August 8, 2017 | Written by: Jen Clark
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Setting the scene: Bridesmaids, food safety and the IoT
I’m going to cheat a little on this post, by ruining just one scene from this fabulous film. Most of the dramas we encounter along the way stem from protagonist Annie’s need for a big inner tidy, and far-reaching though it is, the IoT isn’t the answer to an existential crisis. So let’s confine ourselves to more practical matters, and see if IoT food safety measures could have rescued our bridesmaids from food poisoning instead.
The movie: Bridesmaids
Bridesmaids gleefully and unapologetically rides roughshod over all things wedding-related, flinging aside the concept of ‘appropriateness’ in favour of biting honesty and the bitter realities of food poisoning, frenemies and coping with being a 30-something whose life is going down the pan just as your all your friend’s dreams come true. Bridal fittings, Hen Do and Shower all fall hilariously foul of tradition, mainly through the antics of Maid of Honour Annie, whose inability to rein in her personality makes her both utterly wonderful and a complete nightmare in equal measure. Sanitary it ain’t, but it will make you bray with laughter.
How the IoT could ruin Bridesmaids
One scene in particular stands out in iconic glory. Following a visit to a (dodgy) Brazilian steak restaurant, bride Lillian and her maids succumb to prompt and explosive food poisoning – right there in the fancy bridal shop. It’s a terrible shame, but it did get me thinking about food safety, and whether or not the IoT could have helped Annie & co. avoid the situation. Well, the short answer is yes. And here’s how:
- End-to-end monitoring (with help from connected sensors)
- A super awesome multi-sensor device to inspect raw food
- Big data, DNA-sequencing and pattern spotting
If those concepts have you diving for Google, you’re not alone. Let’s take them one at a time.
The IoT and food safety: end-to-end monitoring
End-to-end monitoring simply means that it’s someone’s job to check that food doesn’t go off at any stage of the farm-to-table journey: from harvest, to manufacturing, to transport, to purchase, and finally to consumption.
Naturally that’s a difficult job to manually oversee, so it’s not uncommon for food manufacturers to incorporate sensor data into their monitoring processes. Sensors measuring food dust particles, temperature and humidity can identify opportunities for contamination in food manufacturing plants or transport containers, and alert managers to adjust the environment accordingly.
The MUSE-Tech project, or, the super awesome multi-sensor device
At the raw edge of food safety tech, meanwhile, is something called the MUSE-Tech project, which incorporates three cutting edge sensing techniques into a single, multi-sensor device, in order to optimise food quality and pick up any nasties before they reach your table. The three techniques are:
- Photoacoustic spectroscopy: a technique using acoustic detection to measure macromolecules (such as proteins) or even detect chemical toxins.
- Quasi Imaging UV-Vis spectrometry: a method used in analytical chemistry to determine the quality of edible oils within food.
- Distributed temperature sensing: the use of optical fibres to measure temperature along an optical sensor cable. They work like linear sensors, which means that the temperature is recorded continuously, not at intervals.
In a nutshell, the three sensors together do what one alone cannot: namely, supporting real-time monitoring of food components, as well as the all-important temperature distribution throughout the process.
Big data and food safety
The beauty of having lots of sensor data to play with is that the more information you have, the easier it is to spot patterns that might not have been visible before. The causes of food borne diseases become more evident as these hidden correlations come to light.
Mars and IBM have been working on a project that aims to create an index of bacteria normally occurring in food, by sequencing the DNA and RNA of food bacteria across global supply chains. With that index for comparison, it becomes easier to spot points of origin across the supply chain in contaminated food, and avoid it getting as far as the gullet.
If the bridesmaids’ Brazilian restaurant had been the end point of a supply chain that used IoT methods to measure food safety, our ladies could have been spared their collective humiliation. But, it wasn’t, and the film is all the better for it.
If you want to learn more about the role the IoT has to play in food safety, you might be interested in IBM Researcher David Chambliss’s fascinating post about food safety analytics. Meanwhile, we’ve been busy ruining lots of other movies with the help of the IoT. If you’d like to see a specific flick get the ruins movies treatment, give us a shout in the comments below.