Having worked in the food & beverage industry as a plant manager, Katie Moore knows just how important food safety is to a company’s brand and profits. As GE Intelligent Platforms’ Global Industry Manager for Food & Beverage, she uses today’s connected technology to help prevent food safety issues and expensive recalls.
Companies want to do the right thing and try to control what is known. They want to mitigate risks when possible. But without a clear and complete line of sight to real-time process data and information, like whether or not your HACCP processes have been followed, correctly, each and every time as stated in your HACCP Plan, how can you truly have peace of mind going to sleep every night? That’s the gap that’s plaguing food companies and managers, says Moore.
Against the backdrop of evolving food safety rules under the Food Safety Modernization Act, Moore sees manufacturers in the food and beverage industry in a wait-and-watch mode.
“Since these rules are still in the process of being finalized, everyone’s waiting to see what the final regulations will look like. This is the right time for manufacturers to educate themselves, and implement new steps and programs to assess and mitigate risk,” she explains. Moore feels larger companies are much better at addressing these changes, because of having greater resources or collaborations with industry associations, while small and medium sized companies are continuing to implement HACCP and GFSI standards, but are a step or two behind their larger counterparts.
There is a lot of risk management going on, and it all begins with HACCP, says Moore. But a gap she’s noticing is a lot of records still being paper-based.
“There is still a lot of work being done on paper. And data is not being transferred automatically. Because of this, there is no way to go back and learn from what’s going on and identify trends and issues. There is truly no electronic capture of data. This lack of learning and understanding of trends and changes is a big gap,” Moore adds.
A lot of recent recalls are due to supplier problems, so everyone focuses on that. Companies are managing the biggest risk, which is their suppliers, and there are a lot of solutions available to manage supplier compliance. “But true value can be realized when this is tied in with your manufacturing processes and specifications. How is the food handled in my line, my tanks and my processing facility…. If companies have this continuous visibility it will contribute to food safety and quality improvements growing by leaps and bounds. And also companies will be able to track and trace throughout the process, and react a lot quicker,” she describes.
Mergers and acquisitions in the F&B space
These days, there is a lot of consolidation happening in the F&B space. Historically, whenever there is a merger of two food companies, there is a challenge to have in place a sound business continuity plan. For instance, Moore asks, if there’s a recall, then how do we react? If there is an issue isolated to one facility, how can we cover our bases and mitigate risks? How can we make sure our customers get our products? From an IT perspective also, there are some challenges that need to be addressed. For instance, what GFSI scheme are we using? Do we merge these two standards and our supporting IT infrastructure, or continue to work with two separate standards? The key in making this decision is to utilize big data analytics to determine which process has been working most efficiently and to factor in the cost of replacing or retrofitting the extremely expensive manufacturing equipment.
According to Moore, F&B managers need tools that can help them improve compliance to food safety, have better visualization and hence greater visibility either on the plant floor or via mobile platforms, have the ability to pull up a wide range of information and share it with people. F&B companies usually handle a wide range of project management systems, typically working on different software from different vendors.
At GE Intelligent Platforms, Moore says, the products ‘talk’ to different systems and data management software to try and address the challenge of collecting, managing and trending large amounts of data.
So are companies embracing technology solutions to better manage food safety and quality? Moore feels that a driving force is lacking.
“Once something happens and FDA has to react, the chips will start to fall. There will be a lot of recourse to technology that will be required, but right now there’s no driving force. Once FDA puts the hammer down on electronic documentation, F&B companies will start to move faster,” she sums up.