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Blockchains are being heralded as ‘the next big thing’ in emerging technology, but what are they, and why do we need to know? The Agrifood Training Partnership finds out more.
What is a blockchain?
Blockchains are effectively ledgers, recording multiple transactions across an industry in a way that can’t be changed. “A blockchain is a continuously growing list of records, called blocks, which are linked and secured using cryptography.” (Wikipedia 2018). Each record, or block, is time stamped so each transaction is recorded in sequence. This means a chain of transactions can be viewed from start to finish – or from the most recent back to the original transaction.
A blockchain ledger is typically managed by multiple companies in a business network or consortium, rather than one central authority. Once recorded, the data in any given block is visible to all parties to that transaction and cannot be altered retroactively without the alteration of all subsequent blocks, which would require the collusion of the network members. This is the real value of a blockchain: data is shared in a secure manner providing transparency across the business process with the assurance that the data the ledger contains is indelible.
Blockchains in the food industry
International players in the food industry are already researching uses for blockchain technology. Walmart is working with IBM in China to develop ‘track-and-trace’ systems to trace each food item it stocks back through the supplier and distributor to the producer. This is vital in the event of a product recall – where it would once take weeks to find the source of a product and trace its journey to a particular store, it now takes seconds.
Every member of the supply chain will be recorded and so will also be alerted to the recall.
To make this work, every individual package of produce must be uniquely identifiable. The global standards body, GS1, is leading the way in serialization efforts, offering unique codes called GTINs that can be applied to products. Then every participant in the supply chain must transfer the custody of these products to each other every step of the way so there is an unbroken record of the product’s journey.
IBM European Blockchain Marketing Leader, Bob Yelland said: “Blockchain will transform business transactions across networks of companies, particularly across international boundaries, and open up new business models and closer co-operation within any supply chain where traceability and provenance are critical”. Bob is due to speak at the 2018 AFTP Conference.
Developing consumer trust
Blockchains won’t just be used to find out where a product has been. They can also be used to tell a consumer how it was made. Also using Internet-of-things (IoT) sensors the storage conditions of a product can be recorded. This is currently very important to consumers in countries like China where there have been frequent food scares, and a real distrust of food that has been produced in-country.
Currently, consumers in China can trace an individual steak in a supermarket back to the farm and specific animal it came from by scanning a code and looking at the results online.
Soon, consumers in the UK will expect similar levels of information to make food purchasing decisions. And it is likely they will use a mobile phone app for in-store scanning. As health warnings have encouraged consumers to look for more information about the food they are eating, many consumers now want to know what each individual ingredient is and where it came from.
This is partly due to social trends including concern for the environment (ie the effects of palm oil production, dwindling fish stocks) and a distrust of large multinationals such as Google and Facebook.
There is growing consumer demand worldwide for more transparency about food production supply chains and increased verification for food marketing claims, including proof of terms like ‘organic’, ‘free range’, ‘fair trade’, or ‘locally produced’.
Existing certifications and facility audit reports could soon be registered on blockchains to prove claims. If consumers know a company’s labelling is backed by a traceable blockchain that can’t be altered, this knowledge is likely to influence consumer behaviour.
However, as a note of caution, a blockchain is only as good as the information in it and the ability to reliably associate a physical product with its digital record. Third-party verification of food chain information will be a growing industry in the very near future.
Benefits for producers
The potential benefits of using blockchains aren’t all a one-way street for consumers.
Block Commodities and the Global Markets Exchange Group International have created a blockchain-based platform for African commodity markets. The platform helps connect farmers in sub-Saharan Africa with buyers and brokers, enabling farmers to get better prices for their crops, as well as reduced-rate loans. The goal is to democratize finance by providing farmers with up-to-date information about loan interest rates and commodities prices, which will be registered and logged on a blockchain.
Dutch coffee company, Moyee Coffee, is a small start up committed to what it calls ‘Fairchain’. Using a bext360 blockchain platform, Moyee gives all stakeholders – farmers, roasters, and consumers – access to data across the entire supply chain.
This provides unprecedented levels of transparency around the origin and quality of the coffee; allowing the coffee drinker to access the blockchain data to see exactly where the coffee came from and even how much the farmer was paid for the beans.
Find out more at the AFTP conference
To find out more about blockchain technology and its implications for the UK agrifood industry, book your place at the 2018 AFTP conference. The conference will be held on 3rd July at Burlington House, London. It offers a timely look at the UK Industrial Strategy and Environment Plan and developments in the agrifood sector.
The conference addresses the strategy’s ‘four grand challenges’ from an agrifood perspective: AI and Data Economy, Future of Mobility, Clean Growth and the Aging Society.
Bob Yelland, IBM Blockchain Marketing Manager will discuss Blockchain and its role in preventing food fraud.
Holidaymakers and coastal city-dwellers have been warned to be on their guard against airborne attack – by fearless seagulls.
Attacks by sea birds are reported every summer throughout the UK. In Dundee, 73-year-old pensioner Christine Kerr was slashed in the face by a gull and had to be taken to hospital.
Unfortunately, gulls are also targets for attacks by humans. Many have stones thrown at them, others left homeless after their nests are illegally destroyed and large numbers are the target of people taking pot shots at them with airguns.
PestSafe Services specialises in ridding businesses and homes of the airborne pests by bird-proofing buildings.
Using humane methods to deal with nuisance gulls
“Seagulls are no longer afraid of humans,” says PestSafe Services Technical Director Gulliver Hill. “They frequently ‘dive bomb’ people to steal their food and this in itself can be frightening. Gulls and their nests are protected so we must learn to live with them.
“For businesses suffering the effects of nuisance gulls, including fouling and constant loud noise, we have humane methods of dealing with them.”
Understanding seagull psychology
It’s important to understand the bird-brained psychology behind the attacks. Gulls are not especially aggressive birds, however, in May and June, they are nesting.
“The gulls are trying to protect their offspring. If people or animals come too close to a nest the gulls will view them as a threat and try to scare them away,” says Gulliver Hill.
“Herring Gulls in particular are large birds and they will use their body weight to swoop down on an unsuspecting person or animal. If individual scare tactics don’t work they’ll call other birds to join them.”
Bird-proofing business premises
People have used a variety of methods to scare seagulls away, including using plastic model owls and birds of prey, or loud alarms. But the gulls quickly become used to them and they lose their effectiveness as deterrents.
The most effective way of stopping seagulls making a nuisance of themselves to staff and customers is to prevent them from building a nest on the property. PestSafe Services uses bird netting and bird spikes to create physical barriers. They are attached unobtrusively to the outsides of buildings and to roofs – anywhere a gull might perch – and prevent the birds from settling. The birds are not harmed.
Don’t feed the birds
“One of the difficulties is that some people don’t understand what a nuisance gulls can be,” says Gulliver, “so they feed them. This encourages the gulls to see people as a source of food.
“Gulls will also check out uncovered rubbish bins and discarded food and other litter to see if there is anything good to eat.
“It’s very important to make sure that litter, especially from takeaway and coffee outlets, is not left anywhere near your business premises. Speak to neighbouring business owners and see whether you can all work together. We can help you ‘gull-proof’ your bins as well as your building,” says Gulliver.
Keep an umbrella handy
The RSPCA warns businesses not to take matters into their own hands: “Gulls and their nests are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and it is illegal to intentionally kill, take or injure wild birds. Action can only be taken against them under licence.
“Herring gulls in particular are a species of conservation concern in the UK and evidence indicates that overall herring gull populations are actually in decline.”
Advice from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds is to keep an umbrella handy:
“If you’ve got a gull nesting on your roof with youngsters, try to avoid the area. If you absolutely can’t avoid the area, anything held above your head will stop the birds swooping at you. Just use an umbrella to protect yourself.
Waving your hands at the birds is not a good plan. That will just annoy them.”
With help from PestSafe Services and a proper bird-proofing solution, the only time you’ll need an umbrella in future is when it rains.
This week’s blog post features Ellie Garbett, licensed ARLA letting agent, book keeper, landlord and owner of Habitat Lettings. Read Ellie’s top hacks to help take the pain away during end of tenancy inspections.
Ellie says: “We are fortunate that we haven’t had many absolute horror stories. The majority of tenants are good and leave the property as they found it. But standards of cleanliness differ. You can’t be judgemental, you just have to accept that some people will be comfortable with a lower standard of cleaning than you would be.
“Damage is always a lot easier to prove when it comes to disputes over the deposit. But it is very important to have a good inventory at the start, preferably with photographic evidence of the condition of the property.
“A failure to clean properly is not the same as ‘fair wear and tear’, and tenants need to understand that. Clear communication is essential.”
Here are Ellie’s top six tips for property rental survival.
1. Let it go – emotionally speaking
We find that there are three types of landlords:
• Portfolio landlords who view the property as a business and will see the costs of paying for cleaning or damage repair averaged out across the properties,
• Single property landlords who have proportionally more invested in that property,
• Homeowner turned landlord, a person who has previously lived in the property and is now letting it out.
The third type of landlord is the most emotionally involved with the property and will take any cleaning or damage issues personally. They can find it difficult to accept tenants’ changes.
To survive as a landlord, you have to be able to view the property as a business asset. It generally takes a couple of tenancies before this kind of landlord can let their emotional attachment go.
2. Focus on ovens, extractor fans and bathrooms
If there is a cleaning issue, it will almost always be the oven, the extractor fan or the bathroom – things you don’t necessarily see and can be easy to miss.
A grease build-up in an extractor fan or oven is a fire hazard, as is mould in a bathroom that hasn’t been ventilated regularly.
Explain to tenants clearly at the start of the tenancy that they are required to leave these clean. Take photographs. And show tenants a list of prices charged by commercial cleaners to clean ovens and kitchens.
3. Use the same decorating scheme in all properties
No matter how good your tenants’ cleaning is, it is inevitable that you will have to repaint scuffed walls and freshen up key areas such as the kitchen and living room. New paint makes a property look fresh and clean and makes it easier and quicker to re-let.
If you own multiple properties it is much simpler to use the same neutral colours through each property and keep spare tins of paint. Then when it comes to touch-ups, you will always have the correct colour paint. The same goes for carpets. Keep off-cuts, not least because of the next point —
4. Hair straighteners are the leading cause of damage to carpets
We are waiting for a return to the big hair of the 1980s so hair straighteners will go in the bin. But until then, tenants can cause a lot of damage to carpets and furniture with their heated straightening irons.
Occasionally, if the burn is not too deep, you can literally ‘shave’ the top of the carpet to remove the burnt fibres. More likely you will have to patch it by cutting out the burnt section and inserting a new piece of carpet from your stash of off-cuts (see above), sized to fit.
If this is not possible, you will have to re-carpet the room.
Checking the carpets is one of the reasons we wait until the property is completely empty before making our final inspection.
5. Ask for a higher deposit if there are pets
We tend to ask for a higher deposit if tenants have pets and the majority of people are happy with that. They understand that dogs and cats can cause damage, including scratches on floors and doors. Dogs and cats can also spread fleas through the property which then have to be eradicated by professional pest controllers, and in the worst case, they may not be fully toilet trained.
More importantly though, allergies to pet hair can be very serious and can make people severely ill. If your tenants have kept pets in the property, you will need specialist anti-allergy cleaning services and air purifiers to protect future tenants who may suffer from allergies.
6. Find a spectacularly good commercial cleaning company
A really good commercial cleaning company will have access to chemicals and techniques that are not available to the general public. They will achieve an extremely high standard of cleaning. And they will be able to deal with everything from squatters to dead bodies.
A commercial deep clean may prolong the length of time a property can go without redecorating. And specialist cleaners will carry out emergency cleaning. It’s always useful to have their contact number in your phone.
Finally, it is useful to compare the cost of a commercial clean with the cost of having a property sitting empty. A property that is not sparkling clean will fail to attract tenants, whereas a commercially cleaned property can be back on the market and let within days.
About Habitat Lettings
Habitat Lettings is a young, vibrant agency fully focused on the priorities and needs of the modern day Landlord. Unlike estate agents, their loyalties aren’t divided by dealing with property sales and mortgages. Put simply, they’re a lettings agency which offers great service both to tenants and to landlords.
Habitat Lettings is registered and accredited with major schemes and bodies relating to the property rental industry. They strive to offer a fantastic, friendly, flexible service supported by in-depth knowledge of the property rental market.
As the barbecue season starts to heat up and the debate continues around the environmental cost of producing intensively reared red meat, two food research companies have recently launched completely vegan alternatives to minced beef and steak.
Dutch company Vivera is distributing 100 per cent plant-based steak through 400 TESCO supermarkets, produced from a combination of wheat and soy. Vivera claims that the smell, taste and bite can ‘hardly be distinguished from real steak’.
The UK launch of the product suggests that there is consumer interest in a plant-based meat alternative. A week after the product launch spokesperson Gert Jan Gombert said: “The first delivery of 40,000 has nearly sold out, with some supermarkets selling out within a day.”
Meanwhile, Silicon Valley-based Impossible Foods has produced a wheat and soy-based beef burger. The beef is flavoured by ‘Heme’ an iron-containing molecule that occurs naturally in animals and plants. Heme found in nitrogen fixing nodules of leguminous plants is called leghemoglobin, and this is apparently what gives the burgers their meaty flavour and texture.
Impossible Foods’ Heme is produced from genetically engineered yeast, which is not permitted to be used in the EU. Genetically engineered foods may be allowed in the UK post-Brexit.
Decades of development
It is the emphasis on taste and texture that sets these products apart. The original plant-based alternative to meat was textured vegetable protein (TVP) or textured soy protein, developed in the 1960s by US agricultural commodities and food processing company Archer Daniels Midland. TVP is a by-product of extracting soya bean oil.
A UK meat alternative, Quorn, is produced from mycoprotein (Fusarium fungus). It was developed in the 1980s and is exported around the world. Although TVP and Quorn products can be cooked as meat substitutes, neither product looks or tastes like meat.
Pressures to find alternatives to meat
Pressures to find alternatives to meat are coming from multiple directions. Many vegetarians and vegans are seeking sources of protein, iron and vitamin B12 from new types of foods rather than supplements. They are creating a demand for products that can be cooked in a variety of ways, including in burgers.
There are also health concerns about meat and the trend for ‘clean eating’. The health risks of consuming red meat have been well documented . Consumers are increasingly looking for ‘clean labelling’ of foods where lists of ingredients are more transparent and chemical additives are reduced.
Issues of sustainability are also being raised. Impossible Foods claims that producing its Impossible Burger uses 95% less land and 74% less water than beef, and creates 87% less greenhouse gas emissions.
Population growth creates a need for alternative foods
As the global population grows, so do the issues involved in global food production and food security. Increased competition for resources will impact on the amount of agricultural land and water available to produce food. Changes in consumer demand including a growing global middle class that can afford to eat beef, increasing numbers of vegetarian, vegan and flexitarian consumers, consumer-driven clean labelling movements, and the arguments for and against genetic modification are all issues that face today’s food scientists.
Current UK food science research
UK food scientists and researchers are studying all aspects of food production from agricultural innovations right through to consumer behaviour in dedicated food laboratories, using the latest technology.
Research into food products that use fewer resources to produce but still taste good is vital.
The Sensory Science Centre at the University of Nottingham is part of the Food Science Division. Some of the current research carried out there includes:
• crossmodal perception – how taste, aroma and texture integrate to elicit flavour perception,
• using functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) to understand flavour and taste signals are processed in the brain,
• investigating individual variation in perception due to genetics, age and our environment
• measuring emotional response to sensory properties of food
Taste, flavour and texture is all in the brain
Rebecca Ford, Associate Professor in Sensory and Consumer Science from the Sensory Science Centre, said: “In order for consumers to accept these alternative sources of protein in their diet, the products must delight their senses. Our research has shown the importance of the congruency in the delivery of taste, aroma and texture from food. Our sensory receptors receive information during consumption (detection) and send these signals to the brain resulting in perception.
“How our brains deal with this complex arrival of sensory information is fascinating. We see a synergistic response in brain activation when we receive sensory signals from products we are used to experiencing.
“Our brains learn what to expect regarding the taste, flavour and texture of products, such as meat, resulting in greater activation when this information is all sent to the brain at the ‘right’ time and at the ‘right’ intensity. When some of this information is missing, e.g. when the texture is ‘not quite right’, our acceptance and associated reward mechanisms are lower.
“This is why companies spend considerable time testing their products with sensory and consumer panels to measure our perception of them, as we’re yet to model how our brains integrate sensory information using instrumental techniques alone. “
The quality of food affects all of us
The Food Research Group at the University of Reading works closely with the food industry across the whole food chain, leading innovative research into sustainable and healthy food products that meet the preferences and needs of a growing population.
With its four research themes:
• food technology and engineering,
• waste valorisation,
• food chemistry,
• and food quality and consumer value
it spans the primary production of the raw materials at one end, and can take new products all the way through from processing to sensory and consumer trials, with a strong food chemistry group providing analysis and fundamental understanding throughout.
Food still has to taste great
Associate Professor Jane Parker, Associate Professor and Manager of Reading University’s Flavour Centre, said: “Food quality is of fundamental interest to us. We want a healthy diet, that is safe, nutritious and delivered with great taste, texture and appearance.
“All too often, as more healthy alternatives are developed, there is a compromise in flavour. One of our roles is to understand how to redress this balance, and to ensure that both taste and aroma are as close (or better) than the original product. No matter how healthy a product, it still has to taste great.
“The Flavour Centre draws on the research within the group and has many years’ experience working with the food industry in consultancy, training, knowledge transfer and technical service.”
Email Dr Parker at the Food Research Group here .
Food science short courses available through the AFTP
Both universities teach full undergraduate and postgraduate degree programmes but there is also a range of short courses available through the AgriFood Training Partnership.
CleanSafe Services operatives Steve Carr and Yakinie Blair showed their professionalism and compassion when called to clean a property where there had been an unattended death.
The landlord had extensive experience but he wasn’t sure where to turn when he discovered a dead body in one of his properties.
The tenant was a man in his forties who was not obviously unwell. His death was only discovered when the man’s employer telephoned his landlord to find out why he wasn’t at work.
The landlord said: “I called an ambulance, and the paramedics then contacted the police.
“The officers took the keys and sealed the property to complete their investigations. Fortunately, they also took responsibility for locating the man’s next of kin and informing them of the death, and removing the body. It had been there for two or three days.”
Deep cleaning and deodorising
Once the police had released the property and the man’s next of kin had come to remove his belongings, the landlord was able to have the property deep cleaned.
“I didn’t want a big drama, and in fact it was the funeral director who referred me to CleanSafe Services. I wanted to deal with people, rather than a huge corporate company wanting to charge silly money,” he said. “They delivered the best service.”
Steve Carr and Yakinie Blair were able to respond very quickly. The job required full cleaning and sanitising, as well as a specialist deodorising service.
“The CleanSafe Services operatives were very professional, very good to work with. They were good people,” said the landlord. “They came very quickly with all the right equipment and protective clothing.
“They told me how they were going to deal with the problem, so I knew exactly what to expect. I was able to leave them to do the work.
“Later that day they called me back to the property, so I could see what they had done. The job was perfect. We definitely recommend CleanSafe Services.”
Emergency cleaning services for Landlords
CleanSafe Services works with domestic and commercial landlords throughout the UK.
Martin Bull, CleanSafe Services Director, said: “Landlords confront a range of cleaning emergencies in the course of their day-to-day work. Unattended deaths and crime scenes frequently involve bodily fluids, which are classed as hazardous waste and must be cleaned and disposed of correctly.
“We are regularly called to dispose of waste left behind by squatters, which can include faeces and sharps.
“We also work with local authorities who help tenants with a variety of mental health problems that require specialist cleaning services, including hoarding.
“Our staff are very experienced and will always do a full risk assessment before they start work. As well as having the knowledge and skills to clean up in very difficult conditions, they are also compassionate, sensitive and respectful of the people they deal with.”
Visit CleanSafe Services or call 0800 668 1268 for a free quote.
The actions of a determined vandal who spray painted more than 150 items of graffiti in Windsor days before the wedding of HRH Prince Harry and Meghan Markle highlights the need for a rapid response to graffiti cleaning.
An individual spray painted the word ‘Fork’ (a crude sexual reference) over surfaces all along the route taken by the royal party to and from Windsor Castle. Royal Borough of Windsor staff were observed trying to wash off the graffiti, but it is usually best to call in the professionals.
Professional graffiti cleaning companies have a range of solutions for removing graffiti. They take into account the types of paint or ink used to create the graffiti and the surface it is on, including stone, brickwork, plastic, or glass.
CleanSafe Services Director Martin Bull said: “Speed is essential when it comes to cleaning graffiti. The longer you leave it, the more difficult it is to remove. Paint will set, or cure, within hours and some substances will penetrate porous surfaces. It’s very important to contact a rapid response cleaning company that can attend to the graffiti incident straight away.
“We would aim to be on site within 2 – 6 hours.”
Offensive, racist or libellous graffiti must be removed quickly
If the graffiti is offensive, racist, homophobic, or libellous, it must be removed quickly or building owners and occupiers face serious reputational damage, if not legal proceedings. Owners and occupiers may be given notice from councils to remove or cover graffiti within a specified time, otherwise the council will do it themselves and recover the costs.
Rapid response graffiti cleaning companies have the correct equipment, ready to start work as soon as they are called.
Qualified CleanSafe Services technicians operate fully mobile steam-cleaning trailer units, which don’t need external electricity or water supplies. They use the latest technology for graffiti cleaning and can be mobilised to virtually any site to start cleaning immediately.
Steam cleaning prevents damage to substrate
The units use high temperature steam applied at low pressure to tackle the spray paint while doing no damage to the substrate.
If CleanSafe Services technicians are working near street telecommunications equipment or other street furniture that may contain electrical equipment, they adapt their cleaning methods to ensure that no water damage occurs to sensitive equipment. All graffiti is cleaned from these surfaces by hand.
Technicians always use the correct safety equipment when working with steam and ensure that there is no risk to the public.
Emergency paint removal service
Graffiti isn’t the only way paint is used to damage premises. When a disgruntled punter splashed emulsion paint all over a betting shop in Liverpool, CleanSafe Services techicians arrived before the paint even had time to dry.
CleanSafe Manager Stephen Savill said: “Emergency paint removal is made easier if we get the call for help straight away, as we did on this occasion.”
“We were able to wipe off some of the paint, then use a high pressure washer to clean off the shop front and pavement, without having to resort to heavy detergents.”
The whole paint removal process took four hours, leaving the betting shop spotless and clean.
Correct disposal of chemical preparations
Steam or pressure can be applied to most graffiti for effective removal. When chemical preparations are required (more likely with the application of metallic based spray paint), the teams ensure that all waste generated from this process is contained and disposed of correctly.
Often this will involve blocking off surface water drains, so no chemicals or paint can get into the drainage system and cause pollution problems.
Trained technicians only use carefully vetted chemicals to remove graffiti and they will supply all COSHH data sheets and risk assessments.
Prevention is always better than cure when it comes to graffiti. Increased security lighting, surveillance cameras and physical barriers can be powerful deterrents to the budding graffiti artist.
So too are the latest generation of specialist anti-graffiti wall coatings. Most are sacrificial coatings, designed to be washed off when covered with graffiti. The coating keeps the substrate clean and can be reapplied multiple times if necessary. Sacrificial coatings are useful for large wall areas and are cost effective to apply.
CleanSafe Services can advise on and apply the correct surface coatings to prevent graffiti from penetrating walls and make it easier to wash off.
Heritage and listed properties
If your building is in a conservation area or is listed, it pays to contact a reputable cleaning company for advice before their services are needed. The company will perform a site assessment and advise on the most appropriate cleaning methods depending on the age of the building and the materials used in its construction.
Limestone and sandstone in particular are vulnerable to certain types of chemical cleaning preparations, which could cause permanent damage if used incorrectly.
Reputable graffiti cleaning companies will always carry out test cleaning in unobtrusive areas to ensure that sensitive or heritage building materials are not compromised.
CleanSafe Services will also liaise with councils and other organisations to get the relevant consents in place before they begin cleaning a listed building.
Graffiti writers can be persistent. West Mercia Police research indicates that perpetrators are usually male, aged between 14 and 16. Incidents usually peak during long weekends and school holidays, especially in the summer months.
A Windsor Police source said in the Daily Mail: “It is fair to say this bloke is forking us off big time because as far as we are concerned we have our work cut out already on the big day.
“We are searching for two teenage offenders who have nearly been caught on a number of occasions and we have CCTV operators going through a lot of footage.
“We have been told that if there is so much as a single ‘fork’ on the walls of Windsor Castle the Queen will blow a gasket, so we are guarding it very well”.
About CleanSafe Services
CleanSafe Services is a reactive emergency cleaning company that is part of a larger group comprising emergency waste management, pest control and legionella control services. www.cleansafeservices.co.uk