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Comment: How to increase food security one crispy cricket at a time

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The recent appearance of roasted crickets on London restaurant menus has reignited the discussion about whether there’s a place for insects in mainstream Western diets. However, less thought has been given to what industry will have to do to handle these new food types and how manufacturers can introduce them into their production systems.

The increasing popularity of ingredients like quinoa, avocado and kale shows how much consumers love incorporating new foodstuffs into their diets. Trends like this are even more significant when they include products that are nutritious and environmentally sustainable, but can pose a problem when they require an abrupt leap from low-volume to high-volume manufacturing.

Scaling up production and processing suddenly and rapidly as an ingredient grows in popularity can be a daunting task. Mass production that isn’t carefully controlled can cause inefficiencies to spiral out of control, or unanticipated issues to emerge. For example, in early 2018 the massive global increase in demand for avocados forced the Kenyan government to ban exports of the fruit when there wasn’t enough to meet domestic demand.

Increasing demand for a new ingredient or product can also create the need to implement proper handling applications. It’s been suggested, for example, that insects like crickets could provide a large-scale source of protein in Western diets as well as appearing on the menus of upmarket restaurants. As most food manufacturing processes are designed to deter insects and prevent them from contaminating food, new ones would have to be developed to ensure levels of cleanliness and hygiene.

When a product is in high demand and supplies run low there is also the potential for food fraud to come into play. This is dangerous, with potentially fatal consequences for the end consumer, because the product may have been tampered with, become contaminated and no longer be fit for human consumption.

To combat these potential issues, producers that are handling new exotic products have to ensure they have measures in place which provide operations managers with full control and oversight over their facilities. Systems like ABB’s Manufacturing Operation Management (MOM) software help keep track of products as they move around the production line and beyond by giving them ‘digital passports’ that allow manufacturers to accurately tell when they were produced and exactly what they have come into contact with.

Digital tracking can also help speed up the implementation of new products because operation managers will have more in-depth information regarding their system, allowing them to prepare effectively. This is immensely helpful for producers; for example, with the widespread adoption of plant-based diets, meaning that more producers will begin introducing animal-free alternatives into production lines.

While insects may not have soared to levels of mass consumption just yet, as people become more interested in what is in their food it is likely that new ingredients will come to the forefront. Preparing for these changes by increasing control will help businesses remain ahead of trends and increase their product security, one crispy cricket at a time.

Darcy Simonis is industry network leader for ABB’s food and beverage segment.

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