Tag Archives: Food Quality

Jill Stuber, The Food Safety Coach
FST Soapbox

The Face of Food Safety: How Do You Look?

By Jill Stuber
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Jill Stuber, The Food Safety Coach

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.

For example:

  • 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.

Emily Newton, Revolutionized Magazine
In the Food Lab

Will a New Method of Freezing Foods Improve Food Quality and Food Processing?

By Emily Newton
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Emily Newton, Revolutionized Magazine

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.

The best part is that this method can be deployed “without requiring any significant changes in current frozen food manufacturing equipment and infrastructure,” according to USDA food technologist Cristina Bilbao-Sainz.

Why Is Icochoric Freezing Better?

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.

Jill Stuber, The Food Safety Coach
FST Soapbox

Move the Needle on Food Safety Culture Starting with Your FSQ Team

By Jill Stuber
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Jill Stuber, The Food Safety Coach

“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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

References

  1. Adonix. (January 31, 2020). Uncovering the Iceberg of Ignorance.
  2. Bolden-Barrett, V. (2019). “Workers with overstuffed to-do lists feel overwhelmed, not organized, study shows“. HR DIVE.
  3. Stange, J. (February 6, 2020). 20 Employee Engagement Statistics that Impact Your Business.
  4. Martins, J. (May 21, 2021). Feeling Overworked? Strategies for Individuals and Teams to Regain Balance.
  5. Dweck, C. (2006). Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.
Emily Newton, Revolutionized Magazine
FST Soapbox

How Food Processors Can Use Robots to Improve Food Quality

By Emily Newton
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Emily Newton, Revolutionized Magazine

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.

Workers production line
Workers in a factory sorting food by hand, could be assisted by new robot technology. (Unsplash image)

Preventing Cross Contamination

Despite improved food safety standards, foodborne disease outbreaks remain common in the United States.

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.

Sector-Specific Applications

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.

Food Safety Consortium Virtual Conference Series

2021 FSC Episode 3 Preview: COVID-19’s Lasting Impact on the Food Industry

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Food Safety Consortium Virtual Conference Series

This week’s episode of the 2021 Food Safety Consortium Virtual Conference Series will examine The New Normal: COVID-19’s Lasting Impact on the Food Industry. The following are highlights for this Thursday’s session:

  • 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.

LIMS, Laboratory information management system, food safety

How Advanced LIMS Brings Control, Consistency and Compliance to Food Safety

By Ed Ingalls
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LIMS, Laboratory information management system, food safety

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.

LIMS, laboratory information management system
LIMS can be used to visualize control points for HACCP analysis according to set limits. Graphic courtesy of Thermo Fisher Scientific.

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.

Conclusion

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.

Jason Chester, InfinityQS
FST Soapbox

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

By Jason Chester
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Jason Chester, InfinityQS

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

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

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

A Wake-Up Call for Digital Transformation

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

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

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

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

The Solution Lies in the Cloud

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

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

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

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

An Investment for Whatever the Future Holds

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

Poll: Food Manufacturers Challenged with Limited Resources, FSMA, Staff Training, and Information Overload

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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In the age of increasingly fewer resources and less time, companies are challenged to effectively train staff and meet ever-changing regulatory requirements, while successfully managing their suppliers and customer expectations.

In its annual Food Safety & Quality Assurance (FSQA) Professional Survey, TraceGains polled professionals in food manufacturing, processing and distribution on their top priorities, challenges and predictions for 2015.  “Quality isn’t suffering, but not having enough resources—which typically means money, leads to non-optimal staffing—does have a negative effect on the workforce,” says Gary Nowacki, CEO of TraceGains. Nowacki tells Food Safety Tech how companies are managing these challenges.

Food Safety Tech: How are companies managing the lack of resources? Is it negatively affecting how they operate from a safety and quality perspective?

Gary Nowacki: People have to work more hours or do more jobs. They often cannot advance in their careers because there is no skill redundancy, and [they] cannot do much of the proactive work they’d rather be performing to help their company excel. This is especially true as the number of audits has increased rather than decreased as has been promised, which command a strong resource commitment from a limited pool.
 
FST: How are firms preparing for the changing regulatory and compliance requirements, especially regarding final FSMA rules?

Nowacki: We’ve seen two approaches prevail: Being extremely proactive now or purposely waiting until the last minute to push off any potential expenses associated with compliance. The lengthy rollout of the Food Safety Modernization Act hasn’t helped spurn companies into action. Considering that food processing and manufacturing is a very low-margin business, it is understandable that many companies wish to have full clarity before committing the required resources. We haven’t found anyone who does not wish to be complying with FSMA—there is great respect for the purpose of the law, and all companies that we have encountered practice food safety first.

Credit: 2015 Annual TraceGains FSQA Professional Survey
Credit: 2015 Annual TraceGains FSQA Professional Survey

 

FST: How is information overload affecting how companies operate? What advice can you offer firms?

Nowacki: Information overload goes hand-in-hand with limited resources. Ever-increasing upstream requirements, be they regulatory or industry driven, command ever-increasing downstream requirements. This, coupled with the fact that most organizations still operate in siloed departments, puts increasing strain on data collection, analysis, and retention requirements. Automation, specifically software-based automation, can help companies accomplish more, but we don’t advocate “with less”.

Further, automation can help break down those department and information silos, as decisions can then be easily made from shared data. One of the things we often sense first is that automation is expected to replace people—that has been very true globally in manufacturing—so there is a great deal of fear or uncertainty involved. Our experience has been that automation helps the limited human resources be more productive and, more importantly, more proactive. Automation helps move people from clerical, error-prone tasks to higher-level and more strategically important tasks, as the overwhelming amounts of data are being handled digitally.

Millennials Are Changing the Food Industry

By Chelsey Davis
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Millennials are definitely changing the landscape of the food industry. What do they care about when it comes to food, and what does this mean for food manufacturers?

TraceGains_Millennials1

We’ve all heard the latest trends regarding that hard-to-reach audience we’ve dubbed the Millennials (those born roughly between the years 1980 and the early 2000s). And with so many how-to articles out there, it’s hard to really understand who these folks are and what they want. Here are just a few fun facts about this generation: 50 percent consider themselves politically unaffiliated, they have the highest average number of Facebook friends, 55 percent have posted a selfie or two to social media sites, and there are roughly 80 million of them. This makes Millennials the biggest generation thus far. And one thing is for certain, based on research, they are definitely changing the landscape of the food industry. So what do Millennials care about when it comes to food?

Millennials care about quality and sustainability

According to a 2014 study by the International Food Council (IFC), Millennials have the highest level of awareness out of any age group when it comes to food sustainability, and they are willing to pay more for it. And when it comes to quality vs. price, Millennials are more apt to be loyal to a brand deemed to have quality products as opposed to a brand that has a better price point.

Quality versus price for Millennials  (Image courtesy of Bushiness Insider via Goldman Sachs)
Quality versus price for Millennials (Image courtesy of Business Insider via Goldman Sachs)

Take McDonald’s for example. In August of 2013, the fast-food chain reported a 13 percent decline in consumption for people between the ages of 19-21 since 2011. And while Millennials are still dinning out, they are opting for franchises like Chipotle and Five Guys. Why? These chains pride themselves on using local producers and sustainable food items, which makes paying that extra $2.00 for guacamole not so bad to this generation.

Additionally, Millennials are more apt to choose products that are socially responsible and produce lower carbon footprints. For example, Millennials are now paying attention to how much energy, water and effort it takes to grow, manufacture and transport food, including the packaging process. And as this environmentally friendly generation matures and moves into prime spending age, manufacturers will need to evolve the packaging of food products to ensure they are created with eco-friendly and recyclable materials if they wish to appeal to these folks.

Millennials care about their health

This generation, as research states, is more aware of their health than any other generation thus far, especially when it comes to what goes into their bodies. Locally grown, cage-free, all-natural, organic—these are all terms Millennials tend to gravitate towards when making food choices. As a result, organic coffee shops are popping up everywhere, farm-to-table restaurants are all the rage, and even private label brands are seeing increases in sales, with Millennials opting for those over national brands due to the perception that these labels are more innovative.

Millennials are also reading labels and are more aware of what the items on the labels mean—they understand the ingredients and what goes into their food more so than their parents and grandparents. As a result, we’re seeing an increase in natural and organic claims as we navigate through the grocery aisles.

Graphic showing wellness stats for Millennials  (Image courtesy of Bushiness Insider via Goldman Sachs)
Graphic showing wellness stats for Millennials
(Image courtesy of Bushiness Insider via Goldman Sachs)

What this means for food manufacturers

Food manufacturers have an interesting challenge ahead, but also a great opportunity. The ones that will ultimately gain popularity among Millennials will be those that are willing to innovate while staying authentic. Millennials not only value the transparency of brands, they are also aware of shortcomings when it comes to unsubstantiated claims. Food manufacturers must now walk the line between making all-natural and sustainable product claims, and being 100 percent truthful in their statements. When it comes down to it, Millennials will do the research, read the labels and uncover the truth.

So how do you appeal to Millennials, while also mitigating the risks when it comes to labeling your product natural, organic or GMO-free? To answer tough questions like this, TraceGains got the inside scoop from Attorney Antonio Gallegos, who advises on compliance with regulations administered by the FDA, FTC, USDA and similar state-level agencies, and co-produced a guidance report. Use this free Natural Labeling Guidance Report to help you make informed decisions in the future for your products. Do you have additional tips for reaching Millennials? Leave a comment below and let us know!

PerkinElmer Launches New Software for Rapid Detection of Food Adulterants

Adulterant Screen™ software pairs with PerkinElmer’s advanced FT-IR spectroscopy instruments for single-step screening and analysis of food authenticity and nutritional components.

PerkinElmerAdulterantScreenPerkinElmer Inc., a global leader focused on improving the health and safety of people and the environment, today announced the launch of its Adulterant Screen™ software. This automated solution can help food industry professionals evaluate the integrity of food ingredients to guard against existing and potential food adulteration threats.

Adulterant Screen software, when paired with PerkinElmer’s Fourier Transform Infrared (FT-IR) and Near Infrared (NIR) spectroscopy instruments, creates a unique, combined hardware and software system that can confirm authenticity and perform nutritional analysis in a single step.

“Food quality professionals face an increasing number of risks related to their ingredients which need to be continually screened for known contaminants as well as unknown contaminants that may be unsafe substitutions,” said Jon DiVincenzo, President, Environmental Health, PerkinElmer. “We are committed to delivering advanced detection solutions to help our global customers address increasingly complex industry regulations related to food quality control and safety in the supply chain.”

Adulterant Screen software performs rapid, targeted and non-targeted screening for several types of adulterants. Its customized set-up enables fast, effective implementation without lengthy calibrations. Its simple and intuitive green light/red light, “pass/fail” results system enables easy implementation, regardless of the knowledge level of its users. Click here for more information on the Adulterant Screen software.

PerkinElmer also offers the DairyGuard™ milk powder analyzer, a near infrared (NIR) spectrometer specifically developed for food suppliers and manufacturers. The DairyGuard analyzer is the only system available that tests for unknown adulterants as well as known compounds.