As in many industries, artificial intelligence (AI) is making its way into food processing. AI use in the industry is expected to have a compound annual growth rate of 45% between now and 2026,1 promising improved safety and food quality.

But that does not mean AI in food processing is without risk. For example, Nestlé-owned BlueTriton temporarily shut down plant operations after a driverless forklift caught fire while recharging, according to a lawsuit filed against the manufacturer. The company subsequently grounded all 51 vehicles across their plants.2

In addition to business shutdowns, cyber breaches are another risk: Food processing operations dependent on AI are vulnerable to ransomware attacks. Instead of just data at risk, AI-powered facilities could be completely shut down if a cybercriminal infiltrates the system that controls equipment.

Given the rise of AI in the food processing business, industry executives clearly believe the benefits are worth the risks.

Quality and safety versus operational risks

Like most manufacturing, food processing aims to produce a consistent product with few defects. Industry observers point to several areas in which AI can improve food processing and handling:

  • Sorting packages and product
  • Safety and compliance
  • Cleanliness

For instance, the food and package sorting part of processing entails finding defective or inferior product before it gets shipped or processed. In 2000, workers handled about 90% of product sorting worldwide.3

But AI can both speed up and improve sorting quality. Food processing AI can measure food moisture levels and even smells with impressive consistency. AI cameras can grade the marbling of a ribeye based on its fat content. Using similar techniques, AI tools can grade almonds and pistachios as well.

Likewise, AI can improve food safety. Food processors use optical florescent imaging and ultra-sonic sensing technology to recognize food residue on equipment, which can contaminate an entire product line. AI technology can also ensure workers have personal protective equipment, do temperature checks and grade food cleanliness, similar to quality grading.

Getting the most out of AI while reducing risk

Reducing risk while maximizing the benefits of AI in food processing starts with organizational resilience. The IT department needs to be in alignment with operations in the use of AI — knowing how AI will be used and assessing the risk of a data breach or the potential for equipment hacking.

The IT team needs to plan to prevent equipment hacking; a food processing facility as a whole needs an operational plan in case of AI equipment malfunctions. This operational plan should ascertain how AI failure will interrupt business and establish backups in case of equipment breakdowns or lockouts.

Reducing AI business risk also means offloading it to insurance. Determining the right coverage is essential: Product liability, general liability, property and other coverages may cover AI, but not in all cases.

Conversely, AI has the potential to reduce coverage costs because it can be used to conduct predictive maintenance and determine when equipment needs servicing. In some cases, underwriters may ask to access a food processor’s refrigeration temperature sensors to confirm the equipment’s viability in real time. This type of information access raises underwriters’ comfort levels with risk.

Contact your HUB Agribusiness expert for more information on reducing risk when using AI in your food processing plant.

1 Mordor Intelligence, Artificial Intelligence (AI) in Food & Beverages Market — growth, Trends, COVID-19 Impact and Forecasts (2021 - 2026), accessed May 17, 2021.

2 Food Processing, “Nestlé Waters Sues Over Malfunctioning Driverless Vehicles,” April 20, 2021.

3 Towards Data Science, “How Artificial Intelligence is Revolutionizing Food Processing Business?” July 15, 2019.