Tag Archives: automation

Steven Burton, Icicle Technologies
FST Soapbox

Automation Is Happening—Don’t Miss The Boat

By Steven Burton
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Steven Burton, Icicle Technologies

Successful businesses move fast. They stay ahead of their competition by keeping their eye on the newest and most innovative emerging technologies. Failure to embrace the newest, fastest means of production and communication allows other businesses to muscle ahead of slow-to-change competitors, especially in the food industry. This is why embracing automation—even if it requires a commitment from you and your whole organization — is absolutely necessary for every food company.

Guarantee Growth and Compliance with the Internet of Things

The innovation at the forefront of automation technology is the Internet of Things (IoT): Multiple devices interconnected to monitor, communicate and control in real time. Today, a farmer can monitor a crop located in Australia from North America. Ingredients from anywhere in the world can be brought together in a matter of days and distributed just as quickly. Agricultural robots that reduce the risk of contamination and food safety expectations have risen as a result. As exciting as it is to be a part of a constantly innovating food industry, it’s also becoming more challenging to keep up and adapt.

It’s also becoming more necessary. Regulatory agencies are working to keep pace with technological innovations. The standards of food safety—more global than ever—have grown in complexity and will continue to grow as improved, real-time monitoring of products and facilities extends into every type and size of food production company. Properly planned and applied food safety programs are vital to ensuring that globally sourced ingredients and production facilities adhere to regulations to avoid the consequences of failed audits and expensive recalls.

Even for those on top of their regulatory requirements, IoT and other automation technologies are friends, not foes. Automation means that preparation for audits and inspections is reduced to bare minimum, eliminating the need for binders, spreadsheets and months of prep work. Furthermore, one of the greatest challenges of today’s food chain is ensuring not only your own compliance, but the compliance of your vendors. Dealing with hundreds or thousands of incoming ingredients and other materials at any given time is a massive undertaking, let alone dealing with vendor certifications. Integrated, automated systems for food production management streamlines processes and communication and reduces the risk of error and recall throughout the supply chain.

Don’t Be Paralyzed by the F-word: Fear

It is clear to see that staying competitive and staying in business in an interconnected world is possible only if the newest technology is embraced. Why are some companies reluctant to adapt, even when they know it is crucial to a successful future?

Some fear that their managers and employees may not adapt, that their functioning programs already in place may be interrupted, and that ever-present fear of a price tag.

To alleviate these fears and embrace the power of the future, it is vital that the company’s new automation and IoT utilize a software that is:

  • User-friendly so that employees, new or existing, can hit the ground running
  • Capable of building upon an existing food safety program and continue its success
  • Able to improve existing food safety programs to ensure updated compliance
  • Cost-effective and a good business decision when compared to the cost of manpower and recalls

One of the most common reasons a company chooses not to implement a new technology concerns the last point: Cost. To maximize the benefit of automation and IoT, expenses like laptops, tablets and phones are advisable in addition to software. The cost of the software itself when there is a paper or spreadsheet system that is working may seem unnecessary—after all, why buy a telephone when the telegrams are working just fine? In the high-speed world we now live in, a low-speed business approach is fatal.

There is good news when it comes to automation adoption: In response to the growing need for technology and the reluctance of companies to take on the expense, new incentives are being put in place in order support businesses and keep a country’s economy competitive. For example, the U.S. Tax Cuts and Job Act of 2017 allow write-offs of new automation technology in the first year of purchase, vastly reducing the initial cost impact of implementing automation technologies. Many state and provincial governments provide grants for updating technology to improve safety and traceability.

Automation Will Feed the World

Technology and automation in agriculture and food production make a company competitive, but it is also an unavoidable requirement going forward. Looking at the big picture, it’s also necessary to meet the demands of a booming global population. Food is, in many ways, the most essential industry to human life.

In The Future of Food: Food Production, Innovation, and Technology, authors David B. Schmidt and Kimberly Reed say it clearly:

“Each U.S. farmer feeds more people worldwide than ever before, at 155 people per farmer. In 1960, that number was 25.8 people. By 2050, the same farmer will need to feed 232 people… With finite resources, it will take innovation and a variety of technologies to meet the world’s food demand. This includes using new technologies. At every step of the journey from farm to fork, technology is helping us produce a safe, abundant, sustainable, and nutritious food supply.”

It took centuries for the writing of letters to be replaced by telegrams. It took only 130 years from the invention of telegrams to the use of email. A farmer with a shovel is now a robot, with the agricultural robot market expected to increase by more than fivefold to $12.8 billion over six years. 94% of packaging operations use robotic technology today. A recent survey found that half of food companies interviewed plan to increase their use of automation in the next two years.

Where will food production be in 2020? And where will your company be in that near future?

Megan Nichols
FST Soapbox

How Automation Benefits the Food and Beverage Industry

By Megan Ray Nichols
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Megan Nichols

During seasonal volume and demand peaks in the food and beverage industry, common practice is to increase labor and mobile equipment supplies temporarily. While this works great for small- to medium-sized businesses even in the current landscape, it’s not ideal for larger teams. This is primarily due to the evolution of technology, especially in the automation sector.

Adding more labor and machines can help increase volume, but it comes with a sizeable cost, one that could be shaved with the right process and system updates. As one might expect, adopting advanced automation systems, robotics and processes that can be controlled via machinery or software is the answer. Believe it or not, these systems can be made to work alongside and improve performance of existing laborers and teams.

In fact, automation is taking many industries by storm, and it’s about time food and beverage companies climbed aboard. Automotive, construction and healthcare are just three examples of industries already being disrupted by automation and AI.

But how is the technology being adopted or implemented in the food industry, and how will companies benefit from incorporating such systems?

Better Quality Control

Along the food and beverage supply chain, there are so many involved processes, workers and touchpoints that it can be difficult to not only keep track of food, but also to monitor its quality. As you know, quality is of incredible importance in the industry. You don’t want faulty or contaminated foods entering the market because it can be detrimental. Food must always remain traceable and safe, and it’s difficult to guarantee a system that has so many working cogs.

Automation, however, can change that completely. With the appropriate systems, defects and issues can be noticed much earlier in the supply chain. By detecting problems during packaging or processing, you can cut down on the total number of problematic goods that enter the market. Better yet, you can accurately identify when and where those problems are coming from and remedy the issue for improved performance in the future. If something along your supply chain is the culprit, automation will help you hone in.

Eliminating contamination can be controlled — and achieved — by deploying the appropriate cooling and air compressor systems. However, that also means understanding where this hardware must be utilized for maximum reliability. Automation and analytics systems can be helpful in discerning this information, better protecting foods and goods along the chain.

It’s not a pipe dream, either — systems are already being adopted and implemented to achieve such a thing.

End-To-End Traceability

While we touched on the idea of traceability a little in the point above, it’s the lion’s share that’s really going to make a difference. Automation and modern analytics tools can be deployed to track products and goods from inception to fulfillment. Because the systems in question are designed to track and monitor on their own with little to no input, you can tap in anywhere along the chain to seek the information you need.

Have a contaminated shipment that was discovered too late? You can use the modern analytics and automation tools at your disposal to find exactly where they are shipped or headed. This way you can head off a massive health problem before it even starts.

This, in turn, can help alleviate compliance costs and stressors, as well as improve the overall performance of the supply chain and various key processes. You could, for example, see how long a particular stop or touchpoint along the supply chain is taking and use the information provided to speed up performance.

End-to-end traceability and all the data that comes with it is about more than just watching where food comes from, where it is handled and where it goes. You can use the data provided to build an accurate profile and predictive system for future gains.

Improved Worker Safety

Automation systems, AI and modern robotics are often used to control rote, repetitive and sometimes even dangerous tasks. In this way, you can save human laborers from the dangers of a particular activity or even the monotony of busy work. It frees them up to handle more important demands, which is another benefit.

Of course, increased safety and protection for your loyal workforce can also work to alleviate operation or maintenance costs in the long run. It can lead to faster and more widespread adoption of new standards and regulations for your workforce at large as well. Traditionally, such a change might require additional training, new equipment or even better protection for your workers.

In the case of automation, you can simply update the existing hardware and software to be compliant and save the trouble of maintaining everything else, such as updating safety gear for your workers, which would no longer be necessary.

Efficiency Boost

It’s no secret that when deployed and developed properly, a machine or automation system can perform work faster and better than human laborers, at least in some cases. A machine never tires, never gets bored and can never slack off—unless it has a malfunction. That’s not to say modern technologies will be used to replace workers outright, but instead, they might be deployed alongside them to help them work faster, better and safer.

Take Amazon, for instance, which has deployed an army of AI and automation robots inside their warehouses to improve the efficiency of their order fulfillment process. It has the added benefit of speeding up the entire system, so customers get their items faster. It also improves safety and performance for the workers, effectively eliminating unsafe tasks or rote work.

Automation can provide benefits across the board for the food and beverage industry. It will be interesting to see how technological developments unfold.

Randy Fields, Repositrak
FST Soapbox

Technology’s Role In The Future Of Food Safety

By Randy Fields
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Randy Fields, Repositrak

As we have all read in the media, when a food safety emergency occurs, a company’s reputation stands to take a significant hit that may be unrecoverable. This phenomenon isn’t going away soon, nor are compliance requirements that pose a threat to the personal freedom of executives. If these aren’t enough reasons to get busy automating your food safety programs, read on.

Randy Fields will be speaking as part of a panel of experts during the Food Safety: Past, Present & Future Plenary Session during the Food Safety Consortium, November 29th at 4:00pm.

The trends toward social and health-related product claims, like organic, the ‘free-froms’ and locally-grown, have had the impact of adding dozens if not hundreds of new suppliers to a retailer’s procurement list. And, it’s important to note, that these generally smaller suppliers are just now approaching their compliance deadlines for FSMA, and if they are very small, still have another year. New trends appear every year, and they will compound the challenge for retailers and wholesalers of knowing exactly who all of their suppliers are, which in turn will worsen compliance issues.

Our studies show that at least 12% of documents that certify organic, ‘free-froms’ and other product label claims have some level of discrepancy or inaccuracy making them invalid, and rendering the systems that rely on vendor self-disclosure near useless. With sales expected to skyrocket within these categories during the next few years, companies need to leverage technology to protect the supply chain, and consider having the system hold purchase orders generated for vendors who are not compliant with requirements.

An alternative is to have the system add a compliance fee to the purchase order that escalates over time or swiftly replace suppliers if they are not willing or not able to comply. That also speeds compliance as news travels quickly if there is a hard-hitting consequence for non-compliance. Either way, it’s important to be able to substantiate any claims to the consumer, since if those assertions are deemed unreliable, retailers and their suppliers risk a breach in consumer confidence and will suffer economically when shoppers turn away from them at the shelf.

And while retailers and wholesalers have begun to turn the Titanic on regulatory and business compliance, they need to continue to diligently find the risks in their supply chain, working even more aggressively to automate their current food safety and quality programs using new technology and procedures. Otherwise, their reputation and their existence are in jeopardy.

Cloud-based compliance management solutions that help retailers, wholesalers and suppliers meet the new food safety requirements can be configured to manage documentation requirements by supplier type vs. requiring the same documents from all suppliers. These systems also go beyond just storing digital copies of documents, and actually manage any form of compliance by reading inside the document to confirm it meets requirements. The benefits of these compliance management tools extend to streamlining new vendor approvals, which can save time and enable the redeployment of resources to more productive business-building activities.

Make no mistake: business and regulatory compliance will continue to be a focal point in the future. This includes addressing potential safety, certification and quality challenges throughout the extended supply chain as nearly one-third of all recalls are due to ingredient suppliers. We believe that in less than three years, retailers will require supply chain visibility from the shelf all the way back to “dirt”. It’s been proven too risky not to have that kind of visibility for ultimately everyone’s customer – the consumer. And now technology companies are on the hook to deliver it.

Clive Longbottom, Quocirca

The Internet of Things: What the Future Holds

By Clive Longbottom
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Clive Longbottom, Quocirca

While the Internet of Things (IoT) is already having a major impact on safety in the food supply chain we’re only just scratching the surface of what connected devices can do to make the industry safer and more efficient. What strikes us as unique and innovative today will likely become standard across the food industry in the years to come as we find new and better ways to apply the technology in all aspects of the business.

One area we can expect to see the impact of the IoT grow is in a broader adoption of automation across the food supply chain. In the context of farming, we’re likely to see autonomous tractors supplant manually driven tractors as the primary equipment used to prepare land. Automated aerial drones will be able to assess the health of crops and deliver highly targeted applications of fertilizers, insecticides and weed killers to cut down on damage caused to crops by excessive use of those products. Transportation, too, is likely to see the impact of automation as driverless trucks take on the majority of shipments of goods.

Clive Longbottom will be the keynote speaker on a webinar hosted by Rentokil Steritech, the North American division of Rentokil, on July 13 at 1:00 p.m. EDT/10:00 a.m. PDT. The webinar will focus on the future of IoT in the food supply. Register to join by visiting http://tinyurl.com/foodsafety-rentokil-web2

Another key benefit the IoT will bring to the food industry is improved access to valuable data and in-depth analysis. This will allow more accurate tracking of shipments, better monitoring of quality throughout the supply chain and more useful prediction of potential problems. It’s here that we’re likely to see the biggest impact on pest management, as a broad network of connected sensors will be better able to identify and track pest populations, monitoring their movement and growth in a way that allows pest management professionals to target treatments more effectively. A recent survey of food professionals conducted by Quocirca and commissioned by Rentokil Initial shows that 20% of respondents think IoT will help them deal with cyclical problems such as pest swarms and seasonal flooding, while 19% believe it will provide the most benefit by alerting them to immediate issues such as unexpected pest infestations.

One thing we know for sure is that the technology will become more widely adopted throughout the industry as innovation drives costs down. Initially it will be difficult for smaller organizations with lower margins to invest in cutting edge technology, but as iteration and innovation push the boundaries of what IoT can do, they will also make more basic applications more affordable, as we’ve seen with technology across many industries in recent years.

While it’s easy to speculate and imagine a sci-fi-inspired future of driverless trucks, automated farm machines and limitless access to deep analytics, accurately predicting the exact applications of the IoT as it develops proves more difficult. What we do know is that we can expect the adoption of these technologies to grow at an increasing rate as more innovative and cost effective applications of the IoT are developed.

Risk, food safety

Does Your Risk Control Program Meet FSMA’s Demands?

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Risk, food safety

Identifying, prioritizing and managing supply chain risks is critical to maintaining FSMA compliance. Under the Preventive Controls rules, food companies must implement a hazard identification system for any known or foreseeable hazards. During an upcoming webinar, David Acheson, Ph.D. and Miles Thomas will discuss how data can help companies manage supply chain risk, methods for analyzing and prioritizing hazards, and mitigating risk to achieve FSMA compliance. They will also shine a spotlight on global trends in food safety and authenticity threats.

Learn more during the webinar, Don’t Get Blindsided by FSMA! April 27, 2017, 1 pm ET.

MediaBox Sterile Liquids, EZ-Flow Gravimetric Diluter Automate Sample Prep

MediaBox broths and buffers are sterile, easy-to-use and come in a convenient stackable storage box with a long shelf life. Significantly reduce staff workload by removing weighing, measuring, mixing, autoclaving and cleaning glassware. MediaBox is supplied ready-to-use and is far easier to use than dry bags, which are difficult to fill, often leak and are not consistent from one bag to the next.

MediaBox directly connects to the EZ-Flow gravimetric diluter creating an automated system for weighing and diluting your samples. EZ-Flow automatically weighs samples and provides diluent from MediaBox for the correct dilution factor. Your lab will love the convenience and increased efficiency. Microbiology International offers a wide range of dosing systems to pair with your MediaBox of choice.

All MediaBox products pass strict quality control protocols and include Certificate of Analysis documentation. MediaBox sterile liquids come in 5L, 10L and 20L boxes.

Available types include Buffered Peptone Water, Modified UVM, mTSB, Demi-Fraser Broth Base, Phosphate Buffer, Butterfields, Lactose Broth, Sterile Water, LB Broth, PBS, and more. Custom formulations are available.

Randy Fields, Repositrak
FST Soapbox

Sanitary Transportation Rule: Ignore at Your Own Peril

By Randy Fields
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Randy Fields, Repositrak

FDA posted the FSMA rule on the Sanitary Transportation of Human and Animal Food in April. The majority of retailers, wholesalers, suppliers and carriers will have one year to comply with this new rule. The sanitary transportation rule sets out to prevent practices that would introduce contamination risk during the transportation of food through the supply chain.

For retailers, wholesalers, suppliers and carriers, the final rule is really the sleeper regulation among the new FSMA laws. You probably have your HAACP plans and preventative control procedures in place, but do you have the necessary documents in place with your carriers to meet the FDA’s requirements?  And, are those documents easily accessible?

Under FSMA, you must address all FDA record inquiries within 24 hours, and these inquiries can go back two years, plus 12 months beyond the expiration of related service agreements. Failure to respond to an FDA records inquiry is considered a “prohibited act” and can land you in hot water with both the FDA and Department of Justice, which acknowledged they will enforce FSMA through civil and criminal penalties. That’s a game changer.

You are now required to ensure that transportation equipment does not cause the food it is carrying to become unsafe. You must also maintain adequate temperatures throughout your portion of the supply chain and prevent cross contamination. And, you must train your personnel in sanitary practices. All of these factors—processes and procedures, agreements and formal training of personnel—must be documented and made available to the FDA. Put simply, compliance with FSMA is proven through documentation because according to the FDA, if it is not documented, it did not happen!

So what’s the best way to comply with the new rules? Having the information on paper in filing cabinets simply won’t do. Can you imagine searching for specific confirmation that an employee received the proper training in a bank of file cabinets? Even with an efficient system, that could be like looking for a needle in a haystack. Collecting the information in spreadsheets is only slightly better, as it simply digitizes the disorganization.

Retailers, wholesalers, suppliers and carriers need to start their compliance process by reviewing and understanding all of the FSMA rules, guidance procedures and responsibilities. You ignore them at your own peril.

Then, consider automating your recording keeping system.  It is really the only way to efficiently collect and manage the documentation needed to comply with the new law.  When reviewing technology options, make sure you choose a system that is not only easy to use by frontline workers, but also provides sophisticated reporting and alerts to point out potential problems in real time. And, if possible, the solution should do more than just report on food safety activities. As long as you’re investing in a technology to meet FSMA requirements, you might as well implement a system that can potentially save money in other areas such as managing business or training documentation, new vendor approvals, or carrier optimization.

The bottom line is that the sanitary transportation rule will require that you devote additional resources to make the entire extended grocery channel more risk free for consumers and companies alike. And the best way to do that is to implement new technology that gives visibility to product transfers from point of production or processing to the point of purchase, and documents each step along the way.

Stack of papers and folders

Supplier Documentation: To Automate or Not to Automate

By Maria Fontanazza
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Stack of papers and folders

Q&A Part I: Hiring and Training, Understanding FSMA Remain Big Industry ChallengesIn part two of Food Safety Tech’s Q&A with TraceGains, Anthony Arocha (customer success consultant), Rajan Gupta (vice president of customer success), and Jason Ulrich (customer success manager) explain the factors at play surrounding the lack of supplier documentation in the food industry.

Food Safety Tech: Just 44% of respondents said they automate supplier documents. What information can you glean from this? Why aren’t more companies automating?

Arocha: Companies understand that using technology is essential to manage the increasing demands on accurate food safety documentation and verification. For many companies, it is likely to be just a timing and resource issue as to why they have not yet adopted automation—timing as in they have not yet reached the pain threshold required to justify the new cost to implement and to have a resource to support or focus on it. As companies grow and new budgets get created, it is just a matter of time before they will have to include automation help if they have not already.

Gupta: I believe lack of internal respect for QA and thus lack of education and funding are key contributors to this area. Most of the quality staff is stuck doing daily activities with limited time to explore options to make their processes better. Lack of empowerment to make business process changes is also a large factor in not adopting technology. Marc states that the companies have silos as indicated by the transparency gains from technology—while that is true, the root cause of this may be that the various groups within an organization have never really paid attention to FSQA areas and thus never envisioned having access to information that can help the organization proactively manage risk and increase food safety awareness.

Ulrich: This is all about people money, and time. The industry as a whole doesn’t have enough in quality departments. The lack of qualified individuals available in QA departments has always been an issue. The money is usually used to improve production and other departments except quality. That leaves the limited resources in the department with very little time to review and implement new processes or software.

Food Safety ad Quality Assurance Survey, TraceGains
2016 Annual TraceGains Food Safety & Quality Assurance (FSQA) Professional Survey (Figure courtesy of TraceGains)

FST: Regarding supplier documentation management, where are companies falling short?

Arocha: Supplier document management is not easy. You are at the mercy of your vendors. I think the biggest issue is trying to do everything too fast versus having a risk-based approach and focusing on the top priority items first. Build on success. If you try to do too much too fast, it is hard to pick out the success stories easily and can become overwhelming.

Gupta: Anthony is right but he is also stating the obvious problem – “mercy of vendors”. We believe that technology such as TraceGains Network can improve efficiency greatly in sharing documentation and risk-based data, but lack of education and rapid acceptance within the industry of new approaches hinders innovation and limits already stretched resources to take shortcuts that may not be the best course of action long-term.

Ulrich:  In addition to what Marc, Anthony and Raj stated most are afraid to challenge the supplier. There is a fear of making them angry or asking for too much.

How Automated Inventory Tracking Systems Contribute to Food Safety

By Ryan Hardy
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When a business decides to invest in technology, the primary driver is usually to save money over the long term. As with most automated systems, inventory management tools can reduce costs by saving time and resources used to manage inventory.

But the benefits that automated inventory tracking can provide through traceability (of lots, batches, and even individual items) go beyond the financial. These systems can also be used in every aspect of your food safety program from helping with compliance, to improving your quality controls.

Exchange knowledge about managing your supply chain at the Best Practices in Food Safety Supply Chain conference | June 5–6, 2017 | LEARN MORE

In a nutshell, having an automated system that allows full visibility into the supply chain—that is, one that identifies in real time where items are being used and where they are sent, while retaining a historical record of that flow through the chain—makes it much simpler and faster to implement procedures to ensure the safety of the food you produce.

All about Accuracy and Speed

Speed and accuracy make a huge difference when it comes to dealing with potentially contaminated food. Being faster and more accurate than a manual inventory method is the most immediate benefit that an automated system brings to your food safety program.

The most compelling reason for having accurate and readily accessible track-and-trace data is to handle food recalls and to comply with requests for documentation from government agencies such as the FDA. In cases where consumer health is at risk, that information needs to be delivered quickly to prevent further harm, and it must be accurate to enable investigators to move in the right direction. Responding to requests for detailed documentation within a 24-hour timeframe can be nearly impossible if you are not using an automated system.

Even when the situation doesn’t involve a federal investigation, once a situation in which possible contamination or mislabeling arises, the faster you have accurate and detailed data, the faster your internal processes can move forward.

If the issue is identified through your quality control process, you will be more likely to be able to prevent contaminated product from reaching the retail outlet and thus getting into the hands of the consumer. Having traceability built into your inventory management systems provides immediate knowledge about whether a product using ingredients from the same batch have entered the distribution chain, and if so, where they are going. This greatly improves the likelihood of limiting the cost and scope of a recall.

Depending on the specific technology you employ, an automated system can provide immediate access to the track and trace information for specific ingredients at least one step backward and one step forward, as required by the Bioterrorism Act of 2002. A supply chain that integrates the most sophisticated technology, such as DNA tracking, can trace an item all the way from the farm or border to the individual consumer or restaurant kitchen.

This traceability means that if an ingredient was already contaminated before it entered your production line, the inventory tracking system can identify all products using that ingredient from the contaminated lot and thus will help you define the scope of the problem. This automation can go a step further by identifying where the ingredient lot originated, and thus help trace the ingredient at least one step backward to the vendor. If the vendor (whether a distribution company or a direct supplier) has traceability in an automated system, or if you are using a system hosted by a distribution partner, tracing the source farther back than one step is possible.

Such information can help you respond more quickly to FDA requests for product information and support the agency’s efforts in product traceability.

Protect Your Reputation

Just as using tracing technology can help identify potential contamination sources quickly, it can also be used to eliminate sources more quickly and accurately, thereby speeding up investigations into food contamination incidents. The faster a company can be eliminated from an investigation, the less time is taken away from normal production. In addition, quick exclusion can protect a company’s reputation from harm.

Additional Benefits

Through their ability to store specific data that can be used to identify potential risks, automated track and trace systems contribute to many preventive food safety measures as well as to the following corrective responses:

  • For perishable products, automated traceability can identify how long specific perishables have been in supply chain. This allows you to avoid using ingredients close to spoilage and to remove overdue products from the distribution chain.
  • During mock recalls, automated tracking systems reduce the time spent away from regular production and allow you consistent information throughout the organization, eliminating wasted effort due to miscommunications.
  • Automated systems reduce the time needed for notifications both internally and externally in the case of an incident affecting food quality or safety. This leads to faster line clearance and faster isolation of the possibly contaminated product.
  • With more effective accounting for possibly affected batches, you can better identify where to apply cleanup measures in the production chain.

In short, automated tracking can improve implementation of preventive controls to stop the contaminated product from reaching the marketplace, and in cases in which corrective actions are required, the automated system can help you respond more quickly and can reduce the scope of risk.

Not just Foodstuffs

Although raw ingredients and food products obviously require traceability, they aren’t the only traceable inventory that can impact food safety. Automated lot tracking can enhance food safety efforts related to all inventory items used in food processing/manufacturing:

  • Packaging. A sub-standard packaging lot can allow incursion of harmful substances or the growth of harmful bacteria. Leakers can contaminate an entire batch of meat or poultry product. Automated lot tracking can help you rapidly isolate the bad lot and know which production lines have already used the sub-standard materials.
  • Labeling. If an inferior adhesive has been applied to a batch of labels, you can identify which product lots to pull from the distribution chain. You can do the same if your quality controls find a batch of inaccurate labels.
  • Protective equipment and clothing. Gloves, masks and other protective gear must function properly to ensure the safety of your workers and also to prevent contamination from being introduced on the production line. An inferior batch of protective gloves that tear during use, for example, could violate your food safety practices. Identifying the bad batch quickly and removing it from the operations area immediately can save potential contamination.
  • Cleaning solutions. Even a batch of cleaning solution can be sub-par. If tests show that cleaning has not eliminated the targeted bacteria, for example, you can more quickly take measures to determine whether the root cause of the problem was a procedural issue or a quality issue with the batch of cleaner.

Beyond the Production Line

The benefits of automated tracking systems to your food safety program extend beyond the production line. They can also enhance decision-making, vendor management and communications functions.

When it comes to potential contamination, decision making needs to be both timely and based on the best information available. Automated systems can provide you with accurate information quickly to help you answer these and other key questions, so that the decision on what actions to take can be based on good information:

  • How widespread is the potential contamination?
  • Where is the product in the production and distribution chains?
  • Have we already exposed consumers?

These systems can put the answers to these questions in front of the appropriate decision makers early in the process. The technology can be configured to allow access to the data via a browser, so if those who make the final decisions are located elsewhere, they can see in real time the same information that you are seeing in the plant. This makes communication about potential contamination more effective and clear, since everyone can see the same thing at the same time, and it can eliminate the potential for miscommunication up the chain of command.

By identifying where bad lots entered your supply chain, automated track-and-trace can enhance supplier accountability. You can accurately see if you have vendors with recurring issues in the quality of the supplies they are providing.

Automated Inventory Tracking Technologies

An automated inventory tracking system depends on three components:

  • A physical component, such as a label or tag, which contains detailed information identifying the specific lot or item.
  • A database, where each discrete data item is stored.
  • A reporting interface that allows people to access and use the identification information. This is the programming code that performs searches, retrieves the data, and formats the information in a formatted report, which is then presented on the screen, saved to a file, or sent to a printer.

The most common physical components used by automated inventory tracking systems rely on barcode or RFID technology, or a combination of both. The choice of which technology to use to integrate into the inventory management database layer of the system depends on a number of factors, but both have been proven extremely accurate (some sources say up to 99%). What is more important than the choice of tracking tools is the quality of the data encoded in them.

The latest in tracking technology uses an engineered DNA marker, in the form of an edible spray. When applied to produce, this DNA marker can track the individual item (i.e., an apple, head of lettuce or onion), along the entire food supply chain, identifying where it was farmed, the date it was picked, and where it was processed.

Whatever form of technology you employ, ensuring that your data is complete and accurate and can be integrated into both your supply and distribution chain is critical to realizing the benefits of that system in supporting your food safety efforts.

The WDS Food Safety Team also contributed to this article.

HACCP and HARPC Plan Management Demands Automation

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Manual management of HACCP and HARPC plans is often a resource-intensive and inefficient process that can create a data rich vs. information poor sentiment. Next week Dan Bernkopf, vice president of food safety applications at SafetyChain, will share insights on how companies can use automation to help assess risks to effectively create critical control points and preventive controls, during a webinar, “Conquering HACCP/HARPC Plan Management: The Power of Automation”. He will also share insights to help companies learn how automation can ensure that HACCP and HARPC plan components are scheduled, monitored and documented.

How else can automation help companies with their HACCP and HARPC plans?

  • Provide real-time non-conformance reports for CAPAs, minimizing waste and rework
  • Leverage mobile technology to collect food safety data at the source
  • Conduct meaningful trend analysis for continuous improvement with accessible, actionable data
  • Be audit ready for USDA, FDA and customer inquiries

Register for “Conquering HACCP/HARPC Plan Management: The Power of Automation
Thursday, August 6
1 pm ET / 10 am PDT
The webinar is part of SafetyChain’s FSQA Tech Talk series