Innovation Insights: Technology is transforming traceability and transparency in the seafood sector
By Nestor GomezFood Safety Packaging Processing Technology Seafood Canadian Food Innovation Network Editor pick food fraud Foodtech Index Biosystems Mabel Systems ThisFish
Concerns over counterfeiting and labelling claims have led Canada’s seafood and fisheries sector to provide greater transparency and traceability into their supply chains. New technology has emerged to help those efforts, while preventing fraud and providing more efficient inventory management and quality control.
Having traceability at all stages of seafood processing means being able to document a product’s path from catch through to final customer. In other words, a seafood company can prove a product’s provenance, sustainability, and safety at each step in the process. Traceability also enables businesses to demonstrate responsible sourcing practices and compliance with government regulations, which gives consumers more confidence in the business.
Unfortunately, mislabelling and fraud have become common in the seafood sector in practices such as species substitution, incorrect weights for products, and misrepresentation of a product’s origin. Without some form of transparent traceability system, companies may face health and contamination concerns, as well as legal measures such as fines or other penalties.
Governments and organizations are working to improve label accuracy through certifications and standardization. There are technologies for tracking products, such as barcodes, QR codes, and other digital markers, but because of their format, they have traditionally had limited use in the seafood sector. New technology coming onto the market hopes to address those barriers, and boost their use, while adding greater automation to the seafood processing sector.
Vancouver, B.C.-based ThisFish, which now operates globally, provides TallyVision, an artificial intelligence solution for seafood traceability and production workflows designed to boost business efficiency, transparency, and compliance in seafood supply chains. The company’s software, combined with sensors and industrial hardware, such as scanners, digital scales, and computer vision technology, help seafood processing plants automate data collection and digitize information systems to produce real-time insights that can be used to improve traceability and quality control, while reducing waste. The software also provides for the use of QR code labels, allowing customers to track seafood through retailing and processing back to the farm or fishing vessel that harvested it.
Toronto’s Index Biosystems offers a different route toward traceability. The company uses biotechnology to turn baker’s yeast into microscopic biotags to trace products through the supply chain. In August 2022, Index Biosystems received funding through the Canadian Food Innovation Network’s (CFIN’s) Innovation Booster program to pilot a project with its automated biotag application system to tag and trace grain.
Another company offering fisheries and seafood processors help to both manage inventory and trace the movement of products through the supply chain is Sydney, N.S.-based Mabel Systems. Mabel provides a data capture platform that allows seafood companies to digitize receiving and production, giving them more control over inventory, food safety, and demand forecasting, while allowing for accurate, real-time tracking of products. When combined with hardware such as advanced computer vision technology, the software allows processors to easily share information with retail customers, consumers, and regulators.
As more fish and seafood companies turn to innovative technology for improving efficiencies and compliance while alleviating concerns about fraud and mislabelling, consumers will continue to benefit with fully traceable products and more information about the sector.
Nestor Gomez is chief technology officer for the Canadian Food Innovation Network (CFIN), a national, member-based organization stimulating transformative and transferrable innovation across the Canadian food sector. Visit CFIN at www.cfin-rcia.ca.
This column was originally published in the November/December 2023 issue of Food in Canada.
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