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COVID-19 has led to increasing global concern, not only for the health and safety of individuals and the global economy, but also its impact on food safety. Food safety intelligence specialist Agroknow founder and CEO Nikos Manouselis looks at why collaboration is essential at this time.

The global food safety industry is one of the sectors that has been significantly affected by COVID-19. Companies within the supply chain all over the world, have experienced a number of concerns due to the pandemic, both around disruption to the food supply chain and the safety of the food.

First, a growing number of concerns have focused on the outbreak’s effect on the logistics of the supply chain. The supporting infrastructure has been impacted due to logistical challenges, such as a reduced workforce and an increase in demand – this has led to a number of delays. Additionally, food safety audits have been restricted due to limitations on travel and mobility. Despite this, alternative methods have been introduced and utilised, for example digital methods – allowing essential food safety checks to continue.

Second, there’s concern surrounding transmission of the virus and how these risks are assessed and controlled. Throughout the outbreak, the presumption that COVID-19 cannot be transmitted through food has been widely publicised, however this speculation may have led to a lack of precautions taken by food manufacturers and suppliers. At the same time, as the possible use of alternative suppliers increases due to shortages, vulnerability assessments for raw materials must be updated as the survival rates of the virus differ with food groups, for example acidic, fermented or packaged.

Controlling the effects of the pandemic within food safety

Founder and CEO of Agroknow Nikos Manouselis
Founder and CEO of Agroknow Nikos Manouselis

In order to target the issues presented by COVID-19, it’s important the food safety industry utilises the continuous monitoring and analysis of all possible official and trusted data sources around the world.

With access to data within the global supply chain, businesses and professionals within the industry can identify any increasing risk trends or incidents that need global attention – as well as producing and downloading useful insights that can be rapidly communicated to all food safety and quality professionals in the supply chain. Even more now, when everything should be done remotely.

Food safety agencies and other public sector bodies globally have long collected and publicised key food safety information, such as data on potential contaminations or safety incidents which could have an effect further down the chain.

The difference now is that in an era of digital transformation and artificial intelligence, such data can be made available globally, in real-time, and harnessed in far more sophisticated, but easy to use ways than ever before.

By drawing on human skills and expertise of scientists and analysts there’s potential to enrich open source data, producing both a reactive and predictive approach to achieving visibility over the global supply chain.

Not only will this improve the way the food safety industry handles the COVID-19 pandemic but also any future outbreaks.

The importance of collaboration

Many businesses may feel as though sharing their intellectual property may result in giving the competition an advantage. However, when it comes to ensuring global food safety, especially during a global pandemic, a compromise must be found.

Building a collaborative food safety ecosystem that is empowering key organisations to share information seamlessly with one another, is essential if the global food industry is to respond to the challenges wrought by COVID-19.

It is why we, at Agroknow, decided to open access to our Food Safety Data platform to support any FSQA professional to take decisions with confidence even during these difficult times.

Organisations such as the Open Data Institute  and the Open Access Movement are working to build more open data ecosystems, whereby business and public sector organisations can work together to share data insights and ultimately drive better decisions.

Within the food industry specifically, the Global Open Data Network for Agriculture and Nutrition (GODAN) is a powerful example of how these principles are having a positive impact on global supply chains. For example, research highlighted in the Global Data Ecosystem for Agriculture and Food found that food and agriculture would benefit hugely from a common data ecosystem – helping to build an infrastructure that will propel the industry forward by tackling food safety and ultimately ensuring more of the world’s population has access to reliable and safe food.

It’s essential we work together by offering access and sharing global data insights, not only during the time of the pandemic but at all times, to ensure global food safety and to future proofing against reoccurrences of similar outbreaks.

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