FoodWay, identifying needs and testing methods for data and information flow in the food chain

#26, September 2022

Satu Välijärvi

RDI Team manager. Natural Resources, Oulu University of Applied Sciences.

Technologies for advancing traceability and food safety were central themes that the small food companies in Northern Ostrobothnia brought up, when asked about their most important company development needs. The FoodWay project offered some answers to these needs.

The European Regional Development Fund, Council of Oulu Region and Oulu University of Applied Sciences financed the FoodWay project to advance the traceability and safety in the food value chains in the region. The project activities were aimed primarily at small and medium sized food businesses operating in Northern Ostrobothnia. Project aimed to produce information on commercial and potential technological solutions relevant to various stages and needs of the region’s food production value chains; and to enhance communication of the origin of the food and other product information to consumers.

In the FoodWay project the region’s food value chains were modeled in relation to traceability and food safety monitoring by implementing pilot activities. For planning the pilots, traceability solutions and sensors available to ensure food safety were mapped, and views on technological and other development needs discussed with food companies. Based on these surveys, four value chains were selected for piloting: cheese, meat, fish, and natural products (berries, mushrooms, and herbs).

A total of six companies took part in the pilots, where they tested methods for monitoring temperature during transport, production, and storage, as well as rapid testing methods to improve production operations, product quality and food safety. Rapid testing methods were used e.g., in detection of Listeria monocytogenes on surfaces, in salt content determination and in microbiological testing of raw milk. The piloting companies gave good feedback about getting the information about the available methods and technologies and their prices, and the possibility to try them in the production. Ease of learning the methods and ease of use during the busy production process were emphasized as main features of a good rapid testing or temperature control method.

Also, the legal aspects of rapid testing and the use of traceability solutions were discussed with the food safety authorities and the entrepreneurs. Based on surveys, piloting experiences and observations, and interviews with the entrepreneurs, two piloted value chains were modeled: the fish and the cheese chain. These modelings will be published and communicated to the food sector actors in the region later in autumn 2022.

Also, representatives of trade, restaurants and public procurement were interviewed about their views on the food safety, the data availability in the food chain, and the visibility of the local food, and the work to be done to promote it. In addition, a survey was conducted to map consumers' views on the factors influencing food purchasing choices, and attitudes towards local food, organic products and information that is available e.g., about the origin of the food in the packages. Interviews and survey provided information for outlining effective means e.g., for consumer communication on local food and food safety matters. According to the survey results, consumers in Northern Ostrobothnia are very interested in the origin of the food they buy, and strongly prefer buying food produced in Finland and in the region. Also, the well-being of the animals and having information about it was emphasized. The respondents in the survey read carefully the information provided in the food packages, and there is a growing interest for technologies that could provide much more information than the packages enable.