This review provides an overview of recent advances in the use of digital technologies in agri-food processing. With the increasing demand for food, the agri-food industry must produce more food with fewer resources while also addressing sustainability concerns. Digital technologies, such as the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence, blockchain, and robotics, are transforming the way food is produced, processed, and distributed. These technologies offer several benefits, including increased efficiency, improved product quality and safety, reduced waste, and environmental sustainability. Digital technologies enable real-time monitoring of critical parameters, such as temperature, pH, and moisture, which can help prevent spoilage, reduce food waste, and ensure that safe and high-quality food reaches consumers. The review covers the challenges and opportunities for the wider adoption of digital technologies in the sector, as well as potential future developments. The industry has the potential to undergo a revolutionary transformation and tackle significant challenges by embracing digital technologies.
The agri-food industry is a complex, integrated production chain that spans from primary agriculture to the mature food and beverage sectors. This approach, known as “field to fork” (F2F), is considered one of the world's most important sectors, contributing significantly to the economic progress of nations and having a major social impact.
This industry is strong and complex, presenting a wide range of process and operational challenges (Panetto et al., 2020). To improve agricultural production and product quality, and to satisfy the market demands of an ever-growing population, the agri-food industry must develop innovative and sustainable solutions. As with all industries, technology plays a key role in agri-food operations and decision-making.
The agricultural sector is undergoing a digital revolution. Computers are now used in all agriculture-related processes, from machinery to decision-making systems, through the use of robots, sensors and cyber-physical systems technologies. By using integrated decision-support systems in conjunction with advanced internet networks and services, the agri-food sector has great potential for radical improvement in terms of intelligence, efficiency, sustainability and performance. This potential is particularly relevant when considering the digital agri-food approach, which accelerates and supports agriculture in terms of sustainability, land management, quality of life and competitiveness (Panetto et al., 2020).
In conclusion, digital technologies present a transformative opportunity for the agri-food industry, offering significant advantages in efficiency, food safety, sustainability, and transparency. The increasing integration of IoT, AI, blockchain, and robotics in agri-food processing showcases successful implementations and foreshadows a promising future. However, to realize the full potential of these technologies, addressing key challenges is imperative. Cost, technological accessibility, technical expertise, and resistance to change pose critical barriers that demand concerted efforts from all stakeholders in the agri-food sector. In perspective, targeted advancements in specific digital technology domains, such as big data and analytics, autonomous systems, 3D printing, virtual and augmented reality, and blockchain, hold immense promise for the industry. Through continuous innovation and collaboration, the agri-food sector has the opportunity to cultivate sustainability, efficiency, and transparency for the benefit of farmers, food processors, and consumers.