Emily Newton, Revolutionized Magazine
FST Soapbox

Four Benefits of Automation in Seafood Processing

By Emily Newton
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Emily Newton, Revolutionized Magazine

Seafood processing work typically comes with harsh working conditions like wet floors, sharp tools, heavy machinery and long working hours. Tasks like gutting, cutting and canning are almost always dull, dirty and dangerous—the “three D’s” work that manufacturers often struggle to fill. As a result, many businesses turn to outsourcing to handle seafood processing needs.

Automation offers another solution. With modern robotics and automated systems, businesses can streamline seafood processing work, making it easier to process seafood closer to where it was caught or farmed. These are four of the top benefits for companies that automate seafood processing.

1. Minimizing Seafood Processing Labor Costs

Likely the most significant benefit of automation in seafood processing is lower labor costs. An automated solution can either support or replace workers at some point in a seafood processing workflow, allowing businesses to shift workers where they are needed.

As a result, these businesses are able to significantly reduce their labor costs, which is often one of the biggest expenses in seafood processing.

Because the seafood industry faces a significant and growing labor shortage—like most other industries—the labor-cost-reducing benefit of automation will become even more valuable over the next few years.

While the United States government is taking steps to manage this labor shortage—like handing out additional H-2B worker visas for seafood processors—it’s likely that the seafood industry will face a tight labor market for the foreseeable future.

2. Improving Productivity and Preventing Process Errors

Another benefit of automation can include greater efficiency and reduced waste. Fortunately, many stages in the seafood processing industry can be automated if plants invest in the proper equipment. De-heading, gutting, fin removal, and skinning are some of the tasks that food processors can automate. While the manual approach is more conventional, it’s often both time consuming and more difficult.

When workers are tired or inexperienced, they may also make mistakes or unclean cuts, potentially leading to wasted fish, slower work, and reduced product quality. Process mistakes can also make food less safe. Errors made in almost every step of the process, from gutting to canning, can potentially create food safety issues that may put customers’ health at risk.

Machines, by contrast, are very consistent. They can work for multiple shifts in a row with the right maintenance, providing the same level of quality over many hours. Typically, if machines make mistakes, they also make the same mistakes. As a result, managers may be able to more quickly find and adjust the parameters or tooling they need to change to resolve process errors.

Mistakes made by human workers may be less consistent and require more costly interventions, like training, to manage.

3. Using Automation to Make Seafood Workers Safer

In addition to reducing labor costs and making seafood processing more efficient, automation can also make this work much safer. Tasks like cutting, gutting and canning can be, by nature, very dangerous for workers.

Other occupational hazards of seafood processing may include extremely low temperatures, heavy equipment, poor ergonomics, excessive noise levels, and exposure to allergens or toxins.

These threats can lead to both acute injury and long-term health conditions, like musculoskeletal injuries (MSIs) from nonergonomic movements or hearing loss from excessive noise levels.

The tasks that automation is best at handling—work that is dirty, dull or dangerous—also tend to be some of the least-safe work available. These tasks are repetitive, potentially nonergonomic, and expose workers directly to threats like biological aerosols or sharp cutting tools.

Every one of these tasks that a processor is able to partially or fully automate is a risk that a worker won’t be exposed to.

Even if it’s not possible to fully replace a human worker with an automated solution – like a cutting machine, packaging machine, or pick-and-place robot—any automation investment can generally make a processing plant safer.

With a targeted automation investment, processors may be able to make seafood processing work both much more appealing and safer, helping to manage two of the most significant challenges facing processors right now.

4. Making Seafood Processing Facilities More Flexible

Modern market conditions are volatile. Labor costs, raw material prices and consumer demands can change quickly. Inflation has also made operating expenses much harder for businesses to predict.

The ability to adapt fast to changing market conditions is necessary for seafood processors to be successful. Because experts predict the market will remain unpredictable, flexibility and agility in processing will remain invaluable assets in the near future.

Modern solutions are also helping to make automated systems even more adaptable, allowing processors to use the same technology for many purposes.

One good example is cobots, or collaborative robotics. These are robots built to work in close proximity with human workers and perform tasks that conventional automation systems can’t generally perform. By leveraging safety features like padded joints, force limiters, and motion detectors, they can work in the same space as a human worker with less risk of injury or harm.

Manufacturers and seafood processors use cobots for a variety of different applications—including pick-and-place, machine tending, depalletizing, and packaging goods. Some of the same technology that makes cobots safer, like machine vision, also enable new use-cases. For example, machine vision can allow a cobot to perform quality-control processes, like removing low-quality or unsafe products from a production line.

Most cobots, in addition to being built for safety, are also designed to be slotted into or out of workflows as needed. Lightweight and easy to reprogram, manufacturers and processors can quickly repurpose a cobot for many different tasks as needed, allowing them to stay responsive to changing consumer demands or shifting material prices.

As a result, these bots are a good automation investment for businesses that want to streamline work without sacrificing the flexibility that can sometimes be lost in the transition from manual to automatic processes.

Automation Helps Make Seafood Processing Safer and More Efficient

For seafood processors, automation may soon become an essential investment. In the industry, automated solutions can provide benefits like improved efficiency, reduced waste, greater safety, and better plant flexibility. New solutions, in particular, are helping seafood processors to keep their plants close to where the seafood is caught and farmed.

The seafood industry is likely to face a tight labor market and supply chain disruptions into the future. By adopting automated solutions, processors can more easily adapt to a changing market.

Steven Sklare, Food Safety Academy
FST Soapbox

What Is Your Company’s Level of Digital Risk Maturity?

By Steven Sklare
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Steven Sklare, Food Safety Academy

The digital transformation of food safety management programs is a common topic of discussion today, across the full range of media including print, blogs, websites and conferences. It has also been generally acknowledged that the COVID-19 pandemic has significantly accelerated the adoption of various digital technologies. However, let’s be clear, COVID-19 may have accelerated the process, but the process was under way as the only way for food companies to efficiently cope with the increase of required compliance documentation for regulatory bodies, such as FDA, USDA, etc., non-regulatory organizations such as GFSI, and customer specific requirements. COVID-19 has added a sense of urgency, as the fragility of both domestic and international supply chains has been exposed with long-term sources of ingredients or equipment being cut off overnight. We must also overlay the need to manage food safety risk and food fraud vulnerability in real time (or even predict the future, which will be discussed further in a future article). The food industry has also had to adjust to dealing with many aspects of work and production without typical face-to-face interaction—a norm of operating within the environment of a global pandemic over the past two years.

What is not clear, however, is the meaning of “digital transformation” or the “digitization” of a food safety management program. What is not clear is what these terms mean to individual organizations. The frenzy of buzzwords, “urgent” presentations, blogs and webinars help to create an improved level of awareness but rarely result in concrete actions that lead to improved results. I admit to being guilty of this very hyperbole—in a previous article discussing “Chocolate and Big Data”, I said, “If a food organization is going to effectively protect the public’s health, protect their brand and comply with various governmental regulations and non-governmental standards such as GFSI, horizon scanning, along with the use of food safety intelligent digital tools, needs to be incorporated into food company’s core FSQA program.” Sounds great, but it presupposes a high level of awareness of those “digital tools”. What is not clear to many organizations is how to get started and how to create a road map that leads to improved results, more efficient operations and importantly, to ongoing improvement in the production of safe food.

Addressing a new concept can be intimidating and paralyzing. Think back to the beginning days of HACCP, then TACCP, then VACCP, and post FSMA, preventive controls! So, where do we start?

Nikos Manouselis, CEO of Agroknow, a food safety data and intelligence company with a cloud-based risk intelligence platform, Foodakai, believes the place to start is for food companies to perform an honest, self-assessment of their digital risk maturity. Think of it as a digital risk maturity gap analysis. While there are certainly different approaches to performing this self-assessment, Agroknow has developed a simple, straightforward series of questions that focus on three critical areas: Risk monitoring practices and tools; risk assessment practices and tools; and risk prevention practices and tools. The questions within each of these areas lead to a ranking of 1–5 with 1 being a low level of maturity and 5 being a high level of maturity. One of the goals of the self-assessment is to determine where your company stands, right now, compared to where you want to be or should be.

While this is not a complete nor exhaustive process, it helps to break the inertia that could be holding a company back from starting the process of digitizing their food protection and quality systems, which will allow them to take advantage of the benefits available from continuous monitoring of food safety risks and food fraud vulnerabilities, artificial intelligence and predictive analytics.

Laura Dunn Nelson, Intertek Alchemy
FST Soapbox

Three Ways to Ensure Food Safety During Supply Chain Disruptions

By Laura Dunn Nelson
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Laura Dunn Nelson, Intertek Alchemy

For the last two years, we consumers have experienced the global supply chain challenges associated with a variety of items such as lack of home appliances, favorite packaged foods or paper towels. And now the Ukraine war has sparked a new supply chain crisis with projected shortages of chemicals, oilseeds, iron, steel, fertilizers, wood, palladium and nickel. It’s clear that disruptions will continue as the world endures a crippled supply chain.

Most consumers don’t consider how supply chain interruptions affect the production and safety of so many of the foods we eat. Delays in any food ingredient or packaging can disrupt production schedules, delay shipments, and lead to empty retail shelves for thousands of food processors, manufacturers and retailers across the globe.

As manufacturers cope with these challenges, they frequently have to identify new suppliers or change processes and formulas on the fly. These unanticipated changes may often lead to shortcuts that can pose significant risks to consumers and cause food recalls.

It’s often hard to imagine all the interdependencies within the global supply chain, but one missed shipment or unavailable product can produce ripple effects throughout the globe. To reduce the risks associated with supply chain delays, food processors should implement resiliency measures such as effective change management and food safety vendor audit programs, detailed product specification and vendor expectation requirements, and multi-sourced vendor strategies.

To address these issues, this article reviews three ways food manufacturers can continue to minimize delays and reduce food safety risks when the supply chain interrupts production.

Learn more about how to address risks in the supply chain by attending the Food Safety Tech Hazards Series: Supply Chain | May 18 @ 12 pm ET1. Empower Workers to Report Issues

It’s always important to remember that employees can be the best defense against food safety threats. They’re the ones who interact with the products day-to-day and have the most familiarity with the ingredients. Their expertise is especially important now that supply chain disruptions are introducing new issues and anomalies.

Food manufacturers should train employees to understand which ingredients and products are acceptable and encourage them to speak up when they notice any anomalies. It’s also critical that training instills in workers the idea that they share the responsibility to ensure the safety and quality of the products they produce.

When frontline employees have the authority and the autonomy to alert their supervisors when they see something unusual or unexpected, they can become a powerful weapon in the food safety risk prevention arsenal. Harnessing the eyes of all your employees as your ultimate quality control team will help prevent costly recalls, product rework and further production delays.

2. Review Supplier Specs

When food manufacturers start working with a new supplier, they should take the necessary time to review their detailed product specifications to understand the technical and functional aspects of their product. From nutritional values and potential allergens to ingredients and chemical properties, it’s critical to have a full picture of what goes into the product before incorporating it into your manufacturing process.

As a best practice, manufacturers should also ask for a copy of the supplier’s recent GFSI food safety audits or equivalent and proof of liability insurance.

It’s also critical to thoroughly review vendor product specifications to confirm that a newly sourced ingredient meets your purchase expectations, label requirements, and food safety and quality risk profile. Considering how quickly an interruption can occur, it’s important to establish new vendor expectations and develop a supplier questionnaire. In addition, always plan ahead by sourcing multiple backup suppliers prior to ingredient and packaging disruptions.

3. Examine Supplier Labels

Understanding the product specifications is a critical first step, but it’s equally important to compare the label to the specs to ensure it is compliant and expected.

When a package arrives on the dock, receivers need to know if the contracted product has arrived as specified. Is the product packaged correctly, within expected shelf life, in a sanitary condition? Receivers should answer these and other questions by looking for inconsistencies per pallet like mixed lot codes and product shelf-life variances. Employees should also check the condition of incoming products including noting unusual odors or colors that might not seem right or for packaging that looks different from prior shipments.

The ongoing supply chain disruptions are predicted to continue this year, which means they can potentially cause food safety challenges based on inconsistencies in raw materials and undocumented process changes in production. Food safety leaders must hone their change management skills to successfully lead their organizations through these challenging times.

Adhering to the strict practices detailed in this article might seem like a lot of extra work and attention, but it’s actually something food manufacturers should be doing all the time as part of a mature food safety culture.

CJ Pakeltis, RizePoint
FST Soapbox

Food Businesses: Reduce Food Waste and Save Significant Money

By CJ Pakeltis
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CJ Pakeltis, RizePoint

After two years of COVID-19—and now an escalating Russia-Ukraine conflict—the failing supply chain is a pressing concern in the food industry. Exacerbating the supply chain issues is our excessive food waste problem. As supplies become more difficult and expensive to secure, we should be focusing more attention on reducing waste. Food businesses that proactively work to reduce food waste will save significant money, meet corporate sustainability goals and help the planet.

Food waste is estimated at between 30-40% of the U.S. food supply, which equates to an astonishing 133 billion pounds and $161 billion in waste, according to the USDA. In addition to discarded food, there is also considerable waste of labor, energy and other resources that go into producing, processing, transporting, prepping, cooking, storing and disposing of unused food.

Food waste occurs for many reasons, including:

  • Spoilage at every stage of the supply chain
  • Problems like mold or bacteria during harvesting, transporting, processing, etc.
  • Damage by insects, rodents, and other pests.
  • Equipment malfunction (such as faulty walk-in coolers).
  • Improper storage (e.g., not holding foods at proper temperatures).
  • Over-ordering, over-prepping, or cooking more than what’s needed, and tossing out the extras.

Many food businesses inadvertently practice wasteful behaviors. This is due, in large part, to the lack of accurate, comprehensive data. If operators don’t have accurate data about their inventory, sales patterns and forecasts, it can lead to food waste, which can be costly to your business and damaging to our planet.

At a time when every dollar counts—and the supply chain is strained—your organization should proactively work to reduce food waste. The following are some effective ways to accomplish this goal.

  • Adopt the right software. Integrated software is the best solution to eliminate wasted food, money and other resources. Today’s systems allow organizations to view sales patterns, track inventory, manage production, avoid overstocking, enhance food safety and quality, and determine areas of wastage. Tech solutions allow organizations to use data—not instincts—to make better, more profitable, less wasteful decisions.
  • Conduct a food waste audit. Food waste is bad for the environment as well as business margins. A food waste audit can help a company determine how much food is being wasted, as well as the type of foods not being used effectively. This practice can help companies address waste problems and adjust their inventory accordingly.
  • Implement sustainable strategies. It’s problematic—and wasteful—when retail locations receive large quantities of fresh foods and can’t sell it all before it spoils. Hannaford Supermarkets found a solution to this common conundrum. They have their trucks deliver smaller amounts of food more frequently—versus less frequent, higher volume deliveries. As a result, they are selling fresher produce with less waste.
  • Make waste reduction part of company culture. Train staff to reduce waste, and properly use, cook, package and store foods while always prioritizing waste reduction. Adopt a waste-not-want-not mindset and follow sustainable strategies that are practiced starting in the C-suite.
  • Donate surplus food. After learning that billions of pounds of food goes to waste in the United States while millions of people are going hungry, entrepreneur Jasmine Crowe created Goodr, a food waste management company that connects food businesses with a surplus of supplies to non-profit organizations that give it to the food insecure. Additionally, grocery chain Trader Joe’s is well-known for their generous food donation program. In just one year, the company donated $295 million worth of their unused products to food banks, feeding the hungry and eliminating a huge amount of waste.
  • Improve packaging. Our industry must create better packaging that effectively protects and preserves food throughout the entire supply chain cycle—and helps reduce waste. For instance, companies are experimenting with more compostable packaging, clearer use-by/expiration dates, easier-to-understand usage instructions, tips for storing leftovers, and ways to use some of the food without compromising the rest of the food in the package.
  • Reconsider portion size. Some restaurants offer smaller meals (i.e., half portions) to reduce waste. Food manufacturers are also providing smaller options, such as the single-serving Duncan Hines Perfect Size Cakes for customers who want just a small treat without having to waste an entire cake. Sabra Singles hummus, Good Culture cottage cheese, Kraft Mac and Cheese and other companies offer single serving containers, which means less waste.
  • Use every scrap. Vegetable peels, eggshells, coffee grounds, tea bags and other non-meat scraps can be used for compost, which is nutrient-rich and will go back into the earth to grow more food. Use the compost to grow your own herbs and produce or share it with local farmers and gardeners.
  • Consider other eco-friendly options. Sustainable organizations are taking our food scraps and recycling them into bioenergy, bioplastics and clothing. Investigate eco-friendly organizations in your area and donate your unused food to them to repurpose it. For instance, H&M’s Conscious collection uses silk-like fabric made from citrus juice by-products and discarded orange peels. Other clothing lines, cosmetics companies and other innovators are making sustainable products from food waste.

It is important to recognize that the food industry’s waste isn’t limited solely to food. The following are some additional eco-friendly practices that companies can implement.

  • Reduce plastic waste. Americans produce a whopping 42 million tons of plastic waste annually. Increasingly, companies are looking for eco-friendlier options. Footprint, a materials science company, is inventing and manufacturing plant-based solutions to replace plastic. This innovative company is working with food companies—including McDonalds, Costco and Conagra—to adopt plant-based solutions, eliminate short-term use plastic, reduce CO2 emissions, cut landfill waste, and reach corporate sustainability goals. Stonyfield Farm, known for their planet-friendly business practices, is making their yogurt cups from plants. In fact, the market for edible packaging is on the rise, and expected to grow by almost 5% by 2030. A growing number of food businesses are now relying on biodegradable and compostable packaging solutions instead of plastic. Are you one of them?
  • Pick the right partners. Select partners (e.g., suppliers, vendors, etc.) that are also focused on sustainability. Digital solutions can easily track supplier certifications to ensure that you’re sourcing from—and collaborating with—other companies that are committed to waste reduction and other eco-friendly business practices.
  • Focus on sustainability. It takes considerable energy to run equipment non-stop, so shut down non-essential equipment during slow times to save energy and money. Also, insulate your hot water pipes to decrease the amount of water your organization uses (and lower your heating needs and costs). Turn off the air conditioning and open windows. Use silverware instead of plasticware, and reusable towels instead of paper. Think of different ways to reduce waste throughout your organization and you’ll save money, resources, and the environment.

Prioritize waste reduction using these proven strategies. Remember that every little bit helps, and even the smallest changes will add up to a substantial difference over time.

Rick Farrell, Plant-Tours
FST Soapbox

Communication Tools Food Manufacturers Should Use

By Rick Farrell
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Rick Farrell, Plant-Tours

As the world continues to work toward economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, food manufacturers have been investing in products and equipment that can enhance their growth. The following are some communication tools that companies should consider adding to their arsenal to improve collaboration between workers, prevent costly mistakes and save money in the long run.

1. Cloud-Hosted Technology

With remote work becoming common in companies across the world, cloud-based technology is turning out to be an invaluable asset. In 2021, we saw a rise in labeling software providers that offer ways for local labeling software to get access to data stored in the cloud. That made it easier to obtain variable data that needed to be put on label templates at print time.

Cloud-hosted technology allows food manufacturers to print the correct labels with the right data at the proper time, and in a simple and secure manner. As a result, they can avoid risky and potentially dangerous mistakes in labeling.

2. Smart Manufacturing

Smart manufacturing is a method for companies to use data to optimize every part of the production process. Radio frequency identification (RFID) and barcode technologies are two of the most popular data carriers used by IoT devices. Such device-to-software communication helps efficiently deliver data while avoiding time-consuming manual procedures that might result in more time loss or costs.

3. New On-Spot Communication Equipment

Many factories still use cheap and outdated headsets to communicate inside loud spaces and next to machinery. That often results in unclear messages. Failing to give and receive a clear message can have dire consequences, especially in terms of food safety. For this reason, food manufacturers should regularly update headsets and other devices they use to convey messages inside factories.

Enhance Communication in Loud Facilities

There are companies that offer a modern solution to the communication problems inside factories. The following are some quality options to offer to enhance communication in loud places.

1. Two-Way Communication Headsets

Originally intended for tour guides and their groups, two-way communication headsets can have various purposes inside food factories. For instance, you can use them to make effective communication easier among your workers in the noisy parts of your plant. Or perhaps, you can use them when you bring in visitors, business partners and potential investors for a quick and interactive look around. In any case, a wireless two-way headsets system makes talking and listening quick and simple, despite ambient sounds.

Furthermore, most headsets for factories and tours are often heavy and bulky, which is why they quickly start irritating those wearing them. On the other hand, these two-way headsets are designed to be comfortable, attractive and lightweight, making them ideal for wearing for a longer period of time. And they are aesthetically appealing for any audience, including top VIPs. Therefore, your team and your guests will be able to focus on the information and their tasks with complete comfort and without any distractions. As a result, you will notice increased comprehension of your message with outside visitors and a higher level of efficiency and safety in your production areas as well as food safety levels.

2. Staff Communication Systems

A multi-channel staff communication system is another good way to ensure food safety in your factory. One example is a system that has fifteen channels, making it great for multiple employees, workgroups, and team communications, and has a transmission range of up to half a mile. It also has a two-way radio technology with privacy and long talk settings that allow you to speak without being interrupted. These types of headsets are sometimes outfitted with non-porous vinyl, which means you can disinfect them after each use.

Such a communication system also comes in handy in factories that follow COVID-19 social distancing guidelines. Not only can your employees stay safe by putting more space between each other, but their communication will remain clear and easy. That way, they will be able to focus on production and other safety guidelines.

3. Wireless Systems

Clarity of message is crucial to maintaining the necessary level of food safety in your plant. Good quality wireless systems provide clear, crisp sound, effective transmitting range, and great battery time. Furthermore, they are easy to use, maintain and store. Wireless systems also feature audio guide systems that make sure you don’t have to be worried about machinery being too loud and interrupting important information.

Conclusion

The past two years have taught us that food manufacturers who want to thrive despite both predictable and unexpected challenges need to respond and adapt quickly. A huge part of that flexibility comes from the willingness to accept changes and new tools that modern technology brings. So, from cloud computing to barcodes and better headsets, any step you take to improve communication in your factory will undoubtedly pay off in the long run.

Susanne Kuehne, Decernis
Food Fraud Quick Bites

A Special Aura To Track Authenticity

By Susanne Kuehne
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Susanne Kuehne, Decernis
Cognac, food fraud
Find records of fraud such as those discussed in this column and more in the Food Fraud Database, owned and operated by Decernis, a Food Safety Tech advertiser. Image credit: Susanne Kuehne

Cognac manufacturer Hennessy joined AuraBlockchain, a non-profit private blockchain for luxury brands that can be used to track the entire supply chain of a product. From raw materials to manufacturing to the consumer, digital timestamps are used to trace and record every step of the production process. Every product has a unique ID, with decentralized and unchangeable blockchain records. The consumer can check these records online to ensure authenticity of the purchased product.

Resource

  1. Taylor, P. (March 21, 2022). “Hennessey adds blockchain traceability via Aura alliance”. Securing Industry.
Vanessa Lindstrom, United Airlines
Women in Food Safety

The Power of Communication

By Melody Ge
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Vanessa Lindstrom, United Airlines

As the global director of food safety and regulatory compliance at United Airlines, Vanessa Lindstrom is responsible for catering and lounges worldwide. When I first met Vanessa, I was impressed by her immediate confidence and positivity. During the conversation, she talked about the power of being positive, especially in today’s world and with the job functions we serve, and the importance of being resilient.

Vanessa was born and raised in Mumbai, India. She spent the first half of her career in the pharmaceutical industry and the second half in the food industry. The first job she got after earning her master’s degree was a management trainee position with a pharmaceutical company in the quality assurance department in India. From there, Vanessa moved to Australia and got a quality assurance position with a German multi-national pharmaceutical company. She always thought she would stay in the pharmaceutical industry—until she received a call from a headhunter for a position with Coca-Cola. The company gave her so many opportunities to learn and brought her to the United States to develop FSSC 22000 for a facility in California. Following this position, Vanessa had an opportunity to work for Ghirardelli Chocolate Company, where she was exposed to EU culture before she joined United Airlines.

Certainly, there were so many decisions and experiences gained with each opportunity. Vanessa’s advice is to believe in yourself and your capabilities, and to be willing to take risks. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. The phrase might sound easy, but it can be hard to execute.

Melody Ge: How would you describe the values that support your success and drive you through all the changes and decisions involved in working with different cultures?

Vanessa Lindstrom, United Airlines
Vanessa Lindstrom, global director of food safety and regulatory compliance at United Airlines

Vanessa Lindstrom: I would say being open minded, having a willingness to learn and staying authentic. No matter who you meet, you can’t be guarded. Keeping your mind open helps when meeting with different groups of people who have different cultural backgrounds, and having a willingness to learn will help you become part of the group. I always try to bring my authentic self to every situation, regardless of whom I am meeting. Let me use my first job as management trainee as an example: Typically, you are only trained for one or two functions; but I was always curious and got my hands into everything that I could, and I asked lots of questions. I was like a sponge, and I learned so much, from materials management to supply chain to operations to quality assurance. Although it was a one-year training program with no guarantee of any permanent positions with the company, I ended up spending six years there working as a technical services executive after completing the training program. Those experiences set the foundation for my career. When I moved to Australia, I had no idea about pharmaceutical companies and locations when I first arrived. So I opened the yellow pages and hand wrote more than 100 cover letters to get a potential interview and job opportunity. The lesson there is to always try, because you don’t know where life will lead you.

On the other hand, use logic and science to do the right thing, which also has been my approach in working with different companies and countries. You must trust your judgment, no matter the situation. Be able to articulate to every audience—from the CEO to the shop floor employee. You have to be logical in your thoughts, use data and facts, and be able to talk to people in a way that is relatable versus fully technical. Each person is motivated and driven in a different way. It’s not a cookie-cutter approach or a one-size-fits-all. The challenge as a leader is to figure out what’s going to work and support the team with what they need.

Ge: Looking back at your career, would you say your path was planned?

Lindstrom: No, never—despite the fact that I keep telling my kids that they need to have a plan for the future. As I reflect on those conversations, I know, no matter what plan or vision I had for myself in terms of a career, I couldn’t have dreamed up where I am today. When an opportunity comes to you, oftentimes, it is when you are unprepared. You have to be open minded to the possibilities. Sometimes, you are going into an area that is uncharted territory, but you should have the confidence that you can figure it out, and from there success will come.

Ge: Can you share a story from your career that still has an impact on you today?

Lindstrom: For me, the most impactful story that I can tell is from when I was the QA manager at one of the Coca-Cola facilities in 2008. We received word from corporate that we would not be able to supply products to Walmart unless we had GFSI certification. At first, I thought, what is GFSI? I started learning and working with different departments on which scheme we should be certified. We chose FSSC 22000 because our existing system was ISO based. My biggest concern was the culture, in particular, the challenges that come with document control. So, I decided to move everything to digital. Of course, it was difficult, as the workforce consisted of multiple generations and diverse cultures. It was quite an effort to convince and explain to everyone that digital was the direction we should go. Everyone was challenging me to justify the decision to go digital and achieve certification within 12 months. Other than saying they would keep their job, I didn’t have a way to motivate the frontline team and get their buy in. So, I went to my management and asked for $50,000 in funding for a big party to celebrate if we eventually got the certification. Management approved, and I conveyed it to the team—that I needed their help and support to get the facility certified, and that afterward, they would get a party that they wouldn’t forget. After strong teamwork, we passed the audit. We went out for a big celebration and I can’t express how excited everyone was. We shut down production entirely and took everyone to Dave & Buster’s. Every single employee enjoyed the celebration. We gave them t-shirts that said we are FSSC 22000 certified. They were proud and rewarded for the accomplishment. It was a satisfying moment for the team and management. We went from having nothing in place to achieving FSSC 22000 certification and actually being a leading facility among the 67 Coca-Cola facilities.

Ge: What is your advice to young professionals who are just starting their career?

Lindstrom: My advice to young people is, you can’t just run away when there is an obstacle, and constantly change jobs to avoid difficulties. The bad boss, bad teammates, or the issues you have at your first job—they will exist in every single job afterward if you don’t learn how to overcome them or work through the difficulties. The only control that you have is to get over them yourself. If you run away, as soon as you encounter any issues or challenges, I can guarantee you those issues will be with you with any jobs you have because you are not learning how to communicate and deal with that situation.

Ge: What is your opinion on unconscious bias, and do you see any progress? Any suggestions related to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI)?

Lindstrom: I first heard about unconscious bias about 15 years ago. It was very interesting to become aware of the bias that exists. However, it’s very easy to choose to be a victim and say, everyone is against me because I am an Asian; or because I am a woman; or the entire environment is against me because they are biased. Being aware that bias exists, you need to know that you can’t use it as a crutch in your career. In today’s world, at United Airlines, diversity, equity, and inclusion are not just buzz words; the company is making a very deliberate effort to address it through different approaches within the company or through the broader community. On one hand, when an organization becomes aware of the DEI, you have to make sure that you are self-aware in terms of how you are dealing with different cultures, age groups, genders and different religions, etc. Take time to understand DEI and unconscious bias, talk to leaders that have experience with DEI and work through any situation, and do not immediately blame unconscious bias.

Ge: What advice can you offer to professionals who feel they are being treated unfairly?

Lindstrom: Communication is the key. In some cultures, communication is direct, whereas in others, it is not. Be aware of how you are going to proceed. Position power in today’s world is long gone, and it is in the past. It’s more about networking within your company and being able to influence others. For example, if I know I am going into a meeting that is going to be tough, I make sure that I have prepared well. Fundamentally, people all want to do the right thing, but they just don’t always know the right way to get there. They might have done something for a long time, and it takes time to change perspectives. Take the time to explain your self and the “why”, and that will go a long way.

Susanne Kuehne, Decernis
Food Fraud Quick Bites

Putting a Classified Carcinogenic in Food Gives Everyone the Blues

By Susanne Kuehne
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Susanne Kuehne, Decernis
Blue corn, food fraud
Find records of fraud such as those discussed in this column and more in the Food Fraud Database, owned and operated by Decernis, a Food Safety Tech advertiser. Image credit: Susanne Kuehne

While blue is the most popular color around the world, not all blues are created equal and or belong into the food supply. The Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed in Europe mentioned a case of unauthorized food dye Sudan Blue II in a roasted corn snack food. Sudan Blue II, also known under the name Solvent Blue 35, is used to dye oils, solvents, alcohols, esters, hydrocarbon derivatives and other industrial chemicals, and is classified as carcinogenic and harmful to humans and the environment.

Resource

  1. Malta Government. (February 21, 2022). “Environmental Health Directorate Notice”.
Emily Newton, Revolutionized Magazine
Retail Food Safety Forum

How Does Inventory Management Technology Improve Restaurants?

By Emily Newton
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Emily Newton, Revolutionized Magazine

Inventory management can be a challenge for restaurants. Stock often moves quickly, many ingredients have short shelf lives and limited storage space can make it easy to overlook some items. Manual tracking methods fall short of modern establishments’ needs, but technology offers an answer.

Inventory management software has made waves in warehousing and logistics, but the food and beverage industry can capitalize on it, too. Restaurants already recognize the need for tech adoption, with 100% of surveyed establishments increasing their urgency to adopt transformational technologies. Inventory tracking solutions should be part of that trend.

This article reviews how inventory management technology can improve restaurants.

Preventing Food Waste

One of the most important parts of inventory management is reducing waste. Up to 10% of food restaurants buy is thrown out before it ever reaches the consumer. Part of this comes from wasteful preparation practices, but much of it results from improper storage.

Inventory tracking technology addresses this issue by increasing stock visibility. In a traditional setup, restaurant employees may not be able to see what they have on hand, causing them to overlook items and leave them until they expire. Tracking technologies provide real-time data about everything in storage and consolidate it into a single, easily accessible window.

Many inventory software solutions include expiration date tracking, alerting workers when something is about to expire. They can use these technologies to find the product in question and use it before it goes bad. Trends over time can reveal if restaurants order too much of one item, driving managers to buy less to prevent waste-causing surpluses.

Avoiding Stock Shortages

Similarly, inventory management solutions can help avoid product shortages. Since the items restaurants order typically don’t go directly to the consumer, it can be difficult to understand stock levels in real-time. The visibility inventory tracking systems provide counteracts that.

Inventory software solutions can maintain real-time inventory data and alert managers when levels get low. They can then order more of a product before they run out, maintaining higher customer satisfaction. Perhaps more importantly, as restaurants use these systems over time, they can highlight seasonal trends to create more accurate forecasts.

Inventory trends will reveal how items grow and shrink in demand at various times of the year. Restaurants can then plan to order more or less of those products at different times according to those trends, avoiding shortages from under-ordering in-demand items.

Consolidating Multiple Sales Channels

Selling through multiple channels can make it more difficult to track inventory levels. Restaurants may use separate systems to manage online and in-person sales, which can lead to confusion and miscommunication.

Inventory management solutions can track online and retail sales together through a single platform. That way, restaurants have a consolidated view of all sales and history, eliminating the miscommunication that arises with traditional methods. Establishments that use a single system for all channels won’t accidentally sell out-of-stock items.

This consolidation also helps refine seasonal adjustments. Online sales trends fluctuate just as they do in person, but there may be some differences. Managers that look at seasonal trends across both channels can adjust their ordering schedules more accurately, further preventing stock shortages.

Highlighting Potential Issues

Restaurants can also use these technologies to review trends over time and highlight persistent issues. Inventory software may reveal that an establishment consistently loses one product because it passes its expiration date. This suggests that it orders too much of it at once, so it can start buying less to adapt.

Similarly, trends can reveal if something is wrong with the restaurant’s storage solution itself. Data could show if ingredients in one refrigerator consistently expire despite accurate ordering figures, suggesting the fridge fails to maintain a safe temperature. These situations are likely and deserve attention, considering that foodborne diseases cause 48 million illnesses a year, according to CDC estimates.

The longer restaurants use these technologies, the more data they’ll have, generating a growing information pool can then inform increasingly precise and reliable forecasts and mitigation strategies.

Calculating Accurate Profit Margins

Another overlooked benefit of inventory management technology is its utility as a financial planning tool. As much as 75% of restaurants struggle financially due to food costs. They may not be able to control ingredient prices, but they can manage them better with accurate inventory data.

Food prices fluctuate rapidly, leading to uneven profit margins. Restaurants that don’t have a granular picture of how their inventory moves won’t be able to calculate their profit margins accurately. Inventory management solutions provide a more granular look into stock levels and offer the context managers need for these calculations.

Inventory tracking technology allows restaurants to view stock movements weekly or even daily to compare with fluctuating prices. This specificity will help get a more accurate picture of expenses and profits.

Inventory Management Tech is Essential

Restaurants must become more financially agile to stay afloat amid widespread disruptions. Inventory management systems offer the insight and control they need to refine their processes, enabling that flexibility, and helping them adapt to incoming changes to ensure future success.

Susanne Kuehne, Decernis
Food Fraud Quick Bites

The Interrupted Supply Chain Of Crocus Sativus

By Susanne Kuehne
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Susanne Kuehne, Decernis
Saffron, food fraud
Find records of fraud such as those discussed in this column and more in the Food Fraud Database, owned and operated by Decernis, a Food Safety Tech advertiser. Image credit: Susanne Kuehne.

Iran is producing the lion share of saffron, the most precious spice, worldwide. One kilogram of saffron requires weeks of backbreaking work and the manual processing of around 170,000 flowers. Smuggling of what is also called “Red Gold”, and fraudulent and counterfeit saffron, are now million-dollar endeavors, as revealed by Europol and other investigations. From illegal food dyes like lead chromate, to herbs, to corn-on-the-cob strings, saffron is adulterated in many ways to enable fraudsters a participation in this $500 million market.

Resource

  1. Milmo, C. (January 22, 2022). “Saffron: How the lustre of Iran’s ‘red gold’ is threatened by smuggling and counterfeiting as sanctions bite”. iNews.