EDGARTOWN, MA, March 10, 2022 – Registration for the 10th Annual Food Safety Consortium, which will take place October 19–21 at the Hilton Parsippany in New Jersey, is now open.
The program features panel discussions and breakout sessions that encourage dialogue among mid-to-senior-level food safety professionals. The event kicks off with an FDA Keynote and Town Hall, followed by a panel on the State of the Food Safety Industry and where it is going, led by Darin Detwiler of Northeastern University. Day One closes out with “You Talkin’ to Me?”, an interactive dialogue about c-suite communication, moderated by Deb Coviello, founder of Illumination Partners and host of The Drop in CEO Podcast. Other agenda highlights include:
Digital Transformation of Food Safety & Quality: Quality 4.0, Data Analytics and Continuous Improvement, led by Jill Hoffman, Director, Global Quality Systems and Food Safety, McCormick & Company
Quality Helping Improve Manufacturing Efficiency: How Does Quality Show Value to the Organization?, led by Gary Smith, Vice President, Quality Systems, 1.800.FLOWERS.COM (Harry & David)
What Days FSQA Folks Fear the Most, led by Shawn Stevens, founder, Food Safety Counsel, LLC
Product Reformulation Challenges due to Supply Chain Challenges, led by April Bishop, Senior Director of Food Safety, TreeHouse Foods
A Consumer-Centric Food Safety Conversation, led by Mitzi Baum, CEO, STOP Foodborne Illness
Employee Culture, with Melody Ge, FSQA Director, Starkist Co. and Elise Forward, Founder and Principal Consultant, Forward Food Solutions
FSQA’s Role in Worker Rights and Conditions, led by Trish Wester, Founder, Association for Food Safety Auditing Professionals
Tabletop exhibits and custom sponsorship packages are available. Contact Sales Director RJ Palermo.
Food safety professionals interested in the cannabis market can attend the Cannabis Quality Conference & Expo, which begins on Monday, October 17– Wednesday, October 19. The event features three tracks: Regulations & Policy, Safety & Quality, and Business & Operations. “The CQC is a business-to-business conference and expo where cannabis industry leaders and stakeholders meet to build the future of the cannabis marketplace.”
About Food Safety Tech
Food Safety Tech is a digital media community for food industry professionals interested in food safety and quality. We inform, educate and connect food manufacturers and processors, retail & food service, food laboratories, growers, suppliers and vendors, and regulatory agencies with original, in-depth features and reports, curated industry news and user-contributed content, and live and virtual events that offer knowledge, perspectives, strategies and resources to facilitate an environment that fosters safer food for consumers.
Food companies are concerned about protecting their customers, their brands and their own company’s financial bottom line. The term “Food Protection” requires a company-wide culture that incorporates food safety, food integrity and food defense into the company’s Food Protection strategy.
The Food Safety Consortium is an educational and networking event for Food Protection that has food safety, food integrity and food defense as the foundation of the educational content of the program. With a unique focus on science, technology and compliance, the “Consortium” enables attendees to engage in conversations that are critical for advancing careers and organizations alike. Delegates visit with exhibitors to learn about cutting-edge solutions, explore three high-level educational tracks for learning valuable industry trends, and network with industry executives to find solutions to improve quality, efficiency and cost effectiveness in the evolving food industry.
In-line verification for the presence of micro-holes throughout food packaging production is possible by means of an innovative application of IR (Infrared) spectroscopy, or via gas sensors capable of detecting the leakage of target molecules present inside packages.
The areas of application sectors can be modified atmosphere packaging (MAP) packaged products, bakery products preserved with alcohol, food products preserved in nitrogen or air whose release of aromas can be detected.
Today, there are many preservation technologies available on the market for packaged food that lengthen the product’s shelf life while ensuring its organoleptic characteristics and food safety. Replacing air with a gas mixture (MAP) or with nitrogen, or by adding alcohol, are some preservation methods that cover a wide range of products. For all products, it is essential to check:
The type of packaging, correctly barrier-coated to prevent the leakage of any preservation substances
The gas mixture for MAP packaged products is correct for the type of product
The presence of alcohol inside the package for bakery products
Via seal test
This last point, checking for the presence of micro-holes in the packaging, is crucial to avoid thwarting all efforts to optimize the packaging’s preservation mixture. Therefore, let’s examine how it is possible to perform a seal test, and the innovations brought about by IR spectroscopy technology that introduce important elements of in-line monitoring of the presence of micro-holes in packaging and the seal’s integrity.
Micro-Holes in Packaging: Consequences of Spot Checks
The presence of a micro-hole in packaging is a particularly critical problem in the food industry, since it can lead to poor food preservation and the loss of its organoleptic characteristics—as well as the possible formation of mold.
Micro-holes may form as a result of defective sealing processes or during the various processing stages of the package, and can lead to negative consequences of the product days later, when the package is already in the shop or on the shelf of a supermarket. Therefore, it is important to make sure the container is intact during the production stage.
The procedures normally in use today to check for micro-holes are spot checks, which detect the loss of pressure or leakage of gas from the package by immersing the product in water, or via an instrument that applies a “dry” vacuum. In the first case, which is called a bubble test, the product is immersed in a container filled with water that is hermetically sealed and to which an external vacuum is applied. This encourages bubbles to come out from any micro-holes, which can, at this point, be checked visually or by means of a camera.
In the second case, a vacuum is created that is carried out by placing the package inside a bell. The molecules leaked from the package (such as CO2 in the case of MAP products) or loss of pressure are indications of the presence of a micro-hole.
The main limitation of these methods is, first and foremost, that of being destructive, since it is no longer possible to reuse the tested package. Over and above this is the fact that they are, of course, merely spot checks—and therefore not comprehensive in their analysis.
Spot-checking does not check the integrity of the entire production, which means that defects are not detected on a regular basis. Moreover, this method is costly in terms of re-processing batches should a micro-hole be detected in the batch being tested.
Modern Applications for Testing In-Line Micro-Holes
The need for in-line identification of micro-holes on 100% of production is pressing, and research for possible solutions has been focused on this need in recent years. Technology is needed that must be:
Rapid, in order to be applied to the line’s speed;
Reliable in detecting micro-holes;
With few false rejects, even at high speed;
Characterized by low maintenance costs;
Easily manageable for format changes, which are becoming increasingly frequent in production.
This has all been made possible by means of application of IR spectroscopy, or the use of gas sensors for in-line inspection of the presence of holes and micro-holes. These non-destructive technologies make it possible to detect in-line leakages in packaging, package by package, by identifying target escaping molecules.
The air around the package is extracted and taken to an analysis chamber containing an IR beam or gas sensor that can detect the presence of target molecules—and therefore micro-holes. This way, it is possible to automatically inspect every single package, avoiding problems of returns and consumer dissatisfaction caused by poor preservation.
IR Spectroscopy and Gas Sensors
The technologies that enable in-line inspection are based on nondispersive infrared technology, which offer rapid response times and reliable measured values. In the case of very small leakages, measurements with very low concentration differences or measurements by means of containers, the technology is based on the principle of laser spectroscopy.
A monochromatic radiation beam emitted by a laser interacts with the gas molecules being measured. The radiation wavelength coincides with one of the absorption lines of the molecule. Measuring the intensity and absorption profile of the radiation with a photodetector makes it possible to detect the presence of a gas, and determine the concentration of the molecule being measured.
For certain gases, the high sensitivity of measurement can be obtained by using a modulation technique of the absorption measurement known as wavelength modulation spectroscopy (WMS). It involves transmitting sinusoidal modulation to the wavelength variation of the laser radiation, then creating a beat between the signal detected from the photodetector and the modulation frequency.
The distinct advantage of WMS is that it eliminates constant contributions to the absorption, such as that of the container, thereby making it possible to significantly increase the sensitivity of the measurement. The realization of gas sensors for application in the pharmaceutical, bottling and food sectors originated at Italy’s University of Padua, where lasers have been employed to create laboratory prototypes for determining the concentration of gas pressure using absorption spectroscopy techniques.
Industrial application of these technologies has brought IR and laser spectroscopy technology to the market and into production lines, improving the way in which quality control is performed on packaged products. The non-destructive measurement techniques, based on absorption spectroscopy, are today finding new areas of use—not only to monitor package leakages, but also to monitor the internal gases and check their evolution during product shelf life.
Case History: An In-line Control of Micro-holes in the Food Industry
Let’s explore an example of micro-hole inspection via IR spectroscopy and gas sensors, and how certain challenges might be overcome.
For one company, micro-hole inspection technology was initially working by detecting molecules leaking from packages being transferred on conveyor belts. However, during the technology transfer stage, it became evident that the pressure difference between inside and outside of the container was not enough to determine the presence of micro-holes at the line’s speed without touching the package.
To combat this, a system of rollers was implemented to apply the correct pressure to force leakage of target molecules, indicating the presence of micro-holes, without damaging the packaging or the product. The rollers are designed to stress the container and the seals to encourage gas to be released in the event of a leak.
The inspection is applicable on trays as well as bags or flowpacks. Packages are inspected at 360°, both on top and at the bottom (including any longitudinal seals) by inserting air extractors also on the sides and under the package, creating a special opening in the conveyor belts.
The target molecules that can be detected with these technologies are numerous, and vary according to the type of preservation mixture. For example, it is possible to detect CO2 as a target molecule for all MAP-preserved products, or alcohol in the case of bakery products, or specific product aromas for products packaged in air or nitrogen.
The in-line inspection for micro-holes in packaging through the application of IR spectroscopy, or by means of gas sensors, makes it possible to go from spot checks to in-line inspections on 100% of production. The solution can be applied on trays and bags and does not require the internal gas mixture or the line speed to be changed. It can be easily integrated in existing lines and inspection is reliable, precise and repeatable.
This quality control technology has game-changing potential for products preserved in MAP, alcohol or nitrogen, since it makes it possible to check for micro-holes in the packaging and the integrity of the seal on each individual product. From practical experience in the production line, it is evident that all micro-holes are not detected by spot checks.
In addition, a return or recall, for example for the presence of mold in fresh pasta or in cheese due to a micro-hole, causes significant economic and image damage for the company. Implementing this modern application of IR spectroscopy in the line thereby makes it possible to prevent and intervene in real time on the production process to guarantee the integrity of the package and avoid problems related to safety, quality and preservation.
COVID-19’s impact on the food safety community has been significant and its impact will continue to be felt for years.
While FDA inspections and supplier audits are resuming, one cannot assume that the food industry is going back to 2019 or even that it should. It’s time for a food safety reboot or Food Safety 2.0.
Call it what you want, the industry must not only adapt to the “New Normal” but strategize on how to navigate through new challenges, including supply chain capacity and diversity of capacity, workforce welfare and retention, food defense and cybersecurity, food integrity, increased need for traceability, climate change’s impact on food safety, new challenges in supplier audits and compliance, mentoring and developing the future FSQA Leaders and lastly, the next regulations.
The goal now is not to get food safety back to 2019 levels but to build it better. These issues must be discussed among peers and best practices must be shared. You can’t do that in a webinar or in the traditional conference setting of didactic “death-by-PowerPoint” lectures.
To help facilitate this much needed critical thinking and meeting of the minds, the 10th annual Food Safety Consortium Conference, managed and curated by Food Safety Tech is back to an in-person format, October 19–21, 2022 at the Hilton Parsippany, New Jersey (20 minutes from Newark Liberty Airport and 29 miles outside on New York City).
With a capped audience of 250, the 2022 Food Safety Consortium Conference program has been designed to encourage true peer-to-peer networking and sharing of best practices. The program features many discussion groups including “The Days FSQA Professionals Fear the Most,” “Strategic Challenge: Engagement of Management” and “What is the current state of the food safety industry and where is it going?”
You will not just attend the Food Safety Consortium, you will actively participate in the program that features strategic and critical thinking topics that have been developed for both industry veterans and future FSQA Leadership.
I hope you can join us and participate in the meeting of the minds in October.
Is the future of food quality in the hands of machine learning? It’s a provocative question, and one that does not have a simple answer. Truth be told, it’s not for every entity that produces food, but in a resource, finance and time-constrained environment, machine learning will absolutely play a role in the food safety arena.
“We live in a world where efficiency, cost savings and sustainability goals are interconnected,” says Berk Birand, founder and CEO of Fero Labs. “No longer do manufacturers have to juggle multiple priorities and make tough tradeoffs between quality and quantity. Rather, they can make one change that optimizes all of these variables at once with machine learning.” In a Q&A with Food Safety Tech, Birand briefly discusses how machine learning can benefit food companies from the standpoint of streamlining manufacturing processes and improve product quality.
Food Safety Tech: How does machine learning help food manufacturers maximize production without sacrificing quality?
Berk Birand: Machine learning can help food manufacturers boost volume and yield while also reducing quality issues waste, and cycle time. With a more efficient process powered by machine learning, they can churn out products faster without affecting quality.
Additionally, machine learning helps food producers manage raw material variation, which can cause low production volume. In the chemicals sector, a faulty batch of raw ingredients can be returned to the supplier for a refund; in food, however, the perishable nature of many food ingredients means that they must be used, regardless of any flaws. This makes it imperative to get the most out of each ingredient. A good machine learning solution will note those quality differences and recommend new parameters to deal with them.
FST: How does integrating machine learning into software predict quality violations in real-time, and thus help prevent them?
Birand: The power of machine learning can predict quality issues hours ahead of time and recommend the optimal settings to prevent future quality issues. The machine learning software analyzes all the data produced on the factory floor and “learns” how each factor, such as temperature or length of a certain process, affects the final quality.
By leveraging these learnings, the software can then help predict quality violations in real-time and tell engineers and operators how to prevent them, whether the solution is increasing the temperature or adding more of a specific ingredient.
FST: How does machine learning technology reveal & uphold sustainability improvements?
Birand: Due to the increase in climate change, sustainability continues to become a priority for many manufacturers. Explainable machine learning software can reveal where sustainability improvements, such as reducing heat or minimizing water consumption, can be made without any effect on quality or throughput. By tapping into these recommendations, factories can produce more food with the same amount of energy.
What does food safety look like? As we enter the New Era of Smarter Food Safety, the elements around food safety behaviors, beliefs and attitudes are a bit elusive, making them challenging for the industry to define. For years, companies have provided messaging around food safety to clarify what food safety should look like for their team members. In reality, most of the statements are around the outcomes organizations want to see.
Food Safety and Quality are our number one priority.
We strive to meet and exceed all food safety & quality standards.
We are committed to producing high-quality, safe food.
Food safety is everyone’s responsibility.
While these messages may provide clarity around the organization’s beliefs and/or intended outcomes around food safety, how do these messages translate into how food safety behaviors, beliefs, and attitudes show up on a day-to-day basis?
A quick internet search will provide a list of companies that have adopted best-in-class food safety culture practices with top leaders championing and modeling what that means through daily conversation, decision making, etc. Not all companies share that success story, and top leaders may find or refine their organization’s path around food safety culture. As top leaders are taking the time to create strategic plans for food safety culture, how can the behaviors, attitudes, and beliefs around food safety be modeled for all to see?
It reminds me of an experience with one of my teams and our journey around championing food safety and quality. Shortly after being promoted into leading our FSQ function for multiple facilities across our organization, I soon found, with no surprise, that each facility had its own FSQ microcosm. As with anything, parts of the microcosms were good, and some, not-so-good. The FSQ Managers had completely different personalities, training and experience blending with and creating resistance in the microcosm to add to the mix.
Join Jill Stuber and other food safety experts for a discussion about industry professional development, training and mentorship on November 4, during the 2021 Food Safety Consortium Virtual SeriesOur team focused on creating consistency in our team’s practices and organizational systems for food safety and quality. After several months together, it was clear the goal would require more than developing one version of the truth with documents; it would also require consistency in how the FSQ Managers “showed up” each day. Thus, we keyed the term the “Face of Food Safety,” which embodied our expectations around how we would each exhibit behaviors, attitudes, and beliefs around our role to support our Food Safety & Quality systems. For us, this insider term solidified our shared passion and belief that food safety culture started with us.
What led us to the conclusion that we had to step into the Face of Food Safety role given food safety culture is supposed to start at the top? Several pieces of evidence led us to this conclusion.
The term “Food Safety Culture” wasn’t even mainstream for top leaders to start discussing food safety culture. We recognized we needed to continue the food safety campaign across the organization using our team and our voices.
Our FSQ Leaders were already the go-to for food safety. Like many companies, when the food safety auditor walked in, they were taken directly to the FSQ Manager. If anyone in the organization were asked about who to talk to regarding food safety, they would direct people to the FSQ Manager. It’s no different than if someone asks about a financial report, they were likely led to the accounting department.
Our FSQ Leaders had the most technical training, even if not formal, to understand the practices and behaviors around food safety and should be already collaborating and championing best practices throughout the organization.
As we started on our quest to define the Faces of Food Safety further, we had some factors to consider impacting our approach.
First, our FSQ Managers came in all shapes, sizes, and personalities. Some had high levels of formal training, and others had very practical experience. Some worked in the industry for eons, and others had less experience. Some were more natural leaders, and others were not, and personality tests showed we had a wide range in our team!.
Next, our FSQ Managers had specialized training regarding scientific methods to more effectively identify risks, guide solutions, and ultimately create and implement programs that consistently delivered safe food. However, besides the annual human resources training on conflict resolution or getting along, the FSQ Managers had no formal training in human behavior to fully understand elements of the human psyche that shape what people do.
Finally, we faced a standard human limitation—our ego. With serving others, our egos would have to take a back seat to allow the space to recognize our behaviors, our judgments and actions that didn’t align with the Face of Food Safety.
As I look back at work we did together to step fully into being the Face of Food Safety; there are three main areas we focused effort that minimized any factors around skills, experience or personalities yet allowed us to move forward with our quest.
1. Being available and approachable
Instead of sitting in meetings, running reports, and being “busy,” we focused on spending time with team members on the floor with FSQ Team Members and others to see what worked well, what didn’t work well, and in-the-moment coaching. The team evaluated workload capacity and incorporated these routine interactions into standard work to create capacity for this. No longer was spending time on the floor to talk with team members something we just hoped we’d get around to doing or only do during an investigation. While we still had copious amount of other work, we shifted our priority.
We spent time developing trust across our team to open doors to conversations that were previously off-limits. For a team that had rarely been physically in the same place at one time, our every-other-month in-person events and daily huddles that, at first felt like micromanaging, became the standard of how our team worked toward alignment and team building. These types of routines provided a foundation for conversations that started with “How do you think you came across in that email?” or “I know you didn’t intend to sound demanding, but some people had ruffled feathers”, or “Your serious face may send the message you don’t want to be bothered.”
2. Helping others help themselves
In the olden days, issues could be dropped like hot potatoes into the FSQ office for them to spearhead investigations, paperwork, and the like. People would come to the FSQ Managers for answers when often, the answers were already available to them. It took effort from FSQ Managers to provide guidance, re-direct and coach so others could join in owning parts of food safety and quality related to their work.
We were changing our attitudes that we had to be involved in everything. When we began helping others help themselves, it also gave us the freedom to let go and work in our own lane.
3. Being known for championing food safety & quality both from a policy standpoint but also being practical
Policies and procedures are fantastic tools to align practices. Even with the best-written documents, there are gaps and unforeseen events that challenge systems. In those moments, our team worked diligently to align on when policies and procedures had to be upheld versus when we would adjust (and update documents) to capture the practical nature of hiccups that happen in manufacturing. We didn’t want a practice to be okay in one facility but not another unless there was a very defined reason, so it wasn’t chalked up to personal preference. It took personal commitment to Our commitment to holding the line for each other.
Our team was relentless in talking about food safety and quality at every chance we had and related to other areas.
As leaders, our focused, aligned manner that welcomed collaboration and conversation was a cornerstone for being the Face of Food Safety. Using the three areas discussed in this article, we provided clear messaging and support to champion the food safety culture we wanted to see. While not every day was a utopia, our attitude shift and teamwork offered many more days of fulfillment from meaningful work than we had previously experienced and it made an impact for others.
As the world veers on the edge of serious climate trouble, it makes sense for companies to collectively start looking into greener and more efficient alternatives. While research is ongoing, every so often, there’s a win that can make a huge difference if and when it is implemented. That’s precisely what’s happening with cutting-edge frozen food and processing technologies, thanks to scientists from the University of California-Berkeley who conducted a study on the concept with the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service.
It came at just the right time, too, as both freezing foods and standard food processing technologies have a rather large energy footprint, with extensive carbon emissions. Globally, those levels have to come down or the results will be disastrous. This new method, proposed by researchers, could reduce the global energy consumption of the frozen foods industry by up to 6.5 billion kilowatt-hours per year. Just to put that into perspective, it is the equivalent of removing one million cars from the road, and keeping them out of regular operation.
Called isochoric freezing, the method essentially involves placing foods in a sealed and rigid container. The storage container, made of hard plastic or metal, is then filled with liquid—like water—and frozen. The catch is that not all of the liquid in the container is frozen, so the food does not turn to solid ice. Only about 10% of the volume freezes during the process, and as long as the food remains within the hardened ice, crystallization will not happen. In addition, pressure that builds up inside the container naturally prevents the ice from expanding.
Isochoric freezing also has implications for fresh foods that are significantly affected by standard freezing techniques, such as small fruits, vegetables (i.e., tomatoes and potatoes), and even some meats.
Freezing foods may be a quick and relatively accessible way to preserve them, but many chemical changes happen during the freezing process as well as when those items thaw. Some foods deteriorate when frozen, just at slower rates. What’s more, depending on when and how you freeze or store those items, the composition may change during the entire process.
Some frozen products may develop a rancid smell or taste, after being oxidized or exposed to air. Others may see texture or size changes, and moisture loss at any time (or poor packaging) can result in freezer burn.
A lot of these same problems do not occur with isochoric freezing because the items are not frozen solid. Even more promising is that the new method also improves the quality of frozen foods, boosts safety, and reduces energy use. And during processing it actually kills microbial contaminants.
“The entire food production chain could use isochoric freezing—everyone from growers to food processors, product producers to wholesalers, to retailers. The process will even work in a person’s freezer at home after they purchase a product—all without requiring any major investments in new equipment,” said said Tara McHugh, co-lead on the study and director of the Western Regional Research Center in a USDA press release. “With all of the many potential benefits, if this innovative concept catches on, it could be the next revolution in freezing foods.”
Making the Discovery
Boris Rubinsky, a UC-Berkeley biomedical engineer and co-leader of the project, developed the freezing method while trying to cryopreserve tissues and organs that were designated for use during transplants. The goal was to better preserve these items, under more optimized conditions, with a minimal quality loss after thawing.
While this certainly does have major implications for the frozen foods, cold storage, and food processing industries, it can also be used elsewhere. For example, areas like medicine, science, or space travel can all benefit.
It may be some time before the technology is ready, but the research team is now working on developing commercially viable options, to match modern industry needs.
Will It Lower Carbon Emissions?
If the technology, and method, are adopted on a wide scale, it could vastly lower carbon emissions across many fields, and it may even lower emissions of consumer applications, too. Imagine applying isochoric freezing on a smaller scale, at home, to better preserve leftovers, frozen meals, and much more.
Of course, it will be interesting to see major organizations adopt this method, if and when the resources are available. The food processing industry could see revolutionary reductions in carbon emissions and energy consumption in the years ahead.
“Yeah, yeah, I know. We’re supposed to have FSQ (Food Safety and Quality) verify the line before we start. But c’mon, we could see the plastic so we just removed it and then we visually inspected all the product on that part of the line. We looked everywhere for the other missing piece. We didn’t find it, so somebody probably found it not knowing what it was and tossed it out. We radioed for someone for FSQ about five minutes ago and no one came. We did what we needed: Stopped the line, found the foreign material, and now we’re running again. We only have an hour of production left and we’re almost done filling this order.”
As the operations supervisor was telling me this, I could feel my entire body become agitated. My blood began to boil, and I had to bite my tongue to avoid saying unkind and unhelpful words.
It wasn’t the first time we’d had foreign material on that line that week. And to top it off, it was the same supervisor telling me they knew the FSQ Team had to be part of foreign material incidents, yet the supervisor decided the situation wasn’t important enough to follow the written SOP on handling foreign material that we all signed off on earlier in the month in an attempt at streamlining the process to be easier to execute.
I’m not sure what made me angrier—the fact we were having this conversation again or that this type of conversation always got under my skin. How was it I was blowing a gasket while the supervisor thought it was no big deal?
It all seemed to come down to a difference in beliefs. A difference in attitudes. A difference in the actions taken when no one is watching. This situation is showing the food safety culture of the organization, and everyone nearby is seeing it. This isn’t uncommon—these every-day moments are displays of the food safety culture within our organizations. These moments are an opportunity to create a new story around food safety culture.
It begs the question: How do we start to re-write food safety culture in these moments?
To write a new story around food safety culture, many say it needs to start at the top. In fact, GFSI, EU Regulations, and the New Era of Smarter Food Safety focus on top leaders creating the mission, values and key performance metrics around food safety culture. While I believe having top leadership support is important, I’d challenge one to consider: Does food safety culture really have to start at the top?
In 1989, Sidney Yoshida unveiled the concept of the “Iceberg of Ignorance” that found large knowledge gaps between senior management and the rest of the organization.1 Yoshida’s research concluded that top leaders are too far removed from the day-to-day operations, which limits them to only see the very tip of a problem, meaning most of the problem isn’t visible to them. When we consider Yoshida’s concept for food safety culture, one may conclude top leaders are unlikely to fully understand the frustration, depth and frequency of stories like the one illustrated above.
Then who is positioned to understand the issues around food safety culture and make a difference? After working with multiple teams across multiple companies in food safety and quality for more than 25 years, I can confidently say, no one wants to see food safety practices and systems working more effectively than the FSQ Team!
FSQ Teams see first-hand the effect of failures in the food safety and quality systems that plague companies through things like product on hold, downtime and customer complaints, as they are often the ones involved with resolving issues. That’s why they are perfectly positioned to make a meaningful, daily impact on how people understand, perceive and embrace food safety behaviors.
Keep in mind, each year additional workload falls to the FSQ Team through new customer requirements, new regulations, new certification requirements, and more. That certainly explains how 60% of people have taken on more tasks than they can get done at work causing confusion in job responsibilities.2,3
Before we add another element to the FSQ plate, we need to ensure the FSQ Team is well positioned and energized to model the food safety behaviors that align with the culture we want to see. The following are several practical steps to support this journey:
Evaluate Workload. Given 60% people have taken on more work than they can get done, evaluating workload is the first step to ensure the FSQ Team is ready to carry the food safety culture torch. Effects of overwork can be displayed as things like stress, or being disconnected, along with siloed work and even disconnected goals.4 Those outward appearing signs don’t typically align with the behaviors and attitudes aligned with the food safety culture wanted. A simple step to support alignment in the every-day behaviors and attitudes to support food safety culture is ensuring workloads are appropriate. An easy workload evaluation is to create a list of tasks, and compare it to the number of hours a person is expected to work. Just like production line time, if the workload is greater than available capacity, adjustment may be needed or vice versa.
Provide Clarity around Decision Making Responsibilities. When actual work tasks aren’t clear, team members may also be unsure of where their decision making authority begins and ends – especially when it comes to food safety culture. Clarity comes from being curious, asking questions, and having conversations. For example: Can FSQ Team Members ask other Team Members to change how they’re doing a task to be more food safe? Should they ask the Team Member’s Lead or Supervisor first? Does it depend on the severity of the situation? When the FSQ Team sees behaviors that exemplify food safety culture, how are they able to recognize those fellow Team Members? When there are several options for safe handling of product, what’s the role of the FSQ Team in deciding which option is selected? Every individual will have a different perspective for these questions. Exploring how decisions are made and aligning across functional areas of the company will help FSQ Team Members carry the messaging around expected attitudes, beliefs and behaviors that support the food safety culture at the organization.
Focus on Mindset. In FSQ, we are here to serve: The business, our team, our customers, and others. Showing up with the positive attitude to serve food safety culture can get lost when firefighting and being worried about getting everything done. After your FSQ Team has a clear picture of workload and responsibilities, a mindset around the food safety culture you want to see can be aligned in just a few minutes a day! Stuart Smalley was on to something when he repeatedly said, “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and gosh darn it, people like me”. This type of mindset training had enumerable benefits for improved confidence, improved relationships, reduced stress, improving company outcomes, and more.5
The dreamy Food Safety Culture state where the inherent beliefs and behaviors that drive food safety are second nature to all team members is within reach. To reach that dream state, your FSQ Team is perfectly positioned at the front line every day to carry the food safety culture message. By taking these three practical steps, you’ll move the needle for taking care of your FSQ Team, which in turn, moves the needle on food safety culture for your organization.
Across industries, new innovations in robotics technologies are helping to speed up day-to-day work and improve product quality. Robots can be especially effective for businesses in the food processing industry, where a growing labor shortage poses trouble for processors.
While a number of critical industry tasks were difficult to fully or partially automate in the past, new robotics technology is helping to increase the number of potential applications for robots in the industry.
Consistency, Accuracy, and Speed
Food processing robots offer a few major advantages over conventional food processing workflows. Robots can perform a task repeatedly over the course of a work day or shift, typically with minimal deviation in precision. Unlike human workers, robots don’t get tired, and their pace of work tends to stay consistent. This combination of accuracy and speed has been found to increase site throughput while ensuring packaged products are up to company standards.
Food processors that adopt robots also see major gains in item consistency—more often, packaged products contain the same amount of food, weigh the same, and are packaged in the same manner.
Automated packaging systems can sometimes be a poor fit for certain food commodities, especially for products like delicate fruits and vegetables.
Experimentation, however, often leads to custom solutions that can handle these unique challenges. After experimentation with new weighing and packaging robots in the cannabis industry, for example, processors were able to accelerate the packaging process and create more consistently packaged items.
In the food processing industry, this can come in the form of robots with soft silicon grippers and attachments, which help companies package delicate products.
The use of robots can help control cross-contamination in food processing plants.
With any human labor force comes the risk of cross-contamination. Workers assigned to packaging foods can easily transport pathogens from product to product or from one area of the facility to another. This is especially true in sites that process raw meat products. Even when following proper site hygiene practices, it’s possible for workers to unintentionally transport pathogens and other contaminants from one workcell to another.
Because work in food processing facilities is often shoulder-to-shoulder, it’s also easy for contaminants to spread from one worker to another once a particular cell has been contaminated.
Robots that are fixed in place and handle all the aspects of a particular packaging job can help localize potential contamination, making it easier for processors to minimize cross-contamination and keep food safe.
Robots can still contribute to cross contamination if not properly cleaned, but an additional set of robots could solve this problem, too. For example, one a provider of robots for the food processing industry has developed a set of robots capable of washing down an entire workcell.
These robots, working in pairs, activate at the end of each operating cycle and use high-powered jets of water to wash down the workcell, the packaging robots used there, and themselves.
Collaborative Robotics (Cobots)
One major recent innovation in robots has a new focus on tech that is collaborative.
These new robots, unlike conventional robotics, aren’t always built to fully automate a particular task. Instead, they are built to interact and work collaboratively alongside humans where necessary.
Artificial intelligence-based machine vision technology helps them navigate factory floors safely or assist in tasks like assembly and machine tending. Safety features like force limiters and padded joints help prevent injuries that can occur while working in close proximity to conventional robots.
These features also enable them to work in tight spaces without the use of safety cages that conventional robots sometimes require. In factories and food processing plants, they can provide assistance and speed up existing workflows.
For example, an article in Asia Pacific Food Industry cites one case study from a Swedish food processor, Orkla Foods. The company integrated cobots into a production line packaging vanilla cream, freeing up the human workers who had been responsible for the task. Before the cobots were introduced, workers had to bag and manually pack the vanilla cream into cartons.
Even with cobots, human workers are still necessary for tasks that require judgment, creativity, and problem-solving skills. Cobots can take over tasks that don’t lend themselves well to automation. These tasks tend to be tedious, dull, or even dangerous due to the repetitive motions workers need to make.
Even if a task can’t be fully automated, cobots can still help improve efficiency and boost accuracy. These robots provide the most significant benefits for businesses that need flexibility and agility in production.
Cobots are often lightweight and easy to reprogram on-the-fly, allowing workers to quickly move them from task to task as needed. In many cases, an entire fleet of cobots can be repositioned and reprogrammed in half a day, allowing a business to reconfigure its robots to handle entirely new tasks without additional capital investment.
This flexibility can also make cobots a better fit for personalized products than other systems. As product specifications change, a cobot can be easily programmed and reprogrammed to handle the differences.
The use of these robots can also help prevent cross contamination, like more conventional robotics.
A handful of sectors within the food processing industry can also benefit from niche robotics designed to automate certain specific tasks.
Danish robotics manufacturer Varo, for example, developed a line of cake decorating and filling robots. These robots are designed with technology that allows them to determine which cake will be decorated next, minimizing the amount of human involvement needed to operate.
While these robots won’t be useful for every manufacturer, they are a good example of how many sectors within the industry stand to benefit from robots that can automate niche tasks.
Using Food Processing Robots to Improve Product Quality and Consistency
Robots help automate tasks that are dull, dirty or dangerous. In doing so, they typically provide businesses with significant upgrades to process accuracy, speed, and consistency.
New technology—like machine vision and collaborative robotics technology—is helping to expand the use cases of robots in the food processing industry. These robots can often improve product quality more effectively than process changes alone, and may help manage a labor gap that could persist well into the future.
COVID & Manufacturing, with April Bishop, Treehouse Foods
Impact of COVID-19 on Food Safety & Quality Teams, and Strategies for Moving Forward, with Jill Stuber, The Food Safety Coach
The Intersection of COVID, Technology and Consumer Changes, with Darin Detwiler, Northeastern University
COVID & Business Continuity Planning, with Douglas Marshall, Ph.D., Eurofins
TechTalks from RizePoint and Bayer
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.
Recent food scandals around the world have generated strong public concerns about the safety of the foods being consumed. Severe threats to food safety exist at all stages of the supply chain in the form of physical, chemical and biological contaminants. The current pandemic has escalated the public’s concern about cross contamination between people and food products and packaging. To eliminate food risks, manufacturers need robust technologies that allow for reliable monitoring of key contaminants, while also facilitating compliance with the ISO 17025 standard to prove the technical competence of food testing laboratories.
Without effective data and process management, manufacturers risk erroneous information, compromised product quality and regulatory noncompliance. In this article, we discuss how implementing a LIMS platform enables food manufacturers to meet regulatory requirements and ensure consumer confidence in their products.
Safeguarding Food Quality to Meet Industry Standards
Food testing laboratories are continually updated about foodborne illnesses making headlines. In addition to bacterial contamination in perishable foods and ingredient adulteration for economic gains, chemical contamination is also on the rise due to increased pesticide use. Whether it is Salmonella-contaminated peanut butter or undeclared horsemeat inside beef, each food-related scandal is a strong reminder of the importance of safeguarding food quality.
Food safety requires both preventive activities as well as food quality testing against set quality standards. Establishing standardized systems that address both food safety and quality makes it easier for manufacturers to comply with regulatory requirements, ultimately ensuring the food is safe for public consumption.
In response to food safety concerns, governing bodies have strengthened regulations. Food manufacturers are now required to ensure bacteria, drug residues and contaminant levels fall within published acceptable limits. In 2017, the ISO 17025 standard was updated to provide a risk-based approach, with an increased focus on information technology, such as the use of software systems and maintaining electronic records.
The FDA issued a notice that by February 2022, food testing, in certain circumstances, must be conducted in compliance with the ISO 17025 standard. This means that laboratories performing food safety testing will need to implement processes and systems to achieve and maintain compliance with the standard, confirming the competence, impartiality and consistent operation of the laboratory.
To meet the ISO 17025 standard, food testing laboratories will need a powerful LIMS platform that integrates into existing workflows and is built to drive and demonstrate compliance.
From Hazard Analysis to Record-Keeping: A Data-Led Approach
Incorporating LIMS into the entire workflow at a food manufacturing facility enables the standardization of processes across its laboratories. Laboratories can seamlessly integrate analytical and quality control workflows. Modern LIMS platforms provide out-of-the-box compliance options to set up food safety and quality control requirements as a preconfigured workflow.
The requirements set by the ISO 17025 standard build upon the critical points for food safety outlined in the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) methodology. HACCP, a risk-based safety management procedure, requires food manufacturers to identify, evaluate and address all risks associated with food safety.
The systematic HACCP approach involves seven core principles to control food safety hazards. Each of the following seven principles can be directly addressed using LIMS:
Principle 1. Conduct a hazard analysis: Using current and previous data, food safety risks are thoroughly assessed.
Principle 2. Determine the critical control points (CCPs): Each CCP can be entered into LIMS with contamination grades assigned.
Principle 3. Establish critical limits: Based on each CCP specification, analytical critical limits can be set in LIMS.
Principle 4. Establish monitoring procedures: By defining sampling schedules in LIMS and setting other parameters, such as frequency and data visualization, procedures can be closely monitored.
Principle 5. Establish corrective actions: LIMS identifies and reports incidents to drive corrective action. It also enables traceability of contamination and maintains audit trails to review the process.
Principle 6. Establish verification procedures: LIMS verifies procedures and preventive measures at the defined CCPs.
Principle 7. Establish record-keeping and documentation procedures: All data, processes, instrument reports and user details remain secured in LIMS. This information can never be lost or misplaced.
As food manufacturers enforce the safety standards set by HACCP, the process can generate thousands of data points per day. The collected data is only as useful as the system that manages it. Having LIMS manage the laboratory data automates the flow of quality data and simplifies product release.
How LIMS Enable Clear Compliance and Optimal Control
Modern LIMS platforms are built to comply with ISO 17025. Preconfigured processes include instrument and equipment calibration and maintenance management, traceability, record-keeping, validation and reporting, and enable laboratories to achieve compliance, standardize workflows and streamline data management.
The workflow-based functionality in LIMS allows researchers to map laboratory processes, automate decisions and actions based on set criteria, and reduce user intervention. LIMS validate protocols and maintain traceable data records with a clear audit history to remain compliant. Data workflows in LIMS preserve data integrity and provide records, according to the ALCOA+ principles. This framework ensures the data is Attributable, Legible, Contemporaneous, Original and Accurate (ALCOA) as well as complete, consistent and enduring. While the FDA created ALCOA+ for pharmaceutical drug manufacturers, these same principles can be applied to food manufacturers.
Environmental monitoring and quality control (QC) samples can be managed using LIMS and associated with the final product. To plan environmental monitoring, CCPs can be set up in the LIMS for specific locations, such as plants, rooms and laboratories, and the related samples can then be added to the test schedule. Each sample entering the LIMS is associated with the CCP test limits defined in the specification.
Near real-time data visualization and reporting tools can simplify hazard analysis. Managers can display information in different formats to monitor critical points in a process, flag unexpected or out-of-trend numbers, and immediately take corrective action to mitigate the error, meeting the requirements of Principles 4 and 5 of HACCP. LIMS dashboards can be optimized by product and facility to provide visibility into the complete process.
Rules that control sampling procedures are preconfigured in the LIMS along with specific testing rules based on the supplier. If a process is trending out of control, the system will notify laboratory personnel before the product fails specification. If required, incidents can be raised in the LIMS software to track the investigation of the issue while key performance indicators are used to track the overall laboratory performance.
Tasks that were once performed manually, such as maintaining staff training records or equipment calibration schedules, can now be managed directly in LIMS. Using LIMS, analysts can manage instrument maintenance down to its individual component parts. System alerts also ensure timely recalibration and regular servicing to maintain compliance without system downtime or unplanned interruptions. The system can prevent users from executing tests without the proper training records or if the instrument is due for calibration or maintenance work. Operators can approve and sign documents electronically, maintaining a permanent record, according to Principle 7 of HACCP.
LIMS allow seamless collaboration between teams spread across different locations. For instance, users from any facility or even internationally can securely use system dashboards and generate reports. When final testing is complete, Certificates of Analysis (CoAs) can be autogenerated with final results and showing that the product met specifications. All activities in the system are tracked and stored in the audit trail.
With features designed to address the HACCP principles and meet the ISO 17025 compliance requirements, modern LIMS enable manufacturers to optimize workflows and maintain traceability from individual batches of raw materials all the way through to the finished product.
To maintain the highest food quality and safeguard consumer health, laboratories need reliable data management systems. By complying with the ISO 17025 standard before the upcoming mandate by the FDA, food testing laboratories can ensure data integrity and effective process management. LIMS platforms provide laboratories with integrated workflows, automated procedures and electronic record-keeping, making the whole process more efficient and productive.
With even the slightest oversight, food manufacturers not only risk product recalls and lost revenue, but also losing the consumers’ trust. By upholding data integrity, LIMS play an important role in ensuring food safety and quality.
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