Using big data for improving food safety

The issue of the identification, registration and description of big datasets for agriculture, food and environment has been heavily discussed during the last years; however, an obvious question rises: How is big data actually used in practice for addressing actual issues in the agri-food sector?

An article on Wired presents a number of cases where big data are used in the food industry. An additional use case is the collaboration between IBM and Mars, which is expected to change the way that food safety is perceived; what these two giants (in technology and food context, respectively) are actually working on an index that will be a gold standard for food and health officials globally to understand what triggers contamination and the spread of foodborne diseases. The potential of this research effort is huge, as the outcomes will allow the food sector to safely work in contexts that were not clear before; therefore they might induce food-related diseases. 

Mars food scientists are extracting DNA and RNA of simple food samples and test it with common organisms or genes, toxins, and heavy metals to determine where anomaly and mutations occur when combining them. The process is complex and involves the use of data already produced by Mars researchers throughout the years. At the same time, IBM researchers are implementing a big data informatics infrastructure and analytics processes in order to facilitate the analysis of huge volumes of data (referring to many TBs of data) produced by the Mars researchers. The expected outcomes will be in the form of innovative tests and protocols for different food and health processes.

This is just an example highlighting the importance of big data in the food sector; however, there are many others available, along with big data sources that may be available to researchers for applying analytic techniques over them and extracting conclusions of high importance for the agri-food sector, such as food security, food safetyetc. These data sources and the organizations behind them need to be identified and described. Big Data Europe, a Horizon 2020 project that both UN FAO and Agroknow are proud members of, is already working in this direction, aiming to record all players in the agrifood big data sector. Through this process, UN FAO, Agroknow and other organizations are working on the creation of the European map of research projects, initiatives and institutions on big data in agri-food sector, aiming at identifying the organizations producing such big datasets, the attributes of these datasets (in terms of type, format, volume etc.), the issues related to their management and analysis etc.

If you are working for a project or organization that produces or manages large amounts of agri-food data, just let us know in the comments and we will get in touch with you as soon as possible!