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Frequentz tackles traceability

10th October 2016

As consumers demand more transparency about their food, and outbreaks of food borne illnesses have the ability to destroy a brand, traceability is becoming a serious imperative for the food industry. The challenge has been the prohibitive cost for a sector that faces slim profit margins.

Frequentz is a Palo Alto start-up that touts a comprehensive ‘track-and-trace’ system for food safety, by tracing each piece of food through the supply chain from seed to table. By uploading and integrating any kind of data collected from any kind of tag or sensor, the system can discover the source of a food-borne pathogen. Making the data accessible could not only help companies identify supply chain inefficiencies, but also meet a rising crop of food safety regulations, and help satisfy consumers growing hunger for more transparency about their food.

Frequentz relies on the growing transportation “internet of things” including sensors on food crates, in trucks and on packages that measure the condition of produce, such as freshness and temperature. It accepts data from scanners picking up packing label data and geographic coordinates.

Frequentz co-founder Charlie Sweat brings a unique perspective to the traceability challenge. He was the CEO of Earthbound Farm, a California-based producer of the majority of the country’s packaged organic salads. In 2006 an E.coli outbreak affecting Earthbound’s spinach resulted in the deaths of three people, while another 200 were made ill. He maintains that companies who respond proactively in real time to an outbreak, explain to consumers what happened during an outbreak and how they will prevent it from happening again are going to retain customers.

Data from even the smallest farms and fishing boats can be easily uploaded according to Sweat, and eventually supermarket shoppers will be able to access the information on their smartphones. As well as providing safety information, consumers will be able to tell whether a product is fair trade, harvested or made by workers earning living wages or contains gluten.

Frequentz is one of a number of companies trying to crack the US traceability market, which has been given a new urgency following Chipotle’s woes late last year. Chipotle had run its own tracking system, but it was shown to be critically flawed during last year’s outbreak Once ingredients reached Chipotle stores tracking stopped and ingredients were mixed during food prep. That’s why, despite an investigation by the Centers for Disease Control, the source of the outbreaks has not been found. Chipotle has now bought Frequentz competitor FoodLogiQ in to address the issue.

In the not too distant future systems such as these won’t be optional for food companies – traceability that is comprehensive and timely will be a must have.