This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 861915. Coordinated by George-John Nychas

“Digital Technologies as an enabler for a continuous transformation of food safety system”

DiTECT – H2020- SFS-37-2019 – 861915-2

Coordinator; George-John NYCHAS

Project’s summary

“DiTECT will develop an integrated framework for real-time detection, assessment, and mitigation of biological, chemical and environmental contaminants throughout the food supply chain. Bringing together research, industrial and food authority partners representing the agro-food industry in the EU and China, DiTECT aspires to establish the foundation for future food safety monitoring platforms, through the development of a standards-based, modular, Big Data-enabled platform, capable of accurately predicting food safety parameters of a given food product based on data collected in real-time via cost-efficient sensors, at crop, grain storage, livestock and finally in the food supply, incorporating blockchain processes. DiTECT integrates multidisciplinary research teams from fields such as microbial and spectroscopic fingerprinting technologies; emerging ICT-based food tracing systems; signal analysis and data mining. Microbial profiling will be attained via conventional microbiological analyses in tandem with advanced molecular methods (e.g., NGS-based metagenomics), while spectroscopic profiling will be based on spectral data generated using appropriate rapid, non-invasive methods and sensor devices. DiTECT recognizes that current foodchains are lacking a complete snapshot view of food safety at the crop/livestock and finished product levels, and so foresees the development of a cloud-enabled storage system for all data corresponding to different insights of product-specific safety aspects, to be integrated into. The novel food safety services will be demonstrated in four (4) real-world Pilots with the active engagement of 21 EU and 13 CN partners, using real datasets to validate efficiency improvements. The carefully structured work plan embodies a “multi-actor” approach to prototype and validates a ready-for-take-up framework of significant exploitation potential for the agro-food industry.”

Executive summary

The agri-food industry is nowadays called to successfully cope with multiple challenges and operate under seemingly contradictory expectations. Indeed, food business operators (FBOs), along with regulatory authorities and consumers, share the responsibility of ensuring food security, integrity and safety in an environmentally sustainable manner, while at the same time taking into account the increasing lack of natural resources as well as the continuous evolution of consumers’ life-styles and contemporary consumption habits. These facts, realized in the context of tremendous recent technological advancements, are of global significance, with particular relevance and importance for the EU and China. In this framework, and also taking into account that the agri-food supply chain is the weakest link across the food chain in both regions, the aim of the DiTECT project is to provide quantifiable evidence for the effective detection, assessment and mitigation of biological hazards, chemical hazards and environmental contaminants, using the latest advances in software technologies and high throughput, rapid, non-invasive sensors.

DiTECT envisages to facilitate the creation of transparent and reliable national and international food supply chains, through an integrative approach supported by state-of-the-art authentication and traceability technologies, usable across the entire food chain. To accomplish this vision, DiTECT will focus on a predefined set of food and food chains, namely corn (both as farm feed and raw material), cattle (including meat products and milk), poultry (including poultry meat products) and fish (as food) (Fig.1).

For these specific food chains, four pilots are planned with partners from both EU and China being actively involved. Food hazards/factors that will be monitored include:

(a) biological hazards (Salmonella, Escherichia coli, Campylobacter spp., biogenic amines and mycotoxins);

(b) chemical hazards (heavy metals, acrylamide, fungicides/pesticides, veterinary medicine residuals, shellfish toxins and antibiotics);

(c) environmental contaminants (CO2, N2 – NOx, N2O, NH3, CH4, PAHs, fumigants); and

(d) malpractices (e.g., temperature mismanagement) and fraud issues including fraudulent marketing claims (e.g., omega-3 enhanced or corn fed vs. standard/conventionally fed poultry/other meat) and adulteration (e.g., adulteration of beef with offal).

The DiTECT project has the following specific objectives:

  1. To explore the needs, preferences, demand and acceptance of various food chain user groups;
  2. To implement product-specific food safety models for international food chains involving multiple FBOs in the EU and China;
  3. To bring together different food value-chain actors and regulatory authorities across the EU and China;
  4. To design and develop the open DiTECT technology hub, referred to as “intelligent” Food Safety Management System (iFSMS);
  5. To develop the novel food-chain-level DiTECT framework;
  6. To render DiTECT offerings efficient, effective and attractive for commercial food actors while infusing trust by guaranteeing lower risk of food hazards, leading to sustainable transformation of market operations;
  7. To demonstrate and validate the efficiency of the DiTECT through product-specific food safety use-case models;
  8. To scale up, disseminate and communicate the developed tools and project findings in order to contribute to the EU and China world market vision.

In order for these objectives to be achieved, a highly structured and logical 36-month work plan has been developed with the input of all partners including, among others, primary production stakeholders and food processors and authorities. Eight integrated research and innovation work packages (WPs) have been envisaged in the developed project’s work plan. Project management (WP1) will ensure the project’s governance. As mentioned above, four pilots have been designed (WP2), and the selected hazards/factors that will be studied across food chain, as well as the pertinent applied protocols and instruments used (i.e. rapid, non-invasive sensors for detection and monitoring), are described in WP3, while the performance of these instruments will be also validated. WP4 will deal with the storage and management of the data derived from WP2, WP3 and WP7. Risk assessment on selected hazards/factors will be studied in WP5, while the validation of the iFSMS, which will be developed in WP6 (based on WP2 and WP3), will be performed in WP7. In particular, the web-based iFSMS will be made available to final users, by feeding the realization of ICT solutions and chain management in WP7. WP8 will be dedicated to communication, dissemination and exploitation, and will frame project activities to increase awareness of hazards/contaminants and food safety worldwide. This WP will also be in charge of the harmonization of results and communication among WPs, providing guidelines for dissemination and exploitation activities to disclose the relevant project deliverables, outcomes of workshops, training and conferences. Within this WP the EU-China dialogue will be enhanced and facilitated, and the same applies for the participation of stakeholders, communities and end-users. Each WP will be led/co-led by experts in the related domains (one leader from EU and one co-leader from China or vice versa), in order for a comprehensive task management and a fluent circulation of information among involved partners to be ensured.

The DiTECT project exhibits a rather innovative potential lying in the design and adoption of an interdisciplinary approach, which is based on a versatile monitoring tool and is expected to be applied for the qualitative and quantitative control of critical quality and performance attributes (e.g. from the field to processing and distribution chains), thus serving as a fundamental element of practical decision-making and early warning systems. The project’s research is related to a radical long-term vision of combining analytical novel fingerprinting technologies, emerging lot-based food tracing solutions, and new data mining and cloud-computing technologies into an open, shared and science-based knowledge repository. In this sense, new applications that are beyond the current state-of-the-art should be enabled, such as predicting quality and safety of perishable foods regardless of the geographical limitations and the storage conditions in the whole food chain. The novel cloud-enabled storage system (iFSMS), ultimately aims at the assembly of a complete holistic picture of the tested products’ quality and safety at any time during the distribution chain, with a long-term vision of widening the adoption of the new technological tools to additional (beyond the ones studied) food products.

The successful implementation of DiTECT is expected to significantly reduce biological/chemical hazards and environmental contaminants, through means of early detection before they make their way to the final product. Moreover, the collaboration between the EU-China food businesses and research partners will result in enhancing consumers’ confidence in the safety of food traded between the two regions, throughout the farm-to-fork continuum.

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