Tag Archives: automation

Laura Nelson, Alchemy

Changing Consumer Preferences and Employee Compliance Training Driving Industry Evolution

By Maria Fontanazza
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Laura Nelson, Alchemy

The food industry is undergoing considerable change, especially as consumers become increasingly more vocal about their preferences and concerns, and as technology improvement and adoption plays a larger role in the conversation. In a recent Q&A with Food Safety Tech, Laura Dunn Nelson, vice president of food safety at Alchemy, shares her thoughts about current industry trends and how they are impacting food companies, where more help is needed, as well as ways in which companies can help advance food safety culture internally.

Food Safety Tech: The food industry is rapidly evolving. What are some of the trends you’re seeing and are these posing different challenges to food manufacturers?

Laura Dunn Nelson: The food industry is rapidly evolving in three key areas: Who produces our food, the variety of our food, and how consumers access our food.

As consumers continue to shift their food preferences toward an increase in healthy ingredients, locally sourced products, and clean labels, companies in turn continue to innovate and reformulate. Mergers and acquisitions continue as larger companies look to partner with niche companies that are focused on products marketed to the health-conscious consumer. Companies like Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat are expanding rapidly, reaching both vegans and meat eaters in the United States and expanding into international markets. Ever-changing consumer preferences create challenges for the industry to accelerate their research and development processes in order to remain competitive in the marketplace.

Changes in product formulas and increases in product lines create the need for new ingredient procurement, changes in production schedules, and new operating procedures. There has been a proliferation of start-up companies using CBD as an ingredient for food and beverages despite the lagging food safety regulations forcing some city and state regulators like New York City to create their own ban of CBD products. As the FDA explores future regulations, producers and consumers are left to determine the safety of these products.

Home delivery of food continues to be a hot trend as the market continues to grow for companies like UberEats, Grubhub, retailers and foodservice companies like Domino’s Pizza where you can Tweet your pizza order. The home delivery service area presents new considerations for food safety including monitoring appropriate product temperatures.

Finally, discussion around blockchain technology continues to gain prominence as companies work to develop transparency within their supply chain. For many companies, this will translate into a significant shift in technology adoption and a move away from disparate data sources and therefore an investment in not only the technology but in revising their procurement processes.

Laura Nelson, Alchemy
Laura Nelson is vice president of food safety at Alchemy and currently serves as the vice-chair of the Food Safety Culture Professional Development Group (PDG) for IAFP.

FST: What are the areas in which you feel companies need a bit more guidance?

Nelson: How we effectively train our employees to ensure learning and comprehension is paramount to our success in the future. IBM Institute for Business Value recently completed their study “The Enterprise Guide to Closing the Skills Gap,” and noted “120 million workers in the world’s biggest economies may need to be retrained as a result of artificial intelligence (AI) and automation in the workplace.” Reskilling will be the new norm as new technologies and automation of equipment disrupt the current state.

Deloitte noted that “reinventing the way people learn” was the number one trend in the 2019 Global Human Capital Trends Report. Many companies are focused almost exclusively on mandatory compliance training and conducting the training the same way they have for years. Typically, orientation food safety training is provided during the employee’s first week of work and annual refreshers are given every year. In the Global Food Safety Training Survey that Alchemy provides to the global industry with Campden BRI, we consistently find that 67% of responding QA managers report that employees do not follow their food safety programs, despite their food safety training. Unfortunately, the emphasis on food safety is often relegated to that one day a year of refresher training with little reinforcement the remaining 364 days of the year. The ‘noise’ of competing priorities of production and customer expectations often distracts employees from their food safety responsibilities.

Some companies still define training as classroom training when, in fact, employees are being trained each and every day by their supervisors and peers. Companies that put additional emphasis in not only their training but validation of training through observations of employees’ food safety behaviors achieve higher food safety compliance. The power of two-way conversations between the employee and the supervisor as a coach creates an environment of communication and trust.

Alchemy worked with independent researchers to determine the effect of active coaching with prescribed behavior feedback on the plant floor. The results were conclusive: every facility included in the study revealed a 38% improvement in aligned employee behaviors.

Ultimately, companies need to evaluate their current learning organization for effectiveness and focus on job competencies and their ongoing assessment of compliant employee behaviors.

FST: What maturity level are you seeing in the industry related to food safety culture and the related implementation of best practices?

Nelson: The food industry is still relatively new to the concept of a mature food safety culture, and even how to define that. The industry focus of this topic has largely been driven by efforts within the GFSI community, particularly with the publication of the position paper “A Culture of Food Safety.” Pioneers in food safety culture research, like Dr. Lone Jespersen, and emerging training assessment tools are working toward pushing these newer concepts to the mainstream of our industry.

As with many important constructs, the QA/QC team is typically tasked with introducing this concept to their organization, defining their company’s level of food safety culture maturity, and establishing a continuous improvement plan. This is a tough ask from individuals who typically have a technical education background with little experience in behavioral science. To address these challenges, there are a growing number of consultants, books, and resources to help define a company’s food safety culture maturity and establish improvement strategies.

To help frame the benefits of a mature culture, a recent publication by Lone Jespersen et al, “The Impact of Maturing Food Safety Culture and a Pathway to Economic Gain,” notes the value of a mature food safety culture in reducing the cost of poor quality and food safety risks. Research indicates that many companies are currently in mid-maturity of their food safety culture. Suggested best practices to help an organization mature their food safety culture include:

  1. Foster cross-company ownership of food safety.
  2. Move from compliance driven operations to risk reduction through continuous improvement.
  3. Improve engagement skills of technical staff.

The first step is an assessment to understand the company’s unique performance gaps, either through an internal review or an external assessment. Once the specific gaps are identified, companies can develop their food safety culture improvement plan and execute. It’s helpful to conduct a reassessment over time to ensure the established improvement strategies are successful.

The effort can be challenging but research confirms that a more mature food safety culture will deliver improved food safety performance of food safety behaviors, improved product quality, and a reduction in food safety risks.

FST Soapbox

A Digital Approach to Environmental Monitoring: Let’s Get Proactive!

By David Hatch
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Technology and automation for safety and surveillance have already impacted nearly every industry in the world. For example, in the United States and many other developed regions, we have just lived through the transformation to electronic health records within the healthcare industry. Prior to that, we lived through the digital transformation of all of our banking information to an online banking platform—now the norm across the world.

However, the food and beverage industry is still learning how technology can improve their organizations. The food safety segment of this market is particularly in need of a digital transformation, as the risk associated with foodborne illness is potentially catastrophic to food companies, and moreso, to the end consumers who are impacted by preventable pathogenic outbreaks.

Along with regulation advancements, such as the timed roll-out of FSMA, the industry continues to work towards a more effective approach to food safety. But most regulations, and advancements in the industry are pointed toward a reactive stance to food safety issues, rather than a preventive stance. For example, although traceability is important in leading investigations to the source and taking remediation steps sooner, a more proactive approach to prevention should be considered when investing in food safety programs.

This is where the importance of an automated environmental monitoring program comes in. To be proactive requires a commitment to embracing data and digital technology. Knowing where to start to effectively pivot your digital approach can be a challenge.

Understanding the following thought process can help you to recognize areas of potential improvement and growth within your environmental monitoring program.

  • Define Your Business Objectives. Ask how profitability and production uptime is connected to food safety issues.
  • Verify Suppliers. Establish protocols for incoming product from external suppliers and validate their food safety performance and ability to maintain a clean facility.
  • Modernize Your Environmental Monitoring Program (EMP). Are you able to confirm that your EMP is being executed consistently? Across all facilities?
  • Understand Data Exhaust. See how your organization’s valuable data can be used to identify trends and accelerate root cause analysis that impact decision-making processes.

Visit Corvium at the 2019 Food Safety Consortium Conference & Expo | Booth 204Define Your Business Objectives

Food companies large and small are being challenged to implement required processes and procedures to meet the demands of FSMA, and ultimately achieve a more proactive and preventative food safety stance. Transformation in this arena, led by government regulation, and enhanced by standards certification requirements, has highlighted the responsibility of suppliers and manufacturers to protect consumers.

Many organizations are not aware that a single failure in their food safety program could actually be the most devastating profitability risk that the organization faces today. When your organization is focused on production uptime and profitability, it can be easy to overlook the details involved in maintaining a strong food safety program. In reality, though, food safety and profitability are inextricably linked due to the risk of production interruptions that can be caused by safety issues.

Whenever a food recall occurs, it has the potential to start the dominoes falling, with major implications regarding costs, reputational damage, compliance penalties, supply chain interruption, and sales declines. Worse yet, these impacts can last for years after the actual event. By delaying both the importance of recognizing the seriousness of this risk as well as taking necessary steps to prevent it, your organization’s reputation could be on the line.

Unfortunately, planning is often sacrificed when managers fail to implement the proper technological solutions. Fulfilling fundamental documentation requirements involves a smart, automated approach. This is the best way to optimize recall prevention. By incorporating an automated EMP process, a supplier management system, and other FSMA Preventive Controls measures, suppliers ultimately improve the strength of the entire chain for their partners, consumers and themselves.

There are many other facets to food safety, but the EMP is where inspectors and auditors will look to see the indicators of contamination and the efficacy of your sanitation controls. Therefore, it is critical that your organization exhibit not only that you are on top of things and are following your EMP procedures consistently, but that you can analyze and pinpoint issues as they arise, and that you have a track record of corrective actions in response to those issues. This, in-turn, allows you to see where your business objectives are most at-risk.

Regardless of which specific food industry segment your company operates in, or which governing body it reports to, it’s essential to stay informed and compliant with changing regulations in order to reduce the risk of experiencing a recall. In a strategic operational role, intelligent environmental monitoring allows companies to not only proactively work to avoid public health issues, but is vital to retaining a consistent bottom line.

Verify Suppliers

Earlier this year, the FDA heralded what they call a “New Era of Smarter Food Safety”. As technology becomes increasingly accessible, more and more companies are investigating how technology can be used to harness and control the growing complexity of supply chain implications.

The challenge of making sure your organization is doing its due diligence to prevent recalls is further complicated when incorporating outside suppliers. For example, 15% of the United State’s overall food supply is imported from more than 200 other countries, according to the FDA. Making sure the product coming into a facility is also meeting your standards is vital to preventing pathogens from entering your supply chain either through containers, people, or the incoming product itself.

The complexity grows exponentially when we contemplate what this means for tracking food safety across a supply chain of this scope. Generally suppliers are asked to provide verification for the cleanliness of the product they are bringing into your facility. However, by going a step further and establishing test points for the product when it comes in, you will be better equipped to catch pathogens before they can enter into your own supply chain and potentially contaminate other products. While you may already have a good relationship with your suppliers, being able to independently verify the safety of their products and that their own processes are working, creates a mutually beneficial relationship.

Modernize Your Environmental Monitoring Program

Food experts at the World Health Organization headquarters in Geneva discussed the critical nature of ensuring food safety across geographic boundaries, as it is an issue that affects everyone. Incidents of pathogen outbreaks around the world have a direct impact on the health of global citizens, with one in 10 people falling ill due to food contamination.

A traditional EMP allows organizations to continuously verify that their sanitation programs are working by scheduling testing, monitoring results for any signs of pathogens, and maintaining compliance with regulatory bodies. Historically, this type of program is documented in spreadsheets and three-ring binders, but today the acceptance of new tools being offered by vendors and labs are expanding offerings to modernize the monitoring process.

Food safety professionals, many of whom are trained microbiologists, should have better tools at their disposal than spreadsheets that force them to manually sift through data. All regulatory bodies in the food industry have guidelines when it comes to where, what, and when you should be testing in your facilities. Ensuring that this is happening is a basic requirement for meeting regulatory mandates.

By choosing an automated EMP, FSQA teams are able to schedule testing plans including randomization and test point coverage rules, see what testing is being performed when, and obtain all testing data in one system for ease of access before or during an audit. This offers an “always-on” source of audit data and more importantly, trending and root-cause analysis capabilities to find and define actions to remediate recurring problems.

Further, an automated EMP that is integrated with your food safety plan allows you to set up workflows and automatically notify appropriate team members according to your organization’s policies. Each remediation step can be recorded and time stamped as the corrective action moves towards completion.

Understand Data Exhaust

A dominant theme pushed forward by FSMA is the need to document all aspects of your food safety plan, from the written outline to the records indicating proper implementation. Today’s manufacturers face a time of heightened regulation, and with stricter enforcement comes greater requirements for documentation. Automated EMPs not only provide your organization insight into what is happening within your facilities for documentation, it also gives time back to your FSQA team who, instead of spending their days with three ring binders, can analyze and investigate recurring issues in your facility to look for new, innovative ways for the organization to maintain a high standard of quality.

However, effective testing also means reading, understanding and responding to results. It is not enough to simply meet the required volume and frequency of environmental testing metrics. You need to use the resulting information to effect change and improvements by lowering the likeliness of pathogens, allergens and contaminants from entering the food supply chain. The more data collected, the more it leads to true understandings. What testing might show is just the symptoms of the problem—not the root cause of a far bigger problem. As more data is available, it becomes more valuable through the insights that can be gained through trend analysis. This, in turn, moves the conversation to higher levels within the organization who care about ensuring productivity and reducing avoidable risk.

Incorporating your lab into the equation is essential. Find a lab partner that offers an automated testing program that is integrated with their LIMS. Your organization will then be in a better position to ensure results are being responded to in an appropriate time frame.

There are many diagnostic tools in use today, both in-plant and at the lab. Each of these tools generates “data exhaust” in the form of a diagnostic result. But are your data streams being integrated and analyzed to find correlations and potential cause/effect relationships? Or does your ATP device simply record its data to a dedicated laptop or spreadsheet?

Testing, combined with an automated EMP, can allow you to combine data from various diagnostic systems (on-premise or from your lab partner) to identify trends and therefore a more holistic path to remediation. For this to occur, data must be accessible, aggregated and actionable, which an automated EMP achieves.

Forward-thinking companies and facility managers are leveraging valuable software solutions to improve processes, protect reputations, minimize inefficiencies, and simplify multifaceted compliance and audit tasks. Over the next three to five years, numerous organizations will reduce their risk of food recalls by combining their EMPs with analytics capabilities to reduce food risk and improve quality using diagnostic solutions and data assets. This change will be arduous, as all digital transformations in other industries have shown. But, in the end, they have shown the value and long-term success that the food industry now needs to experience.

Robotic technology, automation

Automation Bandwagon: Know the Challenges Before Jumping On

By Maria Fontanazza
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Robotic technology, automation

The food industry is behind high tech industries when it comes to automating certain manufacturing and warehousing processes. Although the advantages of using automation technologies can benefit many food companies in the long run, they should also be aware of the potential hurdles before moving forward. “With our growing population, we’re going to have to grow more food with [fewer] resources—automation will enable us to do that,” said Wendy White, project manager, food safety at Georgia Tech during her presentation at the IAFP annual meeting in Louisville, KY. “There are a lot of jobs in our industry that will benefit from automation—I don’t think it will necessarily eliminate jobs; I think it will help eliminate the harshness of some of the repetitive tasks.”

The benefits of automation are clear (especially for processes that involve close precision). Automation technologies can contribute to preventing injuries on the job, promote operational efficiencies, and give companies better access to records and reporting. They also can in turn enable the production of more consistent products, aid in faster product release and lower food costs. The following are the challenges that food companies may face, which include the reproduction of human senses, having the facility footprint that allows for these technologies, expense and complexity, and potential vulnerability to outages and even cybercrimes.

Challenge 1: It’s hard to replicate a human. It’s difficult to replicate any human task that requires thought. “For example, it’s hard for us to understand how many decisions go into picking off an apple from a tree,” said White. “It’s actually extremely hard for a robot to do… we underestimate how many things happen before you pick an apple.” White referred to a project at the Georgia Tech Research Institute’s Food Processing Technology Division that uses cameras to assess characteristics of an apple (i.e., insect intrusion spots, bruises, damage, ripeness, desired color), and integrates different sensing capabilities into a robotic arm. The robotic arm can sense the different gases being produced by the apple and can understand if it is at the peak of its ripeness. Yet, doing this type of work in a lab is very different from operating the robotic arm out in an actual apple orchard, so there is still a lot of work to be done.

Another example is the process of deboning a chicken carcass. “We have to figure out a way to get the bones off faster,” said White, adding that with American consumption of chicken reaching about 92 pounds annually, the poultry industry is trying to keep up. There are safety concerns with deboning, including making sure that a sliver of bone or cartilage is not left on the end product. It’s another task that is not easy for a robot to execute. She discussed current work that is using cameras and x-ray technology to understand the joint location, and from there this information is fed into an algorithm to help the robot make decisions that a trained human would intrinsically make. Once again, it takes a lot of effort for a robot to make those decisions, White pointed out.

Challenge 2: Facility footprint. Implementing automation technologies usually requires a larger facility footprint, and many food companies simply don’t have the space.

Challenge 3: Robot injuries. According to OSHA, about 4,500 injuries occurred in food facilities in 2013, two of which were robot related. However, those two robot-related injuries resulted in death. Although robot injuries are less likely to occur, they are usually more serious when they do happen, cautioned White. She stated between 1984 and 2013, 38 robot-related accidents were reported and 28 resulted in fatalities.

Challenge 4: Finding increasingly skilled labor. An employee needs to operate the robot. Although this may not seem like it would be difficult, the question is whether the existing workforce at a company can handle a completely different way of doing their jobs. Finding the level of skill required to either operate these robots or finding the employee who is willing to even work with these technologies could be a hurdle. White added that she is seeing a lot of research around co-bots, or collaborative robots, which is the term for robots that provide assistance to humans in conducting tasks such as heavy lifting.

Challenge 5: Complexity. The more complex the technology, the more likely there is to be an issue. And when this issue occurs, how long will it take to fix? Will it shut down an entire product line? This is also a consideration for companies that are considering retrofitting their existing facilities.

“We owe it to our workforce to make their jobs as safe and as easy as possible,” said White. She encourages industry to pursue automation but to also be aware of these challenges and vulnerabilities to ensure that companies are approaching implementation in the right way.

LIMS, laboratory information management system

Integrated Informatics: Optimizing Food Quality and Safety by Building Regulatory Compliance into the Supply Chain

By Kevin Smith
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LIMS, laboratory information management system

Global food supply chains offer consumers more choice than ever before. Thanks to international networks of producers, wholesalers, manufacturers and suppliers, many ingredients can be sourced all year round, meaning diets are no longer limited by what’s in season. However, the increasing complexity of these supply chains means many food and beverage products are potentially more exposed to biological and chemical contamination as well as food fraud issues, putting brand reputation and human health at risk.

With consumer trust and public safety of paramount importance, global food regulators have introduced strict rules to protect the quality and authenticity of products. Regulations such as the FDA’s Food Protection Plan, for example, seek to incorporate safety measures throughout food supply chains in order to better prevent and respond to potential issues.1 These regulations are complemented by standards such as the ISO’s recently updated ISO 22000:2018 guidelines that recommend the implementation of hazard analysis and critical control points (HACCP) to achieve the highest levels of quality control (QC).2 For businesses working within this regulatory framework, it is essential to take a coordinated approach to deliver the standards of food quality and safety that customers and regulators expect.

Every food supply chain will have its own set of product specifications and QC parameters. However, all these requirements demand that decisions on the release of goods are made using accurate and timely information. Given the growing attention from regulators on the safety and provenance of food, as well as the need for operations to run as efficiently as possible, supply chain stakeholders are reevaluating the digital platforms they use to manage, store and recall their data. Here, we consider how laboratory information management systems (LIMS) can help businesses integrate efficient data collection workflows across multiple locations to support robust QC testing and build regulatory compliance into their operations.

Meeting the Challenges Facing Modern Food Supply Chains

Assuring consistent product quality and safety is a constant challenge for food supply chain businesses, given the broad range of issues that can compromise these standards. Although most businesses adopt strict storage and handling protocols to minimize the risk of foodborne illnesses caused by bacterial contamination, high-profile public health stories regularly hit the headlines. The widespread use of pesticides and veterinary drugs in farming also means that ingredients are potentially exposed to a wide range of known and unknown chemical contaminants. Contamination can also occur during the handling, processing and packaging stages. Robust QC measures are therefore essential to identify issues as early as possible.

Equally, food adulteration and counterfeiting continue to be key challenges, with high-value products regularly targeted by food fraudsters. The Grocery Manufacturers Association estimates that up to 10% of all commercially sold food products are affected by these practices, costing the industry between $10 and $15 billion each year and putting public health at risk.3 Comprehensive QC testing, supported by robust chain of custody data, is required to demonstrate quality and authenticity of goods, protect brands and safeguard consumers.

However, the extended nature of modern food supply chains can make delivering against these goals more difficult, especially if poorly integrated information management approaches are employed. As food supply chains have gone global, it has become increasingly common for businesses to operate storage, production and processing facilities across sites in multiple regions, countries and even continents. To deliver goods that meet well-defined safety and quality specifications, QC workflows must be built upon standardized protocols that are implemented correctly across the supply chain, regardless of the individual following them or the location in which they operate. These workflows must be supported by robust information exchange mechanisms that make sure the right decisions around product manufacturing and batch release can be made using accurate, complete and up-to-date information.

Improving QC Data Quality Using Integrated Data Management Solutions

With fragmented information management approaches often getting in the way of this ideal, many food businesses are looking to transform their poorly connected systems into informatics platforms that streamline operations, improve visibility and reduce errors. The latest LIMS allow businesses to bring all their QC data into a single integrated system, helping to harmonize processes and make information sharing more efficient to enhance product quality and safety.

Take the execution of standard operating procedures (SOPs) for pesticide residue testing, for example. By centrally connecting instruments and storing SOPs digitally on a LIMS, processes and parameters can be downloaded directly, eliminating the need for human error-prone manual set-up and supporting the consistent collection of data. Furthermore, because these SOPs are located in a centralized system, securely accessible to authorized users across all sites and facilities, the risk of SOPs becoming out of date or out of sync is greatly reduced. With guidance on residue levels regularly updated to reflect the evolving knowledge of these threats, ensuring the latest testing protocols are applied is particularly important.

Additionally, because LIMS capture and store QC measurements directly, as it is generated, they eliminate the need for labor-intensive transcription and data transfer processes. Not only does this improve measurement accuracy by taking human error out of the equation, it also boosts efficiency and reduces the administrative burden on those responsible for collecting QC data. As a result, experienced staff can spend less time on paperwork and data entry, and more time actively optimizing processes and finding solutions to other key challenges. With access to the most accurate and up-to-date information, businesses are better placed to maintain the integrity of the food supply chain and can act to resolve potential issues before they turn into more significant problems.

Supporting Well-Defined QC Processes and Regulatory Compliance

With international food regulators turning their attention to the methods used to assure the quality and authenticity of foodstuffs, supply chain stakeholders are now expected to have well-defined QC workflows that not only provide complete traceability of products from farm to fork, but also transparency around processes such as instrument calibration and data handling.

LIMS, laboratory information management system
Modern LIMS allow food businesses to visualize their workflow data using dashboards, process diagrams or facility maps. Image courtesy of Thermo Fisher Scientific.

LIMS allow food businesses to build regulatory compliance into their processes by providing a comprehensive overview of all supply chain data, including information associated with QC steps. As all data required to support proof of compliance is organized in a single system, it can be quickly and conveniently recalled for sharing or review purposes. Some of the latest systems allow users to visualize this data holistically on process diagrams or dashboards, helping to fulfill HACCP requirements and make keeping track of active workflows as easy as possible.

Furthermore, because LIMS can be used to capture and store data automatically, they also facilitate the real-time monitoring of supply chain processes, meaning out-of-specification QC parameters can be flagged and reported earlier. The sophisticated algorithms present in some of the latest LIMS can even be used to warn businesses of small but significant trends such as the decline in performance of an aging instrument, which could cause unexpected downtime or cause product quality standards to fall over time. These alerting capabilities mean potential issues can be remedied faster, helping stakeholders more proactively protect consumer safety.

Defensible data is central to protecting brand integrity, especially when it comes to issues around food adulteration and counterfeiting. As such, food businesses need robust data management tools that support complete traceability of actions. By automatically recording every interaction with the system to generate a comprehensive audit trail and facilitating the use of e-signatures to document review procedures, LIMS can safeguard the highest levels of accountability, from data collection all the way through to results reporting. Some of the most advanced LIMS also feature powerful audit trail search functionality, allowing authorized users to recall specific actions such as unusual QC activity or potentially non-compliant behavior. With a secure record of events and a single, integrated platform for supply chain data, food businesses can focus on what’s important—optimizing processes and delivering high-quality goods.

Optimizing and Safeguarding the Food Supply Chain Using LIMS

Modern LIMS allow food supply chain stakeholders to build regulatory compliance into their workflows by standardizing QC processes and giving authorized individuals full visibility over their data. By facilitating faster and more informed decision-making using accurate and up-to-the-minute data, LIMS are helping businesses meet current industry challenges head on to maintain the safety and integrity of the food supply chain.

References

  1. FDA. (November 2007). Food Protection Plan. Access April 7, 2019. Retrieved from , https://www.fda.gov/downloads/aboutfda/centeroffices/oc/officeofoperations/ucm121761.pdf .
  2.  International Organization for Standardization. (June 2018). ISO 22000:2018(en) Food safety management systems — Requirements for any organization in the food chain..
  3. The Grocery Manufacturers Association and A.T. Kearney. (2010). Consumer Product Fraud: Deterrence and Detection.

Technology Helps Your Food Safety Employees Work Smarter, Not Harder

By Maria Fontanazza
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As the use of technology in manufacturing and quality continues to expand, there are many opportunities to help food companies streamline operations and enhance efficiencies. During a brief chat with Food Safety Tech, Melody Ge, head of compliance at Corvium, Inc. talks about the benefits of using technology in manufacturing and why some companies may be hesitant to take the leap.

Food Safety Tech: Your recent Food Safety Tech article, “Changes in the Food Safety Industry: Face Them or Ignore Them”, highlighted the role of technology in improving efficiency. What are the top areas in which companies are challenged to streamline processes?

Melody Ge, Corvium
Melody Ge, head of compliance at Corvium, Inc.

Melody Ge: When talking about a company’s production process, the challenge usually comes from where to start. A company may have difficulty figuring out which areas in the processing line can either be automated or how they can use technology as an advantage.

The challenge could also come from the fact that only parts of the process can be automated with the current technology. For example, with hazard analysis or risk assessment—those processes still need the human brain. So within a process, part of it can be automated, and part of it can’t—that could be another challenge.

FST: What technologies can food companies use to better help them manage risk in manufacturing?

Ge: It depends on what’s out there and what products a company is producing. From a manufacturing perspective, they can use supply chain management software or document management software to help them manage their approved supplier program. Using technology can make it easier and more efficient for companies to manage the risks from incoming goods and suppliers as it centralizes their documentation to make it easy to access.

Technology also helps companies use online software to centralize training documents on one corporate site and deploy it to all employees at different levels.

And from a HACCP and Preventive Controls perspective, companies can use digital technology to document temperature, pH Value, humidity, pathogen testing results, etc.—all the types of data that help execute a HACCP plan can be automated and help manage risk. After all the information is centralized and digitalized, you can see the data and easily translate that to help manage risk.

FST: What are the current technology adoption hurdles, and how are you helping companies understand the value of technology versus a paper-based system?

Ge: I think some hurdles come from fear: What’s going to happen as a result of technology is unknown, and especially at this stage, how FDA will respond is unknown. FDA already announced that this smarter food safety era is coming, but no one knows whether there will be new requirements as a result. Will requirements change because manufacturers are using new technology? Those unknowns make manufacturers fearful about what’s going to happen.

Another fear factor is job loss. For example, if processes are automated, or AI is used to capture data, or record keeping is automated, then what am I going to do? Does the company still need me as a QA professional or supervisor? I think those can stand in the way of making changes. However, [companies or employees] shouldn’t think that way. Technology is not replacing QA professionals, but [rather it] helps them do higher-level jobs. For example, in the time saved by technology, QA professionals can read and digest the data results, and study the trends and recommend best practices to continuously improve their food safety management system. It makes their time more valuable to the company.

Another hurdle is understanding which steps in processes can be automated. There are so many technologies out there that have pros and cons, and whether it will fit with the manufacturer or the facility—there’s an overwhelming amount of information, and the QA technician needs time to digest and understand the process at the facility as well as the technology out there to then select the most suitable technology for a process.

As far as helping companies understand the ROI of technology, there are four areas where I think technology can add value:

  1. It provides increased efficiencies and accuracy of daily operations and data collection. It reduces human error. Let the technology help the food safety professionals document daily operational data.
  2. It streamlines the food safety management system for continuous improvement. Because technology helps the food safety professional do the job of daily data collection, the time saved can be used wisely to study the data and outcomes, and truly understand how they can bring their food safety management system to another level.
  3. It centralizes all the documents and records for management. Using technology, the food safety professional can see their SOPs, records and any related documents in one place. They don’t have to physically go to several places to see what’s happening operationally. This can also help increase efficiency during the audit process.
  4. Centralized data helps the food safety professional more easily see where the deficiencies are located.

Ultimately, the ROI is that advanced technology can help the food safety professional increase operational efficiency, reduce product waste and production downtime.

FST: Any additional comments about the role of technology in food manufacturing?

Ge: In echoing on FDA’s announcement, although the smarter food safety era comes with using advanced technology, the mentality has not changed as all—it’s always FSMA based and people led. We need people to use the technology, and that foundation isn’t changing. We are protecting our consumers from any potential food safety risk. We’re just using a more efficient way to help all of us achieve this goal. I believe in the future, all food facilities will use at least one technology out there to help them automate one or more processing steps. And if you start with one step at a time, it will generally take over the entire production process.

Visit Corvium at next week’s Food Safety Supply Chain Conference at USP in Rockville, MD. Unable to travel? Attend the program virtually!

Brian Sharp, SafetyChain Software
FST Soapbox

How Industry 4.0 Affects Food Safety and Quality Management

By Brian Sharp
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Brian Sharp, SafetyChain Software

The food and beverage industry is moving towards a fully connected production system with more methods available to automate data collection than ever before. But with all the promises of Industry 4.0, what are the true capabilities of communicating real-time plant floor insights? This article will explain how better capturing methods and analysis can drive data-driven decision making to optimize safety, quality and efficiency in food and beverage operations.

What Is Industry 4.0?

The term Industry 4.0 has many pseudonyms, such as Industrial Internet of Things, Manufacturing 4.0, and Smart Manufacturing, but they generally all refer to the idea that manufacturers will be able to connect all operations in their plants. Where the name Industry 4.0 comes into play is the thought that manufacturing is in its fourth wave of change. In the 1780s, the first industrial revolution started with machines and the “production line” and evolved to mass production in the 1870s; manufacturing entered into a new wave after the 1950s when automation was introduced.

In this current fourth wave of manufacturing, new technology is driving the change in production and the capabilities of what can be accomplished in facilities. A report from Deloitte Insights entitled “The Smart Factory” explains this new way of operations as “ a leap forward from more traditional automation to a fully connected and flexible system—one that can use a constant stream of data from connected operations and production systems to learn and adapt to new demands.”

By way of more sensors, connectivity, analytics, and breakthroughs in robotics and artificial intelligence, the future food and beverage plants will be able to meet customers’ demands for higher-quality products while increasing productivity. However, there is a stark reality that many food and beverage manufacturing facilities are over 50 years old and dealing with legacy equipment. And if an investment in new technology is made, often it is made because food and beverage plants need to reach compliance or fill a customer’s requirement.

“Regulatory compliance is huge,” says Steve Hartley of Matrix Control Systems during a recent SafetyChain webinar. “But if you are able to attach additional business value to that compliance, then incorporating technology into the organization becomes a lot easier.”

For instance, new technology that can help a facility follow regulated processes in food manufacturing can also help to create more consistency and increase the quality of your products. Additionally, if input from the entire organization is collected when investing in more technology and automation, then multiple departments will support the budget costs.

“One of the big things that we see happening with our customers is that they are digging into that production equipment,” says Hartley. “Lots of food manufacturing facilities are filled with all sorts of wonderful processing equipment, but leveraging not only the manufacturing capabilities, but also the data collection capabilities of that equipment is really powerful.”

What Automated Data collection Systems Can Do

Because large food and beverage companies sell a high volume of goods to a large number of customers, many have already automated their data collection. These facilities also receive goods from an intricate supply chain that spans vast distribution networks, thus making automated data collection from receiving all the way through shipping a necessity.

However, many companies are going beyond this and integrating production equipment on the plant floor to provide a deeper level of production and quality data. These types of operations are generally interested in going beyond just being in regulatory compliance, but working on their continuous improvement. What this data can do is to provide better data for better decision making. By knowing what parts of the plant are operating optimally and what areas aren’t, plant managers can to make changes that will unlock more potential from the production line.

Getting the most out of operations is one of the most frequently cited needs of food and beverage manufacturers. The best way to do this is to drive plant efficiencies, which means measuring performance, setting baselines and goals, and holding employees accountable. The key here is to not confine efficiencies to just one area of the facility, but to broaden the scope to include end-to-end processes, from supplier to customer.

“Take a scope that is relevant to everyone and that is relevant to the strategy of the company,” states Daniel Campos of London Consulting Group. A company’s overall strategy should drive the focus of all departments. No one lives in a silo, and every part of your operations affects all the other parts. So any one area that is falling below the goal set takes away value from the system as a whole. This becomes more crucial as the enterprise grows even more connected and dependent on data from each other.

Shortfalls of Industrial Automation Systems

When evaluating the scope of an operation, all areas of the plant should be assessed in terms of how data is being collected. Part of this information assessment is to learn what processes aren’t covered by automated data collection. This includes equipment without sensors that can record accurate measurements and readings.

Another area that should be identified as an entry point for possible faulty or incorrect data is where an operator is required to input information. Some of this might be simply validating that SOPs were followed, such as whether a piece of equipment was cleaned or not and if detergents were actually changed when required.

The quality and fidelity of the data is directly related to the effectiveness of the decisions made. As the saying goes, “Garbage in, garbage out.” But even good data alone doesn’t drive value, but rather information gleaned from the facts collected is where the true benefits can be harnessed to improve the food safety and quality of products produced.

So, if data is analyzed and found not to conform to a desired specification, then the goal is to find out why this is happening. Is the data being collected accurate? If not, why? If it is accurate, then what else is going on?
Additionally, the speed and complexity of today’s food processing plants requires this data to not just be in real time, but able to be captured in smaller increments to make better decisions. This type of data that is collected and analyzed infrequently can slip through the cracks because systems to collect and manage this category can be hard to find, unlike industrial automation systems.

One solution to this problem can be found in capturing data via mobile devices. Tablets and phones moving through the plant with operators can help collect information at the source. Plus, these devices enable managers and executives to see critical control point data as well as summaries of operational performance and out-of-spec occurrences, anytime and anywhere.

As food and beverage manufacturing plants continue to automate their data collection and increasingly connect their production processes, more data will come online in a multitude of ways, allowing for better decision making. Ultimately, this is the promise of Industry 4.0 and why digital transformation promises a higher level of food safety and quality in the future.

Nick Recht, TEKLYNX
FST Soapbox

Enterprise Label Management for Better Food Labeling

By Nick Recht
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Nick Recht, TEKLYNX

The concept of a food label is simple. Labels identify products, provide customers with necessary information and enable companies to receive and ship products worldwide. Yet growing customer demands, changing labeling regulations and an increasingly competitive global marketplace continue to have food and beverage manufacturers scrambling to maintain some semblance of simplicity in an increasingly complicated labeling environment. Furthermore, the stakes are high for managing labels. Food recalls continue to make headlines, and a growing number of consumers rely on identified allergens to be properly labeled so they can select food and beverages that are safe to consume.

Now, food and beverage manufacturers of all sizes are re-thinking how they manage their labeling environments to navigate this increasingly complicated labeling landscape. For these manufacturers, doing so often begins with a closer look at how labeling is viewed throughout their enterprise. When labeling is treated as a discrete operation within the food and beverage manufacturing process, the labeling environment often relies too heavily on manual processes and is prone to human error. By contrast, when labeling is viewed as an integrated component of the manufacturing process, food and beverage manufacturers greatly improve labeling accuracy, efficiency and agility.

So what does labeling look like as integrated component of the manufacturing process? Enter enterprise label management (ELM), a centralized approach to labeling that leverages existing business systems, eliminates manual process, and reduces IT overheard and the room for human error. It integrates label design, approval, security and print automation and holds the key to improving labeling speed, accuracy and agility.

ELM centralizes label management and integrates labeling with other business or ERP systems. It consists of these four primary label management components:

  1. The ability to create and print barcode labels used for shipping, inventory, products and more.
  2. Label approval, traceability, security, storage and version control for all labels created and printed.
  3. Print automation to remove human interaction from the printing process.
  4. A configurable browser printing interface for seamless label printing locally and around the globe.

Food and beverage manufacturers of all sizes can benefit from ELM. Typically, companies look to ELM when they are looking to reduce waste, mitigate risk or reduce disparate system management. ELM is also a natural fit within lean manufacturing initiatives because its integrated approach allows organizations to leverage existing business systems and often reduces IT overhead. And because ELM incorporates label approval, traceability, security and version control, food and beverage manufacturers that leverage it are better equipped to respond to and execute a food recall should that situation arise.

From an efficiency standpoint, food and beverage manufacturers realize many benefits from ELM implementations. ELM eliminates manual approval processes that often result in production delays. It also reduces manual, error-prone processes. The use of label templates allows food manufacturers to quickly adjust labels, making it easier to respond to changing label requirements such as the FDA’s new Nutrition Facts requirements or those items required by FSMA.

With ELM, the use of a configurable browser printing interface allows food and beverage manufacturers to manage labels at one location while enabling users to print labels at locations around the globe. This greatly improves a manufacturer’s ability to manage labels across its network of production facilities and distribution centers, and provides a labeling environment that can easily adjust as the company grows.

ELM can also serve as a competitive advantage for food and beverage manufacturers. For one leading consumer goods manufacturer, an ELM solution provided a way to become more competitive in the marketplace. The manufacturer was facing challenges, as its former labeling process relied too heavily on manual processes. Specifically, its manual data entry was time-consuming and error-prone. Its labeling environment was also unable to accommodate label changes without costly, custom development time. Labeling errors meant the company was at risk of losing customers and market share, and the inability to quickly accommodate label changes negatively impacted its ability to comply with changing customer requirements.

With ELM, the manufacturer realized a 75% reduction in label development time, resulting in an equal decrease in labor costs. In addition, access to label templates gave them complete flexibility to quickly respond to business and customer requirements. And because its label creation was now automated and integrated with its existing SAP system as part of the ELM implementation, the company was able to increase labeling efficiency while reducing errors.

For food and beverage manufacturers, the benefits of ELM are too compelling to ignore. Here are four signs your company may benefit from ELM:

  1. Your barcode label printing is manual and disjointed, with many clicks.
  2. Your label templates are decentralized and difficult to manage.
  3. You have manual label approval workflows and can’t apply securities and controls for design vs. print users.
  4. You have many local print installations.

If you’ve answered yes to one or more of these signs, ELM warrants a closer look. ELM implementations can run smoothly when you partner with an experienced barcode labeling solutions provider, and your company will be better positioned to navigate what has become a very complicated food and beverage labeling environment.

Martin Flusberg, Powerhouse Dynamics
Retail Food Safety Forum

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

By Martin Flusberg
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Martin Flusberg, Powerhouse Dynamics

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

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

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

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

Automated temperature monitoring systems don’t fully take the place of the mobile systems described above since they cannot capture all temperatures and do not address aspects of the food safety process other than temperature monitoring.

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

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

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

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

Three Ways Sanitation Automation Helps Food Processors Reduce Costs

By Bob Ogren
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Sanitation in a food processing plant is a large-scale effort that many organizations see as an added cost of doing business. Yet, it’s essential and can have costly consequences if done improperly.

Because time is money and facilities want to avoid any necessary downtime, the window for completing proper sanitation procedures is small. Many food processors simply put more people on the job while requiring them to work third shift, hoping to get things done faster.

Automating certain sanitation procedures in your plant can provide real benefits, many of which will help reduce the costs associated with food safety and keeping your facility clean. Here’s a look at the three main ways food plants can save by implementing automated sanitation solutions.

1. Resource Management

When you invest in sanitation automation, one of the biggest advantages is the increased understanding of how resources are being used. This knowledge and improved visibility gives you control of how resources such as water and chemicals are used during sanitation.

Butcher cleaning the floor at meat factory. Image courtesy of Birko.

Perhaps the most significant area in which facilities experience savings is through reduction of water usage. Automated solutions improve the efficiency of rinse cycles while ensuring appropriate water pressure is being used. Every plant has unique water needs, but you should expect water savings between 30% and 50%, depending on the solutions that are applied.

Sanitation automation will also lead to a reduction in energy costs. Using less water means less energy is required to heat that water. Advancements in sanitation technology have made certain solutions more energy efficient. Features such as multi-stage pumps for full alternation, motors that allow pumps to ramp up and down as needed, and flow switches that send pumps into “hibernate” mode help reduce electricity usage.

Waste water from food processing also needs to be treated before it goes down the drain. Less water treatment means fewer chemicals are needed.

Food processors that introduce automated sanitation solutions will use cleaning chemicals more efficiently. Automation ensures chemicals are dispensed precisely where they are needed at the correct concentration, without any over spray. Again, while every situation is unique, most facilities can expect a 20–30% reduction in chemistry costs.

In the end, you will have a very clear picture of the amount of water and chemistry needed to complete sanitation, and you’ll know the amount of time it should take. That means you can plan for more uptime.

Overall, not only can automation help food processors make efficient use of resources, it also makes them more sustainable.

2. Labor Costs

Labor is yet another resource that can be more effectively managed when there’s an investment in sanitation automation. The labor market is tight, and it is becoming increasingly difficult to hire the people needed to carry out sanitation work.

Sanitation often involves menial and tedious tasks that also require attention to detail. It usually entails working overnight when production stops, and certain responsibilities can be dangerous. At the same time, minimum wage is rising, and many organizations are looking to reduce labor costs.

Introducing sanitation automation can certainly cut labor expenses and remove the need to hire more people, but more importantly, it can make the workers you do have more productive. Automation should be used to eliminate menial tasks from sanitation workers. For example, instead of a person standing in front of a conveyor belt and spraying it down with a hose for hours on end, the job could be easily automated.

We worked with a brewer who was having two employees take as long as three hours to clean a filler. By automating that task, they turned it into a 45-minute job and allowed those employees to refocus their efforts. Plus, the before and after pictures of the equipment show a visible difference in cleanliness.

You can trust an automation solution to do a consistent job, and it will never call in sick.
Still, you’ll always need to have “boots on the ground” and human eyes evaluating sanitation. Automating certain sanitation practices will free up employees to work on more important duties that add value and keep them engaged in their work.

3. Mitigating Safety Risks

The most important thing sanitation automation provides is more peace of mind. No one wants to lose sleep worrying about a failed inspection or the potential for a worker injury. Automation reduces the risk of product contamination and lessens potentially dangerous situations for employees.

For instance, spiral freezers are particularly precarious areas to clean. Automating its cleaning process eliminates the need for a worker to maneuver through an unsafe space, reducing the likelihood of a workplace injury.

Human labor can also lead to human error. But, when sanitation tasks are automated, they become more consistent and easily repeatable. This is especially important for cleaning hard-to-reach problem spots that become harborage areas for bacteria. There may be a tendency among human workers to skip areas they can’t reach, or fail to clean them properly, but a machine cleans everything the same every time.

The monetary risk of contamination inside your facility is significant. For example, if Listeria were to take up residence in a plant, it could cost your business millions of dollars.

According to a study from the Food Marketing Institute and Grocery Manufacturers Association, the average food product recall will have direct costs of $10 million while indirect costs could reach into the hundreds of millions. That’s because you also need to consider the ongoing cost of a damaged brand reputation, not to mention lost productivity from business interruptions and lost profits from disposing of potentially contaminated product.

Sanitation Automation: The Future is Now

There are many reasons to start implementing automation into your food and beverage plant’s sanitation practices. Food processors in Europe have been quicker to adopt these solutions because many of the same issues U.S. manufacturers face, such as wages and resource scarcity, can be even more pronounced overseas.

As the labor market in the United States presents challenges for hiring managers, and drought conditions in some regions make water a scarce commodity, automation presents an opportunity to bring your facility into the future. Add to those concerns the increased regulations from FSMA, and there is even more reason to invest in dependable sanitation solutions.

Food processors need to find trusted advisors who can evaluate operations inside the plant and look for ways to implement automation in ways that make the largest impact.

While there is certainly an upfront cost in automating sanitation, the potential savings and added visibility these solutions provide won’t take long to pay for themselves. In most cases, facilities that invest in sanitation automation will see a return within a year to 18 months. If done properly, you can achieve impressive cost-saving results through 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?