The outbreak of COVID-19 has disrupted food production across the globe via enforced social distancing measures. Where these have proved unsuccessful, the uncontrolled spread of coronavirus has caused more severe disruptions, including plant closures, across the industry.
The meat industry appears to have been particularly badly hit. In Europe, a number of meat processing facilities have temporarily shuttered across Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands and the UK.
Since March, at least 37 outbreaks of COVID-19 have been reported in abattoirs and meat-packing plants across Europe, according to data from Greenpeace-backed project Unearthed.
At least nine factories have closed, and more than 4,000 – of a total 350,000 people employed by the European Union’s meatpacking industry – have been infected.
According to Newcastle-based Luminous, cold and damp indoor areas, such as manufacturing plants, have been identified as ‘optimum environments’ for the spread of COVID-19.
In response to these findings, the mixed reality-focused business has pivoted to ‘provide more robust hygiene and testing procedures’, and ultimately, help food manufacturers face these new challenges.
“The technology allows them to effectively and efficiently track affected areas and reduce contamination risk,” noted the firm.
Tapping augmented and mixed reality
Luminous’ latest offering is an extension of its traXR software. TraXR used augmented and mixed reality to monitor pathogens, such as salmonella and listeria, in factories ‘more efficiently than paper-based methods’.
The software taps artificial intelligence to identify areas inside manufacturing plants where such bacteria could be present. This information is then uploaded to a cloud-based task management system. It can be presented in real time through a mixed reality headset, allowing the user to track and add information whilst walking the factory floor.
"Environmental monitoring is critical in food hygiene and involves swabbing high risk areas within production facilities to identify pathogens before they become a problem,” managing director at Luminous Group, Ben Bennett, explained.
“Following the COVID-19 outbreak, it became vital for us to update the traXR software for tracking the virus on surfaces with the same accuracy and efficiency we’ve already demonstrated for other pathogens.
“We’ve expanded the technology so that the swabbing procedure can be applied to range of workplace environments and public spaces…”
The MD continued: “TraXR provides both a trusted digital audit trail as well as immediate alerts and corrective actions. By digitally documenting the swabbing procedure through the traXR app, customers, staff, and the general public can be assured of a rigorous, auditable hygiene procedure.”
Beyond the factory
Given the disruptions caused by COVID-19 in meat processing, FoodNavigator asked Luminous whether its software could have helped prevent coronavirus outbreaks – and subsequent closures – across the sector.
Without being ‘aware of the individual circumstances’ behind these outbreaks, the company was unable to comment. “However, having a solution like traXR would provide a digital audit trail, and follow up swabbing could be use to help trace the source and reduce further contamination,” a company spokesperson told FoodNavigator.
Moving forward, Luminous also expects the technology could serve multiple sectors beyond just food, as well as their different environments.
“The traXR software can be used to develop a pathogen schedule and tracking solution for any building where there is a high volume of people and owners / employees want to provide peace of mind that COVID-19 isn’t present, or if there has been a case of COVID-19 provide peace of mind that it has been cleaned and monitored effectively,” we were told. “Luminous anticipate the software being applicable to hospitals, airports and public transport.”