Serena Wines 1881 – among the top-5 Italian producers of prosecco – which teamed up in a biennial research project based upon a joint patent.

Ca’ Foscari President Michele Bugliesi and the Director of the Conegliano (Treviso)-based company, Giorgio Serena, have signed an agreement for the in-lab development of new generation PV cells that will exploit the natural dyes of the lees – the waste product of winemaking and clarification.

In the eyes of Bugliesi, the operation is “A significant example of the impact that the corporate-scientific research collaboration may have in terms of technological progress, innovation of economic processes, and production systems”.

The method patented by Ca’ Foscari and Serena Wines 1881 is the first ever in which the dye to use in the ‘Grätzel cells’ is extracted from a waste product. In the innovative PV cells, the dyes capture sunlight and transfer electrons to a semiconductor, mimicking plant photosynthesis.

The research activity is performed at the labs of the Science Campus of Ca’ Foscari in Mestre (Venice), equipped with state-of-the-art devices on which the university is investing 3 million euros in the 2018-2020 triennium, aiming to be a place of gathering and contamination for research and development purposes, open to any cooperation. Studies behind the patent will take place, in particular, at labs specialized in photocatalytic processes and renewable energy, boasting the tools for design, synthesis, and investigation of functional inorganic nanomaterials.

Innovation, Technology

Food photography: techniques and advice

10/05/2017

 

If it’s not an art, it’s not far short either. Photographing food is becoming increasingly important for those who work in the food industry: producers, traders, caterers and food bloggers. What could have more impact than an image when promoting one’s products?

Some turn to professional photographers, others do it themselves, but it’s the finer details that always make the difference. Here is some practical advice for beginners.

 

1-Your subject

A camera lens emphasizes every single imperfection so you need to make sure the dish you want to photograph is absolutely perfect.

 

2-Framing the shot

Your distance from the dish and your position will affect the angle of the shot. A 30° angle is the most natural because it’s the point of view we usually have when we’re seated at the dinner table, while a right-angle shot highlights the thickness of the dish, its container and the setting. It’s best to avoid standing too far: the shot needs to be filled with the image, even focusing on a tiny detail and not the whole dish.

 

3-Light

The best light for photographing food is natural light, either from the back or the side. The flash on a digital camera is public enemy number one: you’re better off deactivating it and raising your camera’s ISO (light sensitivity) to its maximum level.

 

4-The setting

Making sure your setting is perfect – cutlery, napkins and contrasting elements – helps create an appealing effect and increases the effectiveness of the shot.

 

5-Colour

You can use plates and decorations that match the dish you’re photographing, playing with similar hues, or experiment with clashing colours. The right setting will make the dish you photograph look even more appealing.

 

6-The human touch

Include a human detail, such as hands, to give your picture a sense of reality.

 

If you’d like to know more, here are some recommended sources:

 

Food Photography: A Beginner’s Guide to Creating Appetizing Images Corinna Gisseman

Food Photography: From Snapshots to Great Shots  Nicole S. Young

Food Styling: the art of preparing food for camera  Dolores Custer

Food Photography: Pro Secrets for Styling, Lighting, and Shooting Lara Ferroni

Plate to Pixel: digital food photography and styling Helene Dujardin

1,000 Food Art & Styling Ideas: Mouthwatering Food Presentations from Chefs, Photographers & Bloggers from Around the Globe Ari Bendersky

More Food Styling for Photographers & Stylists: A guide to creating your own appetizing art Linda Belligam

Technology

The most used preservation methods chosen by the food industry

26/01/2017
most used food preservation methods

From the beginning of human settlement, the need to preserve food and limit food spoilage was essential for survival. Since then, many household methods of food preservation, such as the addition of spices and fermentation, have evolved. In today’s modern commercial food production, spoilage and contamination are preserved by a variety of methods. Continue Reading…

Technology

Agriforestry: what it is and its benefits

24/01/2017
what it is agriforestry and its benefit

Behind climate change and the economic policy placed on the importance of environmental issues, sustainability is a perpetual challenge and agroforestry is one of the best tools we currently have at hand. Agroforestry plays a key role in helping the world adopt sustainable agriculture and contrast climate change. Continue Reading…