The 2016 Food Safety Consortium was a big success, from the preconference events that included the STOP Foodborne Illness fundraiser honoring heroes in food safety and the education workshops (SQF Information Day and preventive controls courses) to the record-breaking attendance we saw during the main program (with keynotes from FDA Deputy Commissioner for Foods and Veterinary Medicine Stephen Ostroff, M.D., Walmart’s Vice President of Food Safety Frank Yiannas, and FBI’s Special Agent Scott Mahloch).
As the event winded down, the leaders of each session track shared their insights on lessons learned during the Consortium.
Understanding biofilm and how it forms. If you’re seeing peaks and valleys in the positives and negatives in your environmental swabbing program, you may have resident Listeria that has formed a biofilm, which requires a deep clean. Focus on biofilm, not just mitigation of the Listeria bacteria itself. – Gina Kramer, Savour Food Safety International. Read Gina’s column, Food Safety Think Tank, where she talks about the latest technology and innovations.
This is the first conference I’ve been to you where food fraud is being more widely acknowledged as a serious, important concern that is distinctly separate from food safety. One of the more significant takeaways is the number of tools that are now available for people to mitigate their risk to food fraud in the supply chain. – Steve Sklare, USP
A while back food safety was a nice-to-have but not a need-to-have. It’s certainly an absolute need-to-have now. There are three groups of individuals out there: The third that has picked up the baton and is proactive, the other third that are in the middle of it right now, and the other third have their heads in the sand. I come across a sizable portion that is in the bottom third, and it’s slightly scary… It’s the documentation that a lot of companies are having the biggest challenge in dealing with—the death by paper. The resources out there are immense. It’s a necessity to have right now in order to be effective and compliant. – Warren Hojnacki, SGS
FSMA regulations require us to be risk based, scientifically based and systematic in our approach to our concerns and issues. – Barb Hunt, Savour Food Safety International
There’s potential for greater data and actions: i.e., the microbiome study or particulate contamination analysis, PLM, IR spectroscopy, SEM EDS, [and] raman spectroscopy…Lab customers may need to depend more greatly on contract labs as FSMA develops and in return, labs need to work more closely with the customers to get dependable, defensive data results. – Eric Putnam, Wixon, Inc.
We need to do a better job of messaging upstream to our corporate senior officials so we get the money and resources we need—there’s still a gap there. We need to find ways to communicate to them. – Trish Wester, PA Wester Consulting
Using electronic retail scanner data from grocery stores, IBM Research scientists may have found a faster way to narrow down the potential source food contamination during an outbreak. Researchers from the firm conducted a study in which they were able to show that, using just 10 medical exam reports of foodborne illness, it is possible to pinpoint an investigation to 12 food products of interest in a only a few hours. A typically investigation ranges from weeks to months.
“When there’s an outbreak of foodborne illness, the biggest challenge facing public health officials is the speed at which they can identify the contaminated food source and alert the public,” said Kun Hu, public health research scientist, IBM Research – Almaden in a press release. Rsearchers created a system to devise a list that ranked products based on likelihood of contamination, which would allow health officials to test the top 12 suspected foods. “While traditional methods like interviews and surveys are still necessary, analyzing big data from retail grocery scanners can significantly narrow down the list of contaminants in hours for further lab testing. Our study shows that big data and analytics can profoundly reduce investigation time and human error and have a huge impact on public health,” said Hu.
The researchers point of out their method isn’t a substitute for proven outbreak investigation tools but rather serves as a faster way to identify contaminated product(s). According to the study, researchers assert that their methodology could significantly reduce the costs associated with foodborne illness, outbreaks and recalls. Thus far IBM Research’s approach has been applied to a Norweigan E. coli outbreak in which there were 17 confirmed cases of infection. Public health officials used the method to devise a list of 10 potential contaminants from the grocery scanner data of more than 2600 products. From there, lab analysis traced the contamination source to batch and lot numbers of sausage.
The study was published in the Association for Computing Machinery’s Sigspatial Journal.
USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Services (FSIS) has announced a plan to share more information about food safety at domestic slaughter and processing facilities. The Establishment-Specific Data Release Strategic Plan will serve to help consumers make more informed food choices, encourage facilities to improve performance, and provide more insights into the strengths and weaknesses of practices at the facilities.
“FSIS’ food safety inspectors collect vast amounts of data at food producing facilities every day, which we analyze on an ongoing basis to detect emerging public health risks and create better policies to prevent foodborne illness,” said USDA Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety Al Almanza in an agency release. “Consumers want more information about the foods they are purchasing, and sharing these details can give them better insight into food production and inspection, and help them make informed purchasing decisions.”
The datasets will be published quarterly on data.gov, beginning 90 days after they are published in the Federal Register. FSIS will provide information about processes used at each facility, along with facility codes to allow for the combination of future datasets by facility. The agency will also release results for Listeria monocytogenes and Salmonella in ready-to-eat and processed egg products; Shiga Toxin-producing Escherichia coli and Salmonella in raw, non-intact beef products; Salmonella and Campylobacter in young chickens and turkeys, comminuted poultry and chicken parts; testing data of routine chemical residue in meat and poultry; and advanced meat recovery test data.
FDA has standard templates and worksheets, along with an electronic submission form that can be used to pull data related to lab testing. However, within industry not all of these electronic systems speak to each other. During an FDA Town Hall at the Food Labs Conference last week, Palmer Orlandi, Ph.D., acting chief science officer and research director at FDA’s Office of Food and Veterinary Medicine, answers an audience question about the issue and discusses the challenges associated with standardized templates that are used by various federal and state labs and the compatibility issues.
There is no question that we are in the midst of a unique time period in history. Technology is continuing to innovate at an increasingly rapid rate, which has led to drastic changes that affect nearly every corner of day-to-day life. From the way we find information to our food choices, technology is influencing our lives in new ways.
The Rise of the Internet
Mary Meeker, the venture capitalist who was dubbed the “Queen of the Internet” more than 15 years ago, has described the current Internet age as a period of reimagining. At the heart of this reimagining has been the rapid growth, maturity and adoption of the Internet and Internet-enabled technologies.
In her most recent 2015 research, Meeker published some fascinating statistics. The number of people online has ballooned more 80 times, from a user base of a mere 35 million in 1995 to a staggering 2.8 billion users in less than 20 years. This figure translates into nearly 40% of the total global population.
It hasn’t just been the volume of usage that has evolved radically. The nature by which those billions of users are signing online has also changed. It’s hard to believe that the original iPhone was released in 2007, less than 10 years ago. In that time, the mobile Internet has gone from a novelty to a necessity for many of us in our daily lives. This smartphone adoption has fueled Internet use and has drastically increased the ease with which consumers can get online.
Reimagining Communication and Compliance
The result of our new “always-on,” globally connected world (to borrow Meeker’s term) is a complete reimagining of communication. Consumers expect a velocity and volume of communication that the world has never before experienced. We now take for granted that we can reach friends, family and acquaintances anywhere in the world—at any time—in an instant. This has also drastically changed our expectations of business relationships.
Consumers in an ever-connected world have an expectation of availability and transparency of information from the brands with which they interact and the establishments they frequent. What this means for businesses is that customers expect to have a degree of access to business data that they’ve never asked for previously.
A tangible side effect of this desire for data transparency can be seen within the regulatory environment that organizations operate. Governments and regulatory bodies have increased their expectations of data access and availability over time, resulting in more stringent regulations across the board.
Research from Enhesa shows that the regulatory growth rate is nearly as staggering as Internet growth rates. According to the firm’s research, from 2007–2014 regulatory increases by region were as follows:
North America: +146%
Impact on Food Safety: Consumer Engagement and Regulatory Growth
One particular area of regulatory growth has occurred within the food and beverage sector. Arguably no product category has a more direct impact on consumers than food, as it literally fuels us each day. It’s no wonder that in an environment of increasing regulations and more empowered consumers that food quality and food safety are under increased scrutiny.
In today’s environment, it becomes much more challenging to brush aside product recalls and food safety incidents or bury these stories in specialized media. The latest news is not just a fleeting negative headline. In a worst-case scenario these incidents are viral, voracious and more shareable than ever before. From Listeria outbreaks to contaminated meat to questionable farming practices—when fueled by the Internet, the negative branding impact of these stories can be staggering. Consumers are paying attention and engaging with these stories—for example, during a Listeria or Salmonella outbreak, online searches for these terms significantly rise.
The rise of hyper-aware consumers has had a measurable impact. As a result, governments have been quick to respond and have beefed up existing regulations for the food and beverage sector via FSMA and GFSI.
Data can be a very powerful tool, but only if it is used in an effective manner. It needs to be easily consumable and understood by all levels within an organization. “It’s great to collect information, but if you don’t do something with it, you’re not doing yourself, your facility or your employees any favors,” says Holly Mockus, product manager at Alchemy Systems. “It can really trip you up during a regulatory inspection to have all of this information that you haven’t looked at, tracked, trended or reacted to.”
As FSMA places more importance on documentation and record keeping, FDA-regulated facilities will need to not only capture information but also translate data into easily digestible content for management and employees in order to drive continuous improvement. In a discussion with Food Safety Tech, Mockus shares some key points on how companies can transform their data from numbers and statistics into meaningful and actionable information.
Collect meaningful data from the start. From the beginning of the data collection process, be mindful of exactly what outcome the organization wants to achieve. Having an understanding that the data will be measured and acted upon encourages facilities to avoid gathering information just for the sake of collecting it.
Involve the employees who actually collect the data. Data is more meaningful when employees understand why they’re gathering information and are involved in the process from the beginning.
React to the data. If the information reveals a good or bad trend, or that a process or procedure is out of spec, take action. In addition, document how the business reacted to the issue and the corrections that were put in place.
Close the loop for continuous improvement. Establish a closed loop for data collection, focusing on how gaps were addressed, with an emphasis on continuously improving on the process.
Really examine the data collected. Whether collected for a product, process or equipment line, sit down and take a close look at the data. This exercise is intended to reveal redundancies across departments and help reduce record keeping tasks.
Food Safety Tech: How do companies transform data into a meaningful tool for management?
Mockus: That’s such a challenge for us. It should be easily consumable, especially for management and the higher ups in organizations, because they don’t have as much time to sit down and digest a 20-page document that’s full of numbers and statistics. Work towards to summarizing the information in a way that allows executives and plant managers to look at a graph and know instantly what it means; they don’t need to get into the nitty-gritty. Simplifying the scientific data, whether environmental sampling, quality assurance data, or microtesting in general, and taking it down to base a level so that the non-scientist can understand it—I think that’s something we have to work on, especially for those coming under more regulation. Keep in mind that people who look at the tracking and trending [might not] understand graphs and scientific terms.
A lot of people put the data into a graphic format—it doesn’t have to be a line graph or pie chart, it can be a red, yellow, green [indicator] or a scale of justice. Look at the graphics that are meaningful to your specific organization and use those. Be creative, but keep it simple.
FST: When companies set metrics, how can they ensure that those metrics are taking them in the right direction from a food safety perspective?
Mockus: Especially when you have metrics that are tied to performance for a manufacturing facility, you want to be careful how you set them and how you reward them. For example, if your metric for environmental testing is very low or at zero, you’re encouraging your workforce not to find those Listeria niches or areas in which Salmonella can grow, because you’re telling them that they have to be at a zero rate to be incentivized. It’s more about measuring the outcomes of the activities—are we finding the niches and eliminating them so we don’t have those issues versus saying we want to be at “zero”? [It’s important] to work with upper management so that they understand the consequences of their expectations and the incentive programs that they put in place.
Laboratories play a key role in FSMA, including providing data and analytical support, and assistance in surveillance and outbreak activities.
According to Palmer Orlandi, Ph.D., acting chief science officer and research director at FDA, success in the laboratory to support all the activity involving FSMA hinges on the following:
Mutual reliance on partners (federal, state and FDA)
Data-sharing capabilities (how data is generated and transmitted)
Acceptance of lab data
Establishing uniform standards of performance surrounding data quality and sharing, and ensuring that data has been verified and can be trusted lay the groundwork for data acceptance. Orlandi discussed the process of establishing data acceptance criteria at the 2015 Food Safety Consortium conference.
In order to ensure that a food testing laboratory maintains a quality management system that effectively manages all aspects of laboratory operations that affect quality, there are numerous records, reports and data that must be recorded, documented and managed.
Gathering, organizing and controlling all the data that is generated, managed and stored by food testing laboratories can be challenging to say the least. As the ISO Standards and regulatory requirements for food testing laboratories evolve, so does the need for improved quality data management systems. Historical systems that were very efficient and effective 10 years ago, may no longer meet the demanding requirements for ISO 17025 certification. One way to meet the challenge is to turn to automated solutions that eliminate many of the mundane tasks that utilize valuable resources.
There are many reasons for laboratories to seek this certification, including to enhance reputation, gain a competitive advantage, reduce operational costs, and meet regulatory compliance goals. A major advantage for food testing laboratories to obtain ISO 17025 Certification is that is tells prospective clients that the laboratory has a strong commitment to quality, and they hold the certification to prove it. This certification not only boosts a laboratory’s reputation, but it also demonstrates an organization’s commitment to quality, operational efficiency and management practices. Proof of ISO 17025 Certification eliminates the need for independent supplier audits, because the quality, capability and expertise of the laboratory have been verified by external auditors. Many ISO Certified laboratories will only buy products (raw materials, supplies and software) and services from other ISO-certified firms so that they do not need to do additional work in qualifying the vendor or the products.
There are many areas in which a LIMS supports and promotes ISO 17025 compliance. Laboratories are required to manage and maintain SOPs (standard operating procedures) that accurately reflect all phases of current laboratory activities such as assessing data integrity, taking corrective actions, handling customer complaints, managing all test methods, and managing all documents pertaining to quality. In addition, all contact with clients and their testing instructions should be recorded and kept with the job/project documentation for access by the staff performing the tests/calibrations. With a computerized LIMS, laboratory staff can scan in all paper forms that arrive with the samples (special instructions, chain of custody (CoC), or any other documentation). This can be linked to the work order and is easy assessable by anyone who has the appropriate permissions. The LIMS provides extensive options for tracking and maintaining all correspondence, the ability to attach electronic files, scanned documents, create locked PDFs of final reports, COAs (Certificate of Analysis), and CoCs.
Sample Handling and Acceptance
Laboratories are required to have a procedure that defines all processes that a sample is subjected to while in the possession of the laboratory. Some of these procedures will relate to sample preservation, holding time requirements, and the type of container in which the sample is collected or stored. Other information that must be tracked includes sample identification and receipt procedures, along with acceptance or rejection criteria at log-in. Sample log-in begins and defines the entire analysis and disposal process, therefore it is important that all sample storage, tracking and shipping receipts as well as sample transmittal forms (CoC) are stored, managed and maintained throughout the sample’s analysis to final disposal. To summarize, the laboratory should have written procedures around the following related to sample preservation:
Sample acceptance conditions
Holding timesShipping informationStorage
Results and Reporting
The LIMS must allow capture and tracking of data throughout the sample’s active lifetime. In addition, laboratories are also required to document, manage and maintain essential information associated with the analytical analysis, such as incubator and refrigerator temperature charts, and instrument run files/logs. Also important is capturing data from any log books, which would include the unique sample identifier, and the date and time of the analysis, along with if the holding time is 72 hours or less or when time critical steps are included in the analysis, such as sample preparations, extractions, or incubations. Capturing the temperature data can be automated such that the data can be directly imported into the LIMS. If there is an issue with the temperature falling outside of a range, an email can automatically be spawned or a message sent to a cell phone to alert the responsible party. Automation saves time and money, and can prevent many potential problems via the LIMS ability to import and act on real-time data.
If any instrumentation is used in the analysis, the following information must also be recorded in the instrument identification (to ensure that it is in calibration, and all maintenance and calibration records are current), operating conditions/parameters, analysis type, any calculations, and analyst identification. In addition to analyst identification, laboratories must also keep track of analyst training as it relates to their laboratory functions. For example, if an analyst has not been trained on a particular method or if their certification has expired, the LIMS will not allow them to enter any result into the LIMS for the method(s) that they have not been trained/certified to perform. The LIMS can also send automated alerts when the training is about to expire. Figure 1 shows a screen in the LIMS that manages training completed, scheduled, tests scores, and expiration dates of the training, along with the ability to attach any training certificates, exams, or any other relevant documentation. Laboratory managers can also leverage the LIMS to pull reports that compare analyst work quality via an audit report. If they determine that one analyst has a significant amount of samples that require auditing, they can then investigate if there is a possible training issue. Having immediate access to data allows managers to more rapidly identify and mitigate potential problems.
Another major area that a LIMS can provide significant benefit is around data integrity. There are four main elements of data integrity:
Documentation in the quality management system that defines the data integrity procedure, which is approved (signed/dated) by senior management.
Data integrity training for the entire laboratory. Ensures that the database is secure and locked and operates under referential integrity.
Detailed, regular monitoring of data integrity. Includes reviewing the audit trail reports and analyzing logs for any suspicious behavior on the system.
Signed data integrity documentation for all laboratory employees indicating that they have read and understand the processes and procedures that have been defined.
The LIMS will enhance the ability to track and manage data integrity training (along with all training). The LIMS will provide a definition of the training, the date, time, and topic (description); instructor(s); timeframe in which the training is relevant, reminders on when it needs to be repeated; along with certifications, quiz scores, copies of quizzes, and more. With many tasks, the LIMS can provide managers with automated reports that are sent out at regular time intervals, schedule training for specific staff, provide them with automatic notification, schedule data integrity audits, and to facilitate FDA’s CFR 21 part 11 compliance (electronic signatures). The LIMS can also be configured to automatically have reports signed and delivered via fax or email, or to a web server. The LIMS manages permissions and privileges to all staff members that require access to specific data and have the ability to access that data, along with providing a secure document control mechanism.
Laboratories are also required to maintain SOPs that accurately reflect all phases of current laboratory operations such as assessing data integrity test methods, corrective actions and handling customer complaints. Most commercial LIMS provide the ability to link SOPs to the analytical methods such that analysts can pull down the SOP as they are doing the procedure to help ensure that no steps are omitted. Having the SOPs online ensures that everyone is using the same version of the locked SOPs, which are readily available and secure.
Administrative Records, Demonstration of Capability
Laboratories are required to manage and maintain the following information on an analyst working in the laboratory: Personal qualifications and experience and training records (degree certificates, CV’s), along with records of demonstration of capability for each analyst and a list of names (along with initials and signatures) for all staff that hold the responsibility to sign or initial any laboratory record. Most commercial LIMS will easily and securely track and manage all the required personnel records. Individuals responsible for signing off on laboratory records can be configured in the LIMS to not only document the assignment of responsibility but also to enforce it.
Reference Standards and Materials
Because the references and standards that laboratories use in their analytical measurements affect the correctness of the result, laboratories must have a system and procedures to manage and track the calibration of their reference standards. Documentation that calibration standards were calibrated by a body that can prove traceability must be provided. Although most standards are purchased from companies that specialize in the creation of reference standards, there are some standards that laboratories create internally that can also be traced and tracked in the LIMS. Most commercial LIMS will also allow for the creation, receipt, tracking, and management of all supplies in an inventory module, such that they document the reference material identification, lot numbers, expiration date, supplier, and vendor, and link the standard to all tests to which it was linked.
The ISO 17025 Standard identifies the high technical competence and management system requirements that guarantee your test results and calibrations are consistently accurate. The LIMS securely manages and maintains all the data that supports the Quality Management System.
Key advantages of food testing laboratories that have achieved ISO 17025 Certification with a computerized LIMS that securely and accurately stores all the pertinent data and information:
Proof of ISO 17025 Certification eliminates the need for supplier audits, because the quality, capability and expertise of the laboratory have been demonstrated by the certification.
Knowledge that there has been an evaluation of the staff, methods, instrumentation and equipment, calibration records and reporting to ensure test results are valid.
Verification of operational efficiency by external auditors that have validated the quality, capability and expertise of the laboratory.
Defines robust quality controls for the selection and authentication of methods, analyzing statistics, controlling and securing data.
Clearly defines each employee’s roles, responsibilities and accountability.
Confidence that the regulatory and safety requirements are effectively managed and met in a cost efficient-manner.
Businesses throughout the food supply chain are using a variety of traceability tools to capture critical information during the path from the field to the consumer. Traceability has always been viewed as an important capability within the supply chain, but FSMA, coupled with retailer and consumer demand, is pushing it to the highest levels yet.
Technology solutions that provide continuous identification and verification include mobile computers, scanners, RFID and mobile printers. While growers, packers, wholesalers, distribution centers and retailers involved in the fresh produce, poultry, meat, and seafood segments are using these technologies, speculation continues about adequate adoption levels.
The larger food providers are embracing track and trace technologies, while smaller business have been much slower to adopt, according to Bruce Stubbs, director of industry marketing at Honeywell Sensing & Productivity Solutions. “It’s going to be difficult to convince the smaller growers to invest in the technology—a lot of them see it as a cost,” he says. “What’s helping is that the retailers are starting to push back and say they are going to require their suppliers to be compliant with [traceability] mandates and if not, they won’t do business with them.”
Out in the field, companies are leveraging scanning and printing technologies, including smart printing technology (essentially a PC with printing capability). The printer hosts data capture and traceability software, providing the tasks and traceability through the software to the scanning devices. It can capture and print the food traceability label, which contains the discreet information, at the point of harvest. At the transportation level, businesses are using mobile computers to scan and capture product information that tracks down to the details from what part of a field, or even which tree in an orchard, a product has been harvested. Traceability technologies are including sensors throughout the cold chain to monitor temperature and humidity as the product is transported from point A to B. All information moves forward into the production facility and the retailer’s distribution center. Once at the retail store level, grocers will be able to pinpoint, within potentially thousands of stores, the specific batches and lots, a key capability in the instance of product issues and recalls.
Traceability is a holistic process, and the potential for its continued growth within the food industry is high. “I see it becoming more prevalent as consumers demand it, and retailers and manufacturers must adapt. I also see them moving away from paper,” says Stubbs. “We’re close; it’s almost like there’s a trickle in the dam right now, but I really believe that over the next couple years, the dam will break and most [companies] will need to adopt [traceability solutions] or they won’t be able to effectively do business with a lot of the food retailers.”
Stubbs also anticipates an increased adoption of 2-D barcodes versus 1-D linear laser barcodes, as 2-D barcodes can contain far more information. “We are at the tip of those technologies—they exist. It’s just the integration of these systems and providing the information in a format at the supplier or food manufacturer level,” he says.
How is your company implementing traceability solutions? What challenges and benefits are occurring as a result?
Many food safety and quality assurance (FSQA) professionals are constantly on the go in the workplace. They can be found on the floor of a manufacturing facility, off-site conducting supplier audits, or out in the field performing pre-harvest inspections, just to name a few locations during their busy day. “To benefit from food safety automation, these folks need more than the capability of logging into a system through a desktop,” says Levin. “They need a true mobile app that provides automation support out in the field,” says Barbara Levin, senior vice president of marketing and customer community at SafetyChain.
While other industries have been quick to adopt mobile platforms, the food safety industry has been much slower. Adoption is, however, gaining traction. In a recent conversation with Food Safety Tech, Levin talks about the value of FSQA mobile apps in today’s environment, where access to real-time, actionable data is crucial for the food industry.
Food Safety Tech: What common challenges faced by FSQA teams do mobile apps specifically address?
Barbara Levin: Mobile apps allow collection of FSQA at the point of origin, along with immediate access to the information for analysis, CAPA and reporting:
Getting timely feedback on non-compliances for CAPA. When FSQA data is inspected at the end of the shift on paper, finding non-conformances often means rework. The instances in which this happens are too numerous to count. With mobile apps, you receive timely feedback. Information in the system is immediately analyzed to specs, so you’re catching non-compliances at the earliest point possible.
Consistency in following your FSQA programs. This could be your USDA HACCP plan, FSMA HARPC plan, GFSI program, customer quality attributes and other components of your FSQA programs. Program components change all the time (i.e., Specifications, processes, rules in HACCP, GFSI code, forms, workflow, etc). Are FSQA managers confident that everyone is following the most up-to-date program? Is everyone following the workflow and doing everything in the right order? Are they completing tasks accurately? Using the right forms? Unfortunately companies find out that steps are missed or outdated forms were used during an audit; or when missed steps result in expensive rework or in the worst case, a customer rejection, withdrawal or a recall.
Mobile apps will always have the most up-to-date forms, processes, specs and more. They act as a coach, leading the FSQA team member through the proper steps. When you enter incorrect or incomplete information on paper, it may not be detected until the end of the day or shift. A mobile app will issue an alert if incorrect information is entered; and it won’t let you submit a form if all fields aren’t complete. Because all of the updates are made in the system and pushed out to the app, if the specification changes while an FSQA team member is on the plant floor, when he or she logs in, the latest spec will always be there. You’re ensured that only the up-to-date program is being followed and that only the most up-to-date forms are being used.
A lack of information for continuous improvement trending. If you have multiple facilities and products (resulting in mountains of FSQA paper), it’s a huge, manual task to make all of the data useful and relevant. With mobile apps, all FSQA data is entered “once and done,” making it accessible and actionable for immediate FSQA result tracking, daily KPI reporting and continuous improvement.
Audit readiness. Mobile apps take audit readiness to a different level. With FSMA and GFSI, the saying is, if it’s not documented, you didn’t do it. By collecting FSQA data at the point of origin, all data is time and data stamped and uploaded to your permanent FSQA record. There’s no redundant data entry, mistakes are avoided, and there’s greater record efficacy that helps companies be audit ready, on demand.
FST: What is the biggest benefit that FSQA mobile apps offer?
Levin: The first benefit is real-time feedback. If you think about how things were done in the past, using an example of a pre-harvest inspection, you’re out there with a clipboard, making observations and recording non-compliances. Then you have to go back and enter the information into a spreadsheet, or turn it into a PDF, and send it to the food safety manager, who may or may not be sitting at his or her desk. Waiting to get a response equals time lost. And in the food industry, time equals money.
When you’re entering information into a mobile app, it analyzes that information in real-time and according to specifications. When there are non-compliances, alerts are pushed to the FSQA manager – wherever [he or she is located]. The manager can then generate a CAPA, which can then be completed, documented on the mobile device and electronically signed off by the manager. The process is expedited, and expensive rework is avoided.
The second benefit involves data efficiencies. When data is collected on a mobile device, it’s entered only once and is then immediately available for multiple uses, such as a customer’s certificate of analysis, attachment to GFSI code for audit, or to be produced upon demand for a regulatory inspector. With a manual system, there’s a tremendous amount of redundant data entry. We hear this all the time from food safety folks— that they feel like they’re managing paper instead of food safety programs. When data is entered into a mobile app, it’s accessible immediately to FSQA, operations, vendor purchasing, management – any stakeholder who has a need.
“The Power of FSQA Automation Via Mobile Applications” Download the whitepaperFST: What approach should be taken to encourage the investment in and implementation of an on-the-go FSQA mobile platform?
Levin: I would love to think that in an ideal world, the creation of operational efficiencies that enable a higher level of confidence that you are sending out safer food is enough. Food companies are businesses, and they have obligations to consumers, which they take very seriously. But they also have obligations to their shareholders. When we talk to folks who really want this, it’s very easy to create a business case to senior management based on ROI. When you can close the gap by hours and days in the food industry, that time equals money. Avoiding rework also saves money. And there’s ROI in faster sales throughput and increased shelf life by reducing hold and release times. We’ve heard from our customers that the solutions have paid for themselves and started to create ROI within three to six months.
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