Tag Archives: data

Blockchain, Food Safety Supply Chain Conference

Is the Food Industry Ready for Blockchain?

By Maria Fontanazza
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Blockchain, Food Safety Supply Chain Conference

Darin Detwiler will lead a plenary session titled, “Practical Use of Blockchain in Food Safety” at the 2018 Food Safety Consortium | Learn moreOn the heels of the deadly, widespread outbreak of E.coli O157:H7 illnesses linked to romaine lettuce—and 12 years after the infamous spinach outbreak of 2006—the food industry is struggling to find the solution to prevent these outbreaks. “I think it’s indicative that we need to do something different,” said Melanie Nuce, senior vice president, corporate development & innovation at GS1 US, during a panel discussion about blockchain at the 2018 Food Safety Supply Chain conference earlier this month. The panel, led by Darin Detwiler, assistant dean and director, regulatory affairs of food and food industry at Northeastern University, delved into the strengths and weaknesses of blockchain, along with industry readiness and acceptance.

In its most basic form, the technology would allow for the addition of information from every step of the supply chain, from manufacturing to packaging to distribution to retail, and would incorporate elements such as auditing, inspection, batch information, certification of auditors, preventive control plans, HACCP information, and allergen identification.

“Blockchain could be the death of the document.” Simon Batters, Lloyd’s Register

Strengths

The increased demand for transparency and traceability could be one of the biggest drivers for the adoption of blockchain. “[Blockchain] offers us the technology for traceability,” said Simon Batters, vice president of technology solutions at Lloyd’s Register. “It allows us to have an immutable record of a transaction; it won’t solve the food safety conundrum overnight—it’s part of the tool kit that we need.”

The fact that the food supply chain consists of millions of transactions, which could not be tampered with under blockchain, while the data could be used as reference points and for verification—those are strengths. However, Batters pointed out, there should be restrictions on who has permission to write the code and who has access to putting the information into a chain.

The technology would also enable smart contracts whereby shipments wouldn’t be finalized if they didn’t meet the conditions of a supplier, for example. “All parties to a transaction have a view to the entire chain at the same time,” said Nuce. “You have real time visibility. This democratizes that.”

Kathleen Wybourn, director, food safety solutions at DNV GL, calls blockchain “the birth certificate for food.” From a consumer standpoint, it would provide information on a product’s origin—and these days, consumers—especially millennials—are very interested in the story of food from farm to fork.

2018 Food Safety Supply Chain Conference, Blockchain
The blockchain panel, led by Darin Detwiler, Director: Regulatory Affairs of Food and Food Industry, Northeastern University featured (left to right) Kathy Wybourn, Director, Food Safety Solutions, DNV GL; Simon Batters,
Vice President of Technology Solutions, Lloyd’s Register and Melanie Nuce, Senior Vice President, Corporate Development & Innovation, GS1 US.

Weaknesses and Threats

The panel pointed out several areas of improvement (and unknowns that must be answered) before blockchain can be taken to the next level in the food industry.

  • Although the technology could aid in faster transaction times, as the size of the ledger gets larger, and it will become more difficult to manage.
  • Industry involvement: “If you don’t get 100% participation, it’s not going to be successful,” Nuce said. “To have true trace back, everyone has to participate.”
  • Blockchain platforms: Will they be able to interact and share data? What type of blockchain architecture is necessary for this?
  • Poor architecture
  • Need a better grasp on the type of data being used and how it delivers value
  • What impact will it have on the role of certification bodies?
  • Politics and the competitive element: Will certain parties seek to control this space?
  • Will the culture shift be a roadblock?
Melanie Nuce, GS1 US
Read Melanie Nuce’s column, Blockchain: Separating Fact from Fiction

Final Thoughts from the Panel

“Nobody can really tell where this is going to go in the future. I think it’s going to be part of food safety in their roles in one shape or form…I think we’ll see more of where this is headed within the next 12–18 months.” – Kathy Wybourn

“I think it’s going to be a fast-moving dynamic area.”– Simon Batters, who suggested that the organizations that embrace blockchain early may be the ones who show the way

“From an information/standards perspective, you have to have foundational business processes to support any type of technology. That’s what we’ve learned through the pilots.” – Melanie Nuce

“It’s not going to make a company any more ethical… a lot of what we need already exists out there; blockchain is just a tool out there. I keep warning people that this is not the only solution.” – Darin Detwiler

FDA

FDA’s Data Dashboard Helps Companies Meet FSMA Supply Chain Requirements

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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FDA

FDA has launched a new section of its Data Dashboard to help food importers, manufacturers and processors meet supply chain requirements put forth by FSMA (specifically FSVP, and the PC rules). The dashboard provides ease in finding compliance and enforcement information related to companies.

Do you trust your suppliers? What about your supplier’s suppliers? | Food Safety Supply Chain Conference | June 12–13, 2018 | Learn more“The Foreign Supplier Verification Programs rule requires importers to perform risk-based activities to verify that their suppliers are meeting applicable U.S. food safety standards. One such activity is an evaluation of a supplier’s performance and the risk associated with the food, a process that includes evaluating a supplier’s compliance with FDA regulations such as whether the supplier is subject to an FDA warning letter, import alert, or other FDA compliance action related to food safety. The Preventive Controls rules require manufacturers/processors to perform supplier approval if the ingredient supplied contains a hazard requiring a supply-chain applied control. Supplier approval includes consideration of the supplier’s compliance with food safety laws and regulations.” – FDA

The agency also made improvements to its supplier evaluation resources page and added it to the dashboard so that companies can simultaneously search several databases. Users can search for information about warning letters, import refusal and import alerts.

 

Steven Burton, Icicle Technologies
FST Soapbox

Six Best Practices To Make Audits Stress-Free

By Steven Burton
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Steven Burton, Icicle Technologies

Your next audit is already on its way. Now that many regulatory bodies and certification agencies are no longer required to give you a heads-up about upcoming audits, it’s completely up to you to stay on top of compliance, recordkeeping, and a myriad of other tasks on a day-to-day basis. And without that buffer of warning from auditors, falling behind can be more detrimental than ever.

Let’s walk through some effective practices that keep you ready for an audit at a moment’s notice, make the process go smoothly once the auditor arrives, and get rid of some unnecessary stress all along the way.

Connect All Departments to an Online Database

When it comes to collecting and moving data from one department to another, there’s nothing as inefficient as disconnected documents. Not only are they a strain to keep organized in big filing cabinets or file folders, but they take a long time to create, share and edit. It seems cliche to harp on this point in 2018; yet, many food safety coordinators have a purely manual system.

By connecting your entire company to an online database, you enable different departments to organize, share and update documents in seconds, rather than minutes. This level of connectivity can shave time off dozens of tasks per day, which ultimately leads to hours or days of extra productivity over the course of a year. When you adopt a system that updates connected documents in real time, you won’t have to make manual changes to multiple documents for small changes.
If you want to get extra efficient, the real trick to this best practice is to find software that you can incorporate into every department. Then, as people go about their normal jobs, the information they collect is automatically uploaded to the central database.

Utilize the Internet Of Things to Streamline Data Collection

These days, it’s possible to connect almost every piece of equipment to the Internet of Things. Even if your machinery doesn’t have measurement tools built-in, there are almost certainly additional tools you can install to create that functionality.

Having your equipment feed data directly into your central database is faster than manually collecting information and eliminates the risk of human error when it comes to data entry. Thanks to that simple degree of automation, already standard in large parts of the global economy, you can also use system dashboards and alerts that let you know when something’s off, like the temperature in the freezer or the production speed of equipment on the floor.

Don’t Settle for Uninspired Internal Audits

Many food safety coordinators are so focused on specific issues that they forget to take steps back to look at the situation from a bird’s eye view. When the time for an internal audit comes around, they do it with one eye on the audit and one eye on the next fire that needs putting out.

Lazy internal audits are not only noticeable to external auditors, they keep you in the dark about what’s really happening in your facility. Here are a few ways you can ensure your internal audit empowers you rather than slows you down:

  • Schedule the internal audit ahead and make it immovable
  • Plan out your scope, objectives and process to establish momentum and direction
  • Dedicate your full attention to running the audit and managing relevant staff
  • Report your findings in detail and discuss with necessary employees
  • Schedule and verify corrective actions

A well-performed internal audit is a powerful way to regroup, refresh goals and stay on track.

Train All Employees for Go-Time

Do you know which employees an auditor is allowed to interview? Any of them. No person is disqualified from interviews, which means every employee needs to be well trained on food safety procedures. While most facilities only train employees until they know the basics of food safety for their department, going above and beyond here can have some major gains.

Consider the perspective of the auditor. When they are asking your employees questions, they’re not just trying to complete a basic inspection. They want to see signs that you haven’t done the bare minimum, but that your employees are immersed in a food safety culture, that they have been receiving training long-term, and that food safety is a fundamental value of your company.

When auditors get the sense that your employees are up-to-speed, things tend to go a little smoother, stress levels lower, and the auditor becomes less suspicious.

Give Food Safety Coordinators the Appropriate Authority (and Budget)

One issue that many facilities run into is an unempowered food safety coordinator. When that person discovers ways to improve or correct operations or employees that are not following protocol, he or she is often unable to take the appropriate action.

Hazards aren’t the only things that need corrective actions from time to time. Sometimes employees need to face consequences for compromising the production area with food or for haphazardly completing safety-related tasks. Other times, employees don’t have the necessary software or equipment to perform their job well and even though their managers may be aware, they don’t allocate the appropriate budget to improve the situation. In order for any company to thrive, standards must be enforced by relevant leaders; and there’s no one better to call the shots on food safety than the designated coordinator.

Establish a Company-Wide Food Safety Culture

When it comes down to it, companies that value food safety thrive. Companies that consider food safety an annoying task to check off the list—they’re the ones that run into extra trouble.

Building food safety into your company’s system of values starts at the very beginning with how you train your new hires. It continues on into how you provide ongoing training even to experienced employees. It’s not an item on the list of meeting topics; it’s a value that underscores the entire agenda.

In order for this approach to be successful, it has to start at the top. Facility owners and managers that value food safety will organically pass that on to the people below them. But when the upper levels can’t be bothered with food safety, the entire organization struggles to hold onto it as a value.

Some of these best practices you can start working on tomorrow; others will take time to implement. Embedding these into your company can be a long road, so keep your eye on the prize: A safe, efficient food safety program that impresses auditors and keeps things running smoothly.

Manik Suri, CEO and co-founder, CoInspect
Retail Food Safety Forum

Rodent Poop, the Olympics and Food Safety Inspections that Work

By Manik Suri
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Manik Suri, CEO and co-founder, CoInspect

Another day, another potentially brand damaging story—just ask Little Caesars. On February 7, the health department closed down an Indianapolis-based location because customers found some rodent feces on their pizza—it was clearly a food safety violation, and pretty disgusting. Meanwhile on the other side of the planet, athletes prepared their entire lives to compete in the Olympics. More than 100 people contracted Norovirus around the Olympic sites in Pyeongchang, where the athletes were in danger of getting a violent, contagious stomach illness that would derail their dreams and prohibit them from competing.

We live in a world that eats out, and if we don’t develop new techniques to protect customers in restaurants and food service settings, more people are going to get sick (or worse) from foodborne illnesses. The current food safety process is broken, and needs to be fixed in restaurants nationwide and globally.

At Google, Larry Page has spent two decades managing the speed of a search result for the company’s core service. From 1997 forward, Page has obsessed about the right results as fast as possible. When has Google ever been slow? People use the search engine daily because it always works.

For restaurants to grow and thrive, they need habit formation from fickle consumers. Habits are formed when restaurants deliver on their value proposition slice after slice, burger after burger, and salad after salad. So what is your organization doing to make sure that every meal is extraordinary— not only delicious, but also safe? What are you doing to prevent Norovirus and other foodborne illnesses?

Well, you’re probably not studying the data to create better processes. A 2017 survey of the top 500 restaurant chains found that 85% use paper logs or spreadsheets as their core technology for safety, quality and standards management. Paper logs, line check clipboards or homemade Excel sheets on a laptop are inefficient and ineffective systems to manage something as critical as food safety.

Many restaurants have upgraded their mobile ordering software and relaunched their menus on LED screens, but still make employees use clipboards to conduct food safety line checks and QA audits. This devalues the importance of their food safety operating protocols. Restaurant teams are comprised mostly of millennials and Generation Z— the mobile generations. They expect to be trained, do work and solve problems with their phones. But when their employers train with paper manuals and complete work with paper forms, it’s a huge disconnect for them.

Moreover, how did people at Little Caesars HQ in Detroit have insight into that recent incident in their Indianapolis store? What operating data do they have to examine? What line checks happened in store on the day in question? When was their last third-party food safety audit? What corrective actions were taken? That information would be hard for them to know, if, like the vast majority of restaurant chains, they were not collecting and analyzing data with modern tools.

Upgrading your operating technology so that your people have digital tools is not expensive. Software is much more affordable today because of the software-as-a-service revolution and the extraordinary computing power and proliferation of mobile devices. An emerging ecosystem of safety and software companies is ready to take your facilities into the 21st century. But the C-Suite has to decide it wants to empower its employees to do their best work and commit to having real-time data that is actionable and accurate.

Having mobile ordering software and LED screens for menus is helpful and valuable. But food safety is the most important component of every restaurant (and other food service companies). It is imperative that the food service industry embraces digital solutions to elevate their food safety standards. Without proper food safety standards, any organization could face a crisis like Little Caesars and the Olympics recently experienced. All it takes is one tainted meal to harm your guests—and your brand.

Mahni Ghorashi, Clear Labs
In the Food Lab

The Food Safety Testing Lab as Profit Center

By Mahni Ghorashi
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Mahni Ghorashi, Clear Labs

It’s not that the industry has been more reluctant than others to embrace change; rather, the forces that will drive the food’s big data revolution have but recently come to bear.

Regulation is now playing a role. FSMA mandates that the industry embrace proactive food safety measures. That means higher testing volumes. Higher testing volumes means more data.

At the same time, new technologies like next-generation sequencing (NGS) are beginning to find wide-scale adoption in food-safety testing. And NGS technologies generate a lot of data—so much so that the food safety lab will soon emerge as the epicenter of the food industry’s big data revolution. As a result, the microbiology lab, a cost center, will soon emerge as one the industry’s most surprising profit centers.

A Familiar Trend

This shift may be unprecedented in food, but plenty of other industries touched by a technological transformation have undergone a similar change, flipping the switch from overhead to revenue generation.

Take the IT department, for instance. The debate about IT departments being a cost or profit center has been ongoing for many years. If data centers had simply kept doing what they have done in the past—data processing, enterprise resource planning, desktop applications, help desk—maintaining an IT department would have remained a cost center.

But things look quite different today. Companies in today’s fast-changing business environment depend on their IT departments to generate value. Now and for the foreseeable future, the IT department is on the hook to provide companies with a strategic advantage and to create new revenue opportunities.

Netflix, for example, recently estimated the value of their recommenders and personalization engines at $1 billion per year by quadrupling their effective catalog and dramatically increasing customer engagement and reducing churn.

Another great example are the call centers of customer support departments. For most of their history, call centers generated incredibly small margins or were outright cost centers.

Now, call centers armed with AI and chatbots are a source of valuable customer insights and are a treasure trove of many brands’ most valuable data. This data can be used to fuel upsells, inform future product development, enhance brand loyalty, and increase market share.

Take Amtrak as a prime example. When the commuter railway implemented natural language chatbots on their booking site, they generated 30% more revenue per booking, saved $1 million in customer service email costs, and experienced an 8X return on investment.

These types of returns are not out of reach for the food industry.

The Food Data Revolution Starts in the Lab

The microbiology lab will be the gravitational center of big data in the food industry. Millions of food samples flow in and out of these labs every hour and more and more samples are being tested each year. In 2016 the global food microbiology market totaled 1.14 billion tests—up 15% from 2013.1

I’d argue that the food-testing lab is the biggest data generator in the entire supply chain. These labs are not only collecting molecular data about raw and processed foods but also important inventory management information like lot numbers, brand names and supplier information, to name a few.

As technologies like NGS come online, the data these labs collect will increase exponentially.
NGS platforms have dramatically reduced turnaround times and achieve higher levels of accuracy and specificity than other sequencing platforms. Unlike most PCR and ELISA-based testing techniques, which can only generate binary answers, NGS platforms generate millions of data points with each run. Two hundred or more samples can be processed simultaneously at up to 25 million reads per sample.
With a single test, labs are able to gather information about a sample’s authenticity (is the food what the label says it is?); provenance (is the food from where it is supposed to be from?); adulterants (are there ingredients that aren’t supposed to be there?); and pathogen risk.

The food industry is well aware that food safety testing programs are already a worthwhile investment. Given the enormous human and financial costs of food recalls, a robust food-safety testing system is the best insurance policy any food brand can buy.

The brands that understand how to leverage the data that microbiology labs produce in ever larger quantities will be in a position to transform the cost of this insurance policy into new revenue streams.

Digitizing the Food Supply Chain

It’s clear that the food lab will generate massive amounts of data in the future, and it’s easy to see that this data will have value, but how, exactly, can food brands turn their data into revenue streams?

The real magic starts to happen when we can combine and correlate the trillions of data points we’re gathering from new forms of testing like NGS, with data already being collected, whether for inventory management, supply chain management, storage and environmental conditions, downstream sales data, or other forms of testing for additives and contaminant like pH, antibiotics, heavy metals and color additives.

When a food brand has all of this data at their fingertips, they can start to feed the data through an artificial intelligence platform that can find patterns and trends in the data. The possibilities are endless, but some insights you could imagine are:

  • When I procure raw ingredient A from supplier B and distributors X, Y, and Z, I consistently record higher-than-average rates of contamination.
  • Over the course of a fiscal year Supplier A’s product, while a higher cost per pound, actually increases my margin because, on average, it confers a greater nutritional value than the supplier B’s product.
  • A rare pathogen strain is emerging from suppliers who used the same manufacturing plant in Arizona.

Based on this information about suppliers, food brands can optimize their supplier relationships, decrease the risk associated with new suppliers, and prevent potential outbreaks from rare or emerging pathogen threats.

But clearly the real promise for revenue generation is in leveraging food data to inform R&D, and creating a tighter food safety testing and product development feedback loop.

The opportunity to develop new products based on insights generated in the microbiology lab are profound. This is where the upside lives.

For instance, brands could correlate shelf life with a particular ingredient or additive to find new ways of storing food longer. We can leverage data collected across a product line or multiple product lines to create new ingredient profiles that find substitutes for or eliminate unhealthy additives like corn syrup.

One of the areas I’m most excited about is personalized nutrition. With microbiome data collected during routine testing, we could develop probiotics and prebiotics that promote healthy gut flora, and eventually are even tailored to the unique genetic profile of individual shoppers. The holistic wellness crowd has always claimed that food is medicine; with predictive bioinformatic models and precise microbiome profiles, we can back up that claim scientifically for the first time.

Insights at Scale

Right now, much of the insight to be gained from unused food safety testing data requires the expertise of highly specialized bioinformaticians. We haven’t yet standardized bioinformatic algorithms and pipelines—that work is foundational to building the food genomics platforms of the future.

In the near future these food genomics platforms will leverage artificial intelligence and machine learning to automate bioinformatic workflows, dramatically increasing our ability to analyze enormous bodies of data and identify macro-level trends. Imagine the insights we could gain when we combine trillions of genomic data points from each phase in the food safety testing process—from routine pathogen testing to environmental monitoring to strain typing.

We’re not there yet, but the technology is not far off. And while the path to adoption will surely have its fair share of twists and turns, it’s clear that the business functions of food safety testing labs and R&D departments will grow to be more closely integrated than ever before.

In this respect the success of any food safety program will depend—as it always has—not just on the technology deployed in labs, but on how food brands operate. In the food industry, where low margins are the norm, brands have long depended on efficiently managed operations and superb leadership to remain competitive. I’m confident that given the quality and depth of its human resources, the food industry will be prove more successful than most in harnessing the power of big data in ways that truly benefit consumers.

The big data revolution in food will begin in the microbiology lab, but it will have its most profound impact at the kitchen table.

References

  1. Ferguson, B. (February/March 2017). “A Look at the Microbiology Testing Market.” Food Safety Magazine. Retrieved from https://www.foodsafetymagazine.com/magazine-archive1/februarymarch-2017/a-look-at-the-microbiology-testing-market/.
USDA Logo

USDA PDP Report: Farmers Doing a Good Job Complying with Regulations

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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USDA Logo

Fruit and vegetable farmers are doing an “impressive” job of complying with the laws and regulations related to pesticide use in production, according to the USDA’s annual Pesticide Data Program (PDP) report. Based on data from 2016, the report found that more than 99% of samples had pesticide residues that were “well below” the EPA’s established tolerances, and more than 23% had no detectable residues. Less than half-a-percent of samples (0.46%) had residues that exceeded the EPA established tolerance.

To compile the PDP report, surveys were conducted in 2016 on several foods, including eggs, milk, and fresh and processed fruit and vegetables. The report contains data from more than 10,000 samples collected throughout the United States.

A release from the Alliance for Food and Farming states that the U.S. food supply is one of the safest in the world, yet: “Activists groups often manipulate the findings from the USDA PDP report taking the very positive results and somehow turning them into something negative. This tactic has been used routinely for 20-plus years to create a so-called ‘dirty dozen’ list, which has been repeatedly discredited by scientists.”

Dana Johnson Downing, TraceGains
FST Soapbox

Six Signs Your Quality Department Is Still in the Dark Ages

By Dana Johnson Downing
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Dana Johnson Downing, TraceGains

Increasingly, we turn to technology to simplify tasks in our personal and business lives. Platforms like Facebook and Twitter allow us to connect, shop, advertise and publish with just a few clicks. LinkedIn is where people turn to prospect for new business, publish articles, discuss issues within industry groups, and look for a job. Need a ride? Apps like Uber and Lyft can usually get you where you’re going cheaper and more easily than a taxi. Devices like Google Home and Amazon Echo can listen to your voice commands to play music, manage your shopping list, adjust your lights, or tell a joke. And experiments are underway for driverless cars, which could make us the last car-owning generation.

Food safety documentation

With technology automating and solving so many tasks, how is it possible that food production is still dependent on paper-driven and manual processes?

The current way of doing things in the food and beverage industry is outdated, labor intensive, and—most importantly—error-prone. Under FSMA, companies need to be able to justify their decisions and processes, and of course, document them. It’s not only critical for brand protection—it’s a regulatory requirement. Ignorance is not bliss. Now, senior management is obligated to demonstrate their commitment to food safety and they risk criminal prosecution if their operations don’t measure up. There’s too much at risk to keep doing things the same old way. The following are some signs that your quality department is still in the Dark Ages.

1. You’re using clipboards.

In defense of clipboards, they were a wonderful invention. They are quite well suited for gathering signatures on petitions to save the whales or signing up for a PTA bake sale. But if you’re still using clipboards to log temperatures or document sanitation procedures, then your food safety records are not as current and organized as they could be. Inputting data later is not an effective use of time. Processes like these not only take away from the core competencies of your quality team, but they also make staff spend more time analyzing everything manually, which could lead to costly mistakes or inaccuracies. Tablets and PCs have replaced paper-based logs and other quality recordkeeping. Why make your staff do a task twice? By digitizing these records, you can ensure that your records are up-to-date in real time and reduce the likelihood of errors made during transcription. Trust me, your staff will thank you for rescuing them from extra data entry. Plus, the modern workforce expects digital solutions.

Filing cabinet, food safety documentation
Still using a filing cabinet to store documentation? All images courtesy of TraceGains

2. You’re still using a physical filing cabinet to store food safety documentation.

If you’re putting your food safety plan, supplier documents and certificates of authenticity (COAs) in a filing cabinet, you have a transparency problem. Your department isn’t the only one that needs access to those critical documents. And if everyone has their own paper copy, then you are going to have problems with version control. Solve your transparency and version control problems by keeping critical documents in the cloud where the data can be extracted, analyzed and shared internally and externally across your supply chain.

Food safety documentation
Three-ring binders are no longer an appropriate place to store important information.

3. Three-ring binders are for middle school, not food safety.

If your idea of ensuring compliance involves keeping COAs in a three-ring binder, you probably still have a flip phone, too. Seriously, 1980 called and they want their Trapper Keeper back. Whether your documents are in filing cabinets or binders, you still don’t have the transparency you need to efficiently share that information with your peers and other departments. Plus, your audits are sure to drag on longer than necessary if you are doing audits with stacks of three-ring binder instead of using an online platform where you can show the auditor any documentation they need with just a few clicks of a mouse.

4. Your suppliers send critical food safety documents to you via e-mail.

Email is a great way to communicate. It’s just not the best way to gather and manage supplier documents. Admit it; we all get behind on email, and sometimes things slip through the cracks. What happens if an out-of-spec allergen declaration gets buried under the 586 emails you receive each day? I can tell you, it’s certainly not good. The alternative is allowing your suppliers to upload those documents into a platform, so they are immediately available to you and anyone else in the company that you’ve given access to the system. Leveraging a platform, you also have access to a dashboard that can quickly show you which suppliers are in compliance and which ones have issues that need to be addressed. And if you have incoming certificates of authenticity (COAs), you can sit back and rely on software to read those documents for you and spot anything that doesn’t match your specifications or purchase order details. Isn’t it time that you not only collected supplier documents, but really use that data within the documents to better manage your incoming material to ensure food safety and quality?

5. You rely on file sharing to store your food safety and quality documentation.

SharePoint and other file sharing systems may look more modern than the paper alternative, but they weren’t designed specifically for vendor management or supply chain transparency. They can file and retrieve, but it’s not automated document management. Ask yourself how long do you or fellow employees spend searching for requested documents? Perhaps you need certain documentation for your GFSI/FDA audit, but different pieces of information are stored in various locations, either in a shared drive like SharePoint or a custom vendor portal. Every minute counts when it comes to document retrieval. These systems are often a little more than an electronic filing cabinet. They can store the information electronically, but unless it’s gathering, analyzing, validating and sharing that data across all departments, you still don’t have an automated system.

Spreadsheets, food safety documentation
If you’re still using spreadsheets, consider moving data to the cloud.

6. Spreadsheets are the main source of tracking your data.

While quality managers at competing companies are investing in the latest technology, other food companies are still inputting supplier lists and data in spreadsheets. Often, managers are reluctant to move their data to the cloud, opting instead to stick with what they know by using a spreadsheet that lacks a comprehensive system to track supplier performance in real time. This is a major disadvantage when different departments need one source of the truth about supplier performance and trend data about incoming material. Not only are spreadsheets hard to share and keep up-to-date, but the majority of them also contain errors.

  • A report by Ray Panko, a professor of IT management at the University of Hawaii, found that 88% of spreadsheets contained errors.
  • Coopers & Lybrand found that 91% of spreadsheets with 150 rows or more produced results that were off by more than 5%.
  • In a sample of 22 spreadsheets, KPMG found that 91% contained serious errors.

If your executives think automated supplier, compliance and quality systems are a “nice-to-have,” chances are you are still operating in the Dark Ages. This final advice is true no matter what software your business is thinking of implementing. Whatever the aims of the system, you must choose a long-term partner. Make sure your vendor can solve these six problems and meet the needs of your business now and in the future.

Brendan McCahill

Four Ways Technology Can Ease The Burden Of New FSVP Compliance Regulations

By Brendan McCahill
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Brendan McCahill

What if it was possible for importers, or the customs broker that imports food into the U.S. on behalf of shippers, to stop salmonella-tainted food before it arrives in the hands of a consumer? While there are assorted systems in place to prevent contamination, often times, grocery stores and other businesses are unable to track the supply chain of foreign food importers, leaving customers blind to the origin of a product.

Descartes FSVP InfographicThe U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) is working to address this issue with the Foreign Supplier Verification Program (FSVP). The new program makes importers responsible for better tracking hazards, identifying their suppliers and ensuring that their food is compliant with processes that meet the FDA’s standards for preventive controls and safety.

On the surface, this visibility seems like a great benefit to both consumers and businesses. But what will it mean for importers as they try and keep up with reporting requests and new regulations?

To prepare businesses for the continuing list of FSVP regulations that must be implemented by 2019, here are four ways in which technology will ease the burden and make the food industry’s supply chain even stronger.

1. Gain a holistic view of the supply chain

For navigating FSVP specifically, technology provides food importers with an efficient way to identify and better trace a supplier network, as well as and a quick and easy way to locate D&B D-U-N-S® Numbers*. For importer self-filers and customs brokers, similar solutions enable them to streamline techniques to transmit data to U.S. Customs & Border Protection (CBP) in the Automated Commercial Environment (ACE) as their goods move across borders, as well as to store details, such as D&B D-U-N-S Numbers, Harmonized System (HS) codes and more.

Ultimately, food importers and customs brokers that enlist the expertise of one technology provider can better prepare for FSVP compliance. While piecing together a technology solution using multiple logistics technology providers may work in the short term, a forward-looking, compliance-centric approach that aligns with future regulations must be adopted – one that gives a holistic view of the supply chain via one service provider.

2. Identify and better trace the supplier network

Supplier verification is an additional area of FSVP whereby suppliers must undergo periodic review and approval, and must be identified in order to perform an effective supplier hazard analysis and evaluation. Accurately identifying suppliers is a highly complex task due to intricate supply chains, compound food formulations and the number of SKUs in a product line. Plus, a supplier ecosystem evolves over time for many reasons, such as changing cost and consumer demand. Simply put, managing a complex supplier network can be a drain on resources and costly. Luckily, technology can help.

Logistics solutions that feature periodic updates that adapt to changing supply chains can help food importers better target suppliers to ensure regulations are followed. It can also help focus on suppliers with higher shipment volumes to optimize data management and prioritize compliance responsibilities.

In the event a food code is subject to FSVP, customs brokers are required to input the importers’ name, mailing address, email address and D-U-N-S Number. Because the FDA’s consumer protection function is dependent on the entry process, brokers are aware of the added scrutiny shipments subjected to FSVP-related information will be under, especially if any of the above information is noted as Unknown (UKN). Logistics technology can help automate this process and ease custom entries, booking, security filings and more.

3. Streamline techniques to transmit important data

Transmitting data to the CBP as goods move across borders can be challenging in its own right. Basic customs issues include import/entry process, tariff classification, valuation and duty assessment.

Innovative technology solutions can help businesses go beyond the bare minimum to improve the speed and accuracy of submitting entry and Partner Government Agency (PGA) data to CBP. Users can receive and react to responses and customs status messages by exception. Proactive alert functionality can notify users of actionable items including rejections, intensive exams, requests for electronic invoices, Temporary Importation Bonds (TIB) expiration notices and more. On-demand solutions also enable brokers and forwarders the ability to run complex international operations more efficiently.

4. Dedicate D&B D-U-N-S numbers for imported food product

The D&B D-U-N-S Number was selected by the FDA as the recording system to identify importers by a common reference system. The FSVP regulation indicates that a D-U-N-S Number must be provided by an importer for each line entry of food product imported into the U.S.

Today’s complex food industry means importers often work with an extensive ecosystem of subsidiaries, affiliates and Doing Business As (DBA) divisions. To comply with FSVP, technology can help quickly locate the D&B unique identifier for each member of the network, and streamline the complicated process of managing each line entry of food product offered for importation into the U.S.

A tech-driven pathway forward

There is no doubt that the new FSVP regulation is complex. U.S. food importers are now responsible for ensuring compliance in an effort to improve the safety of food entering the U.S. This will require food importers to fully understand the regulation on a practical level and react accordingly, using technology to its fullest.

Leading businesses should consider the FSVP regulation as an opportunity to look forward and prepare. With the right logistics technology and processes in place, organizations can improve their readiness to enable compliance, improve data management and execute a holistic regulatory strategy to meet the new stringent requirements.

* D&B D-U-N-S Numbers are proprietary to D&B, are licensed from D&B and are for internal use only. 
D-U-N-S is a registered trademark of D&B.

FoodLogiQ

FoodLogiQ Launches API Platform to Centralize IoT, Data

FoodLogiQ

FoodLogiQ has announced the launch of its API as a Service offering within the company’s Connect platform. Companies can use the platform to centralize IoT and blockchain data.

“By connecting the data our customers are gathering in FoodLogiQ with other platforms serving the food industry, our customers will achieve supply chain visibility unlike any other in the industry,” said Dean Wiltse, CEO of FoodLogiQ in a press release. “Whether it is a consumer-facing loyalty app, temperature monitoring sensors, inventory management platforms or grocery delivery services, the food industry requires a centralized technology platform to connect these many complex data sources and reduce redundancies through integrations.”

The service offerings include temperature and location monitoring, blockchain, data pools, business intelligence, and food quality and auditing technology. For more information about FoodLogiQ API as a Service, visit the company’s website.

Erin Mann, Food Protection and Defense Institute
FST Soapbox

Targeting Agent Detection with Horizon Scanning of Food System Disruptions

By Erin Mann, MPH
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Erin Mann, Food Protection and Defense Institute

Agent detection to identify contamination of food products is required in food safety and defense programs. Detection typically involves laboratory methods or technologies, such as biosensors, that are used in close physical contact with food products. While the field of food protection has benefited from the development of novel agent detection methods in recent years, the challenge of determining which food products to test remains. The sheer volume of food produced within and traded across U.S. borders makes agent detection a daunting, time-consuming and expensive task. The decision of when to utilize detection methods depends on the risk of a particular product being contaminated. Contamination may be unintentional or intentional, including economically motivated adulteration (EMA).

The risk of contamination fluctuates over time and is a function of several factors. Risk depends on the biochemical makeup of the product, supply chain characteristics such as complexity and transport distance, and a wide range of natural or manmade events that may disrupt supply and potentially incentivize intentional adulteration. This is particularly true in the case of EMA. Events include but are not limited to natural disasters that destroy or reduce the usual supply of an ingredient, political instability that disrupts usual trade patterns, interruptions of routine food safety inspections, and market fluctuations that impact global prices. While data exists to monitor these risk factors of contamination, optimal use of this information by government and private industry is hindered by several challenges. For example, valuable data often exists across multiple data systems with data across systems appearing in inconsistent formats. In addition, the amount of data that must be reviewed to find a signal within the noise is frequently overwhelming.

Erin Mann, Food Protection and Defense Institute
Read our recent Q&A with Erin Mann, “As Food Fraud Grows, More Comprehensive Tools Emerge”

To address finding signals within vast quantities of data sources and systems, the Food Protection and Defense Institute (FPDI) developed technology to curate and help make sense of this data. With support from both the FDA and the Department of Homeland Security, FPDI developed FIDES or Focused Integration of Data for Early Signals to perform “horizon scanning” of food system disruptions in support of food protection efforts, including agent detection. FIDES was designed to help users forecast, monitor and identify food system risk factors and adverse food events. The FIDES web application fuses multiple streams of data from disparate sources and displays information in the form of an online dashboard where users browse, search and layer both dynamic and reference data sets related to food system disruption events. Examples of data currently included in FIDES are import refusals, global disasters, animal health alerts, food defense incidents, historical food safety incidents, import data, price alerts and reference data on food production worldwide.

Events in recent years illustrate the value of gathering intelligence and utilizing data related to food system risks to inform decisions regarding product targeting. Tsunamis, crop failures and disease outbreaks in humans and animals around the globe have threatened supply of products such as shrimp, spices, cocoa and eggs. When supply is disrupted, companies are often forced to quickly identify new and sometimes previously unvetted suppliers, including spot market purchasing. Likewise, supply disruptions often lead to price increases. As prices increase in the absence of adequate supply, concerns about EMA also increase. In both of these instances, the risk of product contamination—both unintentional and intentional—may rise and an increase in product screening or a change in agent detection methods may be appropriate.

For example, the 2014–2016 Ebola outbreak had a significant impact on West Africa, the primary production region for the world’s cocoa supply. Disruptions from the outbreak, including border closures and other trade interference, led to uncertainty about supply availability and prices. This raised concern for EMA, particularly given that many cocoa products are sold as powders, butters and liquors— forms that are more vulnerable to EMA than raw ingredients. As a test case, FPDI reviewed FIDES data streams during the peak of the outbreak. Real-time data on the outbreak was layered with data on global cocoa production and import patterns. Import refusal data from multiple global systems was assessed to identify any concerning patterns. Historical food defense and food safety incidents were also reviewed to determine which cocoa products had been previously contaminated. A similar approach could be used by the food and agriculture sector to guide decisions about targeted inspections—which product(s) and region(s) to monitor, which method(s) to use and which contaminant(s) to test. FIDES could support targeted screening and enhanced awareness of product risk profile that would allow the food industry to assure continued supply of authentic and quality products.