Martin Flusberg, Powerhouse Dynamics
Retail Food Safety Forum

Automating Food Safety Processes in Restaurants: How 1+1 Can Equal 3

By Martin Flusberg
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Martin Flusberg, Powerhouse Dynamics

With the recent death of Anthony Bourdain, the topic of restaurant food safety is once again on the minds of many people. It has been 19 years since Bourdain’s exposé in The New Yorker (Don’t Eat Before Reading This) and 18 years since his memoir Kitchen Confidential, which became a TV series and has rocketed to the top of the Amazon best seller list since his death. Bourdain identified many issues that restaurants struggle with, including those that affect the safety of the food being served.

While many of the issues chronicled by Bourdain probably continue to this day, there has been a push by the restaurant industry to address food safety over the intervening years, and particularly in the last two or three.

Many restaurant chains have taken steps to automate the HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points) food safety reporting process—or at least are exploring that option. The first and most common approach has been to replace time consuming, error prone, manual data collection processes with mobile apps that digitize tasks, may include digital probes to replace manual temperature data recording, and may even track corrective actions. These systems deliver more accurate data than fully manual processes and are faster. They also ensure that the data is easily retrievable, both for management review and for the times that inspectors visit the facility. And, they generally address a broader set of food safety processes than temperature monitoring.

Another approach that has begun to catch on is the installation of fixed temperature sensors—usually but not always wireless—into refrigeration and food warming equipment. These systems will capture and report on temperature at regular intervals—in some cases as frequently as every minute. This eliminates the need to manually check temperatures in monitored equipment as part of HACCP reporting. Moreover, these systems generally offer real-time alerts that can help avoid food safety problems. The more advanced systems track corrective actions and deliver escalating alerts to notify additional team members about issues that have not yet been addressed.
Automated temperature monitoring systems don’t fully take the place of the mobile systems described above since they cannot capture all temperatures and do not address aspects of the food safety process other than temperature monitoring.

Interestingly, the vast majority of restaurant brands that have automated food safety reporting—or are looking to do so—with whom we have spoken have implemented one but not both of these approaches. And yet, the approaches are inherently complementary.

As noted, automated temperature monitoring systems don’t address all aspects of the food safety process, while mobile technology cannot provide real-time warnings about food safety issues so that they can be addressed before they turn into major problems. Moreover, while mobile apps are faster than paper and pencil, they still require staff time. By contrast, automated temperature monitoring systems require no labor for monitored equipment—other than to address problems that are flagged in real-time.

To illustrate the potential of combining these two approaches, consider these results reported to us by one of our customers, a major restaurant chain. This brand started with fixed temperature sensors in refrigeration and other equipment, while continuing to perform manual data collection. They recently added a mobile digital task list app as a test in a group of restaurants. Their findings: What had been a 17-minute HACCP data capture process was now down to two minutes! Not needing to manually capture data now being automatically collected was part of this story, but savings also resulted from the shorter distances the staff now needed to cover to complete the process. Over the course of four checks a day, these savings were significant.

The market for automating food safety tasks and reporting is still in an early stage but appears to be accelerating. The technology is here today and constantly being improved. We would encourage all companies on the retail side of food services to explore technologies that cover the broadest range of capabilities for automating food safety processes.

Craig Reeds, DNV GL

Six Ways to Prepare for a Cybersecurity Audit

By Craig Reeds
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Craig Reeds, DNV GL

In the food manufacturing industry, just as in any other industry, cybersecurity is very important. Your organization should be having cyber vulnerability assessments or penetration tests performed at least once a year. Like any big test you have taken in your life, this sort of assessment can be scary, but if you prepare for it, you can greatly improve the potential of passing the test. As you prepare for the assessment, there are six things you can either implement or do to make the result of this audit better for your organization.

  1. Do an inventory of what is connected to your network. You cannot expect to defend devices on your network that you are not aware of. Be sure when you perform this inventory that you include any device that connects to your network. Think past the routers, switches, desktop PCs, laptops and printers. What is connecting to your wireless network? Is your security system or HVAC system connected to the network? Creating a network device inventory can be difficult, but there are tools available to make it easier. Once you have created the initial inventory, your baseline, go back at least monthly to look for new devices or devices that are no longer connected so you can update your inventory.
  2. Determine what is running on all of your network devices. In the first step you inventoried the hardware—now we need to inventory what is running on each device. You can use tools such as Nessus to inventory the software on each computer as it scans the network to perform the device inventory. This is the quickest way to complete both of these steps. If there is old or unused software on a device, remove it. You need to document the operating system and application software on each device. This software Inventory should also be included in your baseline and verified/updated on at least a monthly basis.
  3. Use the Principle of Least Privilege. This is a very valuable cybersecurity concept. Never give a user or device more rights on the network than they/it need to perform their assigned tasks. Privileges are assigned based on roles or job functions. If a user is unable to download and install applications on their PC or laptop, you reduce the chance of a device becoming compromised. Many hackers, once in a network, move laterally through the network from machine to machine looking for information or vulnerabilities that can be used to give themselves more abilities on the network. If a hacker were to gain access to a user account or system with low privileges, it decreases the amount of damage they could do.
  4. Use Secure Configurations. All operating systems, web browsers and many other networked devices have secure configuration settings. One of the problems with doing this is that operating systems alone can have hundreds of settings to choose from. The Center for Internet Security provides benchmarks for just about every conceivable device. The CIS Benchmarks are distributed free of charge in PDF format to propagate their worldwide use and adoption as user-originated, de facto standards. CIS Benchmarks are the only consensus-based, best-practice security configuration guides both developed and accepted by government, business, industry, and academia.
  5. Set up a policy and procedure for applying security patches. New vulnerabilities are discovered every day and when these vulnerabilities are found, vendors release updates or patches to mitigate the vulnerability. Exploiting vulnerabilities is what a hacker lives for. An unpatched vulnerability can be almost an open door for a hacker to get into your computer or network. It is mind boggling to hear that some organization was hit with ransomware because they didn’t load a security patch that was released six to 12 months ago. When an application reaches end-of-support, the vendor stops releasing patches, and that should tell you that it is time to upgrade the software to the newest version or find another tool to perform that task. Never use unsupported software on your network. Speaking as an auditor, a fully patched network is impressive.
  6. Create an Incident Response Plan. Let’s face it, no matter what you do to protect yourself, something is eventually going to go wrong. Do you have a plan to continue operations if you lose access to your office building? Do your users know what to do if they receive or fall prey to a phishing e-mail? This process starts with performing a risk assessment. Once you have determined the potential risks, you then move on to determining how to mitigate the risks. You will need to create policies and procedures and then train the employees on them, so they know what to do.

By performing these six steps you will be protecting and strengthening your networks, your users, and trust me, you will impress the auditor. Also, it should be noted that these are not once and done steps—these are steps that must be repeated sometimes on a daily, if not at least on a monthly, basis.

Deirdre Schlunegger, Stop Foodborne Illness
Food Safety Culture Club

The C-Suite: Showing up for Food Safety

By Deirdre Schlunegger
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Deirdre Schlunegger, Stop Foodborne Illness

It’s plain and simple: Having safe food, strong food safety programs, and ample resources allocated to them, are only possible (and sustainable) when company leadership make customers and consumers a priority.

Hence, a company’s food safety leadership, their departments and support will have experienced and knowledgeable staff, and access to new technology, best practices and collaboration opportunities. A long-view perspective means a better chance of meeting the bottom line—money saved, illness and possible lawsuits avoided, all while ensuring food integrity.

When you witness a company’s food safety leaders at important conferences, you can see their commitment to make food safety their top priority. But, when a CEO shows up to speak, listen and learn along with their food safety leadership, it is confirmation that they understand and care, or are there to learn. At national and international meetings, when they’re side by side with their senior staff, one can be confident that a strong food safety culture is a priority in their company.

Recalls and outbreaks will still happen,, but it’s been my perspective that food safety representatives who are absent at the food safety table may lack a commitment to a sustainable company-wide food safety culture and are subject to reoccurring and frequent recalls.

I applaud those C-Suite executives who show up, and are committed to hard work, research and collaboration, and sharing insight into their best practices! The list of great examples, of these kinds of companies and leaders, is growing.

Please join me in recognizing their ever-growing contribution to not only the safety of food, but consumers.

Janice Buchanon, Steritech
FST Soapbox

Is Food Safety Part of Your Crisis Management Plan?

By Janice Buchanon
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Janice Buchanon, Steritech

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, it’s been hard to miss the food safety-related headlines of the past month: E. coli in romaine lettuce, Salmonella-tainted eggs, norovirus-infected oysters sickening hundreds, and hepatitis A crises across several states, to name just a few. Since 1993 when an E. coli outbreak linked to ground beef at a fast food chain resulted in the deaths of several children, food safety has been on the radar of most major foodservice groups. Yet, surprisingly, food safety often doesn’t have its own crisis management plan within organizations.

A Single Food Safety Crisis Can Ripple Across Your Operation

A food safety crisis can have tremendous impacts on an organization, leading to lost sales, negative media and social media publicity, unsavory online reviews, temporary restaurant closure, lost wages for your staff, increased scrutiny on other locations, lawsuits and more.

In a 2016 survey of more than 500 consumers, it was revealed that food safety incidents stick with consumers—and that can impact your reputation and your bottom line for much longer than you may realize.

  • Of the respondents, 62.5% said they were aware of a food safety incident at a restaurant in the last six months.
  • A foodborne illness outbreak isolated to a single location of a chain restaurant would prevent many of the survey respondents from dining at other locations in the chain; 34.1% of respondents said that if they knew about an outbreak at a single location, they’d avoid eating at other restaurants in the chain for more than six months. Worse, 17% said they’d never eat at the chain again.
  • If a foodborne illness outbreak is linked to multiple locations of a restaurant, consumers get even tougher. A whopping 37.5% would avoid eating at the entire chain for more than six months. There’s more disturbing news: 31.7% of the respondents said they’d never eat at that chain again.

Food safety incidents don’t have to be large scale to be significant and get into the consumer eye. They happen every day, in small scale, for many foodservice operations. Think about how the following incidents could impact food safety in your organization:

  • A power outage knocks out refrigeration for a single location for 12 hours
  • A boil water advisory is issued for a large city
  • A fire extinguisher is discharged in a kitchen to put out a small fire
  • A hurricane brings widespread flooding to a metropolitan area
  • A child whose parent asks about peanut allergies is served a food containing peanuts
  • A child becomes ill in a restaurant and vomits
  • A kitchen employee is diagnosed with hepatitis A and continues to work without disclosing the illness
  • A location is closed by the health department for a pest infestation
  • Several locations were supplied with a food item involved in a major recall for contamination

Each of these incidents is related to food safety. Would your employees, from the top down, know what actions to take in each specific situation? Most senior or executive-level C-suite personnel might know what to do, but that type of training often never makes it down to the operator level. When an incident does happen, it leaves location level management and employees scrambling to figure out what to do; often, the steps they take are incorrect, and can even exacerbate the situation.

What’s Trending in Food Safety Incidents
Over the last 24 months, we’ve helped many major brands in resolving crisis situations. The top five types of crisis incidents we’ve assisted with include:
– Potential Hepatitis A exposure
– Potential Norovirus outbreaks/exposure
– Health department closure
– Power outages
– Boil water advisory

Just as organizations prepare for other crises—fire drills, food shortages, staffing problems, active shooters—having crisis plans for food safety incidents can help an organization’s players know what to do when a food safety incident occurs. This goes beyond risk mitigation to actually knowing what steps to take when specific types of crisis happen. Proper planning for crisis management includes:

  • Identifying the most likely crisis situations and developing a plan of action for each of them.
  • Identifying who all the key players are going to be in the management of the crises, from C-suite to public relations to individual location responsibilities, and communicating that to all team members
  • Outlining all the steps to be taken in a crisis
  • Building familiarity with a defined plan for operators of an individual location
  • Presenting an opportunity to practice the plan before a crisis occurs (training)
  • Crisis management doesn’t end with the crisis; following any crisis, key stakeholders should review the crisis management plan for that incident to determine if updates or changes are needed

What to Look for in a Crisis Management Partner

Crisis management isn’t something to go alone if you don’t have internal expertise on your team. Crisis management goes beyond public relations—it should include training and step-by-step processes for each specific type of crisis. So what should you look for in a food safety crisis management partner?

  • A partner who has food safety knowledge and practical experience in dealing with crisis
  • A partner who has familiarity with the different types of crises you outline as critical for your organization
  • A partner who engages team members and can help you conduct training from the top down

Why Now?

Crisis management should be part of every organization’s plan already, but if it’s not, there are some key reasons to act now. A number of current events are having a substantial impact on the foodservice community, increasing the need for food safety crisis management plans.

  • Hepatitis A outbreaks. States including California, Michigan, Kentucky and Indiana have had a significant increase in the number of hepatitis A cases reported. While this problem doesn’t start in the foodservice community, it does impact it—because as communities see higher cases, the chances of a food handler coming into contact with an ill person and contracting hepatitis A increase. Hepatitis A can be easily spread through food, so it’s critical that foodservice operations have a crisis management plan to deal with exposure incidents.
  • Norovirus. Norovirus-related outbreaks and foodservice operation closures—and the media exposure that goes along with them—have been on the rise for the last several years. Norovirus can create problems for operations in a number of ways, from employees working while sick, to customers getting sick in the establishment, to foods being contaminated with norovirus. Knowing how to respond to norovirus incidents is critically important, as norovirus outbreaks can lead to location closures, costly disinfection costs, unwanted publicity, lawsuits, and more.
  • Increasing turnover. With unemployment rates at record lows, foodservice operations are facing an employment crisis, unable to hire enough workers. This can increase the opportunity for food safety incidents as routine tasks and processes may be “short cut” during an employment shortage.
  • Delivery. The skyrocketing demand for delivery has led chains to quickly put together delivery plans. Crisis management should be addressed as part of any delivery plan, as there are any number of variables which could lead to potential incidents in delivery.

Don’t wait until a food safety incident occurs to figure out your crisis management plan. Start work today to ensure that when a food safety crisis occurs, your team and your brand can weather the storm.

Ibidun Layi-Ojo, Prometric
FST Soapbox

A Best-Practices Approach to Properly Assessing Food Safety Workers

By Ibidun Layi-Ojo
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Ibidun Layi-Ojo, Prometric

Success Factor 3: Create exams that properly assess the workforce.

Food safety exams give employers the peace of mind that the employees they hire can do the job they were trained to do and help prevent food safety incidents from happening. Equipped with the right training and assessment developed by responsible and qualified companies, employees in the field―ranging from food handlers to food managers―are the first line of defense to uphold the highest of food safety and security standards.

My previous two columns in Food Safety Tech explained important factors that employers need to consider when developing a food safety assessment program. Working with a quality-driven food safety assessment provider to develop the exam is a critical first step. Equally important is the practice of using exams with rigorous, reliable and relatable questions that are developed, tested and continuously evaluated to correlate with market needs and trends.

This article focuses on another key factor that should not be overlooked. In order to properly assess the workforce, exams must reflect best practices for test taking and learning, and be in sync with how the workforce operates and processes information. It is not enough for food safety assessment providers to merely develop questions and exams. A comprehensive exam creation process that takes into consideration technical and human factors allows for a fair assessment of workers’ knowledge and skills, while also providing feedback on exam performance that can be used to adapt exams in an ever-changing industry.

What should employers look for to help ensure that exams can properly assess the food safety workforce?

First, food safety exams should test what a food safety worker needs to know, and quality-driven assessment providers should solicit input from the industry during the exam creation process. Test developers should use surveys, conduct interviews and facilitate panel-based meetings to gather information. They also should invest in close collaboration with industry-leading subject matter experts (SMEs), as well as food handlers, managers and regulators in order to create questions and exams that are relevant. By engaging SMEs during the question writing and exam creation process, qualified food safety assessment providers can pinpoint the important information to be developed into questions and implemented in the exams.

In addition to incorporating industry stakeholder input, it is important for assessment providers to have a comprehensive understanding of the various assessment modalities —from selected response item types, such as multiple choice assessments, to performance-based, interactive scenarios that mirror real-life situations—and select the appropriate modality to maintain test fidelity.

Food safety assessment, training
Image courtesy of Prometric

An assessment provider with this level of proficiency can leverage the combination of its expertise and industry awareness to determine the best modality for the food safety workforce. For example, progressive assessment providers are actively investing in interactive, animated, scenario-based assesments because they believe this type of testing might better assess the skills and knowledge required to successfully perform in the workplace while providing:

  • High candidate engagement levels—with real-life scenarios being more relatable.
  • A safe environment for candidates to practice and understand the consequences of their actions.

Another critical component in creating effective exams is for the assessment provider to continuously review the content and incorporate quantitative and qualitative feedback from data and test takers respectively. By reviewing feedback regularly, asssessment providers can enhance the exams and adjust accordingly—keeping the exam relevant to the workforce and the industry. As the workforce and the industry change, so should food safety exam and certification programs. A feedback loop is essential to help ensure that the exam stays relevant to those who work in the food service industry as they seek to prove that they have mastered the necessary principles and skills to protect the public against food incidents. If a food safety exam does not properly assess the workforce, the consequences can be significant, not only to public health and safety, but also to the companies preparing, handling and serving food that could experience loss of reputation, revenue and the business.

Quality-driven food safety assessment providers follow a best-practices approach for creating exams and certificate/certification programs. They demonstrate a thorough understanding of behavioral learning, the necesary job skills and regulatory compliance requirements. A food safety exam that properly assesses the workforce will:

  • Solicit industry input.
  • Incorporate interactive scenarios that mirror real-life situations.
  • Create a feedback loop and adaptable exams that can easily be modified to stay abreast with the ever-changing industry.

While food handlers may be one of the biggest vulnerabilities in a safe food supply and delivery chain, they also represent one of the greatest opportunities to guard against food safety issues. Developing an effective food safety assessment program as part of a preventative strategy will help ensure both public health and corporate long-term business success.

Rajan Gupta, Enexas
FST Soapbox

My IT Department Doesn’t Understand Me or My Business

By Rajan Gupta
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Rajan Gupta, Enexas

Despite much progress in technology, information technology departments (IT) continue to lack credibility with business leaders and despite spending significant costs, many “IT” projects continue to “fail” in the eyes of the very users that IT tries to support. In this article, I will share the common challenges that contribute towards perceived and actual misalignment between IT and business.

We know that technology is at the core of every business process and is the primary driver of competitive advantage. However, studies suggest that most business leaders do not feel comfortable with the direction for their IT and digital transformation. As business leaders focus more on IT costs and not how IT can transform the business, IT is pushed more towards daily operations versus long-term strategy. Dave Aron of Gartner Research, says that “Buying a piece of technology does nothing by itself. It’s how you use the technology that matters the most. But we must make sure that what we buy satisfies the business needs.”

During my many interactions with business and IT leaders, I normally ask questions like:

  1. Explain the core business of the organization?
  2. Have IT resources spent anytime working in the day of life of an average business user doing daily tasks as if they were in that role?
  3. Do business and IT teams communicate in the same language (i.e., Does IT communicate in a manner that a business user will understand technology), or does IT use technical jargon that goes over the heads of most people?
  4. Are you comfortable that your IT and business strategies are aligned?
  5. Do IT leaders actively participate in senior leadership meetings and define business strategy?

Not surprisingly, the answers to these questions are on opposite ends of the spectrum between the business and IT leaders. In spending more than two decades of providing technical solutions to business problems, I have found that such divide is only expanding as technology becomes increasingly complex each day. A global economy puts increasing pressure on business to stay competitive and drive growth at a rapid pace, especially as it relates to food safety, regulatory and quality. Food is now globally sourced and the processes require innovative technical solutions in assisting food safety and regulatory compliance of foreign suppliers. Many IT organizations do not have a deep understanding of the business of food safety, leaving a gaping hole in deploying solutions that keep our food chain supply safe.

Defining a Bridge

So how do we effectively tackle this divide between IT and business leaders? I often call myself the “bridge” between business and IT. For those that understand technology, it is your role to ensure that what we do with technology satisfies the business need! Ultimately, it is the business that will succeed with our support, because technology by itself is not successful. But wait, not every IT staff member can be expected to understand the business and technology. What I often observe is that most IT organizations lack a leader who has the business, technical, interpersonal, innovative and customer-centric skills. Such people are certainly not growing on trees. Business and IT leaders must establish a group of resources that act as the “bridge” for their organization. By identifying these resources, you can focus on providing them with the appropriate skills and training to work jointly with business and IT to deliver solutions that drive the overall business strategy. Finally, I must point out that this group is normally led by the chief information officer (CIO), who is more importantly a business leader with technical acumen and not a hardcore technologist.

CIO as a Business Leader First

The role of a CIO is perhaps the most complex of all C-Level executives. CIO is expected to manage daily IT operations, contain costs, increase efficiencies, provide valuable insights through factual data, partake actively in business strategy, align the IT strategy with the business, and innovate at the speed of business. Not to mention, do all this while increasing overall customer experience. CIOs must tighten the connection of their IT teams to the business!

IT Drives Project Prioritization Aligned to Business Strategy

How can CIOs, IT, and business leaders close this fundamental gap between their IT and business organizations? Let’s first start with prioritization. How often do you find yourself saying that I must have something completed by IT yesterday? If you are like most people, you would probably challenge yourself in whether you demand IT to be reactionary to your needs. Most IT organizations fail to understand the true impact of user requests to the business. Usually, project prioritization comes down to cost, who will pay for it, and what may be defined as the “cool” factor.

IT has the broadest view of all technology projects across the organization and must lead in communicating with all business leaders. A CIO needs to effectively communicate the impact of various projects on each of the business divisions, the impact of the project, the cost/ROI, and help define the prioritization for business projects. IT must play the role of a negotiator and help business leaders in making decisions that provide the greatest impact. Martha Heller in the CIO Paradox says that there are “no IT projects, only business projects!”

As mentioned earlier, IT departments usually lack understanding of the food safety and quality processes. CIOs need to conscientiously understand the business of food safety, as it is not only important to keep our food chain safe but also to protect the organizational brand and ensure that food safety and regulatory groups are able to monitor, assess, and proactively ensure that no harm is introduced to the public through their products. Many organizations rely on recall processes to help contain food safety issues, but that is a reactive approach, which in many cases, tarnishes the brand image and costs the organization more than what was ever expected.

Keeping It Simple

How often do we see technology being deployed because the previous tools were too old or have simply lost their luster? With a constant bombardment of new gadgets and apps, we increasingly find ourselves overwhelmed with the variety of options available for almost any task. But that does not mean that the most advertised, or the one with highest reviews is going to fit your specific business needs. Cookie-cutter approaches do not work in all business environments. IT must assess the business need, challenge the business users on their processes, propose and analyze options, and then actively work with business and software vendors to find the right fit. Sometimes, that means not changing anything at all.

I often see businesses put together selection committees comprised of business and IT teammates. The business leaders each focus on their own silos, and IT focuses on such things as security, infrastructure, demand on their time and support. But no one in the group is looking at the impact across the organization. An IT strategy aligned with business will ensure that IT leadership is able to guide each business user towards the pros/cons of any project impacting their specific business area. IT must be in front of the business and lead business users through all technology choices. CIOs and their IT teams need to learn to convey the messages through examples and language that a business user understands. Help businesses find software vendors that are at the forefront of innovation and have not fallen in the trap of legacy enterprise software companies that are resistant to change.

Another common mistake by IT is asking the business users what they want. IT needs to take the ownership of understanding the business and then innovate in a manner that makes that task/process easy, efficient, accurate, sexy and simple! Be truly disruptive by providing a product that your business users automatically gravitate to that solution. It is the role of the IT departments to understand the business. I am convinced that certain business jargon, like FSMA, FSVP, social responsibility, and sustainability are terms not well understood by most IT organizations. Many food compliance staff members are buried in mountains of paper, PDF and email documentation, leading to selective review and processing of information. Such an approach of sampling only a part of relevant information is a major risk to our food supply chain. In recent years, tools have emerged that allow food safety and regulatory staff to electronically monitor the relevant information and focus their attention on information that really matters. By streamlining the processes through creativity and technology, we can empower the food safety staff to be vigilant and ensuring that only safe, reliable, and high-quality food enters our food chain.

Getting Business to be Comfortable with IT

In an organization, it is easy to find executives and managers who have worked across several departments. A customer service representative may transition to sales, or a vice president of sales becomes a CEO of the company. But not many people crosspollinate with IT. Most people outside of IT do not understand technology at a level to contribute effectively on a technical team. So, you may be saying why can’t the business understand technology? Well that’s because technology is in a supporting role for the business. It’s like a supporting actor helps the lead actor succeed at their role in a movie. It is the job of the IT group to support the business and get them to be comfortable with you. In every project, ensure that there is a business leader who owns the project. Remember that it is a business project, and not an IT project.

The CIO Magazine and other such periodicals are frequently publishing articles on speaking the language of the business. This suggests that IT still does not understand how to communicate with the business. Simplify your communication by removing technical jargon from your communications. Actively participate in business meetings to understand the needs of the business user. Be curious and be a trusted advisor for the business. Remember that you are the bridge and you do not need to explain the underlying infrastructure to you your business peers; you just need to help them do their job effectively, and efficiently. Discuss with them how you can help them win!

IT is about serving the business, being adaptable, innovative, and having its success be defined as only being the success of its business partners. Martha Heller in CIO Paradox states that “[IT] needs to have egos that are big enough to initiate transformative projects but small enough to let someone else take credit.”

Michael Koeris, Ph.D. and vice president of operations, Sample6, pathogen detection
FST Soapbox

Implement Six Changes This Week to Increase In-Plant Productivity

By Michael Koeris, Ph.D.
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Michael Koeris, Ph.D. and vice president of operations, Sample6, pathogen detection

The old adage coined by Benjamin Franklin nearly three centuries ago rings truer today than ever before: “Time is money.” For food plant managers, there are few greater job challenges than ensuring the kind of operational efficiency that fuels productivity and engenders real profitability for the company.

Every element of the manufacturing process—from supplier intake and product storage to processing, packaging, labeling and transporting—must run at peak performance in order to meet productivity expectations. Factor in the responsibilities of equipment maintenance, personnel management, resource allocation and food safety compliance, and you’re facing a torrent of barriers to increased plant productivity.

Even so, there are some practical changes you can make in order to meet your goals, and they’re not the kind that take months of planning and preparation (translation: more time out of your already busy schedule). The following are six expert recommendations you can roll out this week to increase plant productivity and rectify the inefficiencies that may be hindering your success.

Manufacturing productivity, efficiency
Every element of the manufacturing process—from supplier intake and product storage to processing, packaging, labeling and transporting—must run at peak performance in order to meet productivity expectations. Image courtesy of Sample6

1. Be Proactive

Here’s another valuable proverb to live by: “A stitch in time saves nine.” By proactively addressing quality control risks within the facility, you’re able to thwart more monumental issues down the line, like production halts, recalls and non-compliances. Outcomes like these epitomize inefficiency and often result in severe profitability consequences.

So, what change can you make this week to avert the fallout of a reactive approach? Focus on prevention. It may seem like speed is the ultimate goal, but not if it comes at the price of quality and safety, as oversights in these areas typically lead to damaging efficiency and profitability failures on the back end. Here are some simple steps to emphasize prevention right away:

  • Revise your HARPC to reflect any changes to date, like new employees or equipment sanitation hazards that have emerged; new ingredients that may pose allergen risks; the team’s pinpointing of ineffective control measures; production flow processes that deviate from the documented ones; and evolved compliance mandates or industry standards.
  • Optimize your documentation process by trading in outdated, manual processes for a more streamlined and reliable digital alternative—one that features automated reporting for extracting hidden insights and trends that can be leveraged to improve your prevention plan.
  • Designate a team or individual to revamp the training program, ensuring comprehensive education for employees spanning every department and level of the company. Direct them to develop initiatives that foster a culture of food quality and safety, with ongoing efforts to promote awareness and guidance.

2. Embrace the Value of Technology

It’s not easy to abandon the tried-and-true processes of yesterday and accept a new reality. This is why some plants struggle to meet the demands of today’s highly connected and technologically advanced society. In truth, technology has changed the industry, and the ability to increase productivity in your facility hinges on your willingness to learn the new rules and equip your team with the right tools.

Big data, agricultural tech, management software, augmented reality, digital reporting… the list goes on. These are the types of technology trends that are emerging in the food manufacturing industry and forging a path to immeasurable gains in quality and efficiency. Of course, you won’t be able to transform your entire operation in a week, but one thing you can do right away is open your mind to the potential that can be found in embracing technology. Come to an acceptance of the critical role that digitization and automation plays so that you can identify valuable opportunities to take advantage of them.

From the archives: Read our Q&A with Michael Koeris in “Food Safety Testing Must Live Up to Higher Expectations”3. Analyze Your Floor Plan

It’s impossible to effectively manage your productivity risks without first identifying them. You must be able to facilitate a historical view of disparities in your floor plan in order to determine the areas of greatest risk and/or loss. What factors within your facility are posing the greatest threats to productivity? Consider:

  • Are they food quality and safety deterrents, such as undeclared allergens, detected pathogens, residue contamination, lack of proper sanitation policies and enforcement, mismanaged temperature and moisture controls, etc.?
  • Are they related to equipment failures? Is there machinery that requires updates or replacement?
  • Are they employee elements, like insufficient staffing, human error, misappropriation of resources, subpar performance or lack of training?

The only way to answer these questions is to look at your floor plan holistically, and utilize historical data to identify potential causes of productivity lapses.

Let’s face it, no plant’s processes are perfect, and no organization runs a flawless operation. Non-conformances and inefficiencies will always occur. It’s the ability to focus on these problems and use the data to improve your process that makes the difference between a strong, productive operation and a weak, futile one. Data collection and analysis that highlight hot spots on your floor plan enable you to communicate effectively with your team and execute process iterations that advance quality, productivity and profitability.

4. Print Testing Labels with Sample Details

If your team is manually writing out labels for samples that are collected for testing, there are a number of efficiency challenges getting in the way of overall plant productivity. First and foremost, filling out testing labels by hand requires much more time from technicians and plant workers than is actually necessary. Over a duration, these minutes become hours, which turn into days, slowly eroding the profitability of your operations. What could you save in productivity losses if your workers no longer had to write out labels?

There’s also the issue of often-illegible handwriting and the heightened risk of human error. When the lab receives samples that are difficult to read, incomplete, inaccurately marked or smudged during transit, there are extra steps needed to inquire about and resolve the discrepancies. Otherwise, the lab is left to guess at what they’re seeing, and we can all agree there’s a hefty price to be paid for inaccuracies in this area.

This is a prime example of how food safety software can increase plant productivity. With the ability to utilize auto-labeling for testing samples, all of these productivity impediments disappear. You could begin saving precious time and closing the gap on errors immediately, just by using a smart software solution that enables you to print testing labels.

5. Automatically Assign Corrective Actions

As non-conformances arise in the production process, corrective action must follow. But even with the best intentions, corrective action goals can fall behind schedule or consume so much time and energy that they curtail operational productivity. Without an automated, streamlined approach, there’s likely to be confusion over who is expected to manage a particular action and what they need to do, which precipitates avoidable mistakes and a whole lot of wasted time.

With a food safety management system that allows you to automatically assign next steps to the appropriate individual for resolving a positive test result, there’s much to be gained in terms of efficiency. The right people are instantly notified of their corrective action assignments, with direction on how to proceed. This kind of powerful communication reaps big productivity returns. It also maintains a focus on proactive quality control, the benefits of which we’ve already explored.

6. Use a Food Safety Audit Template

Sometimes it feels like there’s no end to the cycle of preparation required for managing the plant’s continual food safety audits. On the one hand, you’ve got government regulators, like the FDA, USDA and CFIA, heightening compliance enforcement and performing regular inspections. On the other, you’re subject to client-administered audits intended to verify supplier food quality and safety. Then in between the two, you’re tasked with conducting a number of internal audits.

Amid all of this complex data acquisition and reporting, your operations are suffering from the effects of lost time and resources. As each food safety audit approaches, it can be a significant struggle to get everything in order—one that ultimately takes your productivity objectives off course. The key to avoiding this scenario is implementing an organized process, and one of the most effective tools you can use is a standard food safety audit template.

With a comprehensive checklist of categories and requirements, you’re able to systematically address each area of food safety responsibility, survey your team, assemble the necessary materials and pull relevant data. From compiling documents, logs and reports to making visual verifications, a template that facilitates the audit preparation process is a significant productivity booster. It helps you assimilate efforts to:

  • Verify the plant’s actions for analysis and control of biological, chemical and physical hazards, from raw material production, procurement and handling to manufacturing, distribution and consumption of finished product
  • Methodically examine all aspects of the plant’s system for maintaining industry, company and government standards of practice for manufacturing, holding and distributing foods fit for human consumption
  • Review the elements of your supplier verification program to ensure completeness, accuracy and organization, as well as collect proof of your suppliers’ quality systems
  • Compile information that reflects the plant’s approach to enforcing an expedient and reliable recall process

There’s no reason to allow productivity to falter while handling everyday plant responsibilities. By executing some of these steps within the next few days, you can kick start better efficiency patterns and get your operations moving toward increased productivity. This is the direction in which you should be headed in order to develop greater control throughout the plant and turn time into money.

Lin Mazurek, DNVGL
FST Soapbox

Where to Start on Your Company’s Food Safety Program

By Lin Mazurek
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Lin Mazurek, DNVGL

It’s 7 am and the canning plant is changing shifts. As the new quality assurance manager, you are looking at your to-do list and realize that the same topic has been at the top of the list all week: Food Safety Plan—a daunting topic but critical for the future success of the business and for the acknowledged safety of your company’s products being served in consumers homes.

Where to Begin?

For many companies, there are already procedures and common sense practices in place for sanitation, equipment cleaning and employee hygiene, to name a few. But that is not enough. As the quality assurance manager, you are looking to take food safety to the highest level, which includes selecting a food safety standard or scheme that will be audited by a certification body in order to claim that all-important food safety certification.

We talk to many start-ups, and emerging and expanding companies that are at the beginning of the certification process or are perhaps fine-tuning an existing plan. To assure success for a company at every step along the way, we have witnessed the most successful companies begin with a three-step process:

  • Assemble your food safety team, including top management
  • Research, implement and document a HACCP Plan
  • Select a food safety standard to guide the process along the way

Our customers use many resources to assist with a start-up food safety plan, to fine-tune an existing plan or to integrate new food products and processes into an existing plan. Here are their suggestions:

  1. Select a certification standard to follow: Companies are best served when they align their food safety program with a recognized standard. Each standard offers a structure to follow, documentation to track, and operational and functional guidelines to address to be “compliant” within the context of the segment of the industry they are tracking.
  2. Get organized: Every customer of ours talks about the challenge to get procedures, documentation and their HACCP plan organized. Checklists, provided on the website from standard holders, like BRC Global and SQF, offer details of processes and procedures to review in your own shop. Our technical staff recommends reviewing the published standard, line for line, to make sure your company has all of its bases covered prior to an audit. Many companies compile a digital record, or even a binder with paper printouts of validation and verification records, for documentation of critical control points. Both are acceptable to prove verification to a food safety auditor.
  3. Get industry and FDA/USDA advice: John Z, a food safety project manager at a food packaging company in Gurnee, IL started his company on the path to their food safety certificate with information from the FDA website and online conversations with industry colleagues. A large customer was mandating that John’s company acquire a food safety certification in order to continue to do business. That same customer was helpful in highlighting specific areas in a food safety plan that were critical to winning the business. John also reached out, via LinkedIn, to his industry community for advice and was both delighted and surprised at the wealth of information he was able to glean from asking general questions using the online format.
  4. Consultants: Consultants can be found by searching the Internet for the industry segment that your company operates in, whether it is food processing, storage and distribution or food packaging. When we asked Bill Bremer of Kestrel Management for the top three reasons to utilize a consultant, he commented:
    1. A good consultant can offer the “right-size compliance” for the food safety standard selected and the needs of the organization.
    2. The company’s people-resources can be reviewed for additional training, to assure that the organization has the talent in place to handle the verification and validation needed for a successful and comprehensive food safety management system.
    3. Consultants are an efficient resource to assist an organization to manage changes in products, processes and regulatory requirements and to update HACCP and FSMA plans. Bill commented that about 80% of HACCP plans he reviews are… like a lot of food, “overdone or underdone!”
      Consultants work on a contract basis that can be scaled to the needs of the organization. References are often offered or requested to get an independent voice on the credentials of the consultant.
  5. Industry Associations: Most industries have an industry association affiliated with their product or process. Typically a membership-based approach offers many benefits to the members for event participation, resources and shared information. Non-members often can sign up for newsletters or association announcements.
  6. State Extension Services: State governments have detailed information and free resources on their public health websites, pertaining to local food safety processing and handling regulations. As part of a company’s HACCP plan to comply with local regulations, these resources are specific to your site and must be followed according to local codes and business licenses.

A comprehensive and effective food safety program is not an option, it is a necessity. The liability your organization assumes for consumer complaints or health safety recalls would be financially devastating to most companies. Your time and effort in designing, implementing and maintaining such a program assures your organization that customers, consumers and your bottom line are protected.

Deirdre Schlunegger, Stop Foodborne Illness
Food Safety Culture Club

Educate Consumers about Food Safety Technology

By Deirdre Schlunegger
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Deirdre Schlunegger, Stop Foodborne Illness

It seems the world has gone truly global. Whether it’s using your debit card instead of having to change currency, or having great translation capabilities at our fingertips thanks to sophisticated algorithms made available to everyone, or even being able to see and talk through one portable device with friends in Spain while texting with a friend in Japan on another! Global food safety is another area where tools and technology are constantly evolving to make our lives easier, better, and safer. In the United States, FSMA is addressing this phenomenon.

Almost daily, I find myself reading about new inventions and applications that promise to, not only safely deliver food from across the globe, but also accurately track the steps food takes to get to consumers. Yet, outbreaks, recalls, and traceability issues continue to occur. Whole genome sequencing (WGS) is but one of the technologies being applied to food safety while improving tracking capabilities and changing ideas about accountability.

At Stop Foodborne Illness, we encourage more public dialog to, and education among, consumers regarding advances in food safety technology, including traceability. Consumers need to know that although the struggle with outbreaks is still very real, there is continuous research and significant improvement being made in the effort to keep the food supply safe. I wonder sometimes if there should be a one-stop food safety technology website where consumers could go learn more about how food is grown, processed, transported, and tracked, while listing recent advances, and what is next to come in food safety technology.

We believe there is a great need for consumers to be educated about, and feel confident in, the security in their food supply. Being able to eat healthy food without the fear of illness is imperative. As advanced technology brings a reduction in foodborne outbreaks and recalls, trust will build and grow. It’s a circular process. Sharing what we know with the public advances food science and technology, instilling confidence along the way.

Megan Nichols
FST Soapbox

5 Ways to Manage Risk in the Global Food Supply Chain

By Megan Ray Nichols
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Megan Nichols

In 2017, the cost to import food, which has long been fairly predictable, rose by 6% over the previous year—and the number of possible risk factors has risen right alongside the higher price tag. There are several steps you can take to position yourself as an industry leader and manage risk simultaneously. First, though, it makes sense to better understand what’s at stake.

Why Take Steps to Reduce Risk?

Food has never been a more global market than it is today, and those who operate in the food supply chain are bound by the public’s trust in spoken and unspoken ways. Customers are used to taking for granted that they can walk into a supermarket and walk out with ethically sourced fish and eggs free from E. coli worries.

Not every food product is, or can be, a global one. However, some of these domestic risk factors scale up, just as our businesses do. When the food supply chain crosses borders of any kind, the familiar health and food safety risks are joined by several others:

  • Product mislabeling
  • Unplanned-for natural disasters
  • Spoilage due to any number of unforeseen circumstances
  • Damage while in transit
  • Unpredictable politics and shifts in regulations

A food company’s supply chain can be the weakest link in their food safety program. Learn more at the Food Safety Supply Chain Conference | June 12–13 | Rockville, MDIn all honesty, no list will ever encompass the scope of the risk you take on as part of the global food supply chain. That’s not to say you can’t take steps to reduce your risk—sometimes several types of risk at once—as your operation grows. The following is a look at several practical suggestions, some of them more time-intensive and perhaps cost-prohibitive than others, but all worth a look as the world grapples with globalization in the food industry.

1. Don’t Take Company Culture or Employee Training for Granted

Working safely and conscientiously in a particular trade is not knowledge we’re born with. When you consider the fact that at some level every food product we bring into our homes was handled at one point by another human being, you get a sense of the role proper training and a healthy culture can play in the safety we expect of our food.

Among recently surveyed manufacturers in the global food space, 77% of them said globalization itself was a source of risk. It’s easy to see why. In 2015, a relatively small—though still deadly—Listeria outbreak was traced to just a few Blue Bell Ice Cream factories. The company was almost ruined by the three deaths, the illnesses and the nearly crushing reputational damage.

Some momentary lapse of judgment at one or perhaps two factories almost killed this company. Now scale this type of risk up to the global level and think about the possible worst-case scenarios.

We’ll talk more in a moment about ways to introduce transparency and traceability to the food supply chain, but this is a reminder of the stakes. Mindfulness and conscientiousness in the work we do— not to mention well-rested and satisfied workers—are just as vitally important to look after as profitability.

2. Use Predictive Sales Forecasts and Intelligent Logistics to Avoid Spoilage

Unnecessary food waste and spoilage emerged as a mainstream issue in recent years all across the globe. For example, citizens in the EU are forced to discard some 89 million tons of food each year due to overstocking, poor quality control and a lack of attention paid to consumer trends. The United States throws out 35 million tons of food for the same reasons—a problem that, billed collectively, carries a price tag of $165 billion each year in the United States alone.

The solution has arrived in the form of predictive analytics and more intelligent warehouse and inventory management systems. Domestic and global supply chain partners alike now have access to, in some cases, highly customizable software systems that can provide vital data, such as:

  • Ideal stock levels for perishable items
  • Constant checks on incoming versus outgoing products
  • Intelligent insights into customer behavior patterns and near-future buying patterns

These types of data are highly actionable. They don’t just shield you from monetary risks by cutting down on waste— they can also protect you from public health risks by ensuring spoiled products never make it as far as store shelves.

3. Take Your Packaging More Seriously

Many of us don’t give packaging a second thought. So long as it’s easy to get into, eye-catching and protects the product long enough for the consumer to get their hands on it, it’s good enough — right? Not quite. When manufacturers think about packaging as merely a branding matter rather than as a safety check, the price is sometimes human health and lives.

One obvious solution to make sure your products can travel as far as they need to is to invest in vacuum packaging, even for small-scale operations. Compressed air equipment is a highly affordable way to accomplish this. The USDA and CDC provide guidelines on modified atmosphere packaging (MAP) and controlled atmosphere packaging (CAP).

Packaging material requirements are a global concern as well as a domestic one. The EU provides guidelines for packaging materials that are detailed down to the type of ink used. Knowing about the laws in your sales territories and staying aware of new breakthroughs in material sciences can help you remain in compliance and ahead of the game.

In a global supply chain, high-quality packaging serves not just as a risk mitigator, but also as a possible value proposition for your customers. Having your brand stand out as an example of high-quality products in thoughtful, health-conscious packaging could put you in a unique position.

4. Stay Abreast of Changing Regulations

American politics might be volatile, but one thing that isn’t likely to change is that consumers tend to look toward institutions like the FDA to provide updated guidelines and to pursue strong, consumer-friendly legislation. That means compliance isn’t always a choice, but it also means you have the opportunity to anticipate change and mitigate risks faster than your peers.

A recent example is FSMA. It’s had a long rollout, with plenty of advance warning for the industries it touches, but now most of its rules have reached the implementation stage. This lead time has been advantageous given the scope of the anticipated laws because it’s given food processing companies time to prepare for compliance. In fact, globalization lies at the very heart of it.

FSMA will be challenging at times to enforce, but its ultimate goal is to hold domestic and foreign companies in the global food supply chain responsible for a common set of guidelines and best practices.

What does this mean? It means you have yet another opportunity to establish yourself as an industry leader. The intentions of FSMA are to make every part of the supply chain more agile and better able to respond to emerging health concerns and other sources of risk as they unfold.

5. Use Data to Build Greater Transparency

There has perhaps never been a more important time to take transparency seriously in the global food supply chain. As of this writing, a historically significant outbreak of E. coli among romaine lettuce products is closing in on an “all clear” from the CDC after two difficult months. By the time you read this article it’s entirely possible another outbreak of a different kind might be underway or that some product or another has found itself under a recall. The possibility of reputational damage is greater than ever.

The good news is, even when the unfortunate happens, it’s possible to greatly reduce risk to your brand and your customers’ health. However, you need the tools to help you move quickly in tracing the problem.

Some digital technologies of a more physical nature, such as QR codes or RFID chips, can elevate your supply chain transparency and tamp down risk even further by allowing far more granular traceability for your products as they move about. In some high-profile examples, we’re seeing this concept taken to a logical, if slightly extreme, endpoint: Edible QR codes on restaurant food that contain a full history of the meal’s constituent ingredients.

Even if you don’t take your own efforts this far, this level of traceability can help you react far more quickly to emerging situations such as recalls. You’ll be able to isolate shipments with greater ease and trace contaminated products back to their sources. Also, as The Guardian points out, this technology delivers ethical and perhaps legal peace of mind by assuring you that your partners are trading in ethically sourced goods.

Vigilance and Technology in the Food Industry

The stakes in the food industry are high, as we’ve seen. However, with the right combination of a cultural approach to safety, a mindfulness of changing regulations and the sensible application of technology so you can act on the data you’re gathering, you’ll be in a prime position for global success in this quickly changing field.