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Dr Sarah Taber @SarahTaber_bww
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Back from United Fresh! Made some new best friends:

ImpactVision team @seeimpactvision

They're working on hyperspectral photography for food so we can grok its quality better when we're making it and wind up with less waste.
Nathan Jin at Ivy @ivyfoodtech

Ivy works on a vital & really underserved area in food traceability and I LOVE it and here's why it's important. Keep scrolling for a v. niche thread on agricultural IT.
A lot of "food safety software" out there is basically built for 1 party: the farm can use it to keep its own records.

But food safety & traceability actually has a LOT of document swapping that needs to happen between 2 or more parties.
An example: For traceability to actually be meaningful, you don't just want to know the food came from facility X.

You also want to know that facility X is clean and not, say, a heaven for rats. This is one of many things covered in a food safety audit.
So obviously the first thing we check in an audit is visual: we personally check through the facility looking for signs of rodent activity, do they have a monitoring program, etc.

But as cool as it is to do a visual check, that's just 1 day in the life of a facility.
There's only so much you can learn about how a facility performs year-round by looking at it on the 1 day when you're there, as an inspector, and they're on their best behavior bc they knew you were coming.
Enter: RECORDS.

So for example most food facilities contract out their pest control to a company like Ecolab. Ecolab sends someone out to do an inspection, reset any traps needed, etc a couple times a month, & Ecolab sends the report on what they found to the farm.
Ecolab has an in-house software that they use to send those pest check reports to the client.

But as an auditor, I don't have access to that system. It's only 2-party.
And pest control is only one of several reports & docs that farms & facilities get from their service providers. There's lab test results, loads of supplier control documents like certificates of analysis for fertilizers, MSDS sheets & chemical labels, lab accreditations, etc.
In a lot of ways farms & food facilities really behave more a lot like general contractors.

Which means lots & lots of agreements & info-swapping & reports.

Plus the normal on-farm records like fertilizer & spray records, planting & harvest dates, etc etc.
With the current system of recordkeeping, farm basically has to gather the paper records from their own in-house tasks PLUS the binders full of documentation from their service providers. It's SO. MUCH. RECORDS.
Marketing tries its best to make farming out to be quaint & simple, but there's just a mind-blowing amount of information involved in making a farm work.

Farmers have to deal w it every day.

And one day out of the year, a farm gets audited, and then *I* gotta deal with it too.
A common complaint on food safety audits is we only look at the farm/facility for a couple hours, & spend the rest of the day swimming through paperwork.

Look man I don't like it either but how else are you gonna know anything about the other 364 days when you're not there
(don't @ me on how records can't be trusted bc ppl can fake them

this ain't Wall Street- there are physical things we can check and tell if the records are way off from reality. it's so much more work to fake farm records convincingly than it is to just keep them properly.)
The way food safety auditing works now, we have to come out & do both the visual check & the records dive on the same day (bc nobody wants to pay us to fly out twice)

& for farms the visual check has to be during harvest, AKA the worst possible time for 3-6 hrs of paperwork.
Harvest is the busiest season, there's lots of work & it's very time-sensitive. Just not a good time for fiddling around with files.
For auditors, there aren't enough of us to go around so we often have to do multiple farms per day. Each one featuring both the visual check & 3-6 hours of paperwork. Oh and it's farm country, so the farms we have to hit on the same day can be an hour or more apart.
My first real audit trip was a month long. Long days & lots of travel, with not a lot of opportunities to eat or sleep. I lost 20 lbs and wound up in the hospital.
And again, most of that "killer long days on the road" phenomenon is just due to the amount of paperwork we have to go through at each site.

To be clear, this isn't a "too much red tape" complaint. Those records really are important.
Buuuuuut what if when we visited a farm or facility, all we had to do was the visual check (a 2-3 hr visit) and we could do the records check remotely. From home.
We'd be able to handle more clients in a day, which would reduce farms' costs considerably. Less burnout. Farmers always complain that there never seem to be experienced auditors to use. Yeah it's cause we're all half-dead after a couple seasons & find something else to do. 🤣
If all the records can be audited remotely, farmers are freed up from having to babysit an auditor at worst possible time of year or fly us out again in a quiet season.

Oh and they get to have all their info from their subcontractors on hand with minimal fuss & drama & filing.
The cool thing about Ivy is it does the 1 thing we need to make remote auditing work- gathering ALL the info from ALL the farm's subcontractors & getting them ALL to a 3rd party, like an auditor or buyer.

Most farm IT I've run into so far addresses this tangentially, if at all.
Anyway this is my very niche thread on farm & food system IT and its consequences in the real world of airplanes & semitrucks. Anyone who's interested in farm IT go follow @ivyfoodtech because Nathan Jin is the traceability hero the world needs
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