The impact of the Internet of Things on the food supply network

A joint programme was established between the ITaaU Network+ and the Food Standards Agency. Four pilot projects were awarded funding for short investigative studies and we also produced a comprehensive report capturing the research landscape on this topic. The pilot projects reported back on their findings and recommendations at an event in Westminster on the 7-8th March 2016. Further details on this event can be found here: IoT & food – project findings event.

How does the Internet of Things, also known as IoT, help to make everyday food consumption become safer and less risky, and in an affordable manner? Four teams of scientists from across the UK are met in London to compare the results of trials on how IoT technologies can play a practical role in improving all stages of the journey of food from field to fork. The pilot projects were coordinated by a national network called IT as a Utility, led by Professor Jeremy Frey at the University of Southampton, which has been looking at the role of utility technologies across the digital economy. Dr Sian Thomas, Head of Information Management at the Food Standards Agency, also oversaw the work.

Research report and project data

A review of the literature on the area of Internet of Things (IoT) applied to aspects of the safety and security of the Food Network was undertaken by the IT as a Utility Network+ on behalf of the UK Food Standards Agency for England (FSA). This was published in July 2016 and edited by Professor Jeremy Frey.

Pilot projects

The four projects were selected on the basis of their new perspectives on the food chain, but also to demonstrate novel linkages between research areas:

  • The University of Nottingham team looked at how growing communities can use IoT to share data that improves the accountability of local-produced food.
  • The University of Lincoln team worked with a consumer panel to help them understand how their own fridge usage might lead to healthier habits and save themselves money.
  • The University of Aberdeen team investigated how inexpensive sensors can be used by catering businesses to operate both more safely and more efficiently, and potentially track a food history that helps deliver recommended best practices.
  • Tiny data loggers were similarly investigated by the University of Birmingham to track the journey of the long-life sandwiches to monitor their integrity and that of the cold-chain that supports their delivery.

Pilot project reports

Project descriptions

Into the Garden: the power of IoT for local food producing communities

Led by the University of Nottingham

With partners: Royal College of Art (RCA); Barracks Lane; Brighton and Hove Allotment Federation; Community Composting Network, The Guardian; Hammersmith Community Gardens; Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew; St. Anns Allotments; Wireless Things; The National Allotment Society; Plumpton College; Incredible Edible Todmorden; The Victoria and Albert Museum; Writtle College

Project lead: Prof. Derek McAuley, Professor of Digital Economy

His research concerns the impact on systems infrastructure of human centred design, including architectures that make comprehensible the privacy and sharing aspects of the underlying information flows.


This project brings together a range of partners interested in the transformative power of Internet of Things (IoT) with data sharing as a utility for local communities of food producers. The project supports FSA’s remit to uphold food safety within local growing communities, and to gather evidence on growing environments. The project will run some ideation workshops to focus the expertise of interdisciplinary researchers, IoT manufacturers and growing organisations on socio-technical solutions to realize this transformative power, and also develop a technology demonstrator based on the outputs of the workshops.

The project addresses the lack of understanding about how IoT can be interacted with to extract human-actionable meaning – and so transition to Intelligent Information Infrastructure (I3) – across ad hoc data sharing communities.

To identify IoT opportunities within the FSA remit, the team will work with local food growers from across the UK and key network partners including educators, regulators and press.

The methodology leverages the power of open design by enabling growers to configure IoT technology kits and infrastructures to meet the needs of their community; and as a consequence the community will have the capacity to engage in citizen science, gathering and sharing data that improves the accountability of local-produced food.

This short project increases public engagement with IoT and I3 research by putting technologies directly into hands of under-explored market segments. It also has an initial impact on culture and practices of the community into which we place the demonstrator, potentially informing their own day-to-day data gathering and response mechanisms.

More broadly, pervasive environmental monitoring will benefit regional and national decision makers (such as FSA) by providing greater insights into the build-up of pollutants in local growing ecosystems, as well as the effects of climate change and changes in biodiversity patterns.


Feasibility of the IoT for domestic refrigerators, food safety and waste

Led by: The University of Lincoln

With partners: Tesco plc, Food Refrigeration and Process Engineering Research Centre (FRPERC), Grimsby Institute of Further and Higher Education (

Project lead: Simon Pearson, Principal Lecturer in Agricultural Technology

He has a background in research and industry and has a good understanding of academic, industrial and consumer-facing issues associated with food.


This is a multi-disciplinary project combining the food quality and refrigeration expertise of the National Centre for Food Manufacturing (University of Lincoln) and the Food Refrigeration and Process Engineering Research Centre, Grimsby Institute. A data logger will be provided to 200 Tesco consumer panellists to record the temperature performance of their refrigerators over 14 days. Sensors will be positioned to capture behaviour patterns such as loading un-chilled food and frequency of door opening etc. Panellists will also record food purchases and disposal as waste including dates. This is one of the most significant studies of its kind for the last twenty years and results will be compared with similar domestic fridges measured in laboratory conditions.

In parallel with this an app will be developed to explore how IoT technology combined with official guidance and recommendations can help support consumers in more efficient use of their fridges both in terms of food safety but also energy efficiency in the home. It is anticipated that the results of this work could help provide insight into the development of smarter fridges in the future as well as reducing food waste through more efficient management of food storage in the home.


Food safety assurance: combining provenance and the Internet of Things

Led by: The University of Aberdeen

With partners: Rye & Soda Restaurant and Traceall Global Ltd.

Project lead: Professor Peter Edwards –

Professor of Computing Science at the University of Aberdeen. He has over 25 years experience in intelligent information infrastructures – with a particular emphasis on provenance, trust and information quality.


This project will explore the potential of lightweight, low-cost sensing in a commercial kitchen as a means to aid understanding of food safety compliance issues. Members of the project team have extensive experience of solutions for sensor data capture, data provenance and workflow representation, and much of the software infrastructure to deliver the proposed project is already in place.

As highlighted in the Food Standards Agency strategic plan 2015-2020: “It is the responsibility of people producing and supplying food to ensure it is safe and what it says it is …”. In 2006 Food Standards Scotland introduced the CookSafe manual to assist catering businesses to understand and implement “Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point” (HACCP) based food safety management procedures.

In recent years, sensor devices have become ever cheaper and easier to deploy.

Between 2010 and 2015 the PI’s team developed an extensive platform based on semantic web technologies that supports sensor device descriptions, data annotations and provenance capture.

We believe that our existing infrastructure could be applied (with appropriate sensors) to deliver much more than a simple IoT monitoring/data acquisition solution – by using devices to create a food ‘history’ that documents events such as temperature change and movement, and then contrasts this with simple plans representing food safety house rules.

Project aims

  • To develop an initial ontological model for food safety management based on the HACCP approach, through analysis of the FSS CookSafe manual and sessions with professional catering staff.
  • To develop a simple working prototype able to assemble the history of a food item from Delivery/Collection through to Service – testing this against a restaurant’s food safety house rules to identify discrepancies. This will initially focus on temperature control house rules, but may be expanded to others if time permits.
  • To deploy low-cost sensors into a commercial kitchen to monitor food storage and preparation activities – logging this data into an existing semantic infrastructure.
  • To conduct a small-scale evaluation study with restaurant staff to assess attitudes to the sensor technology deployment and the utility of the provenance traces.

The team will adopt a user-centred approach throughout, working with (and listening closely to) professional catering staff to understand the practical challenges of introducing sensors into a working kitchen, and the best way to make use of the new data emerging without causing undue disruption to operations.

Traceall Global ( was founded in 2012 with the aim to deliver state of the art web data management solutions for tracking, traceability and monitoring of equipment and assets. The company specialises in delivering real-time, web-based monitoring of customised variables including temperature and humidity

The team believe that even on a small-scale project there is strong potential to achieve long-term impact by highlighting pathways towards a pervasive IoT deployment in the catering and hospitality industry.


IoT applications for data tagging the long-life sandwich cold chain:

Led by: University of Birmingham

With partners: ScoreSafe Ltd, Participating Food Businesses

Project lead: Madeleine Smith, Senior Teaching Fellow, Chemical Engineering


Project aims:

  1. To monitor the integrity of long-life sandwiches in the cold chain and validate their temperature maintenance in transportation and distribution areas using an automated monitoring system with cloud based data storage (the Scoresafe system).
  2. To assess the hygiene practices during circulating the long-life sandwiches within cold chain.

The project will monitor the temperature of long-life sandwiches and assess hygiene practices during the circulation of the sandwiches in the local cold chain. Low temperature control of chilled foods is crucial to achieve safe and high quality goods. Temperature abuse leads to proliferation of spoilage and pathogenic microbes which can put temperature sensitive foods at risk of causing food borne diseases or producing undesirable characteristics. Additionally, the poor hygiene practices in making up and distributing chilled foods may increase their microbial loads adversely affecting shelf life.

The tiny tag data loggers have been proven to be effective and accurate in logging food temperatures (rather than air temperatures) and can be programmed to record at regular intervals over a long period of time.

The Scoresafe hygiene software is bespoke software for use on any android device which has been designed by the UoB and ScoreSafe to monitor CCP’s and automatically store the results on the cloud. This allows real time access to the data by anyone with the authority to access it.

The sandwiches will be attached with tiny tag temperature data recorders (TG4080) to monitor their temperature remotely. These recorders are programmed to report all temperature readings during chilled transport and distribution where the sandwiches are most often exposed to temperature abuse. The cold chain scope starts at the manufacture and ends at sale to the final consumer.

Anticipated impact:

  • It improves monitoring and control of chilled foods temperature at transit and distribution as most tracking systems of refrigerated foods monitor only a set point
  • Provide food companies and local authorities with ongoing quantitative data on validation of expiry date during the shelf life of chilled products. This contributes to reducing food loss resulting from spoiled and unsafe products and protects public health by ensuring correct storage during the time the food is placed on the market.
  • Accumulated data can be stored and modeled in database, and used by Food Standard Agency and food industry as a reference to improve more efficient refrigeration systems.


Background to project selection

Applicants were invited to apply for short-­term pilot research study funding from the “IT as a Utility Network+”, set up as a priority challenge area by the RCUK Digital Economy Theme (DE). These pilot studies have been part funded by the Food Standards Agency (FSA). It is in the shared interest area of the Internet of Things (IoT) that this call is positioned. These pilot studies were limited to 5 months duration and were intended to test new ideas or create novel linkages between research areas.


Programme coordinated by:

Professor Jeremy Frey – University of Southampton


Professor of Physical Chemistry, Head of Computational Systems Chemistry, Principal Investigator and Champion of the IT as a Utility RCUK Digital Economy Challenge Area

IT as a Utility (ITaaU) Network+

FSA lead:

Dr Sian Thomas – Food Standards Agency


Head of Information Management at the FSA

Food Standards Agency (FSA)

FSA is a non-ministerial government department of the Government of the United Kingdom. It is responsible for protecting public health in relation to food in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The FSA was established in 2001 to promote high standards throughout the food chain, from the point of production to the point of consumption with the protection of the public as its essential aim.
Eventbrite - Internet of Things and Food. ITaaU/Food Standards Agency programme outcomes