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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.
Bob Burrows, Chainvu
FST Soapbox

Five Steps To Overcome the Catch-22 Dilemma Of Blockchain Adoption In Your Food Supply Chain

By Bob Burrows
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Bob Burrows, Chainvu

Have you ever heard the saying, “It takes a village to raise a child”? This saying can easily be adapted to blockchain in the food supply chain, only it would say, “It takes a village to do blockchain successfully.”

Blockchain, by definition, requires the collaboration and consensus of all of its participants. If you look at a commonly accepted definition, blockchain is a sequence of consensually verified transaction blocks chained together, with each of the supply chain members as an equal owner of the same transaction data.

In the food supply chain context, this means that all supply chain participants—from the farmer/grower to the retail store and, in some scenarios, even the end consumer—have to be part of the blockchain or it will fail.

But therein lies the problem.

The Blockchain Catch-22 Adoption Dilemma

While blockchain has the potential to revolutionize the food industry (e.g., the way we handle food recalls), it puts innovators in today’s complex food supply chains in an awkward Catch-22 dilemma.

Unless you are Walmart or another equally big force in the food industry with the buying power to demand that your suppliers adopt blockchain, you cannot implement blockchain successfully without your entire supply chain joining you. But oftentimes, your partners (and sometimes your management) require the commitment of all others jumping on the blockchain bandwagon.

While this situation could feel intimidating, those obstacles are usually easily overcome with the right arguments presented in a sound business case. I want to share with you five tried-and-true steps to get even the most reluctant technophobic supply chain member excited about blockchain and ready to sign on.

1. Clearly Outline Risks Across the Entire Supply Chain

One of the biggest (and most expensive) mistakes companies make when adopting blockchain is to adopt a new technology purely for the sake of it. Therefore, the starting point for any negotiations should be to outline the real business problems you are trying to solve. Put yourself in the shoes of your partners’ management and explain the problems from their perspective.

But don’t try to boil the ocean—just focus on two or three main issues that could either have disastrous (as in business operation/reputation-destroying) consequences or become extremely costly issues. Additionally, you could include a short list of secondary issues to preempt questions about other concerns.

For example, facing a food safety incident and the associated food recalls could be your primary issues. Secondary issues might be product integrity and spoilage (due to the long transit times and possible temperature fluctuations along the way), compliance with government regulations regarding cost and resources, and the consumers’ demand for transparency and traceability.

2. Calculate the Cost of Doing Nothing

Once you have identified the biggest risks, it’s time to put some numbers on paper.
Let’s stay with the example of food safety and recalls. According to the Grocery Manufacturers Association, the average food recall in the United States costs businesses $30–99 million, which only includes direct costs from retrieval and disposal of recalled items without taking additional expenses for lawsuits, reputational damages and sales losses into account.

What would a recall scenario look like for your company, and what costs would be associated with it? What does your liability management for this scenario look like across the entire supply chain? Walk through the scenario step-by-step and put down realistic numbers. Be sure you can back it up with real data at any point in time.

3. Explain the Proposed Solution (Without Getting Too Technical)

Now that you have outlined the biggest risks and walked them through the numbers, it is time to present your proposed solution. When doing so, keep in mind that most people who are not very familiar with blockchain think immediately of Bitcoin and cryptocurrency—including the hype, unpredictability and hacks.

Rather than leading with technical explanations, try to first explain your solution from a business perspective without using the word “blockchain.” Frank Yiannas, the former Walmart vice president of food safety and now deputy commissioner, food policy and response for the FDA, once described blockchain as “the equivalent of FedEx tracking for food.” This is the level of technicality you want to hit.

Once you have buy-in for the overall approach, you can lay out the technical details including how blockchain, IoT-enabled sensors and smart contracts fit into this picture.

4. Showcase Lowest Hanging Fruit First, Then Define Long-Term Benefits & Soft Savings

Pat yourself on the back—you have just overcome the biggest hurdle in the process. Now it is time to bring the deal home by laying out the quick wins (low-hanging fruit) and the long-term benefits.

If you implement a blockchain solution paired with smart sensors to constantly monitor your product’s temperature, shock impact, moisture and location, a huge quick win could be the ability to immediately identify any potentially spoiled or compromised items. All members of the supply chain could get an instant notification if an exception occurs.

While listing the immediate benefits and calculating potential savings is crucial for getting buy-in, the long-term benefits are also important. For example, you could point out that consumers (especially millennials) are willing to spend more money on brands that offer more transparency, brands they can trust (e.g., authenticity of extra virgin olive oil), and brands they can trace back to their origins (provenance).

In addition, there are also efficiency gains through blockchain. When speaking to your own management, point out the ability to improve your own operations due to the increased level of automation, as well as the opportunity for improving the overall supply chain efficiencies by collecting data across the supply chain.

Just be sure that your benefits correlate with the problems you had outlined initially.

5. Have a Detailed Adoption Roadmap

Last but not least, be prepared to have a detailed adoption road map. This is crucial, as it allows you to take their enthusiasm to the next level. All the other steps are for nought if this isn’t put into action. Go the extra mile to set your project up for success and map out the key details, including:

  • Proposed project timelines (e.g., onboarding phase, trial start and end dates, decision deadlines),
  • Must-meet milestones and key performance indicators
  • Expected road blocks and how you will address them

While this puts extra responsibility on your team, it allows you to keep driving the project forward and at least bring it to a trial or pilot stage that will give you more tangible benefits.

Conclusion

Whether you follow these tips step-by-step or you pick and choose, I would like you to take one thing away from reading this: While there is tremendous potential in blockchain, don’t implement it purely for the sake of catchy headlines or bragging rights! To get your supply chain partners and executive management on board, you must tie the implementation to relevant business use cases to achieve tangible results.

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.

Frank Yiannas, FDA, Food Safety Summit, Food Safety Tech

Can We Make Progress Before the Next Food Safety Crisis?

By Maria Fontanazza
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Frank Yiannas, FDA, Food Safety Summit, Food Safety Tech

A recall or outbreak occurs. Consumers stop buying the food. Industry responds with product innovation. Government enters the picture by establishing standards, initiatives, etc. “That’s my thesis about how changes happen,” said Michael Taylor, board co-chair of Stop Foodborne Illness during a keynote presentation at last week’s Food Safety Summit. Industry has seen a positive evolution over the past 25-plus years, but in order to continue to move forward in a productive direction of prevention, progress must be made without waiting for the next crisis, urged the former FDA commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine.

The strong foundation is there, Taylor added, but challenges persist, including:

  • FSMA. There’s still much work to be done in establishing accountability across the board, including throughout supplier networks.
  • Lack of technology adoption. The failure to use already available tools that can help achieve real-time traceability.
  • Geographic hazards. This is a reference to the contamination that occurred in the cattle feedlot associated with the romaine lettuce outbreak in Yuma, Arizona. “We’re dealing with a massive hazard…and trying to manage the scientific ignorance about the risk that exists,” said Taylor. In addition, in February FDA released its report on the November 2018 E.coli O157:H7 outbreak originating from the Central Coast growing region in California, also implicating contaminated water as a potential source. “There are still unresolved issues around leafy greens,” Taylor said. “What are we going to learn from this outbreak?”

Taylor went on to emphasize the main drivers of industry progress: Consumers and the government. Consumer expectations for transparency is rising, as is the level of awareness related to supply chain issues. Social media also plays a large role in bringing consumers closer to the food supply. And the government is finding more outbreaks then ever, thanks to tools such as whole genome sequencing. So how can food companies and their suppliers keep up with the pace? A focus on building a strong food safety culture remains a core foundation, as does technological innovation—especially in the area of software. Taylor believes one of the keys to staying ahead of the curve is aggregating analytics and successfully turning them into actionable insights.

Frank Yiannas, FDA, Food Safety Summit, Food Safety Tech
Frank Yiannas is the keynote speaker at the 2019 Food Safety Consortium | October 1, 2019 | Schaumburg, IL | He is pictured here during at town hall with Steven Mandernach (AFDO), Robert Tauxe (CDC), and Paul Kiecker (USDA)

FDA recently announced its intent to put technology innovation front and center as a priority with its New Era of Food Safety initiative. “This isn’t a tagline. It’s a pause and the need for us to once again to look to the future,” said Frank Yiannas, FDA’s deputy commissioner for food and policy response during an town hall at the Food Safety Summit. “The food system is changing around us dramatically. Everything is happening at an accelerated pace. The changes that are happening in the next 10 years will be so much more than [what happened] in the past 20 or 30 years…We have to try to keep up with the changes.” As part of this “new era”, the agency will focus on working with industry in the areas of digital technology in food traceability (“A lack of traceability is the Achilles heel of food,” said Yiannas), emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence and machine learning, and e-commerce. Yiannas said that FDA will be publishing a blueprint very soon to provide an idea of what areas will be the main focus of this initiative.

Todd Fabec, Rfxcel
FST Soapbox

Why the Modern Food Supply Chain Needs Real-Time Environmental Monitoring

By Todd Fabec
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Todd Fabec, Rfxcel

Food supply chains are becoming more complex, as food companies are increasingly faced with blind spots such as deviations from required environmental conditions, theft, fraud and poor handling. Supply chains are global; transit routes that involve road, rail, sea and air create many potential points of failure in food safety or product integrity protocol that, until recently, were largely outside a company’s control.

Learn more about how to address risks in your supply chain at the Food Safety Supply Chain Conference | May 29–30, 2019 | Rockville, MD (or attend virtually)To maintain product quality and safety, companies should implement an environmental monitoring (EM) solution that paints a complete picture of their food products as they move through the supply chain. EM solutions that utilize devices powered by the Internet of Things (IoT) allow real-time tracking of cargo and provide actionable data that can mitigate common problems, change outcomes, and protect brands and consumer health.

Let’s take a deeper look into the problems that food manufacturers and distributors are facing how EM solutions can minimize or eliminate them altogether.

Current Hurdles for Food Supply Chains

As the global network of food trade expands, the diverse challenges facing suppliers, manufacturers, distributors and logistics companies present even more of a threat to supply chains and revenue.

According to PwC agribusiness advisory partner, Greg Quinn, worldwide food fraud results in losses of at least $65 billion a year. Luxury products such as Japanese Wagyu beef and Italian olive oil are regularly counterfeited and incorrectly labeled, and buyers often have no way to trace the origins of what they are purchasing.

Companies in the food and beverage industry also face diversion and theft, which can happen at any of the many blind spots along the supply chain. In fact, food and beverages were among the top commodities targeted by thieves in North America last year, accounting for 34% of all cargo theft, according to a report by BSI Supply Chain Services and Solutions.

Food product quality and safety are also seriously compromised when cargo is poorly handled while in transit, with hazards such as exposure to water, heat and cold, or substance contamination. These types of damages can be particularly acute in the cold chain, where perishable products must be moved quickly under specific environmental conditions, including temperature, humidity and light.

Furthermore, inefficiencies in routing—from not adhering to transport regulations to more basic oversights such as not monitoring traffic or not utilizing GPS location tracking—delay shipments, can result in product spoilage and/or shortened shelf life, and cost companies money. Routing and EM have become more important in light of FSMA, which FDA designed to better protect consumers by strengthening food safety systems for foodborne illnesses.

In short, businesses that manage food supply chains need to be on top of their game to guarantee product quality and safety and care for their brand.

How Does Product Tracking Technology Work?

Real-time EM solutions are proving to be an invaluable asset for companies seeking to combat supply chain challenges. Such product tracking capabilities give companies a vibrant and detailed picture of where their products are and what is happening to them. With EM in the supply chain, IoT technology is the crucial link to continuity, visibility and productivity.

So, how does integrated EM work? Sensors on pallets, cases or containers send data over communication networks at regular intervals. The data is made available via a software platform, where users can set parameters (e.g., minimum and maximum temperature) to alert the system of irregularities or generate reports for analysis. This data is associated with the traceability data and becomes part of a product’s pedigree, making it a powerful tool for supply chain visibility.

EM Combats Supply Chain Stumbling Blocks

EM allows companies to monitor their supply chain, protect consumers and realize considerable return on investment. The technology can show companies how to maximize route efficiencies, change shippers, or detect theft or diversion in real time. Tracking solutions transmit alerts, empowering manufacturers and suppliers to use data to halt shipments that may have been adulterated, redirect shipments to extend shelf life, and manage food recalls—or avoid them altogether. Recalls are a particularly important consideration: One 2012 study concluded that the average direct cost of a recall in the United States was $10 million.

The IoT-enabled technology provides real-time information about how long an item has been in transit, if the vehicle transporting it adhered to the approved route, and, if the shipment stopped, where and for how long. This is crucial information, especially for highly perishable goods. For example, leafy greens can be ruined if a truck’s engine and cooling system are turned off for hours at a border crossing. With EM and tracking, businesses are able to understand and act upon specific risks using detailed, unit-level data.

For example, a company can find out if pallets have dislodged, fallen, or have been compromised in other ways while in transit. They can receive alerts if the doors of a truck are opened at an unscheduled time or location, which could indicate theft. Thieves target food cargo more often than other products because it’s valuable, easy to sell and perishable, and evidence of the theft does not last very long. In fact, the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation estimates that cargo theft costs U.S. businesses $30 billion each year, with food and beverage being one of the primary targets. Businesses need to get smart about preventative actions.

All of this actionable data is available in real time, allowing businesses to make decisions immediately, not after the fact when it’s too late. When necessary, they can divert or reroute shipments or take actions to remedy temperature excursions and other environmental concerns. This saves money and protects their reputation. Furthermore, third-party logistics firms and contracted delivery companies can be held accountable for incidents and inefficiencies.

Conclusion

As the benefits of global supply chains have grown, so have the risks. With the FSMA shifting responsibility for safety to food companies, real-time EM is a vital step to ensure cargo is maintained in the correct conditions, remains on track to its destination, and is safeguarded from theft and fraud. With the advent of IoT-enabled tracking and EM technologies, supply chain operations can be streamlined and companies can prevent waste and financial losses, protect their investments and brand identity, and gain an advantage in the marketplace.

Blockchain

Promise of Blockchain Could Help Seafood Traceability, Unique Challenges Remain

By Maria Fontanazza
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Blockchain

As our conversation about the potential of blockchain continues at Food Safety Tech, we sat down with Thomas Burke, food traceability and safety scientist, Global Food Traceability Center (GFTC) at the Institute of Food Technologists, to discuss how ready the seafood industry is in the adoption of blockchain, more specifically as it relates to traceability.

Food Safety Tech: What are the current major issues in seafood traceability?
Thomas Burke: Some of the challenges are diversity in product, diversity in regulatory compliance, a hyper-globalized supply chain and variable technology adoption.

I always like to distinguish seafood traceability from other major food commodities for several different reasons. When thinking about traceability and devising traceability systems, you want to think about use cases. For most food commodities, food safety is usually top of mind; there’s also a regulatory compliance component. Seafood still has food safety as a high priority, but there are also issues with illegal and unreported fishing and fraudulent issues in the supply chain. When you’re thinking about devising a traceability system, you also have to consider different key data elements. For instance, in food safety, while location is important, the location is only really important for tracing back in the event of recalling product. In seafood traceability you’re looking at racing back to ascertain if it was caught in the right place with the right method at the right time. With this as context, you also want to think about the technological challenges and food operations wise such as the diversity of commodities in seafood—there’s diversity in species way more so than in poultry or produce. You also have very different geographic locations, different harvest methods (i.e., farmed, wild); because of the diversity of harvesting practices, there are other considerations to think about. There are some traceability service providers that rely on a constant internet connection, and that’s obviously not possible if you’re fishing on the high seas. You might have equipment for data collections that works really well in the field or in the food manufacturing environment, but it may not work under the harsh conditions of a boat or in aquaculture. So we end up seeing a great diversity of technological adoption. Especially further upstream when thinking about other small-scale fishers and smaller processors—they generally only do traceability for regulatory compliance, because they just don’t have the capital to invest in technologically sophisticated data collection management. And sometimes it’s not necessary for what they’re trying to achieve. So, we still see a lot of paper records, basic spreadsheet data management, and then it gets more complicated as you go down the supply chain. Larger processors and retailers will have more dedicated traceability systems.

FST: Where do you see blockchain entering the traceability process and what other technologies should be used in conjunction with blockchain?

Thomas Burke will present, “Blockchain won’t solve the food traceability challenge… but Interoperability and Data Standards will” at the 2019 Food Safety Supply Chain Conference | May 29 –30  Burke: One of the things that we’ve found in our work at the Global Food Traceability Center and with the global dialogue on seafood traceability [regarding] blockchain is that there’s a lot of interest and hype around the application itself, which helps draw in solution providers and developers that are interested in applying a new technology to a new use case.

Blockchain is a data sharing platform. So the technologies that it’s comparing itself to are FTP (file transfer protocol) and transferring data through an EDI (electronic data interchange). This is a new way of sharing data between supply chain partners that has some unique capabilities, some of which are very advantageous for seafood.

When I was talking earlier about how there is variable adoption of technologies (i.e., small harvesters or producers that use paper records or use minimal digital records), blockchain has the advantage that data hosting is shared and decentralized across the notes of the network. What that means is that a small producer doesn’t have to set up a dedicated server infrastructure in order to communicate with their supply chain partners, whereas that’s more of the case with EDI; even with FTP you’ll still have to set up some kind of formal relationship with your servers. What’s nice about blockchain is that in order to host information on that network, you just pay a small amount of the currency that the blockchain runs on. It’s a little bit different if you have a private or consortium blockchain, but the idea is with the open blockchain applications is that you only pay on a per transaction basis (data upload basis). The larger the network is, the cheaper that is to do. So over the month, it’s a lower cost for participants for hosting the shared ledger of updates.

There are also some other advantages: It’s immutable; once it’s on the blockchain it’s very difficult to corrupt that data. There are other components to the problem of data collection and the transportation of data, along with the product along the supply chain. You still need certain legs of that stool such as a global identifier that identifies the product as it goes through the supply chain and gets incorporated into other products; you also need to collect the related data that’s necessary to make your use case. There’s a balance between the data collection and the identification [i.e., fishermen might not want to reveal their best location]. Those all need to be part of the picture, in addition to novel data-sharing platforms such as blockchain. A big part of what GFTC is trying to do in the seafood space is gather industry and work with them to develop standards and best practices to ensure the same data is being collected at each point and that data is able to be transported with the product in an interoperable way that takes into account the diversity of technological adoption along the supply chain.

FST: What level of blockchain adoption do you see in the seafood industry? How prepared is the industry, including retailers?

Burke: As far as adoption: It depends. There are a few different aspects that depend on whether companies will invest in a blockchain solution or not. It depends on what their current adoption is and their market. Where we’re seeing a lot of interest in blockchain being used as a component of data sharing for traceability is in more niche products that have more straightforward supply chains, and they’re using traceability as a market differentiator for their product. Right now, in order to invest in blockchain, you need to devote a significant amount of staff time or invest in a service provider to devise the blockchain scheme that you’re going for. There are a lot of unanswered questions about the implementation of blockchain. There are major players using blockchain in other types of food supply chains, but those are generally very vertically integrated companies that have a lot of resources—both IT resources and monetary resources to devote to this early experimental stage. And that’s where I would see it start first. If there’s success in those more limited trials, then maybe larger multinational companies might have interest in using it as a linkage between some of the information systems.

The biggest challenge with large multinational seafood companies is they have a lot of subsidiaries. And when they have subsidiaries, they might use different ERP systems; they’re looking at ways to transport the data into those disparate systems. And with seafood, as with most food commodities, it’s a fairly low margin industry. So most companies are going to be fairly conservative in investing in a new technology until it’s really being seen as a proven and achievably implementable software solution. Larger companies are still seeing more traditional cloud hosting such as EDI as a viable option for data sharing in food traceability. But blockchain is being seen in those niche areas and as the technology becomes more proven, we’ll probably see greater adoption. There’s just still a lot of skepticism in the industry, and that’s with any new technology.

I will say with other technologies in seafood traceability, I am seeing quite a bit of promise in AI [artificial intelligence] data analytics and image processing technologies just because it’s very difficult to identify products, especially early up in the supply chain. Some of these new technologies in data processing are going to help streamline data collection and be able to process it into those key data elements that you’re looking for to achieve those traceability use cases. There’s been so much development of facial recognition technology in humans that similar algorithms could be used in labeling fish. Those are some of the other promising technologies. There are some [uses of] IoT devices and RFID but those still remain to be seen—they have implementation issues, because there are quite a few environmental interferences on water or in humidity-rich environments, especially when you’re thinking about radio frequency resistance/interference.

In seafood right now, most of the blockchain-oriented applications are in line with NGOs that are experimenting with the use of blockchain as a traceability tool—and those tend to be high-end products like tuna or crab using blockchain in limited use cases. It’s still very much in the piloting and early implementation.

FST: What are the top three advantages to using blockchain for seafood traceability?

Burke: 1. Immutability. Once you put transactions onto the blockchain, because of the way the architecture is set up, it’s really difficult to alter that record. Other data sharing platforms don’t have the advantage of a singular record.
2. Decentralization. Everyone has access to the same leger that can be shared in real time across a global supply chain. Most of the other data sharing platforms are emphasized in one-to-one communication, whereas blockchain is many-to-many.
3. Flexibility and interest from the development community. There’s a lot of creativity associated with blockchain applications right now. There are a lot of developers coming up with interesting ideas of how to maximize the architecture to work for food traceability applications. Because it has an economic structure where you are using tokens that are powering the data processing, you can potentially do interesting things with incentivizing inputting data into a traceability system and monetizing it. We’re exploring that in the global dialogue—looking to see how you can tie the value of traceability data upstream, because that will help incentivize the entire ecosystem. There have been limited trials with startups that have been looking at incentivizing data collection through blockchain.

FST: Where do you see blockchain headed in five years?
Burke: I don’t see the actual architectural idea of blockchain idea going away. It’s a fairly brilliant way of ensuring that valuable data isn’t double counted or deleted. It helps reduce some risk.

The next five years will depend on what the end retailers end up adopting. In western markets, more specifically North America, the retailers have a lot of leverage in what standards and best practices are kept and carried through. So it will depend a lot on those large end retailers and how comfortable they are in adopting blockchain, and the decisions that they make behind blockchain providers.

The largest seafood markets are China and Japan, so [adoption] more depends on what those retailers/customer bases are demanding versus what happens in North America just because the demand is so much stronger there. That will also drive the development of blockchain interfaces and will influence the adoption among smaller scale fishers, which is more of the tendency in East Asia. It’s a very open question. I think it will be influenced by decisions that governments make in East Asia regarding blockchain.

I would emphasize that the success of seafood traceability and food traceability in general will be very dependent on standards, and the development of commonly understood and accepted practices, and the way those data standards are collected. So you can have a robust blockchain platform, but if every supply chain partner doesn’t agree to collect the same data and identify it in a similar way that is interoperable, it still won’t work—even if you have the most advanced technology. There’s a human process of agreeing upon the same way that traceability data is gathered. Interoperability and standards are key, in addition to the new technologies.

FoodLogiQ

Markon Selects FoodLogiQ Product for Global Supply Chain Visibility

FoodLogiQ

FoodLogiQ has announced that Markon has selected its FoodLogiQ Connect Manage + Monitor product for global supply chain visibility and streamlined supplier management. “We vetted several systems providers and felt that FoodLogiQ was best positioned to help us manage data and dramatically increase efficiencies. With hundreds of suppliers, and thousands of farms, a robust system is necessary for us to maintain our industry-leading food programs,” said Markon President Tim York in a press release.

According to, managing hundreds of growers and dozens of processing plants is a massive undertaking that requires more than just manual tracking methods like spreadsheets and paper documents. Markon needed a technology solution to provide a global view of their supplier quality management, and they needed greater transparency across the company’s supply chain..

Markon will use the FoodLogiQ Connect’s Manage + Monitor to:

  • Centralize supplier documentation to achieve corporate food safety standards, implement corrective actions, support supplier verification, and manage required recordkeeping
  • Track and report on food safety across their supply chain and address issues with suppliers directly to drive compliance
  • Leverage data-driven reporting to help leadership make informed decisions about supplier performance and expiring documents

Read the full press release about Markon’s adoption of the FoodLogiQ platform.

Julie McGill, FoodLogiQ

Traceability from Within Starts with Assessing Capabilities

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Julie McGill, FoodLogiQ

Consumers and industry alike want more transparency in the supply chain. In a Q&A with Food Safety Tech, Julie McGill, director of implementation and strategic accounts at FoodLogiQ explains how companies can prepare to meet the increased demands and how technology can help.

Food Safety Tech: In light of the recent outbreaks and recalls, there an increased focus on traceability. What should companies do to get ready?

Julie McGill, FoodLogiQ
With the increased focus on traceability, companies should start assessing their internal capabilities, says Julie McGill of FoodLogiQ.

Julie McGill: There is so much that companies can do today to prepare, and they can start by assessing their current capabilities. What problems are you trying to solve? Have you identified all of your products and locations with GS1 identifiers? Are you using GS1 identifiers in your systems?

Do you have a data quality program in place? Are you able to mark all of your cases with a GS1-128 barcodes? Can you scan barcodes at receiving? At delivery? Are you sending EDI messages to your trading partners?

Those with successful programs will tell you this is a marathon, not a sprint. Securing executive support, aligning internal teams and setting expectations with trading partners is key.

Having the ability to act swiftly and with precision and accuracy is a differentiator during a recall. Trading partners who have made the investment are able to understand where these affected items are in their supply chains in seconds. These programs require a solid program, disciplined approach to implementation, and ongoing monitoring and management of the data. Companies that have committed to implementing these standards are gaining a competitive advantage today, as they are ready to meet the mandates and requirements set by their trading partners.

Register to attend the complimentary web seminar, “Supply Chain Traceability: Using Technology to Address Challenges and Compliance” | May 14, 2019 | 1–4 pm ETFST: Is it actually possible to trace products to the source? Can we trace produce back to the field or fish back to the oceans?

McGill: Yes, it is possible to trace products back to the source. Growing consumer demands and regulatory requirements, such as FSMA and SIMP, have led to the need for more detailed information about food and its origins. To achieve this, it’s imperative that companies standardize business practices, product identification and item data to enable interoperability across solutions and systems.

There has been tremendous work done by industry stakeholders to address traceability. They’ve mapped their entire supply chains, identified the key data elements and critical tracking events to be captured to enable full chain traceability. GS1 US hosts initiatives in foodservice and retail grocery, plus there are a number of industry-run initiatives, including the Produce Traceability Initiative (PTI), Supply Chain Optimization (SCO2), and Global Dialogue for Seafood Traceability. Food industry partners agree that full chain traceability will be achieved through education, industry input, and the use of standards.

Track and Trace, traceability, supply chain
The Track + Trace platform allows trading partners to capture and share the movement of products across the supply chain. When there’s the need to run an investigation, data is stitched together to provide visualization so trading partners can effectively and efficiently take action. Screenshot courtesy of FoodLogiQ

FST: When talking about traceability, blockchain is part of many conversations today. How does it differ from existing solutions?

McGill: Blockchain is an emerging technology that offers a way for companies to transact with each other and share information in a secure manner. What makes blockchain unique is that it is a shared, immutable ledger that records all the transactions in chronological order that cannot be altered or deleted. While this approach holds promise on raising transparency in the food industry, there is much yet to be tested and validated on its real-world application within the food chain.

The most common use case for blockchain in the food industry has been traceability. As blockchain technology, solutions and use cases are evolving, industry partners have come together to discuss it’s capabilities and use. We host a Blockchain Consortium, bringing our members together to explore blockchain. Industry groups are coming together as well, such as GS1 US, who is hosting a cross-industry discussion group to help companies better understand the transformative qualities of blockchain, including the use of GS1 Standards.

Blockchain has also made clear the need for companies to automate their record keeping and traceability systems and to eliminate the manual, paper-based processes that often slow down the resolution of a food safety outbreak or issue.

Blockchain is not a “light switch” solution. What’s widely misunderstood is that in order to achieve full chain traceability, all partners across the supply chain will need to implement processes to capture and share this critical tracking event data.

FST: Additional comments are welcome.

McGill: Foodservice companies share common drivers and common goals which improve the reliability of product information, lower costs and reduce risk. There are numerous benefits that can be realized once you have access to accurate and complete traceability data, including:

  • Limiting the scope and costs of recalls
  • Quicker and more accurate product withdrawals
  • Full visibility across the supply chain
  • Speed to market
  • Improved business intelligence
  • Creates operational efficiencies
  • Enhanced inventory management
Maria Fontanazza, Douglas Marshall, Food Safety Consortium, Eurofins

Top Questions Food Companies Should Ask Prospective Suppliers

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Maria Fontanazza, Douglas Marshall, Food Safety Consortium, Eurofins

Building a supply chain verification program can be a complicated task. In the following exclusive video with Doug Marshall, Ph.D., chief scientific officer at Eurofins, we learn the top questions that should be asking their suppliers during the process. Marshall also gives his perspective on the integration of data into the supply chain and how it can mitigate risk, along with where he’s sees the future of food safety testing headed.

Video shot at the 2018 Food Safety Consortium.

Food Safety Vs. Blockchain: Who Wins?

By Maria Fontanazza
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The jury is still out on how (and if) blockchain can contribute to a safer food supply. Whether or not there is a clear understanding of the technology, and its potential and pitfalls, is up for debate as well. “What is blockchain? This is the number one question that people have,” said Darin Detwiler, director, regulatory affairs of food and food industry at Northeastern University, who led a panel of experts as they deliberated over this hot topic during the 2018 Food Safety Consortium.

“Blockchain levels the playing field where we can connect people, resources and organizations in ways we’ve never done before to harness new ways of extracting value,” said Nigel Gopie, global marketing leader, IBM Food Trust at IBM.

What Is Blockchain?

Gopie provided an introductory definition of blockchain: Simply put, it is a series of blocks of information attached together. Each block is a box of information that stores data elements, and this data could be almost anything. Each block has a digital fingerprint associated with it; this fingerprint allows you to know that the block is unique and can attach to other blocks. When new blocks come into the chain, each block has a new fingerprint—one that is unique to that block and of the block before it. This allows the connection to happen, and enables visibility into the origin of each block.

Blockchain enables one book of business and provides three important benefits, said Gopie:

  1. Digital transactions
  2. Distributed ledger with one version of truth throughout the network
  3. Data is immutable
Blockchain, IBM, Food Safety Consortium
IBM’s Nigel Gopie breaks down the basic meaning of blockchain for attendees at the 2018 Food Safety Consortium.

Although blockchain can help to start the process of solving food issues surrounding safety, freshness, reduced waste and sustainability, the technology is only the foundation. A series of other components are important as well, said Gopie, and the following are some insights that the expert panel shared during their discussion.

2018 Food Safety Supply Chain Conference, Blockchain
Is the Food Industry Ready for Blockchain? Check out a dynamic panel about the technology from the 2018 Food Safety Supply Chain Conference.

Can Blockchain Actually Impact Food Safety?

Jorge Hernandez, chief food safety officer at Wholesome International: “To me, it’s a fantastic new technology that would allow the food industry to do a much better job of finding, from seed to fork, all of the processes and things that happen to that product. And in the future, [it] allows us to identify problems first and solve [them]. My problem is it being sold to companies…and not able to deliver on the promise… It bothers me that we are looking at a future that may or may not be there.”

Angela Fernandez, vice president, retail grocery & foodservice at GS1 US: “We’ve been working on traceability and transparency for over a decade—you have to be capturing the data needed, [and] we’re still working on getting it right. We’re just not there yet. I think it’s a great place for us to strive to go towards, but we’re still early in the stages of accepting it as a community.”

David Howard, vice president of corporate strategy at Pavocoin: “Blockchain itself is simply a technology. We’re all here because we’re just trying figure out what application we can use in business. Blockchain is a technology that can help all of you improve operational efficiencies for your bottom line.”

Is Blockchain a Barrier or a Fast Lane to Heightened Liability Concerns?

Shawn Stevens, food industry lawyer and founder of Food Industry Counsel, LLC: “I think the starting point is to ask ourselves what makes food unsafe. It’s a lack of transparency…What blockchain can do is illuminate entire segments of the industry…From a reactive standpoint, blockchain can help us identify a problem [and] solve it. From a preventive standpoint, if I have access to all this information regarding attributes and quality of supplier, I can make better decisions that protect my company.”

“We want to know more and be better informed. Once you know more, you better react and do something. If you’re getting this line of sight and you don’t react to it, that’s what exposes you to liability.”

Darin Detwiler, director, regulatory affairs of food and food industry at Northeastern University: “We need to look at the balance between the reactive use of blockchain and the proactive use.”

2018 Food Safety Consortium on Blockchain. (left to right) David Howard, Pavocoin; Jorge Hernandez, Wholesome International; Nigel Gopie, IBM; Angela Fernandez GS1 US; and Shawn Stevens, Food Industry Counsel, LLC. Not pictured: Darin Detwiler, Northeastern University.

What Barriers Does Industry Need to Anticipate?

Fernandez: “The barrier of the standards and interoperability piece—that’s a big question our community is asking us. Scalability… standards are vital…I think that opens up a different discussion when talking about private versus public blockchain.”

Hernandez: “What is my ROI? The issue I have with blockchain is not only the investment in my organization, but I have to bring my entire supply chain with me if I want to get any benefit. There’s a good value proposition, but it requires you to get everyone on board. When you’re a large organization, it’s probably not that hard to do. But a small organization like mine where my suppliers are an Amish community that sells us cheese, that’s a huge mountain to climb. They don’t have the background [or] the technology, and even if they wanted to do it, it’s a big change for them. You’re asking me to make a change in my relationship with my suppliers.”

“Take a look at it from the business continuity [perspective]. What are the changes you’re going to have to make? And that changes that have to be made by everyone who works with you? We should not stay static. We should continue to look for things. If this is the technology that is going to move us forward, let’s start getting prepared.”