The food, both that we buy in restaurants and the one we prepare at home after going to the supermarket, almost always has a technological interference. From fruits and vegetables that are traditional in modernity (but that tasted different or were of another color before genetic manipulation) to food wrappers, everything is transformed with innovation.
The Dutch financial group ING recently published an analysis of food technology and the changes it is causing in the industry. Known by Anglo-Saxons as “food tech, “food technology covers all applications of computer systems in the industry, from robotics to data processing and 3D printing.
With all the advances of recent years, “more and more technology is involved in primary production and food processing,” explains ING in the document, which includes some of the most amazing uses of these systems in the sector to world level below we explain the changes that are being achieved by five leading food technologies.
Robotics in the food industry
ING states that “the obstacles to the robotization of the food industry have been overcome.” Automation is gaining more and more presence in production processes, with robots increasingly capable of handling delicate and diverse foods, meeting food safety requirements and operating in challenging environments such as heat, cold or humidity.
There are two types of robots making waves in the sector: the generic ones that are used to move heavy objects or bypassing products, and the specialized ones that help in more complex and specific tasks such as cutting meat or processing vegetables. In this second group are also the robots that are responsible for packing the products, more and more usual.
“Robotics increases the efficiency of companies and reduces their dependence on the labor factor. Besides, food safety requirements are increasingly stringent, and less human interference in the production process can reduce the risk of contamination,” ING researchers say.
Robot sales grow in the sector; in the world, 8,194 robots were sold for this purpose, and in 2018 the figure increased to almost 15,000, of which almost 6,000 were acquired by the European food industry.
What do the data have to do with food?
Data technology is becoming a pillar in the food industry. Not only does it help to predict and better plan production, but it also allows responding to the new informational needs of consumers, increasingly concerned with what they consume and the origin of the food they take home.
Data systems combine information on the status of production lines and planning and advise employees who control the production process on how to optimize the different lines of work. Also, with artificial intelligence and machine learning, they can learn from previous situations and continuously improve.
This detailed information on the production process can also be applied to primary processes, such as agriculture or livestock, making it much easier to predict supplies and provide consumers with data on the origin of food. In fact, with current technology, it is already possible to realize the traceability of 100% of the chain, something that supermarkets like Carrefour take advantage of.
3D printing in the food sector
NASA used a 3D printer to cook a pizza. The same device was key to producing soft foods for those who cannot consume solids for some reason. And although 3D printing is already a star in many industries, food still needs to see more prominence. ING anticipates that it will be essential for future production customization.
However, when compared to other technologies, 3D printing, as well as nanotechnology and cellular technology “, is still at an earlier stage” in the field of food. “Before these technologies can be widely applied, barriers in the area of regulation, consumer acceptance and applicability on an industrial scale must be removed,” the document says.
Consumer demand for fresh and healthy products, free of preservatives and chemicals, gives wings to the so-called processing technologies, which are new energy-efficient techniques to preserve the shape, function, and quality of food. An example is a high-pressure processing technology, which is used in the pasteurization and sterilization of products.
High-pressure processing is used in juices, meats, prepared dishes, and other foods. A technology called “pulsed electric field” is also booming, an alternative to the pasteurization of liquid foods, such as juices and soups. It is low-temperature processing that preserves the ingredients better and requires less energy.
“By applying new processing techniques, food producers are increasingly able to ensure that processed products retain a fresh and quality appearance. This also requires fewer additives,” says ING.
Not only does health matter more and more. Consumers are also concerned about pollution and criticism is growing for food producers for the amount of plastic, paper, and aluminum used in the presentation of food, something that many people understand is not very sustainable, especially in times of global warming.
Robotics and other new technologies make it possible to find alternatives to plastic and other dangerous products for packaging. There are cases of foods that are sold with edible packaging, and others that use the least amount of materials to wrap their products.
The 15 main scientific advances in food
15 scientific advances have been identified in the field of food that are key for the sector:
These packages provide a modified internal environment that protects the food against any unwanted effects that affect quality or safety. This type of packaging interacts with its contents to increase shelf life or maintain the quality during storage.
They offer a barrier between the food and its environment and creates protection against unwanted effects such as microorganisms. These types of films can decompose through the action of living organisms and are perceived as more environmentally friendly.
Through this technology, it is possible to eliminate pathogens from the air and surfaces in contact with food. Of increasing interest for its incorporation in the processing lines.
They are applied to many food products to control moisture transfer to improve safety and preserve nutritional and sensory quality. They are also used to improve the appearance, smell and taste, and shelf life. One of the main peculiarities is that they are suitable for consumption.
Irradiation through electron beam
It is a form of low-intensity ionizing energy useful especially in packaged products.
Through this mechanical process, a liquid product is subjected to high pressure.
High pressures are used with other techniques to achieve disinfection and preservation of food with minimal processing that does not affect the nutritional content. The combination of high pressures with another heat treatment allows the applied temperature to be lower.
This process is usually used to soften the meat after slaughter. It consists of applying pressure waves through the conversion of electrical energy into mechanics.
A series of sensors provide information on the status of food or on the conditions in which it has been stored and that are linked to certain safety features.
It highlights its ability to heat food without the need for direct contact with the heat source. It has been used for heating, browning, defrosting and roasting, as well as other types of cooking.
Food gets hot when electricity passes. The electrical energy dissipates in heat, which translates into rapid and uniform heating. One of the peculiarities of this system is that the heating takes place inside the food.
Pulsed electric fields
There is no heating of food but seeks to inactivate large quantities of microorganisms, which implies a reduction of the biological activity in the product.
Radiofrequency identification can be considered as a form of an intelligent barcode. Unlike the barcode, the data stored in RFID tags can be changed and updated.
Supercritical fluid extraction
A soluble material is extracted from a food material through a solvent (beet sucrose or coffee beans).
The application of ultrasound improves the quality of the surface of the cut in the food. Unlike other cutting machines, ultrasound can cut soft materials, produce low heat levels and minimal distortion.
Throughout all genres, from science fiction to comedy, authors and filmmakers have presented variations on this topic: creators, human beings, deliver artificial intelligence (AI) to machines.
Then, those machines use that intelligence to overcome their creators, enslaving them or something equally evil. This medium speaks of an awkward relationship we have with machines: we don’t always understand their capabilities. While it is scary (or fun) to imagine, the realities of AI are much less bleak.
Most likely, you already see AI in your daily life, especially when shopping, dining or looking for entertainment. Read on for more information on AI in restaurants, among other industries, and how it is projected to grow.
What is Artificial Intelligence?
Artificial intelligence refers to programs that are designed to perform a particular task responding to specific environments or inputs. Because artificial intelligence programs may change depending on their context, they tend to mimic human behavior.
If you’ve ever played a video game, you’ve seen artificial intelligence. The game’s characters, or an opposing sports team, will interact with you, talk or even attack, depending on what you do. They have been programmed to do so.
As video game technology improves, these characters have become more realistic. However, what makes artificial intelligence different from real human intelligence is that AI is purely reactive; It can only respond to established protocols. While humans turn to the breadth of their own life and knowledge experiences to learn and solve problems, making decisions along the way, programmers create AI with specific parameters in mind.
In other words, those zombies in your video game only exist in that video game. They are not able to think for themselves. Therefore, unless strange accidents occur, it is unlikely that the robot will take control.
Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence
Another important part of AI is machine learning. This specific subset of AI involves a program or machine that “learns” specific functions over time by analyzing data and inputs. You may have had a purchase or transmission service that makes you “suggestions.” These suggestions come through algorithms that analyze their activity to “learn” about you, personalizing the experience according to their behavior.
It is dynamic and operates on its own. As you use the site more, that algorithm continues to “learn” its behavior, further refining its suggestions. Artificial intelligence and machine learning are not mutually exclusive: machine learning is part of artificial intelligence.
Types of Artificial Intelligence
Robots – Dispelling the Myth
Robots and their invasion of the workforce cause fear in many. It is no secret that technology and automation can make some jobs irrelevant.
Hotel and kitchen technology
A recent MIT survey collected data from experts on the subject, to suggest that technology could replace a few million to more than one billion jobs in the US. UU. by 2021. However, we have seen some restaurants that use AI robots with varying degrees of success.
The Caliburger restaurant in Pasadena, California recently introduced Flippy, a robot that is supposed to prepare more than 300 hamburgers in one day. The new concept has developed a considerable amount of press, with a chain that requires 50 more Flippy models at the end of 2020.
Domino’s has also reported some successes with its automatic delivery pizza robots in Europe, with plans to further expand the program. While these robots attract a lot of press coverage from the beginning, they are brilliant exceptions and are not usable in other types of restaurants.
One of the most realistic types of AI you’ll see in restaurants is ordering from kiosks. These machines allow guests to enter their orders on the site. Then that kiosk acts as the point of sale system, sending the order directly to the kitchen.
Through machine learning, they can analyze global purchasing patterns in their restaurant, to make “informed” sales suggestions for guests.
Therefore, if your restaurant or point of sale uses customer profiles or a loyalty program, kiosks can offer on-site promotions explicitly designed for that customer, such as a discount or a free birthday item.
It is possible that you have already spoken with a chatbot and have not known. Chatbots are simulated human contact, and you often see them in technical support on websites. When it comes to restaurants, these chatbots can manage reservations, take an order or answer customer questions.
They respond to customer inquiries with written messages, the way a human would, by providing direct comments, suggestions, and confirmations. With voice command technology increasingly widespread, chatbots that can respond to sound, in the same way that Siri or Alexa do, have begun to develop.
Through AI, chatbots answer for you, giving a good image to your restaurant.
Virtual personal assistants
Virtual Assistants and their technology, such as Alexa or Google Home, are growing at an accelerated rate, with an estimated number of users that will reach 1.8 million by 2021. These devices touch the restaurant industry when customers use them to find places to eat.
These personal assistants can take data from restaurants, such as locations, waiting times and distances. Then, diners can make reservations or orders, all through the interaction between the personal assistant and the restaurant.
Restaurant operations management technology
The use of technology to manage restaurant operators is nothing new, but through AI, its features are increasingly powerful.
The use of software to manage inventory, finances and restaurant schedules has become much more common for operators, so the machine learning functions within those programs become much more important.
The AI analyzes the data, such as sales figures, these programs can make projections on what the future will hold. You can make workflow adjustments or purchase decisions. What makes these projections so applicable is that they are generated based on existing data, and not arbitrary predictions. Artificial intelligence helps ensure that you make informed decisions about operations.
Why a restaurant with Artificial Intelligence?
Beyond its striking technical characteristics, restaurant operators can find a variety of uses for AI. Artificial intelligence in restaurants can help a restaurant:
- Reduce costs: kiosks and chatbots free staff from taking orders and reservations, automating this process.
- Reduce errors: with a large part of the ordering process made through machines, the chances of lack of communication decrease.
- Train customers: AI often allows customers to control the flow. They can order and customize your needs.
- Improve the customer experience: AI helps download tasks so that your staff can always be “at the moment”, focusing on optimizing the customer’s dining experience.
- Increase marketing reach: Artificial intelligence helps increase sales and makes suggestions to customers in an automated way. It allows you to reach them outside your restaurant to stay as the first option.