Tag Archives: digital transformation

Willem Ryan, AlertEnterprise
FST Soapbox

Cybersecurity: Risk Moves Squarely to Operational Technology

By Willem Ryan
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Willem Ryan, AlertEnterprise

Data breaches, ransomware attacks and now, operational shutdowns. Recent events bear out that cyber strikes are not reserved solely to data breaches and IT systems but now include Operational Technology (OT) and industrial controls to disrupt operations, distribution and the entire food supply chain.

JBS Foods, the one of the world’s largest meat producers, was leveled by a cyberattack in early June, affecting U.S. and Australia operations. In a public statement, the organization revealed that it paid the equivalent of $11 million in ransom in response to the criminal hack against its operations. “At the time of payment, the vast majority of the company’s facilities were operational. In consultation with internal IT professionals and third-party cybersecurity experts, the company made the decision to mitigate any unforeseen issues related to the attack and ensure no data was exfiltrated,” according to company documents.

There’s a security divide that shouldn’t be there—distinct lines between Cyber, OT and physical security teams that has resulted in disjointed and ineffective detection, mitigation and response to risk—forged by years of siloed departments.

It’s not a new problem—in fact the vulnerability of the critical infrastructure has been a discussion for decades. Moving to a converged approach across all departments, including HR, IT/cyber and OT/SCADA can effectively secure our most critical food production and distribution resources while actively enforcing compliance and company policies. Identity and Access is at the center of it all and the best way to holistically protect the enterprise.

In the example of high-profile enterprise Molson-Coors, a cyberattack in March centered on ransomware. In its SEC filing after the event, the beverage giant stated that the attack “has caused and may continue to cause a delay or disruption to parts of the company’s business,” which includes brewery operations, production and shipping.

The February attack on a Florida Water Treatment plant, hacked by compromise to a remote access software program on a facility computer, is still another stark reminder of the growing dangers of cyber-physical threats and that even employees can be part of the problem.

You can see just how fragile and vulnerable our supply chains and critical business processes have become. Cybercriminals now realize how disruptive and lucrative attacks targeting these systems can be so they will continue unabated without immediate stop-gaps.

Because these attacks have become blended and omni-present on every part of the critical infrastructure, executives need to move beyond IT-centric cybersecurity to minimize supply threats. This emergence of new attack vectors has other implications. It highlights the dire need to transition from siloed IT, OT, HR and physical security to a converged approach, yet executives remain at odds with how to execute this while working in their own bubbles.

The threat has become even greater than the organization itself. According to predictions by Gartner liability for cyber-physical security incidents will “pierce the corporate veil to personal liability,” for 75% of CEOs by 2024.

Security Convergence Key Ingredient to Digital Transformation

As the food industry continues to digitally transform, systems and processes move to rapidly connect. Security convergence, centered around identity and access governance, links all these separate departments and operations, so communications and processes actively and collectively address and shore up risk preemptively. Events, exceptions, alerts, alarms and targeted attacks on all points, including the network, control systems and physical security can be integrated for a coordinated and cohesive response.

Securing our most important critical resource—the food supply chain—means correlating threats across underlying HR, IT, physical security and OT used in production and processing. Physical access control and identity now links to specialized plant applications like manufacturing execution systems (MES), plant historians and demand management from ERP that can deliver information directly to production. Monitoring insider and contractor access to modifying batch recipes provides alerts and detection when the addition of a preservative has been suppressed, causing a contaminated batch to be produced, for example.

Integrating seamlessly with HR applications, converged software further prevents insider threat by automating background checks and risk analysis during the on-boarding and off-boarding process for employees and contractors.

The threat landscape today demands a single solution to manage operational risk and security. The following just one example of how this converged approach works.

A fictitious company named Big Food was dealing with disgruntled production foreman Tom. Tom not only had physical access to the production floor, but was intimately familiar with the control system settings to configure recipes for the MES.

Security software’s real-time link to SAP SuccessFactors HCM provided critical real-time data that identified Tom’s history of workplace issues. When Tom accessed the plant area after his normal shift hours, the security platform detected that he was making unusual changes to the production settings to eliminate the addition of preservatives. An alert was immediately sent to security operations staff as well as the plant manager. Incident prevented, with huge savings from avoided downtime and protection from loss of reputation to the company brand.

The food and beverage industry must meet high quality standards and adhere to rapid production cycles to preserve nutrition value and freshness. Convergence and automation are the keys to achieving these goals. As OT and IT networks become increasingly interconnected, OT environments become more exposed to cyber-physical attacks, which can result in tainted products, downtime and revenue losses. Security solutions secure enterprise IT applications and plant applications deliver continuous monitoring that prevents sabotage, acts of terrorism and other malicious acts. There’s also the ability to manage other supply chain risks, including changes to master data and transactions as well as the movement of goods and arrival notifications requirements by the FDA.

Today’s malicious actors don’t think in silos but most companies still do. As security and technology leaders we are compelled to rise and meet the challenge. It’s clear that only a converged approach, beyond IT-centric cybersecurity, is the way forward.

Food Safety Consortium Virtual Conference Series

2021 FSC Episode 1 Preview: FDA on New Era, Experts Discuss Digital Transformation and Consumer Focus

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Food Safety Consortium Virtual Conference Series

Thursday, May 6, marks the first episode of the 2021 Food Safety Consortium Virtual Conference Series. The following are highlights for this week’s session:

  • FSMA-Based & Technology-Enabled: FDA Advances into New Era of Smarter Food Safety, a special keynote with Frank Yiannas, FDA
  • Digital Transformation in Food Safety, with Natasa Matyasova and Matt Dofoo, Nestlé
  • Consumer-focused Food Safety, with Mitzi Baum, STOP Foodborne Illness
  • TechTalks from Controlant, Veeva and Primority

This year’s event occurs as a Spring program and a Fall program. Haven’t registered? Follow this link to the 2021 Food Safety Consortium Virtual Conference Series, which provides access to all the episodes featuring critical industry insights from leading subject matter experts! Registration includes access to both the Spring and the Fall events. We look forward to your joining us virtually.

James Quill, Corvium
FST Soapbox

Digital Transformation of EMP: Best Practices and Outcomes for Food Manufacturers

By James Quill, Tara Wilson
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James Quill, Corvium

In today’s digital-first world, it might be surprising for those outside of the food manufacturing industry to learn that paper and pen are still considered state-of-the-art documentation tools. Answering food safety and quality questions such as: “What was the underlying cause of this customer complaint?” or “What caused the production halt this morning?” still require hours of research across paper documents, emails and spreadsheets. Maybe even the odd phone call or text message.

The good news is that many food safety and quality problems can be solved by leveraging modern-day technology. The challenge is taking that first step. By applying the following best practices, organizations can take small steps that lead to substantial benefits, including optimized food safety and quality programs, happier employees and safer operations.

Digital Transformation Best Practices

What if all the information food safety professionals require could be accessible through one unified interface and could proactively point to actions that should be taken? It can, with the right mindset and the right strategy.

While there is no “flip of a switch” to become digitally empowered, best practices exist for where to start. And, early adopters are injecting innovation into food safety programs with simple, but powerful technology.

Look Inward

Too often, food safety professionals push forward on a path to digital transformation by evaluating software and business applications against features and/or cost. But before taking this approach, it is important to look at existing food safety programs, identify where incremental improvements can be made and determine the potential return on a new technology investment.

Self-awareness is a beneficial leadership skill, but it’s also the key driver in understanding an organization’s business needs for food safety. Food safety professionals need to get real about common pain points, such as inconsistent or insufficient data, non-standardized practices, and delayed reporting. This is not the time to gloss over problems with processes or tools. Only by clearly documenting the challenges upfront will organizations be able to find the best solutions.

As one example, a common pain point is managing different formats and timing of reporting across facilities. See if this sounds familiar: “Well, Dallas sends an Excel spreadsheet every week, but Toledo only sends it on a monthly basis, while Wichita sends it monthly most of the time, but it’s never in the same format.”

Start out by identifying similar problems to help define the business objective, which will help determine how technology can be most effectively applied.

Eat, Sleep, Food Safety, Repeat

Food safety processes should constantly evolve to enable continued improvements in food safety outcomes. With that in mind, it’s helpful to dust off the corporate SOP and review it, especially if an organization is moving to a digital program. A common mistake many food manufacturers make is asking technology providers to configure an application based solely off the corporate protocol, only to discover at go-live that users don’t follow that protocol.

To avoid this situation, consider the following questions:

  • Why are food safety professionals not completing processes by the book?
  • Is that similar with every site?
  • Why has it been that way for so long?
  • Why did food safety professionals start to stray?

By locking down processes and identifying the desired way forward, leaders can configure a new application with the latest information and updated decisions. At a minimum, this step will help identify current issues that should be addressed, which can become measurable goals for the use of the new technology, ideally emphasizing the most pressing problems.

Less is More

Digital transformation doesn’t always need to become a “fix-all” project. Instead, it may revolve around a single operational initiative or business decision. For example, food safety professionals often maintain a spreadsheet with usernames and passwords for countless applications, some of which overlap in functionality and/or require a separate login for each facility. This is not only a safety concern, it’s an easy entry point when moving to a digital approach.

Consolidation of applications is a natural step from the standpoint of feasibility and fiscal responsibility. So, look for digital transformation opportunities that result in fewer applications and more consolidation.

Don’t Rush It

While digital transformation is inevitable, Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither should be an organization’s digital strategy. Unfortunately, the decision to go digital is often made, and a go-live date chosen, before determining what transformation requires, which is a clear-cut recipe for failure.

Technical vendors should play a key role in developing an effective implementation strategy, including sharing onboarding, planning, configuration and go-live best practices.

While technology is here to help the world become smarter about food safety, it is not here to replace human experience. Food safety leaders should continue to augment processes through supplemental technologies, rather than view technology as a full takeover of current approaches.

Barriers to entry for digital transformation are being lowered, as the ease of adoption of the underlying technologies continues to advance and access via cloud-based applications improves.

What to Do With All This Data? 5 Outcomes Food Manufacturers Can Achieve

Food manufacturers have benefited from digitally transforming environmental monitoring programs (EMPs) using workflow and analytics tools in a variety of ways. In the end, what matters is that the resulting data access and usability enables new insights and accelerates decisions that result in reduced risk and improved quality. Keep in mind these key outcomes that food manufacturers can achieve from digital transformation.

Outcome #1: Formalized Audit & Compliance Readiness

Enhancing an internal audit framework with digital tools will greatly reduce the burden of ensuring compliance for schemes such as BRC, SQF and FSSC food safety standards. Flexible report formats and filtering capabilities empower users with the right information at the right time.

Imagine, no more sifting manually through binders of CoA’s and test records to find a needle in a haystack. Exposing teams to a digital means of performing internal audits will not only boost confidence to handle requests from an auditor but will also help drive continuous improvement by providing easier access to insights about the effectiveness of internal policies. At the same time, digital tools will help ensure that only the required information is shared, reducing confusion and uncertainty as well as audit time and cost.

Outcome #2: Proactive Alerting and Automated Reporting

Threshold-based report alerts are an excellent way to reduce the noise often associated with notification systems. Providing quality and safety managers with automated alerts of scheduled maintenance or pending test counts can help them focus on activities that need attention, without distractions.

The benefit of threshold-based reporting is that it is a “set it and forget it” method. While regular “Monday Reports” are still a necessity, alerts and reports can be generated only when attention is needed for anomalies. A great example of this is being able to set proactive alerts for test counts in a facility that are approaching nonconformance levels. Understanding the corrective action requirements needed to control an environmental issue before it impacts quality, production and unplanned sanitation measures is a critical component of risk management and brand protection. In addition, reports can be automatically generated and delivered on a regular schedule to help meet reporting needs without spending time collecting data.

In other words—imagine a world where data comes and finds users when needed, rather than having to search for it in a binder or spreadsheet. Digital tools can provide email reports showing that a threshold has (or has not) been met and link the user directly to the information needed to take action. This is called “actionable information” and is something to consider when deploying technology within an organization’s food safety program processes.

Outcome #3: Optimize Performance with Tracking, Trending and Drilling

The Pareto Principle specifies that for many outcomes, about 80% of consequences come from 20% of causes. Historical data that is digitized can be used to quickly identify the root cause of top failures in a facility in order to drive process improvements. Knowing where to invest money will help avoid the cost of failure and aid in the prevention of a recall situation.

Dashboards are a powerful tool that organizations can use to understand the risk level across facilities to make better, data-driven decisions. Reports can be configured through a thoughtful dashboard setup that enables users to easily identify hot spots and trends, drill down to specific test locations, and enable clear communication to stakeholders. Figure 1 provides an example of a heat map that can be used to speed response and take corrective actions when needed.

Pathogen Positives
Figure 1. Pathogen Positives by Zone and Location Heat

Outcome #4: Simplified Data Governance and Interoperability

Smarter food safety will drive standardization of data formats, which allows information to flow seamlessly between internal and external systems. One of the major benefits of shifting away from paper-based solutions is the ability to be proactive to reduce risk and cost. FSQA managers, within and across facilities, can benefit from a 360-degree operational view that reveals hidden connections between information silos that exist in the plant and across the organization. This includes:

  • Product tracing through product testing to environment monitoring and sanitation efforts
  • Tracing back a product quality issue reported from a customer to the sanitation efforts
  • Understanding why compliance is on track but quality results aren’t correcting

Outcome #5: Reduce the Cost of High Turnover

Successful GMPs, SSOPs and a HACCP program require leaders that continually ensure that employees are properly trained, which can be difficult with high turnover rates. To address this challenge, digital tools can aid in providing easily accessible documentation to empower users and reduce the cost, time and risk associated with having to re-train new employees on the EMP process. While training cannot be replaced with technology, it can be accelerated.

For example, testing locations within facilities can be documented with images and related information enabling new employees to visually see the floorplan and relevant testing protocols with accompanying video and click-through visualization of underlying data. Additionally, corrective action protocols can be enhanced with videos and standardized form inputs to ensure proper data is being collected at all times.

The Path Ahead

As the digital transformation of the food safety industry continues, food manufacturers should seek out and apply proven best practices to make the process as efficient and effective for their organization as possible. By avoiding common pitfalls, companies can achieve transformation objectives and realize substantial benefits from more easily accessible and actionable food safety data.

Jason Chester, InfinityQS
FST Soapbox

Resilience for Tomorrow Begins with Digital Transformation Today

By Jason Chester
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Jason Chester, InfinityQS

COVID-19 has been a sharp wake-up call for many food manufacturers in the need for resilient production environments that can readily respond to large and sudden changes, including fluctuations in demand and disruptive external events. This means being able to optimize operations for the following:

  • Efficiency: Where you can achieve constant output even when given fewer inputs—such as in workforce availability or resources. This was especially important when the pandemic caused widespread supply shortages, as well as staffing shortages due to social distancing measures.
  • Productivity: When you can ensure that, given the amount of available input (i.e., raw ingredients, manpower, equipment availability), you can maintain a consistent output to meet demand in the marketplace.
  • Flexibility: Where you can rapidly and intelligently adapt your processes in the face of change, in ways that are in the best interest of your business, the supply chain, and the consumers who purchase and trust in your products.

That trust is paramount, as manufacturers must continue to uphold quality and safety standards—especially during a time when public health is of the upmost importance. But between operational challenges and managing product quality, that’s a lot for manufacturers to wade through during a crisis.

To navigate the current COVID reality and improve response to future events, more organizations are looking to harness the power of data to enable agile decision-making and, in turn, build more resilient production environments.

Harnessing the Power of Data

The key to harnessing data for agile decisions is to aggregate end-to-end process information and make it available in real time. When you can achieve that, it’s possible to run analytics and derive timely insights into every facet of production. Those insights can be used to increase efficiency, productivity and flexibility—as well as ensure product quality and safety—even amidst upheaval.

When looking at solutions to aggregate data from a single site—or better yet, multiple sites—all roads lead to the cloud. Namely, cloud-based quality intelligence solutions can decouple the data from physical locations—such as paper checklists, forms, or supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) and human-machine interfaces (HMI) systems—and centralize what’s collected digitally in a unified repository. The data can then be accessed, analyzed, and consumed by those who need actionable insights from anywhere, at any time, and on any device, making cloud an ideal solution for connecting on-site operators and remote employees.

Digital transformation
When process and quality data are centralized and standardized on the cloud, they can be leveraged for real-time monitoring and timely response to issues—from anywhere and at any time. (Image courtesy of InfinityQS)

An Opportunity for Broader Transformation

In migrating to the cloud, manufacturers open the opportunity to break away from the legacy, manual processes of yesterday and transition to more nimble, digitally enabled environments of tomorrow. For example, manual processes are often highly dependent on individual operator knowledge, experience and judgement. As the pandemic has shown, such institutional knowledge can be lost when employees become ill, or are unavailable due to self-isolation or travel restrictions, presenting a risk to operational efficiency and productivity. But if that valuable institutional knowledge were captured and codified in a quality intelligence solution as predefined workflows and prescriptive instructions, then a manufacturer could more easily move their resources and personnel around as necessary and find comfort knowing that processes will be executed according to best practices.

For many organizations, this would be a remarkable transformation in the ways of working, where data and digital technologies can augment human capacity and flexibility. Take for instance, in traditional production environments, a lot of human effort is spent on monitoring lines to catch process deviations or events like machine anomalies or quality issues. Using real-time data, next-generation solutions can take on that burden and continuously monitor what’s happening on the plant floor—only alerting relevant teams when an issue arises and they need to intervene. Manufacturers can thereby redeploy people to other tasks, while minimizing the amount of resources necessary to manage product quality and safety during daily production and in the event of disruption.

Ensuring Quality Upstream and Downstream

One company that has succeeded in digital transformation is King & Prince, a manufacturer of breaded, battered and seasoned seafood. When the company digitized its manufacturing processes, it centralized the quality data from all points of origin in a single database. The resulting real-time visibility enables King & Prince to monitor quality on more than 100 processes across three U.S. plants, as well as throughout a widespread network of global suppliers.

With this type of real-time visibility, a company can work with suppliers to correct any quality issues before raw materials are shipped to the United States, which directly translates to a better final product. This insight also helps plant-based procurement managers determine which suppliers to use. Within its own plants, operators receive alerts during production if there are any variations in the data that may indicate inconsistencies. They can thereby stop the process, make necessary adjustments, and use the data again to confirm when everything is back on track.

During finished product inspections, the company can also review the captured data to determine if they need to finetune any processes upstream and respond sooner to prevent issues from making it downstream to the consumer level. Overall, the company is able to better uphold its quality and safety standards, with the number of customer complaints regarding its seafood products dropping to less than one per million pounds sold year over year—and that’s all thanks to the harnessing of data in a digitally enabled production environment.

There’s No Time Like the Present

In truth, technologies like the cloud and quality intelligence solutions, and even the concept of digital transformation, aren’t new. They’ve been on many company agendas for some time, but just haven’t been a high priority. But when the pandemic hit, organizations were suddenly faced with the vulnerabilities of their long-held operational processes and legacy technologies. Now, with the urgency surrounding the need for resilient production environments, these same companies are thinking about how to tactically achieve digital transformation in the span of a few weeks or months rather than years.

Yet while digital transformation may sound like a tremendous initiative with high risks and expenses, it’s more tangible than some may think. For example, cloud-based Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) solutions offer flexible subscription-based models that keep costs low on top of rapid scalability. Digital transformation doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing endeavor either. In fact, it can be better to progress incrementally, starting first with the manufacturing areas that are most in need or have the most issues. This minimizes unnecessary risk, makes digital transformation more achievable and realistic over short timeframes, and avoids overwhelming already maxed out operational and IT teams.

All things must pass. The pandemic will eventually be over. But in its wake will be a permanent legacy on not just society, but also on the manufacturing sector. In my opinion, digital transformation is a fundamental basis for building resilience into the modern food production environment. Now, more than ever, is the time to address that opportunity head on.

Maria Fontanazza, Food Safety Tech
From the Editor’s Desk

Top 10 from the 2020 Food Safety Consortium Virtual Conference Series

By Maria Fontanazza
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Maria Fontanazza, Food Safety Tech

2020 has taken a lot away from us, but it has also taught us the importance of being able to quickly adapt (can you say…“pivot”?) to rapidly changing, dire circumstances. For Food Safety Tech, that meant shifting our in-person annual Food Safety Consortium to a virtual event. I really look forward to the Consortium each year, because we are a virtual company, and this is the one time of year that most of the Food Safety Tech and Innovative Publishing Company team are together. When we made the decision to move the event online, we really wanted to be considerate of our attendees, who more than likely were quickly developing webinar and Zoom fatigue. So we created a series of 14 Episodes that spanned from September until last week. I am not going to single out one episode or speaker/session in particular, because I think that all of our speakers and sponsors brought a tremendous amount of education to the food safety community. Thank you.

With that, the following are my top 10 takeaways from the 2020 Food Safety Consortium Virtual Conference Series—and this simply scratches the surface. Feel free to leave a comment on what you learned from our speakers and the discussions this fall.

  1. COVID-19 has served as the springboard for digital transformation, more of which we have seen in the past nine months than in the last several years or even decade. Tech advances are increasing efficiencies, adding the ability to be more predictive, giving more visibility and traceability in the supply chain and offering increased accessibility. These include: IoT; Advanced analytics; Artificial intelligence (FDA has been piloting AI technology); Graph technology used in supply chain visibility; blockchain; mixed reality; and remote monitoring.
  2. There are new responsibilities that come with being a part of America’s critical infrastructure and protecting essential frontline workers.
    • Companies must have a strong relationship (or work to build one) with local health departments and authorities
    • Name a COVID Czar at your company: This is a designated person, located both within a production facility as well as at the corporate location, who manages the bulk of the requirements and precautions that companies should be undertaking to address the pandemic.
  3. Every company should have an emergency risk management plan that centers around good communication.
  4. The COVID-19 pandemic is a reminder to us that the threat for viruses is always lurking beneath the surface. There is still work to be done on the food labs side regarding more rapid assays, leveling the playing field regarding conducting viral testing, and technology that enables labs to get safe, effective and consistent results.
  5. Lessons in sanitation: Investment in sanitation is critical, there are no shortcuts, and empower your sanitation employees, give them the tools they need to effectively do their jobs.
  6. The FDA’s FSMA Proposed Traceability rule is expected to be a “game changer”. It will lay the foundation for meaningful harmonization. FDA Deputy Commissioner for Food Policy and Response Frank Yiannas said the pandemic really put a spotlight on the fact that the U.S. food industry needs better tracking and tracing.
  7. Know your suppliers, know your suppliers, know your suppliers!
  8. Biofilms are ubiquitous, and the process of detecting and eliminating Listeria in your facility is a marathon with no finish line.
  9. Food Safety Culture is a profit center, not an overhead department.
  10. “If I’m not well, I can’t do well.” Making sure your needs are met personally and professionally plays an important role in being a better contributor to your company’s success.

As part of a special offering, we are making four episodes of the 2020 Food Safety Consortium Virtual Conference Series available on demand for free. Head to our Events & Webinars page to register to view the sessions on or after January 2021.

Jason Chester, InfinityQS
FST Soapbox

Digital Revolution: Empowering the Remote Workforce and Resilience Post-COVID-19

By Jason Chester
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Jason Chester, InfinityQS

Around the world, countries are beginning to take tentative steps toward a return to normalcy following months of stay-at-home mandates and other restrictions in light of COVID-19. Slowly, we’re starting to see employees return to their offices, retail stores open their doors, and restaurants welcome back patrons. However, many will find themselves in a world dramatically different from the one they left before quarantine.

Namely, on top of social distancing and disinfection measures to control further spread of the virus, entire industries are re-examining their legacy processes and systems—especially ones that presented operational challenges at the pandemic’s outbreak—the food manufacturing industry included.

In truth, food manufacturers have gone to great lengths to maintain productivity and output to meet demand throughout the pandemic. But they have done so in the face of unprecedented circumstances, with many plants operating with limited workforces and key employees like quality professionals and plant managers shifted to remote work. Lacking connectivity between those on the plant floor and at home due to long-held manual processes, a growing number of manufacturers must now take a hard look at their quality and safety programs and embrace digital tools.

A Wake-Up Call for Digital Transformation

Most technological investments in food manufacturing over the past several decades have centered on electro-mechanical automation designed to scale up the physical production process. Fewer investments, however, have been made on the equally important data-driven, decision-making process necessary for ensuring optimal performance, food quality and safety.

Even in the most heavily automated plants, it’s not uncommon to find manufacturers managing quality through manually updated spreadsheets, which are often only reviewed after the fact, when it’s too late for remedial correction. There are unfortunately also those who still rely on paper checklists, making it practically impossible to take proactive action on collected process data—much less get the information in front of remote quality professionals and managers. Meanwhile, others have gone as far as adopting software solutions for quality data management and process control, but these tend to be on-premises systems that employees can’t access outside of the four walls of the plant.

We have also seen many examples where, due to workforce restrictions and availability, employees from other parts of the manufacturing business (e.g., R&D, IT, and back-office teams) have been brought in to perform plant-floor activities like quality and food safety checks. The goal has been to prevent impediments to production output, just when demand has increased substantially. But ensuring that these employees perform the checks on time and in the correct way—with little time for training or coaching—has left many plant leaders in a precarious position.

The challenges seen with these capabilities and enabling geographically dispersed teams to work together through the pandemic have been a wake-up call of sorts for digital transformation. Manufacturers are coming to the realization that they’ll need data accessibility, actionability and adaptability along the road to recovery and in the post-COVID-19 world. And with social distancing and other workplace precautions expected to continue for the foreseeable future, the imperative is all the more urgent.

The Solution Lies in the Cloud

To digitally transform quality and safety programs today, food manufacturers should prioritize investment in the cloud. Notably, cloud-based quality management systems offer a way to standardize and centralize critical process information, as well as tools to empower employees at all levels of the enterprise.

For plant-floor operators struggling to keep up on account of reduced workforce sizes, such solutions can automate routine yet important activities for quality assurance, including data collection, process monitoring and reporting. If a team member needs to cover a different shift or unfamiliar task, role-based dashboards can help them to see required actions, while process workflows can provide guidance to ensure proper steps are taken even with a limited workforce. Further, automated alerts can provide timely notifications of any issues—whether it be a missed data collection or an actual food quality or safety concern present in the data.

Perhaps most importantly during the pandemic and for the post-COVID-19 world, the cloud makes critical quality data instantly and easily accessible from anywhere, at any time. Quality professionals, plant managers, and other decision-makers can continue to monitor and analyze real-time process data, as well as observe performance trends to prevent issues from escalating—all safely from home.

The scalability of cloud-based solutions also streamlines deployment so organizations can rapidly implement and standardize on a single system across multiple lines and sites. In doing so, it becomes possible to run cross-plant analyses to identify opportunities for widescale process improvement and align best practices for optimal quality control at all sites. This ability to understand what’s happening in production—through real-time data—to enact agile, real-world change is a hallmark of successful digital transformation.

An Investment for Whatever the Future Holds

Ultimately, investments in secure cloud-based quality management and the broader digital transformation of manufacturing operations are investments in not only perseverance during the pandemic, but also resilience for the future. Food producers and manufacturers who can readily access and make informed decisions from their data will be the ones best equipped to pivot and adjust operations in times of disruption and uncertainty. And while it’s unclear what the future holds for the world, the food industry, and COVID-19, it’s safe to say we likely won’t see a full return to normalcy but the emergence of a new—and in many ways better—normal, born out of digital solutions and smarter ways of thinking about quality data collection and monitoring.

Data protection, security

The Digital Transformation of Global Food Security

By Katie Evans
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Data protection, security

Modern food supply chains are inherently complex, with products typically passing through multiple suppliers and distributors, as well as countries and continents, before they end up on the supermarket shelf. While global supply chains offer consumers greater choice and convenience, they also make protecting the security of food products more challenging. With additional stakeholders between farm and fork, products are exposed to an elevated risk of biological or chemical contamination, as well as food counterfeiting and adulteration challenges—potentially putting consumer health and brand reputation in jeopardy.

Given the importance of maintaining the safety, quality and provenance of food products, global regulatory bodies are placing the integrity of supply chains under increased scrutiny. In the United States, for example, the adoption of FSMA moved the focus from responding to foodborne illnesses to preventing them by prioritizing comprehensive food testing measures, enforcing inspections and checks, and enabling authorities to react appropriately to safety issues through fines, recalls or permit suspensions.1 Similarly, China’s revised Food Safety Law (known as FSL 2015) is widely considered to be the strictest in the country’s history, and seeks to drive up quality standards by empowering regulators, and enhancing traceability and accountability through robust record-keeping. 2 The European Union continues to closely regulate and monitor food safety through its General Food Law, which is independently overseen by the European Food Safety Authority from a scientific perspective.

Achieving the Highest Standards of Food Security, Integrity and Traceability

For producers, manufacturers and distributors, the heightened regulatory focus on the security and integrity of the food supply chain has placed additional emphasis on accurate record-keeping, transparent accountability and end-to-end traceability. To meet the needs of the modern regulatory landscape, food chain stakeholders require robust systems and tools to manage their quality control (QC), environmental monitoring and chain of custody data. Despite this, many businesses still handle this information using paper-based approaches or localized spreadsheets, which can compromise operational efficiency and regulatory compliance.

The fundamental flaw of these traditional data management approaches is their reliance on manual data entry and transcription steps, leaving information vulnerable to human error. To ensure the accuracy of data, some companies implement resource-intensive verification or review checks. However, these steps inevitably extend workflows and delay decision-making, ultimately holding up the release of products at a high cost to businesses. Moreover, as paper and spreadsheet-based data management systems must be updated by hand, they often serve merely as a record of past events and are unable to provide insight into ongoing activities. The time lag associated with recording and accessing supply chain information means that vital insight is typically unavailable until the end of a process, and data cannot be used to optimize operations in real-time.

Furthermore, using traditional data management approaches, gathering information in the event of an audit or food safety incident can be extremely challenging. Trawling through paperwork or requesting information contained in spreadsheets saved on local computers is time-consuming and resource-intensive. When it comes to establishing accountability for actions, these systems are often unable to provide a complete audit trail of events.

Digital Solutions Transform Food Security and Compliance

Given the limitations of traditional workflows, food supply chain stakeholders are increasingly seeking more robust data management solutions that will allow them to drive efficiency, while meeting the latest regulatory expectations. For many businesses, laboratory information management systems (LIMS) are proving to be a highly effective solution for collecting, storing and sharing their QC, environmental monitoring and chain of custody data.

One of the most significant advantages of managing data using LIMS is the way in which they bring together people, instruments, workflows and data in a single integrated system. When it comes to managing the receipt of raw materials, for example, LIMS can improve overall workflow visibility, and help to make processes faster and more efficient. By using barcodes, radiofrequency identification (RFID) tags or near-field communication, samples can be tracked by the system throughout various laboratory and storage locations. With LIMS tracking samples at every stage, ingredients and other materials can be automatically released into production as soon as the QC results have been authorized, streamlining processes and eliminating costly delays.

By storing the standard operating procedures (SOPs) used for raw material testing or QC centrally in a LIMS, worklists, protocols and instrument methods can be automatically downloaded directly to equipment. In this way, LIMS are able to eliminate time-consuming data entry steps, reducing the potential for human error and improving data integrity. When integrated with laboratory execution systems (LES), these solutions can even guide operators step-by-step through procedures, ensuring SOPs are executed consistently, and in a regulatory compliant manner. Not only can these integrated solutions improve the reliability and consistency of data by making sure tests are performed in a standardized way across multiple sites and testing teams, they can also boost operational efficiency by simplifying set-up procedures and accelerating the delivery of results. What’s more, because LIMS can provide a detailed audit trail of all user interactions within the system, this centralized approach to data management is a robust way of ensuring full traceability and accountability.

This high level of operational efficiency and usability also extends to the way in which data is processed, analyzed and reported. LIMS platforms can support multi-level parameter review and can rapidly perform calculations and check results against specifications for relevant customers. In this way, LIMS can ensure pathogens, pesticides and veterinary drug residues are within specifications for specific markets. With all data stored centrally, certificates of analysis can be automatically delivered to enterprise resource planning (ERP) software or process information management systems (PIMS) to facilitate rapid decision-making and batch release. Furthermore, the sophisticated data analysis tools built into the most advanced LIMS software enable users to monitor the way in which instruments are used and how they are performing, helping businesses to manage their assets more efficiently. Using predictive algorithms to warn users when principal QC instruments are showing early signs of deterioration, the latest LIMS can help companies take preventative action before small issues turn into much bigger problems. As a result, these powerful tools can help to reduce unplanned maintenance, keep supply chains moving, and better maintain the quality and integrity of goods.

While LIMS are very effective at building more resilient supply chains and preventing food security issues, they also make responding to potential threats much faster, easier and more efficient. With real-time access to QC, environmental monitoring and chain of custody data, food contamination or adulteration issues can be detected early, triggering the prompt isolation of affected batches before they are released. And in the event of a recall or audit, batch traceability in modern LIMS enables the rapid retrieval of relevant results and metadata associated with suspect products through all stages of production. This allows the determination of affected batches and swift action to be taken, which can be instrumental in protecting consumer safety as well as brand value.

Using LIMS to Protect Security and Integrity of the Food Supply Chain

Increasingly, LIMS are helping businesses transform food security by bringing people, instruments and workflows into a single integrated system. By simplifying and automating processes, providing end-to-end visibility across the food supply chain, and protecting the integrity of data at every stage, these robust digital solutions are not only helping food supply chain stakeholders to ensure full compliance with the latest regulations; they are enabling businesses to operate more efficiently, too.

References

  1. FDA. (2011). FDA Food Safety Modernization Act. Accessed October 3, 2019. Retrieved from https://www.fda.gov/food/food-safety-modernization-act-fsma/full-text-food-safety-modernization-act-fsma.
  2. Balzano, J. (2015). “Revised Food Safety Law In China Signals Many Changes And Some Surprises”. Forbes. Accessed October 3, 2019. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/johnbalzano/2015/05/03/revised-food-safety-law-in-china-signals-many-changes-and-some-surprises/#624b72db6e59.