Future Innovations in Food Fraud Prevention? – Review of the McKinsey Disruptive Technologies Report for 2013 to 2025

Written by: John Spink

Primary Source: Food Fraud Initiative

McKinseyThe McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) published “Disruptive technologies : Advances that will transform life, business, and the global economy” (http://www.mckinsey.com/~/media/McKinsey/dotcom/Insights%20and%20pubs/MGI/Research/Technology%20and%20Innovation/Disruptive%20technologies/MGI_Disruptive_technologies_Full_report_May2013.ashx).  The innovations discussed have the opportunity to transform the food industry and contribute to Food Fraud prevention.  Disruptive innovation can spark or extinguish a company – let alone entire industries – in a flash.  While we need immediate solutions to immediate problems, with a clear vision sometimes a disruptive technology quickly changes our lives.  Think about it, the fastest computer in 1975 cost $5 million and had the equivalent computing power of a$400 smartphone today.  In 5 years will the cost of that computing power be cut in half?   Free?

Disruptive Technologies

McKinsey is one of the world’s most respected management consulting companies.  MGI identified  12 disruptive technologies that have the potential to transform our economies and world.  I have added some commentary on how they might apply to Food Fraud prevention:

  • (1) Mobile Internet  (“Internet-enabled portable devices” that don’t need a hard-wired connection)
    o Consumers/ Inspectors/ Auditors: What about smartphone eye-glasses that automatically scan a product when you handle it… and they automatically authenticate the product, packaging, read expiration dates or check lot numbers against recalls.  This could also be implemented for a forklift driver handling incoming goods or a retail shelf stocker.  There is a TREMENDOUS  opportunity to EXPONENTIALLY increase the transparency of the supply chain.  Increased transparency reduces the opportunity to conduct fraud – and reduces the fraud opportunity.
    o Information Sharing: Mobile access to the internet goes beyond just connecting people instantly – e.g robot labs could be connected and instantly communicate to Cloud-based databases.  Handheld Raman spectrometers are already available commercially  and can be used to sync up to a central database at least daily.  Again, transparency of the supply chain would increase and we’d also have more information, instantly, on problems.
  • (2) Automation of Knowledge Work (“…artificial intelligence, machine learning, and natural user interfaces… making it possible to automate many knowledge worker tasks…”)
    o Quality Control/ Inspectors/ Auditors: What about a raw materials incoming goods laboratory testing system that goes beyond non-targeted testing to using artificial intelligence to scan the product you’re holding for fraud opportunities.  A variation could be instantly assessed and then checked through “The Internet of Things” and disseminated through the Cloud-based databases, or engage 3 D printing to create the bio-sensor needed for one of a near infinite number of adulterants.
  • (3) The Internet of Things (“…embedding sensors and actuators in machines and other physical objects to bring them into the connected world…”)
    o Information Sharing: Beyond the tactical countermeasure of a sensor that detects one type of adulterant, to an integrated platform that evaluates an environment that might be ripe for enabling a food-borne pathogen to exist… but with intelligence analysis that connects back to all types of fraud opportunities across all products, even from outside the food industry.  Melamine, horsemeat, smuggling, country of origin fraud and most other Food Fraud incidents are not Black Swan events (never possibly conceived before) but Gray Swan events (there were some signals, though very faint).  Connecting everything together, in real time, with more powerful and instantly evolving detection methods, will definitely identify more obscure fraud opportunities – the guardian gap of the fraud opportunity as we know it could be almost eliminated (see previous crime triangle and Situational Crime Prevention presentations).
  • (4) Cloud Technology (“…any computer application or service can be delivered over a network or the Internet…” including databases and software)
    o Information Sharing: Of course, information gathered, stored, and disseminated from a central hub increases transparency through, well, having more access to more information.  Beyond just the data, the Cloud Technology could provide access to the right software and programs to analyze new data.  Being able to instantly draw upon, literally, the latest thinking will enable incredible speed and technology advances in Food Fraud prevention.
    o Central, Global, Industry-Wide Supported Decision-making: Many of the most costly food safety recalls occurred – even with the best intentions – from unwise or uninformed decision-making.  Also, more information could reduce — what are probably the easiest recalls to avoid — a label with an undeclared allergen.
  • (5) Advanced robotics
    o Quality Control: At first I skipped this disruptive innovation but then thought about an automated laboratory that could be operated remotely, in hostile environments, and adjust to changing testing methods and protocols.  The robotics would reduce operator education and human error – some of the most technical equipment requires years of operator training. With 3D Printing and Cloud Technology a new piece of equipment or test could be developed, remotely, on demand, and then the test conducted by advanced robotics. Also, a robot could work in a vacuum (no air) so air filtration and human contamination issues would be eliminated.
  • (6) Next-generation genomics (“… modifying genetic material with the latest big data analytics capabilities…”)
    o Testing/ Manufacturing: Could genomics allow us to identify a pathogenic contaminant and then use those laboratory robots to develop a response that alters the DNA to change the microbe to be non-toxic?  Or even to be able to treat contaminated product – that would usually be destroyed after a recall – to reduce food waste (1/3 of the planet’s food is supposedly wasted in one way or another).
  • (7) Energy storage
    o Quality Control: Very simply, a continuous, high-quality, and reliable supply of electricity is important – and a current challenge in many parts of the world – for high-tech food testing equipment.
  • (8) 3D printing (“enables on-demand production, which has interesting implications for supply chains and for stocking spare parts… Scientists have even “bioprinted” organs…”)
    o Quality Control: Could 3D printing create test kits instantly anywhere?  With robotics, combined with The Internet of Things, the new tests and test methods could be instantly implemented around the world.
  • (9-12) Other disruptive innovations that do not seem to have as many direct contributions to Food Fraud prevention: Autonomous and near-autonomous vehicles, Advanced materials, and Renewable energy.

So, now back down to earth.  If we review the Futurist concepts of Disruptive Technologies while thinking about the core Food Fraud prevention strategic needs and the core theories like reducing the fraud opportunity, some innovations seem not only interesting but possible and practical.  The practical application to your everyday life is… could we achieve some of these innovations with current technologies and processes?  Could we get 80% of the value with current technologies or just a work process change?  Maybe… probably!  We’re very early in the implementation of Food Fraud prevention and in most cases there are no laws and even no common definitions – it’s incredible what we will accomplish by working together.  Stay engaged!  JWS. 

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John Spink
Dr. Spink has been focused on product fraud since the Michigan State University’s Food Safety Program and the School of Packaging began research on the topic in 2006. This work expanded to the behavioral sciences and criminology and led to the establishment of the Anti-Counterfeiting and Product Protection Initiative in 2008. In 2009 the work shifted to the School of Criminal Justice where the Initiative evolved into a Program.