Experts predict that by the mid-century there will be close to 10 billion people on the planet. That means that there will be a need for additional food to accommodate this growing population. Additionally, global megatrends such as climate change, economic and population growth and urbanisation are all changing the way we eat and think about food.
According to the U.N., 80 to 90 percent of the population will live in big cities by the end of the century. Most of that evolution will happen in Africa and Asia, where dozens of new megacities with populations above 20 million will join the ranks of present-day Shanghai, Lagos and Mumbai. That means hundreds of millions of people will start living as urbanites. They’ll eat out, have food delivered more often, want quick on-the-go meals. With many people around the world getting wealthier, demand for protein-rich foods and interest in the ethical, health and environmental aspects of food will continue to grow. At the same time, the effect of climate change on our food systems is hard to predict. One thing we know is that our planet will get hotter and drier and climate challenges such as heatwaves, floods and droughts will increase and impact our food supply.
To address these challenges, we’ll have to redesign our food system. A pressing question will be: How can we do this in a safe manner? Our work with the GFSI and participation in their technical working groups are helping us tackle these challenges head on.
One of the trends already visible in the new food system is longer supply chains. Environmental constraints such as shifts in growing zones may require the food we consume to travel over longer distances. A longer supply chain means food will spend more time in transit, so we’ll need more cold storage and better monitoring. It also means more hand-off points, so we’ll need to make sure that more people follow proper food safety protocols. At the same time, demand for locally grown food also is expected to increase. In terms of food safety, shorter supply chains may be simpler, but they’re not necessarily fundamentally different. Local food isn’t automatically safer. The same best practices must apply.
The key words in all these cases are control and traceability. Where has the food been? Do we know the chain of custody? Was it stored in the right manner and at the right temperatures throughout its journey? Was it processed and prepared in clean facilities? Did all the people who handled it use clean equipment, follow safe protocols and pay attention to their own personal hygiene?
As the food system’s size and complexity grow, we’ll need technology to keep track of all steps of the supply chain. Luckily, the building blocks are available today and can be taken to scale relatively easily. That can be as cutting edge as monitoring the supply chain with a blockchain and the internet of things (IoT), where we’ve barely scratched the surface, or as common-sense as providing food manufacturing facilities and restaurants with apps that automate food safety check lists – improving compliance to specific sanitation and food handling practices, helping to reduce the risk of food borne illness.
Population growth, economic growth and climate change also are putting pressure on our finite water resources. Today, only 2.5 percent of our world’s water is potable. Worldwide, agriculture is our biggest consumer of water (70 percent). Industry is next at more than 20 percent. If we stay on the current track, the world will face a freshwater shortfall by 2030, with demand surpassing supply by more than 40 percent. To ward off a crisis, we must change the way we use water. We’ll need to explore innovative solutions to reduce, reuse and recycle water and focus on smart local solutions for places that are already water scarce and set to see significant population growth in the coming decades.
At Ecolab, our vision is to provide and protect what is vital. At GFSI the mission is to provide continuous improvement in food safety management systems to ensure confidence in the delivery of safe food to consumers worldwide. Together, we ensure food safety from farm to fork.
Every day, we serve customers at close to 3 million locations around the world. We help safely produce more than a quarter of the world’s processed food and 44 percent of the global milk supply, and we support clean kitchens serving 45 billion restaurant meals per year. We also help our customers manage more than 1 trillion gallons of water every year and save hundreds of billions of gallons of it along the way. Our goal is to help save enough water annually to equal the drinking needs of more than 1 billion people by 2030. That is 300 billion gallons of water per year.
Building on our 30 years of digital expertise, we are now taking it to the next level. Using the power of big data and IoT to analyse billions of data points from more than 40,000 systems around the world, we have a unique vantage point to discern trends, protect food and solve problems before they occur. It’s up to all of us to adapt and change. I know we are up to the challenge.
This post was written and contributed by:
EVP and President Global Industrial, Food and Beverage