Use of Simulation Tools for Smarter Food Safety
By Claire Zoellner, PhD
Food Safety Scientist
July 6, 2021
Imagine if you could see microbial contamination present and moving around in your work environment. What would you do with that information?
In a recent United Fresh Produce Association Panel on underutilized research in produce safety and quality, I presented a few ways that new simulation models can be used for decision-making from field to facility to retail.
Simulation modeling is the process of creating and analyzing a digital prototype of a physical system to predict its performance in the real world. Computer simulation can assist in the design, creation, and evaluation of complex systems. In food safety and quality, simulation modeling is used to help understand whether or not, under what conditions, and in which ways food production and processing conditions could lead to environmental and/or product contamination. The benefits of simulation are mainly:
- rapid and relatively inexpensive experimentation
- ability to generate novel and abundant data
Some examples of simulation modeling in everyday life you may recognize include weather forecasting, flight simulators, and car crash modeling. Across industries, simulation is a great training tool to expose employees to both rare and routine events.
In processing facilities, simulation can be used to understand contamination dynamics and design pathogen environmental monitoring programs and corrective actions. Simulation can be used in field environments to predict the likelihood of pathogen presence in water and soil to inform water treatment practices and harvesting decisions; and to simulate different field contamination scenarios and optimize pre-harvest sampling schemes. Finally, at retail, simulation can be used to model quality degradation of products during transportation and to predict the current shelf-life of products in order to update pricing and stocking procedures.
These simulation tools are not a crystal ball and often require technical expertise and upfront data but can be an additional resource for food safety decisions and continuous improvement. While they may seem to be mostly in research phase, I want to emphasize the inherently iterative nature of modeling and model development and highlight that several groups (UFPA, CPS, iFoodDS) are working with researchers to get these tools out to industry.
If you’re curious about how and where to start, iFoodDS can help. Contact sales@iFoodDS.com or call 206.219.3703 to learn how our simulation model solution can help you in decision-making and continuous operational improvements.