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Did you know? According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the great majority of people will experience a foodborne disease at some point in their lives. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that each year 48 million people in the U.S. get sick from a foodborne illness, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die. Researchers have sourced the cause to be more than 250 foodborne diseases. Most of these are infections, caused by a variety of bacteria and viruses such as Norovirus and Salmonella, as well as parasites getting into food. Harmful toxins and chemicals also can contaminate foods and cause foodborne illness.

Today’s food value chain is complex and there are many steps along the way from on-farm production until the food reaches the consumer. Food can become contaminated at any point along the way. Globalization is also making this chain even longer, which the WHO says is causing disease outbreak investigations and product recalls to be more complicated. Every stakeholder, from producer to consumer, has a role to play to ensure the food we eat does not cause diseases.

These issues not only affect people, but entire societies and economies. At Microsoft, we believe that technology can help to prevent these catastrophes, starting with leveraging technology like IoT, track-and-trace, and blockchain. But, even more importantly, we need to leverage advanced analytics and AI to foresee concerns and prevent health issues in the first place, as well as provide workers with the visibility of quality KPIs along the way.

My team and I just returned from Hannover Messe 2018, where the promise of IoT-enabled intelligence as a means to end world hunger was top-of-mind during our many of our discussions. It makes sense that this topic is more prevalent than ever before. For years now, and especially at Hannover Messe, we have been talking about the “how”: how to connect your devices, your products, and remote monitor machines on your plant floor.

Today, we are elevating the conversation to talk about the “why.” Why do we need connected intelligence? And why is this important to help us address the big challenges of the world? Connected intelligence is critical to disrupting the current food value chain to keep our food safe, plentiful and healthy.

To illustrate the impact, this year at Hannover Messe, Microsoft and our partners and customers showed what is possible when you apply connected intelligence to help solve some of our world’s biggest problems: food safety & quality and food loss & fraud.

Food Safety & Quality

According to the IARC Working Group, 500 million people in developing countries are at risk of chronic exposure to a highly carcinogenic mold called aflatoxin throughout their lifetime. In Kenya, only 20 percent of corn is safe for human consumption due to aflatoxin contamination. At Hannover Messe, our partner Bühler presented an incredible breakthrough that is making a significant impact on this problem. Noted as a “remarkable technology that will diminish a global cancer threat” by Forbes, Bühler’s LumoVision solution is a data-driven optical grain sorter that is connected to Azure for data analysis. It uses powerful cameras and ultraviolet lighting to hunt for hidden infections, sorting good corn from bad corn – the German press humorously titled it “Cinderella Machine.” The system is such a breakthrough and fits so well with the company’s mission to reduce waste and increase food safety, that Bühler is planning to get it to market by year-end, in half the time it would normally take. Poised to contribute to the health of millions of people worldwide, this story really stole the show at Hannover Messe. Watch it in action here.

Bühler’s mission to improving food quality and safety also includes additional innovations, including the TotalSense digital mobile rice analyzer that provides a 10-times-faster and objective quality control. A customer submits a photo of a rice sample and receives a quality report, including an analysis of broken and discolored rice grains. Bühler’s Safefood.ai improves food safety through data-driven early warnings by scanning thousands of official databases, webpages, news and social media channels for events and rumors related to food safety. It identifies food and feed products affected and provides customized early warnings to food processors, enabling its customers to stay ahead of food safety risks.

Rodents can also be a leading source of food contamination. Droppings from mice and rats can spread dangerous diseases and viruses, such as Salmonellosis, a type of food poisoning spread by rodent feces, and Rat-Bite Fever, a potentially fatal infectious disease spread by infected rodents or the consumption of food contaminated by rodents.

New regulations including the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) and the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) are transforming the nation’s food safety system by shifting the focus from responding to foodborne illnesses like those caused by rodents, to preventing them. Some exciting innovations to support regulations like FSMA and GFSI include Bayer’s Digital Pest Management Services Platform that addresses the needs of sensitive businesses such as food processing, where rodent control is mission critical. The first solution in market under the Bayer Digital Pest Management umbrella is an innovative Rodent Monitoring System that retrofits existing rodent traps with sensors and relaying data—such as whenever a trap gets shut—to immediately notify pest management professionals of a rodent capture. In the past, a rodent could remain undiscovered in a trap for as long as a week or a month until the trap is manually inspected. The service provider has no way of knowing when the rodent was captured and cannot quickly respond to get to the root cause and head off further infestation.

By connecting these devices—including those that were previously offline—and collecting and analyzing data in real-time via Microsoft Azure, food manufacturers can prevent potential pests, instead of reacting after the fact. In addition, predictive analytics can help reposition traps, allowing professionals to respond more quickly to problem zones. In the future, there is even more potential around capabilities to drive preventive interventions based on behavioral, environmental and public data.

With our strategic partner for Precision Agriculture, EY, we demonstrated solutions that are addressing food loss early in the value chain—from managing yield productivity on the farm, to food quality and traceability. Learn more about our partnership in this new video.

Partners DJI and SLANTRAGE also demonstrated how crops can be monitored to prevent disease or pest outbreaks using drones to harness data in new ways for real-time monitoring and predictive analysis. This is helping farmers quickly get the information they need to make crucial decisions. Microsoft’s FarmBeats program sends large amounts of data from ground-based sensors, tractors and cameras to a computer on the farm using TV white spaces, a type of internet connectivity similar to Wi-Fi but with a range of a few miles. What’s revolutionary here is how the power of edge computing is lowering the cost of field oversight and accelerating the response to crop threats, while artificial intelligence is unlocking new insights to enhance production.

OSISoft likes to say that people with data can transform their world–even if it’s for the sake of increasing the quality and flavor of beer. We couldn’t agree more. Take Deschutes Brewery. To maximize output and ensure quality, Deschutes is using OSISoft’s PI System, which ingests real-time data on temperature, pressure, flow rate, fermentation and other information in the brewery. Developed by software company OSIsoft, the system delivers data to Microsoft Cortana Intelligence Suite for predictive analytics that saves time and increases fermentation capacity. The intelligent solution accommodates natural variations in hops and barley, needed adjustments for taste and aroma, and different brewing requirements for each beer.

Food Loss & Fraud

Kapsch is doing something very innovative around food production. Its Single Product Tracking solution is an end-to-end platform combining sensors, connectivity, AI and applications that generates a digital fingerprint for individual production goods, transforming the approach to traceability, food safety, and quality control. To ensure efficient and trusted end-to-end traceability, Schneider Electric also demonstrated how blockchain can transform the supply chain, providing food safety through traceability and quality management, from farm to fork.

Partnering to meet our global challenges

Photography depicts Microsoft’s FarmBeats technology uses AI and IoT to help increase farm productivity.

The issues around food loss, safety, quality, and fraud cannot be understated. If we as a collective society cannot get ahead of these issues and start to turn the tide, we will be unable to feed our world in the coming decades.

In a world where everything is connected, and computing is embedded in everyday lives, we believe technology can help to prevent those health risks coming from low quality or poisonous food. It is up to us, as digital leaders, to turn this connectivity into actionable, trustworthy intelligence that can improve our societies and our planet.

This is a responsibility that we take seriously at Microsoft. We’re bringing together AI and cloud technologies, environmental science, and programmatic resources to empower people and organizations to solve global environmental challenges across water, agriculture, biodiversity, and climate change to accelerate the sustainability of our planet. We are looking at ways to empower a circular economy where all resources and materials are regenerative by design, so we can close the loop on our environmental impact.

I predict that these are the kinds of big ideas and powerful conversations we will be having in the years to come, and certainly next year at Hannover Messe 2019, as we continue to partner with leading innovators to create a better and safer world for future generations to come.


Twitter: Claudia Roessler