Tag Archives: efficiency

Roberto Bellavia, Kestrel
FST Soapbox

How Integrated Compliance Management Systems Maximize Efficiency

By Roberto Bellavia
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Roberto Bellavia, Kestrel

Managing the complexities of a management system is challenging for any food and beverage company, particularly for the team tasked with implementing the system throughout the organization. That is because every regulatory agency (e.g., FDA, USDA, OSHA, EPA) and voluntary certification (e.g., GFSI-benchmarked standards, gluten-free, organic, ISO) calls for companies to fulfill compliance requirements—many of which overlap. Supply chain and internal requirements can create further complications and confusion.

In today’s “New Era of Smarter Food Safety,” having a common system to organize, manage and track compliance offers an ideal solution. Dynamic tools are becoming available—systems that can manage employee training, pest control, laboratory testing, supply chain management tools, regulatory compliance and certification requirements, etc.

Unfortunately, these systems are often not set up to “talk” to each other, leaving company representatives to navigate many systems, databases, folders, and documents housed in many different locations.

The Solution: Compliance Management Systems

An integrated compliance management system (CMS) is intended to bring all these tools together to create one system that effectively manages compliance requirements, enables staff to carry out daily tasks and manage operations, and supports operational decision making by tracking and trending data that is collected daily by the team charged with implementation.

A CMS is used to coordinate, organize, control, analyze and visualize information to help organizations remain in compliance and operate efficiently. A successful CMS thinks beyond just access to documents; it manages the processes, knowledge and work that is critical to helping identify and control business risks. That may include the following:

  • Ensuring only authorized employees can access the right information.
  • Consolidating documents and records in a centralized location to provide easy access
  • Setting up formal business practices, processes and procedures
  • Implementing compliance and certification programs
  • Monitoring and measuring performance
  • Supporting continuous improvements
  • Documenting decisions and how they are made
  • Capturing institutional knowledge and transferring that into a sustainable system
  • Using task management and tracking tools to understand how people are doing their work
  • Enabling data trending and predictive analytics

CMS Case Study: Boston Sword and Tuna

In early 2019, Boston Sword and Tuna (BST) began the process of achieving SQF food safety certification. We initially started working with BST on the development, training and implementation of the program requirements to the SQF code for certification—including developing guidance documents for a new site under construction.

The process of attaining SQF certification included the development of a register of SQF requirements in Microsoft SharePoint, which has since evolved into a more comprehensive approach to overall data and compliance management. “We didn’t plan to build a paperless food safety management system,” explains BST President Larry Dore, “until we implemented our SQF food safety management program and realized that we needed a better way to manage data.”

We worked with BST to structure the company’s SharePoint CMS according to existing BST food safety management processes to support its certification requirements and overall food safety management program. This has included developing a number of modules/tools to support ongoing compliance efforts and providing online/remote training in the management of the site and a paperless data collection module.

The BST CMS has been designed to support daily task activities with reminders and specific workflows that ensure proper records verifications are carried out as required. The system houses tools and forms, standards/regulatory registers, and calendars for tracking action items, including the following:

  • Ambient Temperature
  • Corrective and Preventive Action (CAPA)
  • Chemical Inventory/Safety Data Sheets (SDS)
  • Compliance Management
  • Customer Complaints
  • Document Control
  • Employee Health Check
  • Food Safety Meetings Management Program
  • Forklift Inspections
  • Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) Audit
  • SQF Register
  • Maintenance (requests/work orders/assets/repairs)
  • Nightly Cleaning Inspections
  • Operational/Pre-Operational Inspections
  • Sanitation Pre-Op Inspections
  • Scale Calibration
  • Sharp/Knife Inspections
  • Shipping/Receiving Logs
  • Thawing Temperature Log
  • Thermometer Calibration

Key Considerations for Designing a Successful CMS

An effective CMS requires an understanding of technology, operational needs, regulatory compliance obligations and certification requirements, as well as the bigger picture of the company’s overall strategy. There are several key considerations that can help ensure companies end up with the right CMS and efficiency tools to provide an integrated system that supports the organization for the long term.

Before design can even begin, it is important to first determine where you are starting by conducting an inventory of existing systems. This includes not only identifying how you are currently managing your compliance and certification requirements, but also assessing how well those current systems (or parts of them) are working for the organization.

As with many projects, design should begin with the end in mind. What are the business drivers that are guiding your system? What are the outcomes you want to achieve through your system (e.g., create efficiencies, provide remote access, reduce duplication of effort, produce real-time reports, respond to regulatory requirements, foster teamwork and communication)? Assuming that managing compliance and certification requirements is a fundamental objective of the CMS, having a solid understanding of those requirements is key to building the system. These requirements should be documented so they can be built into the CMS for efficient tracking and management.

While you may not build everything from the start, defining the ultimate desired end state will allow for development to proceed so every module is aligned under the CMS. Understand that building a CMS is a process, and different organizations will be comfortable with different paces and budgets. Establish priorities (i.e., the most important items on your list), schedule and budget. Doing so will allow you to determine whether to tackle the full system at once or develop one module at a time. For many, it makes sense to start with existing processes that work well and transition those first. Priorities should be set based on ease of implementation, compliance risk, business improvement and value to the company.

Finally, the CMS will not work well without getting the right people involved—and that can include many different people at various points in the process (e.g., end user entering data in the plant, management reviewing reports and metrics, system administrator, office staff). The system should be designed to reflect the daily routines of those employees who will be using it. Modules should build off existing routines, tasks, and activities to create familiarity and encourage adoption. A truly user-friendly system will be something that meets the needs of all parties.

Driving Value and Compliance Efficiency

When thoughtfully designed, a CMS can provide significant value by creating compliance efficiencies that improve the company’s ability to create consistent and reliable compliance performance. “Our system is allowing us to actually use data analytics for decision making and continuous opportunity,” said Dore. “Plus, it is making remote activities much more practical and efficient”.

For BST, the CMS also:

  • Provides central management of inspection schedules, forms, and other requirements.
  • Increases productivity through reductions in prep time and redundant/manual data entry.
  • Improves data access/availability for reporting and planning purposes.
  • Effectively monitors operational activities to ensure compliance and certifications standards are met.
  • Allows data to be submitted directly and immediately into SharePoint so it can be reviewed, analyzed, etc. in real time.
  • Creates workflow and process automation, including automated notifications to allow for real-time improvements.
  • Allows follow-up actions to be assigned and sent to those who need them.

All these things work together to help the company reduce compliance risk, create efficiencies, provide operational flexibility, and generate business improvement and value.

Emily Newton, Revolutionized Magazine
FST Soapbox

How to Improve Food Processing Efficiency

By Emily Newton
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Emily Newton, Revolutionized Magazine

For food processors, efficiency can be a major asset. Cutting production times and improving kitchen throughput is one of the best ways to reduce costs and boost profits. In recent years, new management strategies and a range of technologies—like Industry 4.0—has transformed how business owners manage their facilities, including food processing plants. This means there is a range of new, efficiency-improving tools available for businesses that want to streamline plant processes and better manage their operations. The strategies and investments are some of the best possible ways for food processors to improve their plant’s efficiency.

1. Take Advantage of Industry 4.0 Technology

Over the past few years, the digital transformation of industries has resulted in a wide range of products, platforms and devices that can help streamline facility operations and workflows.

Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) sensors, for example, are Internet-connected sensors that collect a wide range of real-time data from site processes. This data can help food processors improve their bottom lines in a few different ways—like by providing better data on food safety or providing real-time quality control.

For example, IIoT sensors can be used to keep an eye on equipment performance and machine health. An air pressure sensor, installed at the right place in an HVAC duct, can provide valuable notice on blockages and damaged filters. When air pressure drops dramatically, it is typically a sign of some kind of blockage in the HVAC system. This advanced notice can help you fix the HVAC system quicker, potentially saving money and preventing dust or other contaminants from reducing facility air quality.

These IIoT systems also make it much easier to collect information about a facility. This information can help unlock insights about workflows, processes and site layouts, allowing changes that make a facility even more efficient.

For example, you may be able to gather hard data on how an individual product or product line influences machine timing—or how production of a particular item may slow down throughput or make workers less efficient. This information can help you adjust site processes, simplifying the workflow for products that put more strain on your facility, or cutting those products entirely in favor of simpler-to-produce items.

2. Use Efficient Equipment and Materials

Equipment choice can have a major impact on the overall efficiency of a facility. Even small choices—like the lightbulbs used or HVAC filters installed—can add up over time, reducing a facility’s energy bill and contributing to a more comfortable working environment.

Filter choice, for example, is especially important at plants that process a significant amount of wastewater or similar fluids. Good filtration is necessary to remove dangerous chemicals and contaminants from wastewater, but not all filter materials are made equal. Some perform much better than others—and this cost efficiency can have a major impact on a long enough timescale.

EPDM, for example, is an FDA-approved food-grade rubber and a common gasket material for equipment used in industrial kitchens and other food processing plants. It is also a common filter material. However, EPDM filters have a tendency to swell and suffer from performance issues over time. They may require more regular maintenance, which could negatively impact the productivity of a filtration system. PTFE membranes, in contrast, don’t have the same drawbacks.

Making simple adjustments—finding the right kind of filter or LED bulb— can help reduce maintenance costs and improve facility energy efficiency. Often, these changes can happen without major adjustments to the underlying equipment or workflows that keep the factory moving. These upgrades are a great place to start if you want to see how smaller tweaks and adjustments impact facility efficiency before moving on to more major changes.

3. Find Ways to Conserve Water

Similarly, food processing plants can save significantly by finding ways to reduce the amount of water they consume. Water is often seen as a free commodity in food processing plants—but consumption of water can become a significant expense at scale. Equipment, practices and machinery that help reduce water usage can be a way to cut down on costs while making the plant a little more eco-friendly.

Simple changes can make a notable difference without requiring new equipment. For example, some plants may be able to begin cleaning floors and equipment with sweeping or mopping rather than hoses. Mobile sweepers can cover large areas, like parking lots, that can’t be swept with manual labor alone. In one example, Bartter Industries, a New South Wales-based poultry product manufacturer, was able to reduce its water consumption by 10,000 liters a day (approximately 2,640 gallons) by switching from hosing to mopping and sweeping.

More extensive equipment and facility upgrades can yield more significant results.

Increasing the efficiency of water usage may also help future-proof a plant. Industrial water and sewage rates have risen significantly over the past two decades. Water insecurity and droughts may drive these prices higher in the near future.

Many major food production companies—including Pepsi-Cola and Coca-Cola—are already in the process of investing major amounts of money in water reuse and conservation technology.

Adopting similar technology and practices at your facility can provide a valuable competitive advantage now and help in the future when water reuse and stringent water conservation policies are more common.

4. Upgrade Your Maintenance Plan

Scheduled maintenance is one of the most commonly used maintenance approaches. Having such a plan in place can help reduce sudden, unexpected machine failure—helping avoid major downtime and reducing spending on replacement parts for facility machinery.

There are, however, major limitations to the scheduled maintenance model. Every time a machine is opened for maintenance, technicians may unintentionally expose sensitive electronics and internal components to dust, oil, fluids and other contaminants. Regular checks also won’t catch everything. If an issue arises and causes machine failure between scheduled checks, workers and supervisors will have no advanced notice of that machine’s failure, potentially leading to damage or injury.

New Industry 4.0 tech, however, means you can do even better than scheduled maintenance. Predictive maintenance is a maintenance approach that uses data collected from IIoT devices to improve maintenance checks and provide advanced notice on potential failure.

With this approach, IIoT sensors installed in and around machinery capture real-time data on how individual machines are behaving. If one begins to function unusually—exceeding safe temperature ranges, vibrating excessively or emitting strange sounds—the sensors can capture this behavior and alert a supervisor.

This maintenance method can help any facility cut down on maintenance checks and reduce the risk of sudden downtime due to damaged equipment.

Improve Food Processing Efficiency with These Strategies

Improvements to efficiency can be a major advantage for food processors. These strategies and investments are some of the best ways to improve a plant’s efficiency. Simple adjustments to materials, equipment, and workflows—or more serious investments in technology like predictive maintenance platforms—can make a significant difference in a facility’s productivity and resource usage.

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.

Karil Kochenderfer, LINKAGES
FST Soapbox

GFSI at 20 YEARS: Time for a Reboot?

By Karil Kochenderfer
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Karil Kochenderfer, LINKAGES

The marketplace has experienced dramatic changes that were barely on the horizon 20 years ago—by that, I mean mobile phones, Instagram, Facebook, climate change, consumer transparency, globalization, novel new products delivered to your doorstep and now COVID-19, too.

I write from a perspective of both pride and concern. I had the privilege of representing GFSI in North America and helping the organization expand beyond Europe as new food safety laws were implemented in both the United States and Canada.

Questionable Utility of Multiple, Redundant and Costly Certifications

However, I also sympathized with small and medium food companies that struggled with minimal resources and food safety expertise to understand GFSI and then to become certified not once, but multiple times for multiple customers. GFSI’s mantra, “Once Certified, Accepted Everywhere,” was far from their GFSI reality…or, frankly, the reality of many food companies. My concern was not insignificant. The food industry is populated by a majority of small businesses, each seeking that one big break that could possibly, maybe open up access to retail shelves. Their confusion about being audited and certified to one standard was significant. Certification to multiple and redundant standards presented a daunting and costly endeavor for these start-ups. I heard their anxiety in their voices as I served as GFSI’s 1.800 “customer service rep” in North America for years.

Karil Kochenderfer will present “GFSI at 20 Years: Time for a Reboot?” during the 2020 Food Safety Consortium Virtual Conference Series | Her session takes place on December 17Transparency

In the 20 years since GFSI was established, the world has become much more transparent. Today, entire industries operate on open, international, consensus-based ISO management standards in far bigger and more complex sectors than the food sector (e.g., the automotive, airline and medical device sectors). And, in the 20 years since GFSI was established, an ISO food safety management system standard has been developed that is now used widely throughout the world with more than 36,000 certifications (i.e., ISO 22000).

Auditing and certifying a facility to a single, international, public standard would enhance GFSI transparency. It also would help to hurdle government concerns related to the lack of public input into the development of private standards, enabling private certifications like GFSI to be used efficiently as a compliance tool—a benefit to both government and food interests and to consumer health, safety and trade.

New Technologies

Many new technologies, such blockchain, artificial intelligence, sensors and the Internet of Things are being heralded widely now as well, particularly for businesses with complex supply-chains like those in like the fast-moving food and retail sectors. The benefits of these technologies are predicated on the use of a common digital language…or standard. Multiple and diverse standards, like GFSI, complicate the use of these new technologies, which is why FDA is examining the harmonizing role of standards and data management in its proposed New Era of Smarter Food Safety.

Sustainable Development

Today, food safety often is managed in tandem with other corporate environment, health and safety programs. The Consumer Goods Forum, which oversees GFSI, should take a similar approach and merge GFSI with its sustainability, and health and wellness programs to help CGF members meet their existing commitments to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and to encourage others to do the same. Here, once again, adoption of a single, transparent ISO standard can help. Adoption of ISO 22000 as the single and foundational standard for GFSI makes it easy to layer on and comply with other ISO standards—for example, for the environment (ISO 14000), worker protection (ISO 45001), energy efficiency (ISO 50001) and information/data security (ISO 27001)— and to simultaneously meet multiple SDGs.

Globalization

As I write, the COVID pandemic rages. It may re-align global supply chains and set back global trade temporarily, but the unprecedented rise in consumer incomes and corresponding decrease in poverty around the world attests to the importance of the global trade rules established by the World Trade Organization (WTO). Among these rules is a directive to governments (and businesses) to use common standards to facilitate trade, which uniquely recognizes ISO standards as well as those of Codex and OIE. When trade disputes arise, food interests that use ISO 22000 are hands-down winners, no questions asked. So, why use many and conflicting private standards?

Supply Chain Efficiency

Finally, ISO 22005, part of the ISO 22000 family of food management standards, also is aligned with GS1 Standards for supply-chain management, used throughout the food and retail sectors in North America and globally to share information between customers and suppliers. GS1 is most well known for being the administrators of the familiar U.P.C. barcode. The barcode and other “data carriers” provide visibility into the movement of products as well as information about select attributes about those products—including whether they have been certified under GFSI. Both GS1 and ISO GS1 standards are foundational to the new technologies that are being adopted in the fast-moving food, consumer products, healthcare and retail sectors both in the United States and globally. That alignment puts a spotlight on safety, sustainability, mobility, efficiency and so much more.

Focus Less on the Change, More on the Outcome

My proposal will surely set tongues in motion. Proposals to switch things up generally do. Disruption has become the norm, however, and food businesses are prized for their agility and responsiveness to the endless changes in today’s fast-moving marketplace. Still, ISO and Codex standards already are embedded in the GFSI benchmark so what I’m proposing should not be so disruptive and no one scheme or CPO should benefit disproportionately. And, less differentiation in the standard of industry performance will compel scheme or certification owners to shift their focus away from compliance with their standards and audit checklists to working with customers to truly enhance and establish “food safety-oriented cultures.” If they do, all of us emerge as winners.

The New Normal?

Around us new food businesses are emerging just as old businesses reinvent theirs. Trucks now operate as restaurants and athletes deliver dinner on bicycles. For a long time, we’ve operated businesses based on 20th century models that don’t resonate in the 21st century world. Are we at an inflection point, with both small and large businesses paying for costly and inefficient practices that no longer apply, and is it time for GFSI to change?

I welcome your thoughts. I truly do. Better, let’s discuss on a webinar or video call of your choosing. I look forward to connecting.

Submit questions you want Karil to answer during her session at the 2020 Food Safety Consortium Virtual Conference Series in the Comments section below.

Daniel Erickson, ProcessPro
FST Soapbox

Recall Risk Reduction: An ERP’s Role

By Daniel Erickson
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Daniel Erickson, ProcessPro

Consumer safety is of paramount importance and product recalls are a necessary means to this end. Product recalls are a serious, complex, and costly issue affecting the food and beverage industry in the United States. The FDA estimates that there are around 48 million cases of foodborne illness each year—causing one in six Americans to get sick from contaminated food. In addition to affecting public health, recalls have a dramatic effect on manufacturers by creating economic problems, damaging a company’s reputation, and imposing potential legal penalties and liabilities. In the search for a business management solution to better prepare themselves for and reduce the risk of recalls in their operations, many food manufacturers have discovered that technology, specifically ERP software, is key to lowering the risk of food and beverage product recalls.

An industry-specific ERP solution is a centralized business system with key industry features providing a system of record-keeping, with the tools to support the preparation and reduction of recall risks. While a manufacturer is ultimately responsible for a product recall, an ERP solution is essential in supporting and championing overall recall readiness and reduction. With the streamlined and automated inventory, manufacturing, and quality control processes managed within the software, critical steps and data that assist in recall mitigation are documented—including supplier verification records, audit logs, receipt records, quality testing, lot tracking, and shipment logs. The key to prevention of a product recall is preparation, which can be handled efficiently through an ERP’s functionality specifically in the following areas.

Supplier Management

An ERP facilitates best practices for supplier management and risk assessment within the solution to assure the acquisition of quality raw materials from trusted vendors. Its role is to maintain an approved supplier list for each product ingredient, documenting detailed supplier information, quality control test results, and risk level to ensure in-house and customer-specific standards are met. For approved or activated suppliers, information regarding materials that can be purchased through the vendor, applicable certifications, quality control results, and other pertinent supplier information is stored within the centralized data system of the ERP. A risk assessment for each vendor is also documented to ensure that any potential inherent risk(s) from vendor-issued recalls and to finished goods are limited.

In addition to activated suppliers, an ERP solution also assigns and manages qualified alternates to provide vetted selections should a primary supplier’s materials become unavailable. This positions a company well in the supply chain, as the investigative work has already been conducted on other suppliers, limiting the need and risk associated with onboarding an unknown supplier in a moment of crisis. Vendors are recorded within the system and ranked in order of preference and/or risk level so that they can be identified and put into use quickly if a supplier becomes unavailable—providing the preparation and leverage that companies need to mitigate the risk to safety in the supply chain. In a product recall situation, when a supplier notifies a customer of a contaminated ingredient, the supplier management feature within the ERP solution provides for a qualified replacement vendor that can fulfill the needed raw material quickly and efficiently.

Inventory Control

An ERP system offers end-to-end traceability, maintaining a comprehensive record that tracks raw ingredients, work-in-progress, and final products throughout the supply chain using barcode scanning to link product and lot information to batch tickets, QC testing results, shipping documents, and labels. This full forward and backward lot traceability is necessary to provide a documented audit trail imperative to locating raw materials or finished goods quickly within the initial 24-hour time period of a product recall. With full manufacturing, inventory, and reporting integrations, the ERP supports sound manufacturing practices that assist with recall preparedness – maintaining current Good Manufacturing Practices (cGMP), FDA reporting, GFSI compliance, and other industry-specific regulations to provide a documented audit trail with the ability to adapt as compliance requirements change.

Managing protocols to ensure the quality of inbound and outbound materials is essential in minimizing recall risk across the entire supply chain—from raw materials to the delivered final product. With an industry-specific ERP solution, formulas, recipes and instructions are maintained, scaled and verified to ensure consistency of products within the manufacturing process. This instills preventative measures throughout the production cycle in the form of process steps and quality control test specifications to bolster safety and quality. Quality features such as quarantine status and other status capabilities permit the isolating, removing and disposing of raw ingredients and finished goods that fail to meet quality control standards—triggering an alert to notify the purchasing department to investigate the issue. Having the ability to remove ingredients and finished goods from inventory or production prevents contaminated items from reaching store shelves and consumers, which reduces overall recall risk.

Inventory control practices are an important part of the functionality within an ERP solution that help to reduce overall recall risk. This includes managing and reporting of shelf life and expiration dates to maintain precise and lean control of inventory and reduce variances. Automated inventory transactions with the use of an ERP’s warehouse management solution (WMS) follow industry best practices and improve efficiency to ensure the accuracy of shipments, transfers, and material returns. This real-time visibility allows for the maintenance of FIFO inventory practices necessary to reduce the risk of spoilage.

One of the leading causes of contamination for food and beverage manufacturers that results in a recall event is a lack of allergen control throughout the supply chain and production process. An ERP system helps to track, manage and record the handling, storage and batch steps of raw materials from farm-to-fork. This includes stringent sanitary practices, lot tracking, raw material segregation and process controls to avoid allergen contamination or cross-contamination. Accurate product labeling is also a significant factor in reducing risk and an automated system that generates nutritional and product package labels plays a key role in a company’s recall prevention. To meet the needs of consumers and regulators, an ERP solution automates label creation to include accurate ingredient and allergen statements, nutrient analysis, expiration dates, lot and batch numbers, and regulatory specifications. The labeling history documented in the software allows products to be identified and located quickly in the event of a recall.

Reporting

Utilizing the recall functionality in the ERP solution allows companies to plan and test their recall process in advance. Performing mock recalls permits regular measurement and improvement of procedures to ensure rapid, accurate, and thorough responses by all company stakeholders in the event of a recall. A successful simulated exercise identifies 100% of recalled ingredients/products and notifies appropriate entities in a timely manner. Evaluation and documentation of mock recall exercises help expose inefficiencies, process gaps and procedural adjustments, which are designed to improve recall readiness and minimize consumer exposure to potentially dangerous contaminants.

As proof or documentation of adherence to specific processes, reporting is essential to demonstrate that these processes have been completed—without it, an integral component is missing. Across the supply chain and throughout the manufacturing process, documentation and reporting accentuate steps that have been taken to prepare and reduce recall risk. Risk-based assessments in supplier management, lot traceability reports, and mock recall reporting all provide a starting point of analysis to allow for adjustments to be made across the business. In a recall situation, the system is able to create lot tracking reports that encompass raw ingredients through shipped finished goods. These reports can be produced in minutes, rather than the hours it takes if data is stored within separate software programs.

Due to the amount of time and money that food and beverage companies invest in getting their products to market, it is imperative that preventative measures are taken in order to avoid a product recall. Forward-thinking manufacturers can help prepare for and reduce recall risks by utilizing several important features in ERP software—including supplier management, inventory control, and reporting. Using the tools at their disposal, a company can mitigate liabilities and protect their brand to turn a potential crisis into a future filled with opportunities.

Raj Rajagopal, 3M Food Safety
In the Food Lab

Pathogen Detection Guidance in 2020

By Raj Rajagopal
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Raj Rajagopal, 3M Food Safety

Food production managers have a critical role in ensuring that the products they make are safe and uncontaminated with dangerous pathogens. Health and wellness are in sharp focus for consumers in every aspect of their lives right now, and food safety is no exception. As food safety becomes a continually greater focus for consumers and regulators, the technologies used to monitor for and detect pathogens in a production plant have become more advanced.

It’s no secret that pathogen testing is performed for numerous reasons: To confirm the adequacy of processing control and to ensure foods and beverages have been properly stored or cooked, to name some. Accomplishing these objectives can be very different, and depending on their situations, processors rely on different tools to provide varying degrees of testing simplicity, speed, cost, efficiency and accuracy. It’s common today to leverage multiple pathogen diagnostics, ranging from traditional culture-based methods to molecular technologies.

And unfortunately, pathogen detection is more than just subjecting finished products to examination. It’s become increasingly clear to the industry that the environment in which food is processed can cross-contaminate products, requiring food manufacturers to be ever-vigilant in cleaning, sanitizing, sampling and testing their sites.

For these reasons and others, it’s important to have an understanding and appreciation for the newer tests and techniques used in the fight against deadly pathogens, and where and how they might be fit for purpose throughout the operation. This article sheds light on the key features of one fast-growing DNA-based technology that detects pathogens and explains how culture methods for index and indicator organisms continue to play crucial roles in executing broad-based pathogen management programs.

LAMP’s Emergence in Molecular Pathogen Detection

Molecular pathogen detection has been a staple technology for food producers since the adoption of polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests decades ago. However, the USDA FSIS revised its Microbiology Laboratory Guidebook, the official guide to the preferred methods the agency uses when testing samples collected from audits and inspections, last year to include new technologies that utilize loop-mediated isothermal amplification (LAMP) methods for Salmonella and Listeria detection.

LAMP methods differ from traditional PCR-based testing methods in four noteworthy ways.

First, LAMP eliminates the need for thermal cycling. Fundamentally, PCR tests require thermocyclers with the ability to alter the temperature of a sample to facilitate the PCR. The thermocyclers used for real-time PCR tests that allow detection in closed tubes can be expensive and include multiple moving parts that require regular maintenance and calibration. For every food, beverage or environmental surface sample tested, PCR systems will undergo multiple cycles of heating up to 95oC to break open DNA strands and cooling down to 60oC to extend the new DNA chain in every cycle. All of these temperature variations generally require more run time and the enzyme, Taq polymerase, used in PCR can be subjected to interferences from other inhibiting substances that are native to a sample and co-extracted with the DNA.

LAMP amplifies DNA isothermally at a steady and stable temperature range—right around 60oC. The Bst polymerase allows continuous amplification and better tolerates the sample matrix inhibitors known to trip up PCR. The detection schemes used for LAMP detection frees LAMP’s instrumentation from the constraints of numerous moving pieces.

Secondly, it doubles the number of DNA primers. Traditional PCR tests recognize two separate regions of the target genetic material. They rely on two primers to anneal to the subject’s separated DNA strands and copy and amplify that target DNA.

By contrast, LAMP technology uses four to six primers, which can recognize six to eight distinct regions from the sample’s DNA. These primers and polymerase used not only cause the DNA strand to displace, they actually loop the end of the strands together before initiating amplification cycling. This unique looped structure both accelerates the reaction and increases test result sensitivity by allowing for an exponential accumulation of target DNA.

Third of all, it removes steps from the workflow. Before any genetic amplification can happen, technicians must enrich their samples to deliberately grow microorganisms to detectable levels. Technicians using PCR tests have to pre-dispense lysis buffers or reagent mixes and take other careful actions to extract and purify their DNA samples.

Commercialized LAMP assay kits, on the other hand, offer more of a ready-to-use approach as they offer ready to use lysis buffer and simplified workflow to prepare DNA samples. By only requiring two transfer steps, it can significantly reduces the risk of false negatives caused by erroneous laboratory preparation.

Finally, it simplifies multiple test protocols into one. Food safety lab professionals using PCR technology have historically been required to perform different test protocols for each individual pathogen, whether that be Salmonella, Listeria, E. coli O157:H7 or other. Not surprisingly, this can increase the chances of error. Oftentimes, labs are resource-challenged and pressure-packed environments. Having to keep multiple testing steps straight all of the time has proven to be a recipe for trouble.

LAMP brings the benefit of a single assay protocol for testing all pathogens, enabling technicians to use the same protocol for all pathogen tests. This streamlined workflow involving minimal steps simplifies the process and reduces risk of human-caused error.

Index and Indicator Testing

LAMP technology has streamlined and advanced pathogen detection, but it’s impractical and unfeasible for producers to molecularly test every single product they produce and every nook and cranny in their production environments. Here is where an increasing number of companies are utilizing index and indicator tests as part of more comprehensive pathogen environmental programs. Rather than testing for specific pathogenic organisms, these tools give a microbiological warning sign that conditions may be breeding undesirable food safety or quality outcomes.

Index tests are culture-based tests that detect microorganisms whose presence (or detection above a threshold) suggest an increased risk for the presence of an ecologically similar pathogen. Listeria spp. Is the best-known index organism, as its presence can also mark the presence of deadly pathogen Listeria monocytogenes. However, there is considerable skepticism among many in the research community if there are any organisms outside of Listeria spp. that can be given this classification.

Indicator tests, on the other hand, detect the presence of organisms reflecting the general microbiological condition of a food or the environment. The presence of indicator organisms can not provide any information on the potential presence or absence of a specific pathogen or an assessment of potential public health risk, but their levels above acceptable limits can indicate insufficient cleaning and sanitation or operating conditions.

Should indicator test results exceed the established control limits, facilities are expected to take appropriate corrective action and to document the actions taken and results obtained. Utilizing cost-effective, fast indicator tests as benchmark to catch and identify problem areas can suggest that more precise, molecular methods need to be used to verify that the products are uncontaminated.

Process Matters

As discussed, technology plays a large role in pathogen detection, and advances like LAMP molecular detection methods combined with strategic use of index and indicator tests can provide food producers with powerful tools to safeguard their consumers from foodborne illnesses. However, whether a producer is testing environmental samples, ingredients or finished product, a test is only as useful as the comprehensive pathogen management plan around it.

The entire food industry is striving to meet the highest safety standards and the best course of action is to adopt a solution that combines the best technologies available with best practices in terms of processes as well –from sample collection and preparation to monitoring and detection.

Megan Nichols
FST Soapbox

Machine Vision Training Tips to Improve Food Inspections

By Megan Ray Nichols
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Megan Nichols

As machines become more intelligent, every industry on earth will find abundant new applications and ways to benefit. For the food industry, which has an incredible number of moving parts and is especially risk-averse, machine vision and machine learning are especially valuable additions to the supply chain.

The following is a look at what machine vision is, how it can play a role in manufacturing and distributing foods and beverages, and how employers can train workers to get the most out of this exciting technology.

What Is Machine Vision?

Machine vision isn’t a brand-new concept. Cameras and barcode readers with machine vision have long been capable of reading barcodes and QR codes and verifying that products have correct labels. Modern machine vision takes the concept to new levels of usefulness.

Barcodes and product identifiers have a limited set of known configurations, which makes it relatively straightforward to program an automated inspection station to recognize, sort or reject products as necessary. Instead, true machine vision means handlers don’t have to account for every potential eventuality. Machine vision instead learns over time, based on known parameters, to differentiate between degrees of product damage.

Consider the problem of appraising an apple for its salability. Is it bruised or discolored? Machine vision recognizes that no two bruises look precisely alike. There’s also the matter of identifying different degrees of packaging damage. To tackle these problems, it’s not possible to program machine vision to recognize a fixed set of visual clues. Instead, its programming must interpret its surroundings and make a judgment about what it sees.

Apples, machine vision
On an apple, no two bruises are alike. Machine vision technology can help. Photo credit: Pexels.

The neural networks that power machine vision have a wide range of applications, including improving pathfinding abilities for robots. In this article, I’ll focus on how to leverage machine vision to improve the quality of edible products and the profitability of the food and beverage industry.

Applications for Machine Vision in the Food Industry

There are lots of ways to apply machine vision to a food processing environment, with new variations on the technology cropping up regularly. The following is a rundown on how different kinds of machine vision systems serve different functions in the food and beverage sector.

1. Frame Grabbing and 3-D Machine Vision
Machine vision systems require optimal lighting to carry out successful inspections. If part of the scanning environment lies in shadow, undesirable products might find their way onto shelves and into customers’ homes.

Food products sometimes have unique needs when it comes to carrying out visual inspections. It’s difficult or impossible for fallible human eyeballs to perform detailed scans of thousands of peas or nuts as they pass over a conveyor belt. 3-D machine vision offers a tool called “frame grabbing,” which takes stills of — potentially — tens of thousands of tiny, moving products at once to find flaws and perform sorting.

2. Automated Sorting for Large Product Batches
Machine vision inspection systems can easily become part of a much larger automation effort. Automation is a welcome addition to the food and beverage sector, translating into improved worker safety and efficiency and better quality control across the enterprise.

Inspection stations with machine vision cameras can scan single products or whole batches of products to detect flaws. But physically separating these products must be just as efficient a process as identifying them. For this reason, machine vision is an ideal companion to compressed air systems and others, which can carefully blow away and remove even a single grain of rice from a larger batch in preparation.

3. Near-Infrared Cameras
Machine vision takes many forms, including barcode and QR code readers. A newer technology, called near-infrared (NIR) cameras, is already substantially improving the usefulness and capabilities of machine vision.

Remember that bruised apple? Sometimes physical damage to fruits and vegetables doesn’t immediately appear on the outside. NIR technology expands the light spectrum cameras can observe, giving them the ability to detect interior damage before it shows up on the exterior. It represents a distinct advantage over previous-generation technology and human inspectors, both of which can leave flaws undiscovered.

Tips on Training Workers to Use Machine Vision

Implementing machine vision into a productive environment delivers major benefits, but it also comes with a potentially disruptive learning curve. The following are some ideas on how to navigate it.

1. Take Advantage of Third-Party Training Courses
Don’t expect employees to hit the ground running with machine vision if they’re not familiar with the fundamentals of how it works. Google has a crash course on machine learning, and Amazon offers a curriculum as well to help companies get their employees up to speed on the technology and how to use it.

2. Get the Lighting Right
Having the appropriate intensity of light shining on the food product is essential for the machine vision cameras to get a clear photo or video. The most common types of lighting for machine vision are quartz halogen, LEDs, metal halide and xenon lights. Metal halide and xenon are better for larger-scale operations because of their brightness.

Train employees to check the amount and positioning of the lighting before each inspection station starts up for the day, so that no shadows obscure products from view.

3. Single Out Promising Subject Matter Leaders
Companies today don’t seem to have much confidence in how well they’re preparing their workforce for tomorrow, including future innovations. According to Deloitte, just 47% of companies in the world believe they’re doing enough to train their employees on the technologies and opportunities of Industry 4.0.

Machine vision does not involve buying a camera or two, setting them up, then slapping the “autopilot” button. As products turn over, and manufacturing and distribution environments change and grow over time, machine vision algorithms require re-training, and you might need to redesign the lighting setup.

Employers should find individuals from their ranks who show interest and aptitude in this technology and then invest in them as subject matter experts and process owners. Even if an outside vendor is the one providing libraries of algorithms and ultimately coming up with machine vision designs, every company needs a knowledgeable liaison who can align company needs with the products on the market.

Machine Vision Is the Future of Food Inspections

The market for machine vision technology is likely to reach $30.8 in value by 2021, according to BCC Research.

It is important to remember that neither machine learning nor machine vision are about creating hardware that thinks and sees like humans do. With the right approach, these systems can roundly outperform human employees.

But first, companies need to recognize the opportunities. Then, they must match the available products to their unsolved problems and make sure their culture supports ongoing learning and the discovery of new aptitudes. Machine vision might be superior to human eyesight, but it uses decidedly human judgments as it goes about its work.

Technology, apple, Birko

Electrostatic Intervention Technology: An Effective and Efficient Future for Food Safety

By Mark Swanson
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Technology, apple, Birko

Using electrostatic technology in food processing isn’t a new idea. It has been around for years, but no one has been able to effectively harness the possibilities of this method for pathogen reduction. That’s all changing thanks to the research and dedication of a food safety group made up of experts and leading protein processors.

Now, food companies of all types stand to benefit from an innovation with the potential to revolutionize the industry. For the first time, there is a way to use electrostatics to deliver antimicrobial intervention with a high level of efficacy and minimal resources.

Less water, less chemical and better coverage—it almost sounds too good to be true. But it’s a reality, and it came from a focus on providing better protection with precision application.

The Basics of Electrostatics in Food Safety

The ultimate goal of using electrostatic technology in food processing is to achieve a high level of transfer efficiency. In terms of antimicrobial use on food products, that concerns how well a processor is able to cover products with a solution over a 360-degree surface.

There’s a large amount of waste, or very low transfer efficiency, that comes with current antimicrobial intervention methodologies. Most food processing operations either use a lot of water and chemical solution to cover a less-than-ideal surface area, or they use an enormous amount in an attempt to get better coverage.

The hope for electrostatics has been that it could improve transfer efficiency by applying opposite charges to food products and antimicrobial solutions. Opposites attract. Positively charged particles are drawn to negatively charged particles, and so, an antimicrobial intervention, such as peracetic acid (PAA), should better adhere to protein products if the two have opposite charges.

In theory, the science seems very simple. But in practice, finding ways to use electrostatics effectively was an extensive, eye-opening journey. It took a team of scientists, food safety thought leaders, and participation as well as funding from three top beef processors to find the answer.

Research and Development

The food safety group, which included Keith Belk, Ph.D. of the Colorado State University Center for Meat Quality & Safety, spent years experimenting, testing and fine tuning electrostatic application technology to make it as precise as possible.

In the beginning, there was no clear indication whether the efforts would produce results. The group didn’t know which type of electrostatic technology would work, what parameters should be used or if any of it would be effective. Just as Thomas Edison experienced many failed attempts while inventing the electric lightbulb, our group went through a series of exercises that eventually led to the right type of electrostatic application. Yet just as importantly, we discovered many methods that did not work.

For example, testing showed that applying a charge at the spray nozzles was not a good way to harness the potential of electrostatics. The charge was too difficult to control using this approach. Eventually, researchers found the best way to achieve transfer efficiency was to apply a negative charge directly to the source of the antimicrobial intervention. This allowed the negatively charged solution to effectively adhere to the positively-charged meat product with maximum control of the operating parameters.

Interestingly, while the group explored a variety of ways to apply antimicrobial intervention using electrostatics, applying a charge to the source proved to be the only technique that worked. The rest had virtually no impact.

After identifying the right approach, there were still big questions researchers wanted to answer. One such question was what happens when a vacuum is applied to the process? Would it work better, worse or have no bearing on the results?

Theoretically, the group thought a vacuum might aid in the process by opening up the surface of the meat, allowing for deeper penetration and further reduction of pathogens. However, tests revealed that applying the antimicrobial solution with electrostatics in a vacuum provided no additional benefits.

The next step was developing a prototype system to support both beef and poultry processing. Finding ways to control electrostatics and achieving transfer efficiency in a pass-through system proved to be challenging. Food production lines don’t stop, which means antimicrobial intervention can’t be done in batch mode.

The final equipment design included a conveyor system that slowly rotates to expose all surfaces of the product as it moves through the line while maintaining constant line speeds.

The Results

In-plant testing at beef processing facilities proved just how much of a difference electrostatic technology will make for food companies looking to improve efficiencies and strengthen food safety efforts.

During recent tests, researchers ran the system at a high volume between 265 and 700 pounds per minute using peracetic acid at approved levels between 1600 and 1800 parts per million (ppm). The results showed a log reduction in the range of 2.1 to 2.6 with an average of 2.4 on a series of tests. That is outstanding, especially considering many facilities typically achieve a log reduction of around 1.0 to 1.5. Plus, most food manufacturers are using substantially more antimicrobial solution to achieve that sort of pathogen reduction.

Results from laboratory studies show the technology provided equal coverage to a dip tank, but it used 95% less solution. Dip tanks are common in poultry processing, but they are very inefficient and waste a tremendous amount of water and chemical. Poultry facilities switching to electrostatic intervention technology would use a fraction of the water and chemistry, greatly improving efficiency.

Beef and pork processing facilities use sprayers for antimicrobial solutions and are much less likely to use dip tanks, as they’re not a viable intervention method for an operation of that scale. However, sprayers alone may not provide adequate coverage, creating the possibility for food safety risks.

Beef and pork plants could achieve better coverage with electrostatics while using the same or even less solution. That’s because the preciseness of this innovative approach also eliminates waste that comes from over spraying.

The Potential Benefits of Adopting Electrostatic Technology

How much of an advantage a food processing facility gets from implementing electrostatics into its antimicrobial intervention process is very dependent on the type and size of the operation as well as its current approach to food safety. There are, however, several major benefits that any food company will realize after adopting the technology.

  1. Improved food safety. Processors can be confident they are achieving 360-degree coverage while bolstering efforts to eliminate pathogens on food products.
  2. Efficient use of water and chemical. The precision achieved from utilizing electrostatics has the potential to dramatically reduce waste without compromising food safety. High transfer efficiency means processors save money and resources.
  3. Reduced water treatment costs. Protein processing facilities have large amounts of waste water that need to be treated in-house. More efficient use of antimicrobial solution significantly reduces money and resources needed for water treatment.
  4. Reduced repair and maintenance costs. Because of the acidic nature of food safety chemicals such as PAA, overspray of antimicrobial solution can unintentionally land on other surfaces and equipment. The low pH levels can lead to corrosion and damage, requiring repairs or additional maintenance. But, precise application with an electrostatic method within an enclosed space reduces the overspray problem.
  5. Better indoor air quality (IAQ). Another side effect from over spraying is chemical odors in the plant. Here again, protection with precision offers a unique benefit. Minimization of overspray improves IAQ, producing a safer and healthier environment for workers.

An additional benefit of electrostatic intervention technology is that it allows for precise measurement of the degree of the charge applied at the source, the concentration of the chemical in the solution and the overall transfer efficiency. While the original food consortium involved members of the protein industry and was optimized for use by meat processors, produce and fresh-cut facilities also stand to benefit from implementing electrostatic technology.

Changing the way your plant operates may feel risky, and being among the first to adopt an innovation can come with some uncertainty. However, in this case, avoiding early adoption could put you at a disadvantage, and the food safety risks are greater than those associated with pursuing this opportunity.

Electrostatic technology for antimicrobial interventions provides impressive advances in efficiency while offering protection–for both the public’s health and safety as well as brand reputation. The future of food safety looks precise.

Megan Nichols
FST Soapbox

How Automation Benefits the Food and Beverage Industry

By Megan Ray Nichols
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Megan Nichols

During seasonal volume and demand peaks in the food and beverage industry, common practice is to increase labor and mobile equipment supplies temporarily. While this works great for small- to medium-sized businesses even in the current landscape, it’s not ideal for larger teams. This is primarily due to the evolution of technology, especially in the automation sector.

Adding more labor and machines can help increase volume, but it comes with a sizeable cost, one that could be shaved with the right process and system updates. As one might expect, adopting advanced automation systems, robotics and processes that can be controlled via machinery or software is the answer. Believe it or not, these systems can be made to work alongside and improve performance of existing laborers and teams.

In fact, automation is taking many industries by storm, and it’s about time food and beverage companies climbed aboard. Automotive, construction and healthcare are just three examples of industries already being disrupted by automation and AI.

But how is the technology being adopted or implemented in the food industry, and how will companies benefit from incorporating such systems?

Better Quality Control

Along the food and beverage supply chain, there are so many involved processes, workers and touchpoints that it can be difficult to not only keep track of food, but also to monitor its quality. As you know, quality is of incredible importance in the industry. You don’t want faulty or contaminated foods entering the market because it can be detrimental. Food must always remain traceable and safe, and it’s difficult to guarantee a system that has so many working cogs.

Automation, however, can change that completely. With the appropriate systems, defects and issues can be noticed much earlier in the supply chain. By detecting problems during packaging or processing, you can cut down on the total number of problematic goods that enter the market. Better yet, you can accurately identify when and where those problems are coming from and remedy the issue for improved performance in the future. If something along your supply chain is the culprit, automation will help you hone in.

Eliminating contamination can be controlled — and achieved — by deploying the appropriate cooling and air compressor systems. However, that also means understanding where this hardware must be utilized for maximum reliability. Automation and analytics systems can be helpful in discerning this information, better protecting foods and goods along the chain.

It’s not a pipe dream, either — systems are already being adopted and implemented to achieve such a thing.

End-To-End Traceability

While we touched on the idea of traceability a little in the point above, it’s the lion’s share that’s really going to make a difference. Automation and modern analytics tools can be deployed to track products and goods from inception to fulfillment. Because the systems in question are designed to track and monitor on their own with little to no input, you can tap in anywhere along the chain to seek the information you need.

Have a contaminated shipment that was discovered too late? You can use the modern analytics and automation tools at your disposal to find exactly where they are shipped or headed. This way you can head off a massive health problem before it even starts.

This, in turn, can help alleviate compliance costs and stressors, as well as improve the overall performance of the supply chain and various key processes. You could, for example, see how long a particular stop or touchpoint along the supply chain is taking and use the information provided to speed up performance.

End-to-end traceability and all the data that comes with it is about more than just watching where food comes from, where it is handled and where it goes. You can use the data provided to build an accurate profile and predictive system for future gains.

Improved Worker Safety

Automation systems, AI and modern robotics are often used to control rote, repetitive and sometimes even dangerous tasks. In this way, you can save human laborers from the dangers of a particular activity or even the monotony of busy work. It frees them up to handle more important demands, which is another benefit.

Of course, increased safety and protection for your loyal workforce can also work to alleviate operation or maintenance costs in the long run. It can lead to faster and more widespread adoption of new standards and regulations for your workforce at large as well. Traditionally, such a change might require additional training, new equipment or even better protection for your workers.

In the case of automation, you can simply update the existing hardware and software to be compliant and save the trouble of maintaining everything else, such as updating safety gear for your workers, which would no longer be necessary.

Efficiency Boost

It’s no secret that when deployed and developed properly, a machine or automation system can perform work faster and better than human laborers, at least in some cases. A machine never tires, never gets bored and can never slack off—unless it has a malfunction. That’s not to say modern technologies will be used to replace workers outright, but instead, they might be deployed alongside them to help them work faster, better and safer.

Take Amazon, for instance, which has deployed an army of AI and automation robots inside their warehouses to improve the efficiency of their order fulfillment process. It has the added benefit of speeding up the entire system, so customers get their items faster. It also improves safety and performance for the workers, effectively eliminating unsafe tasks or rote work.

Automation can provide benefits across the board for the food and beverage industry. It will be interesting to see how technological developments unfold.

Keep It Simple: New Software Tool Cuts through Data Clutter

By Maria Fontanazza
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As companies are hit with a massive amount of information as a result of new technology, proper management of data intelligence can be difficult. The key is to be able to translate the data into useable information to drive improvements in processes, products and business operations. A new tool aims to do just that—help companies boost operational margins using real-time data intelligence, from supplier performance to trends to safety and quality processes, across an organization.

Launched earlier this week, SafetyChain Analytics can also help companies spot problems before they balloon into larger issues that affect product quality. Barry Maxon, CEO of SafetyChain, explains why the company developed the tool and how it can help food companies save money by being more efficient.

Food Safety Tech: What was the impetus behind developing this tool?

Barry Maxon, SafetyChain
Barry Maxon, CEO of SafetyChain

Barry Maxon: The food and beverage industry historically is a business that has tight operating margins. At the same time, companies spend a tremendous amount of money every year collecting compliance data. If you walk through any food and beverage facility, you’ll see people writing down data on paper and putting it in filing cabinets or a spreadsheet. There’s already a tremendous amount of data being collected. We wanted to help companies go beyond collecting compliance data to satisfy their records for their auditors; we wanted to harness that data so they can begin to use it to drive operational excellence. That’s what’s going to make the difference in moving the needle on a company’s bottom line and their operating margins—the ability to leverage all the data they’re collecting to gain insights into how their business is operating and use it to improve their processes, products and operations.

FST: How does it address challenges that food businesses experience? How does it streamline their workflow?

Maxon: Companies are being squeezed from all directions—they need to do more with less, perform at the speed of business today, and remain up to date with all the different compliance standards—be it regulatory, industry standards from GFSI, and even down to customer specific compliance level. There’s a tremendous amount of demand being put on food companies. Yet at the same time, all of these demands typically require greater cost, and they’re being challenged to do more with less and achieve greater economy with their businesses to actually improve their bottom line. It’s a double whammy—improve your bottom while also having greater demand placed on your business—competitively, and from a regulatory and compliance perspective.

There are a lot of processes that have been fundamentally manual in the past, on paper and spreadsheets and in filing cabinets. We’ve talked to companies that say they have people spending hours a day just billing out paperwork and putting numbers into spreadsheets. And we have multi-billion-dollar industries still running on spreadsheets. As nice as a spreadsheet is, it’s a 40-year old software technology that came out in 70s. We’re trying to use new and innovative tools so companies can perform in this new era of technology and use it to benefit their business in multiple ways.

Food Safety Tech: Who are the main product users?

Maxon: Your user base is anyone in the organization who touches safety, quality or compliance from an operational standpoint.

Often the front-end users are collecting and reviewing the sets of data. One of the key elements of the tool is to deliver the right data to the right user in real time. In the past, one of biggest challenges for food companies is that they may run for many hours before realizing they are out of compliance. The idea is to give front-line users have an immediate access to data that prompts them when they’re trending into a direction where they need to take preventive action.

At the same time, managers and executives have access to the tool so they can mine the data, run the reports, and see process control charts.

Screenshot of SafetyChain Analytics tool. “One of the key elements of the tool is to deliver the right data to the right user in real time.” – Barry Maxon

FST: Are there different security controls for this software?

Maxon: Absolutely. You can organize it so users only see what matters to them. That’s really the key to keeping it simple. Data can very quickly become overwhelming. We’re trying to deliver prebuilt dashboards and reports, and organize the data to make it intuitive. We’re also trying to leverage data on an exception-based management principle. It used to be, in more manual paper-based processes, that a supervisor had to review every single record and sign off on it. Here, with automation in software, everything that passes compliance goes through the system; you don’t need to look at it—it will immediately highlight where you have exceptions in your process so you can quickly take corrective action and make sure everything is resolved before it gets further downstream.

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