The integration of sanitation is a critical part of the food manufacturing process. This week’s episode of the 2020 Food Safety Consortium Virtual Conference Series will focus on effective approaches, best practices and lessons learned. The following are some highlights:
Sanitation Methods, Day-to-Day Operations and Applying It to a Pandemic (Now and Future Outbreaks), with Elise Forward, Forward Food Solutions; David Shelep, Paramount Sciences; and Bill Leverich, Microbiologics, Inc.
The Critical Nature of a Good Environmental Program: The Story Behind Sabra’s Recall, Experience with the FDA, and Environmental Monitoring Journey, with Rob Mommsen, Sabra Dipping Company
Surrogates & Emerging Applications: Their Role in Validation, Verification and Compliance, with Laure Pujol, Ph.D. and Vidya Ananth, Novolyze
Tech Talks from Sterilex and Romer Labs
The event begins at 12 pm ET. Haven’t registered? Follow this link to the 2020 Food Safety Consortium Virtual Conference Series, which provides access to 14 episodes of critical industry insights from leading subject matter experts! We look forward to your joining us virtually.
Some impressive technologies are not only impacting the food industry right now but will also have a huge impact in the future. As their use grows to be more prevalent, the industry will change to be smarter and more efficient, with continued improvements across the board.
1. AI and Advanced Robotics
While artificial intelligence and advanced robotics are two distinct technologies, they are frequently paired together. AI, and the data it digests, is used to command robots, allowing them to be more precise, more intelligent and more aware.
Most robots on their own are capable of completing only repetitive and clearly defined tasks. Throw something unique into the mix and they’ll either fumble or fail. However, when governed by data-based intelligence solutions like AI or machine learning, those robots become something incredibly advanced.
In the food industry, machinery and robots are leveraged to improve operations, further maintaining quality and efficiency, at affordable costs. They often work alongside human laborers to augment or enhance processes. They come with several unexpected benefits as well, such as much-improved safety for workers, faster and higher product output and consistent, reliable quality.
For example, JBS, one of the world’s largest meatpacking firms, deployed robotic butchers within its plants. The robots were used to slice more challenging meats, which reduced workplace injuries.
Automation stands alongside AI and advanced robotics, even incorporating those technologies to create a streamlined system. As of 2017, 73% of surveyed companies in the food and beverage manufacturing industry either had or were in the process of establishing automation within their facilities.
Many systems are designed to replace or enhance repetitive tasks, boosting their speed and accuracy, to significantly improve output, without incurring a loss in quality. It’s not just about hardware, like swapping a human laborer for a robot. It’s also achieved through software. Think supply chain management solutions that help plan for various events and experiences without human input.
When many of these technologies are used side-by-side, it strengthens their application and usability. As is true of advanced robotics, for example, AI can also be used to create more intelligent automation platforms. Instead of carrying out rote or simple tasks, they can be programmed to react and engage through any number of parameters. The system might slow production, for instance, based on a decrease in product demand. Or, it might swap to an alternate component or ingredient because of a shortage somewhere.
With the right controls and support, automation technologies are game-changing. With the global population growing and demands increasing more with each year, food manufacturers will look to streamline their operations and boost output in any way possible, and automation will be a go-to.
3. Digital Twins
Digital twins in food manufacturing are essentially simulated copies or a virtual representation of a physical system. That definition might seem confusing, but think of it as a clone that can be manipulated for testing and analytics.In other words, it is a twin of the actual system and information, in every sense of the word, albeit one that is more versatile and less vulnerable. It allows manufacturers and distributors to run simulations by feeding specific information into the system to identify patterns, recognize outcomes and much more.
As the systems and controls supporting the field become smarter and more digitized, digital twins in food manufacturing will find their way into product development, testing, post-production, distribution and nearly every other facet of the industry. It will become an integral component to not only understand what’s happening in the market but also for keeping up with the ebb and flow of supply and demand.
Even well before the pandemic, people had become much more conscious about the foods they consume. They want to know the origin of their goods and whether they’ve been sourced using safe, healthy and environmentally friendly methods. The problem with such demands is that, until recently, there haven’t been many solutions for increased visibility within the food supply chain.
Growing concerns for health are now a priority, and visibility is an absolute must. Blockchain technology is the answer, providing precisely the kind of visibility, efficiency, controls and collaboration that consumers want.
With this food manufacturing technology in place, someone could trace a head of lettuce back to its initial seeding. They can see who grew the plants and where, and which methods they used to mature the crop. Then, they can follow its journey to the store shelf.
How is such a thing possible? It all has to do with the technology. In its simplest form, Blockchain is a digital ledger or complete and digitized record of a particular data set. The data that goes in is added to something called a block, and as more is added, it is tacked on to the end of that block to create a long, linked record. Every bit of information is visible across the entire chain, hence the name blockchain.
Walmart is using the technology to track potential food contamination outbreaks. It empowers them to not just find the source but also find the many branches involved — like where goods might have been shipped and who may have purchased them.
Food Manufacturing Technology for the Future
While each food manufacturing technology discussed here is incredibly influential and will have a direct impact on the future of the industry, they are not the only solutions making waves. Some additional examples include:
Drones and automated delivery vehicles
3-D printing for edible goods
Smart or precision agriculture
Smarter waste disposal and recycling
The takeaway is that technology is vastly improving the operational efficiency of the food supply chain, from farmers and manufacturers to the retail stores featuring goods on their shelves. There’s no right or wrong buy-in, as any one of these technologies can be used to streamline separate processes. The biggest challenge will be deciding what to upgrade first, especially when it comes to delivering high-quality, fresh goods in a prompt manner.
With significant clusters of COVID-19 infection among employees—16,000 cases and 86 deaths documented by the CDC through May 2020 — the food processing and distribution industry faces significant challenges in reopening their facilities and ramping up to full capacity. Technology for health and safety access governance and intelligence, along with guidelines from the CDC and OSHA, can help support food companies in the automation of certain compliance activities and a safe return-to-work strategy.
Designated part of the essential critical infrastructure by the federal government at the onset of the pandemic in the spring of 2020, the food supply chain needs active solutions to protect its workforce. But there’s more to this back-to-work transition. Workers need to feel safe and trust that new security, safety and compliance processes have their best interests in mind—transferring to an overall positive experience with their employer.
In the age of contagion, the food industry requires ways to communicate better with the workforce, identify and isolate areas of contagion and also deal with the lingering presence of potential bioterrorism, insider threat and cyber-attack. It’s a multi-faceted and complex workspace we’re reentering, one that takes coordination of technology, people and processes. Without it, food suppliers risk plant shutdowns and loss of business continuity.
Bioterrorism and insider threat remain an active part of the supply chain landscape. In fact, according to a June 2020 Wall Street Journal Pro Research Survey of cybersecurity executives at nearly 400 companies, 67% were concerned about malicious insiders. Remote workers and lax controls have exacerbated the situation and rising threats include malicious employees, accidental negligence, contractor or vendor misuse and account compromise.
The Landscape of Collaboration
The ongoing coordination between human resources (HR) and security is a collaborative effort that bolsters food defense in a COVID-19 world. Fueled by digital transformation, converged physical security and HR management solutions are wound together tightly in a coordinated and analytical approach to keep food industry employees safe and operations running smoothly.
These departments, once siloed and co-existing without direct interaction, are benefiting from software’s move to the cloud and open operating platforms, which provides increased opportunity for real-time integration of HR, security and facilities technologies. Moving to a converged approach across all departments, including HR, IT/cyber and operational technology (OT)/SCADA—can effectively secure our most critical food production and distribution resources while actively enforcing compliance and company policies, including COVID-19 mandates. In addition, physical security access governance, in a holistic manner, protects food industry workers and processes from compromised identities, systems and insider threats.
HR and physical security now have the ability to share data-insights to prevent, detect and mitigate the spread of contagions. With this convergence, organizations have the information they need to actively defend and protect the workforce, focusing on the human side of security to yield a positive experience.
Enabling a Safe and Healthy Return to Work
This time of unprecedented change has triggered a tectonic shift in the way organizations have been dealing with the health, security and safety of their workforce. Sensing a coming tsunami, HR, corporate real estate and physical security leaders are realizing that they must stop operating in silos and embrace a holistic approach. Enterprise response and recovery plans have become a major catalyst for converged security, as it has proven to be the most effective way to manage workspace access, enforce workforce security, safety and privacy.
Reopening with Technology at Your Back
Physical identity access management (PIAM) software, including visitor identity management (VIM) are convergence platforms that deliver identity and access governance, health and safety intelligence and compliance validation across the enterprise. PIAM provides a safer work environment by managing physical, logical and operational technology access for employees and visitors, actively enforcing company policies, compliance and industry regulations with built-in best practices and regulatory controls. Automated policy-driven background checks yield real-time vetting of visitors, contractors and employees while validating and identifying any policy violations. PIAM and VIM keeps facilities and workers safe, making sure the employees and visitors only have access to the areas, data and assets they need, including vital food processing areas where deliberate sabotage needs to be kept at bay.
While prevention of bioterrorism and insider threat is ongoing at food distribution, production and processing facilities there’s been a notable shift during the pandemic that focuses on the health and safety of workers. Security is no longer simply about keeping the bad guys out; it’s about safety and protecting workers from unsafe behavior.
Workforce health and safety access governance software solutions help organizations open safely in a frictionless, controlled and secure way by automating and enforcing COVID-19 related policies and procedures. Automated batch email/text notifications with self-service links send requests to the remote workforce for self-attestation and self-reporting offsite and enable access by the worker to the facility based on health, travel and other company policies.
Here’s how it works: An employee completes the self-reporting health and travel questionnaire through a mobile app, which triggers automated workflows based on those answers. These health questionnaires collect data and document employee activity during lockdown, including infection, symptoms or exposure. The employee’s self-attestation request comes to the manager for action, and based on answers the worker is considered high risk and per policy their access to the facility is revoked for 14 days while they are in quarantine. A similar self-attestation and workflow then applies to reinstatement for the employee. This reporting and workflow can be configured specifically to the facility. Enterprises can further customize their visitor identity management to provide clear communication of current policies during the outbreak, reinforcing WHO best practices.
Focus on Health and Safety
Health and safety access governance and intelligence provides prescreening support of workforce site entry with automated policy enforcements. Pre-registered and onsite visitors/contractors check-in/check-out with prescreening, watch list and other checks prior to access. In the production or distribution facility, health and safety analytics track confirmed or potentially exposed COVID-19 workers, identify exposed areas for lockdown and/or sanitization, social distancing violation, location heat map and other actionable health & safety analytics.
PIAM also allows you to automate your communications and deliver clear expectations and procedures to your workforce, visitors and contractors pre-visit and onsite—adding to a seamless experience.
Security convergence delivers a comprehensive, holistic solution across the entire food value chain, from sourcing to production to retail distribution. Human resources and physical security have teamed up—yielding real-time data that can prevent, detect and mitigate the spread of contagions. With this convergence comes greater situational awareness that defends and protects the workforce, with a strong focus on safety and building trust between worker and employer.
Grocery stores have become some of the most important retail establishments over the past few months. They’ve kept people fed and provided access to essential supplies such as toilet paper, cleaning agents and over-the-counter medications. Grocery retailers have taken extraordinary steps to help protect the health and safety of their workers and customers during the worldwide pandemic, understanding that viruses can spread quickly with high customer traffic.
While many grocery stores made operational changes to stay open during this time, more adjustments are needed to help stem future infections. Guest occupancy limits, face-covering recommendations and single-directional aisles are here to stay, at least for the near term. Customers are likely to continue online shopping, which has its own set of challenges for food and delivery safety. It will be critical for retailers to obtain reliable information, specific to the store’s location and to follow local, state and federal mitigation guidelines. Trusted sources of such information include the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the CDC and the World Health Organization (WHO), plus state and local health departments.
Grocery retailers should also consider how and when employees interact with customers. Acrylic barriers at checkout lines are one method of physical control. Providing personal protective equipment and appropriate training on its use is another good method for maintaining infection control. As regulations relax, retailers need to evaluate what, if any, other changes should occur to keep safety at the forefront.
There are many other common sense practices retailers can adopt to help minimize the spread of any virus. Viral illnesses spread primarily between individuals, so the most important act of prevention is to keep employees healthy and safe. Hand washing is one of the most important steps we can take to help prevent the spread of illnesses. Most states require grocery stores to post restroom signs mandating that employees wash their hands, but these signs typically lack specific instructions. The CDC recommends cleaning hands in a specific way to avoid getting sick and spreading germs to others. The steps are the following:
Dispense a paper towel, so it is ready before wetting hands
Wet hands with warm (100°F/38°C) water
Apply an appropriate amount of soap
Rub hands vigorously together for 20 seconds
Clean between the fingers, the backs of the hands and the fingertips
Rinse hands under warm water to remove soap
Dry hands with the paper towel
Turn off faucet with a paper towel
Use the paper towel to contact door surfaces to exit
Throw away paper towel in a trash receptacle
Because grocery store workers touch food, increasing their handwashing frequency can help prevent the transmission of other types of illnesses beyond respiratory viruses. Employees should take care to wash their hands before donning gloves for any food preparation, after touching exposed skin, after handling soiled utensils and after engaging in any other activities that could soil hands.
Facility sanitization is another essential aspect in preventing the spread of illnesses. Grocery stores already have rigorous cleaning protocols that explain how to mix and use chemicals correctly. Additional instruction on how to apply cleaning agents to surface areas as well as visual reminders reminding workers how long a cleaning solution needs to remain before wiping with a cloth. To prevent the spread of infection, many stores have added more frequent cleaning for high-touch surfaces like door handles, touch screens and carts.
When approved sanitizers run low, however, some people turn to chlorine sanitizing agents like unscented bleach. Bleach can be a highly effective sanitizer, but it can also be potentially hazardous when misused. Specifically, when mixed with other cleaning products that contain ammonia, it creates a highly toxic chlorine gas. The cleaning staff needs proper training on how to mix and use cleaning solutions, use the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE), such as wearing gloves or a protective outer garment, and to provide appropriate ventilation in rooms where sanitizers are mixed and stored.
Grocery stores have been at the forefront of the pandemic response for some time and they will be the first to adopt “new normal” procedures. Specific guidelines around health and safety evolve, but the fundamentals of health and safety stay the same. Stores that strive to maintain high standards around cleanliness and sanitation are likely to be better positioned for the inevitable next time.
We are seeing the beginning of a limited supply of certain products as containment of the COVID-19 pandemic keeps manufacturers, processing plants, and other suppliers in global stasis. But what does that mean for these manufacturers and other members of the supply chain? It means continued planning of master resources such as demand management, sales and operations planning and production scheduling, but with a greater focus on efficiency.
This process of master resource planning results in a detailed blueprint for manufacturing products to meet anticipated demand, accounting for various constraints such as limited supply of raw materials and purchase parts.
So what should manufacturers do if they run into serious shortages of raw materials or purchase parts? What can retailers do to cover operating expenses if they don’t have enough products to sell? We’ll take a look at these anticipated complications and possible methods for solving them.
The current COVID-19 crisis has led to mandatory business closures that have already caused a shortage of supply. So far, we’ve gotten by with inventories that had already been sitting in various places up and down supply chains prior to the shutdowns, not just on warehouse and retail store shelves. Once all inventories within supply chains are depleted, we will start to notice more stockouts.
Some businesses can endure long-term production cessations without stockouts. For example, manufacturers in critical industries such as pharmaceuticals have a policy of stockpiling inventory in case of unforeseen events. Most businesses, however, cannot afford to miss months of production time because the lean manufacturing principles they adhere to include keeping minimal inventory.
For instance, automobile manufacturers and retailers do not hold excess inventory due to the expected annual product line changes from the previous year’s models, which are typically sold at a large profit reduction at the turn of the year. Clothing and other fashion-related businesses also keep inventory minimal due to a yearly change in styles.
Another source of upcoming shortages will be the sell-off of supplier facilities due to the downturn in revenue caused by emergency closures. Food is a particularly interesting case. Farmers are reconstructing the way their supply chains work to better serve their new target consumers—grocery retail. Some farmers may run into issues with transporting livestock or may need to repurpose crops that are nearing their harvest. Many of those that are pushing to endure and come out of the pandemic disruption with minimal casualties are starting to get creative by creating small farmers’ markets (pop-ups) or marketing directly to the consumer via direct subscription boxes.
Demand management is the first of three steps taken during the master resources planning process. Demand management includes demand forecasting, distribution channel planning and customer demand management.
Both suppliers and retailers need to know what demand they can expect, especially during uncertain times. After COVID-19, consumer demand will be high, supplies will be limited, and accurate demand forecasting will be especially important to getting businesses back on their feet.
Inaccurate forecasting will cause waste when businesses overestimate future demand for items that have a short shelf life. For instance, a grocery store that overestimates how much produce they will be able to sell within a certain time frame will end up throwing some of that produce away due to spoilage.
Consumer behavior during a crisis can complicate demand forecasting, though. In an earlier phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, worried customers over-purchased toilet paper and paper towels. This caused a shortage for everyone else, and the demand for those items was much higher than anticipated/forecasted. More recently, the same buyers bought up meat when they heard about the disruption in the food supply chain, and they expected the prices for meat to go up. Demand spikes like these cause lost sales for stores that don’t anticipate them.
Demand forecasting will remain tricky in the short-term for both suppliers and retailers whenever a retailer re-opens to the public with the imposed 25% capacity constraint. Overhead expenses will likely remain relatively the same, but 25% of the normal revenue may not cover expenses. Whether a full 25% of a retailer’s former customer base would return during a pandemic is also an unknown factor.
Companies will see high demand when the world opens their doors for business. The most efficient way for companies to plan during these times is by utilizing high-performance, demand forecasting software that will offer the best information available to deal with volatile demands, given the various known and predicted factors.
Sales and Operations Planning
After demand management is performed, manufacturers go through a sales and operations planning process that integrates sourcing, manufacturing, sales, marketing and financial plans, and resource planning. This process results in the creation of an approved production plan (at the product family level), purchase plan, sales plan and backlog plan that satisfies the anticipated level of demand within supply constraints.
In the early days following the end of the pandemic, some manufacturers won’t have the initial supply to meet the high demand for their goods. Some may find contingencies for creating their goods and products, while others may run into supplier issues when it comes to recreating their products and goods post-closure.
Getting manufacturers back up to speed will depend on building up the supplies of raw materials and purchase parts. Sometimes out-of-the-box solutions such as part designs can eliminate the need for some unavailable purchase parts and dependency on some suppliers. Additionally, accurate demand planning information will enable manufacturers to accommodate their retailer customers as much as possible without overpromising incoming goods.
In the master scheduling phase, the production and purchasing plans are taken from the family level into a specific product level. This process involves a computer repeatedly simulating production and purchasing as planned during the S & OP step until optimal bills of materials are created. This process includes testing of the plans against constraints of critical resources (rough-cut capacity planning) until a master production schedule is derived.
Fortunately for the retailers, manufacturers who have done accurate demand planning and have taken their production plans through the master scheduling stage will know the maximum number of goods they can ensure without overreaching.
The current COVID-19 pandemic required many business closures to help contain the spread of the virus. As a result, many consumer goods are in limited supply. When the crisis ends, the demand may very well overtake the supply. Businesses will need to practice patience while supplies build back up. Thinking outside the box, using accurate demand forecasting, preventing waste, and executing good demand planning will be crucial steps in reinstating a synergistic supply chain model.
Since the early 20th century, food safety has been a paramount concern for consumers in the United States. Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, which painted a bleak, brutal, and downright disgusting picture of turn-of-the-century food processing facilities led to the creation of some of the country’s first food safety laws. Today, federal agencies and statutes make up a comprehensive food safety system to ensure that the growth, distribution and consumption of foods are safe from start to finish.
While food safety has significantly improved in the century since Sinclair’s time, stories of major outbreaks of foodborne illnesses continue to pop up across the country. Over the past few years, a significant number of outbreaks as a result of pathogens have made the headlines. To mitigate the threat of public health crises and ensure food production and distribution is safe and secure, companies must rely on modern technology to trace the movement of food across the entire supply chain.
How Technology Is Changing the Food Industry
Technology is a powerful, innovative force that has changed the way even well established companies must do business in order to stay relevant. From easier access to nutritional information to digital solutions that make food manufacturing and distribution more efficient, greater consumer awareness driven by technology empowers consumers to make decisions that can greatly affect the food industry’s bottom line.
Technology-driven accountability is playing one outsized role in allowing consumers to make better choices about the foods they consume and purchase. Social media and smartphone apps connect consumers to a wealth of resources concerning the harmful effects of certain ingredients in their food, the source of products, and how particular items are made and produced. In 2015, for example, The Campbell Soup Company removed 13 ingredients from its traditional soup recipes as a result of a greater public demand to understand food sources. Neither food giants nor small producers should expect to remain immune from greater public scrutiny over food health and safety.
Nutritional research is also helping change the conversation around food, granting nutritionists and consumers alike greater access to food-related data. Through easily accessible scholarly journals, apps that provide real-time nutrition information, and meal tracking apps that help users log and understand what they’re eating, consumers can gain a better understanding of nutrition to make more informed choices about their daily food intake. Researchers can also use food-tracking apps to make discoveries about consumer behavior and foods that are eaten.
Technology is also being used to tackle food waste, one of the most pervasive problems facing the food industry. One-third of the total amount of food produced globally, amounting to nearly $1.2 trillion, goes to waste every year. Solving this pervasive crisis has become an industry imperative that is being tackled through a variety of innovative technologies to improve shelf-life, dynamically adjust pricing based on sell-by dates, and allow restaurants to automatically monitor their daily waste.
In the food manufacturing sector, digitally-connected supply chain systems are providing greater visibility into the production of foods and beverages. Supplier management technology delivers data that can be used to optimize processes and improve quality in real-time, making it easy to adjust to consumer demands, respond to logistics challenges, and boost government compliance. The enhanced operational benefits offered through improved supply chain visibility allows manufacturers to produce products faster, safer, and with greater transparency.
Online ordering has also ushered in a new era of food industry behavior. The growing assortment of online ordering apps has just given the consumer more control over quickly ordering their next meal. The trend in online ordering has also allowed restaurants to experiment with new business models like virtual kitchens that offer menus that are only available online.
IoT: The Future of Food Safety
From the farm to the carryout bag, the impact of technology on the greater food industry is already evident in daily practice. Through enhanced access to data, food producers can run an efficient supply chain that reduces waste, boosts productivity, and meets consumer demand in real-time. Using a variety of online resources, consumers are empowered to quickly make well-informed food purchases that are healthier, more convenient and more sustainable than ever before.
The Internet-of-Things (IoT) adds a layer of technology to the food manufacturing process to ensure greater food safety. A broad series of networked sensors, monitors, and other Internet-connected devices, IoT technology can oversee the entire food manufacturing and distribution process from the warehouse to the point of sale. Boosting transparency across the board, intelligent sensors and cameras can transform any food manufacturing operation into a highly visible, data-backed process that allows for better decision-making and improved real-time knowledge.
While IoT technology is a powerful tool that can improve the efficiency of restaurants and provide enhanced customer experiences, some of its greatest potential lies in its ability to safely monitor food preparation and production. Live data from IoT devices makes it possible to closely monitor food safety data points, allowing manufacturers and restaurants to reduce the risks of foodborne illness outbreaks through enhanced data collection and automated reporting.
Domino’s Pizza, for instance, embraced IoT technology to enhance management processes and monitor the food safety of its products. In the past, restaurants have relied on workers to record food temperatures, a practice that was occasionally overlooked and could lead to issues with health inspectors. Using IoT devices for real-time temperature monitoring, Domino’s automatically records and displays temperature levels of a store’s production, refrigeration, and exhaust systems, allowing employees to view conditions from a live dashboard.
In addition to boosting food safety, the comprehensive monitoring offered by IoT technology can help food companies reduce waste, keep more effective records, and analyze more data for improved operations.
IoT isn’t just a safe solution for improving food safety: It’s a smart solution.
Blockchain: The Future of Food Traceability
The ubiquity of QR codes has made it easy for consumers to quickly gain access to information by scanning an image with their smartphone. From accessing product manuals to downloading songs, QR codes make it simple to provide detailed and relevant content to users in a timely manner.
Blockchain technology provides a powerful opportunity to provide consumers with similar information about food safety. Able to instantaneously trace the lifecycle of food products, blockchain can report a food’s every point of contact throughout its journey from farm to table. By scanning a QR code, for instance, users can quickly access relevant information about a food product’s source, such as an animal’s health, and welfare. Shoppers at Carrefour, Europe’s largest retailer, area already using blockchain traceability to track the stage of production of free-range chickens across France.
Walmart piloted a blockchain implementation by tracing a package of sliced mangoes across every destination until it hit store shelves, from its origin at a farm in Mexico to intermittent stops at a hot-water treatment plant, U.S processing plant, and cold storage facility. Real-time product tracing can be conducted in just two seconds, enabling Walmart and other vendors to provide consumers with access to food safety information that could easily be updated should an outbreak or contamination occur.
Blockchain’s inherent transparency not only makes it possible to identify the safety of food production; it also enhances the safety of the business of food production itself. Because blockchain is based upon an immutable, anonymous ledger, record keeping and accounting can be made more secure and less prone to human error. Payments to farmers and other food suppliers can also become more transparent and equitable.
The High Tech Future of Food
Unlike the days of Sinclair’s The Jungle, food transparency is the name of today’s game. As consumers continue to demand greater access to better food on-demand, food producers must continue to find innovative ways of providing safe, healthy, and ethical solutions.
IoT devices and blockchain present food manufacturers with powerful technological solutions to solve complex problems. Brands choosing to rely on these innovations, such as Domino’s and Walmart, are helping ensure that food is produced, prepared and distributed with a foremost emphasis on health and safety. As these technologies continue to become more intelligent, well-connected, and embraced by leading food producers, consumers should rest assured that they’ll always be able to know exactly what they’re eating, where it’s from, and whether it’s safe.
Food and beverage manufacturers are seeing the effects of the coronavirus when it spreads through their workforce. Recently, there have been multiple closures of facilities operated by meat processors, including Smithfield Foods and Tyson Foods as COVID-19 has infected hundreds of workers.
The backdrop of stressful operations and work: Employees now face increased questions before entering plants and feelings of isolation as lunches and breaks are now solo activities due to social distancing. All of these stressors are compounded when you think about what we’re asking them to do: Go into work and keep food on the grocery store shelves. This is a completely new way to operate, and it has a very real emotional effect on our workers.
We’ve received reports from customers where management is getting out of the back office and putting on hairnets to work the production line. The shortage of workers is a very real problem, and our customers are rising to the challenge. Plus, managing this overall labor shortage while doing more safety and sanitation checks than ever before to make sure transmission risks are eliminated is putting stress on everyone working in plants. It’s never been harder to work in the food industry.
In response to California Governor Gavin Newsom’s actions related to the pandemic, we stand behind any effort that is taken to accommodate the needs of these vital, valuable workers, including the executive order to provide supplemental paid sick leave. Such actions, both locally here in California and at the federal level, are critical to elevating the safety of our food manufacturing and distribution workers. Some heroes wear hairnets.
Temp Workers and Lack of Training Protocols
COVID-19 has had a significant impact on the availability of skilled workers in food facilities. Through all the layoffs stemming from the economic standstill, food manufacturers and grocery workers are reporting increases in hiring to help keep up with demand—and to mitigate the effects of sick employees going on quarantine for two weeks. For instance, Albertson’s, a large food grocery chain store, reported that it was hiring for 2,000 positions.
But hiring temporary workers is only half the battle. The task of training people who may have never worked in grocery or food manufacturing has become more critical in the face of new demands on sanitation and social distancing. With these measures in place, it’s no longer a case of a new employee showing up for work and shadowing another employee or supervisor. Technology can close the gap, especially in food production where the regulations and safety standards require strict adherence to processes. For example, software can facilitate shorter employee training in the areas of quality policies and good documentation practices.
Same Volume with Fewer Workers
We are working closely with customers and partners to cope with new guidelines for social distancing inside food facilities, providing the capability to do remote audits as visitor restrictions have increased. Our software is also being used to screen food manufacturing workers for symptoms of COVID-19 before shift work starts to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus to other essential workers.
In response to increased needs from customers, we have developed three solutions to address the impact of COVID-19. These solutions, which include a personnel screener, changeover manager and remote supplier auditor, can help food and beverage manufacturers efficiently manage physical distancing measures, symptom screening, and travel restrictions.
It can’t be stressed enough: The people who carry out food safety protocols are doing more checks and using more labor time to conform to regulations and guidelines for COVID-19. And, adhering to the systems, regulations and processes used to promote safe, high-quality products (in the same or even higher volumes) remains as crucial as ever. Simplifying these processes by leveraging software has been shown to cut 8 to12 hours of labor per day for a single facility. This is critical at a time when even one person being sick can cause lower throughput.
Plus, this isn’t like manufacturing a car where a line will be built to produce hundreds of thousands of cars over a two- to three-year period. Food manufacturers must often change a line over to produce a different flavor, package type or food type altogether, in as little time as possible to keep production going. Robots and automation can help, but in a crisis like this where immediate productivity gains are needed, software can make the much-needed difference.
Visibility, accountability and traceability are paramount in the agriculture industry, says Allison Kopf, founder and CEO of Artemis. In a Q&A with Food Safety Tech, Kopf explains how growers can take advantage of cultivation management platforms to better arm them with the tools they need to help prevent food safety issues within their operations and maintain compliance.
Food Safety Tech: What are the key challenges and risks that growers face in managing their operations?
Allison Kopf: One of the easiest challenges for growers to overcome is how they collect and utilize data. I’ve spent my entire career in agriculture, and it’s been painful to watch operations track all of their farm data on clipboards and spreadsheets. By not digitizing processes, growers become bogged down by the process of logging information and sifting through old notebooks for usable insights—if they even choose to do that.
I was visiting a farm the other day and the grower pulled out a big binder. The binder contained all of his standard operating procedures and growing specifications for the varieties he’s grown over the past 20 years. Then he pulled out a pile of black notebooks. If you’ve ever worked on a farm, you’d recognize grower notebooks anywhere. They’re used to log data points such as yield, quality and notes on production. These notebooks sit in filing cabinets with the hopeful promise of becoming useful at some point in the future—to stop production from falling into the same pitfalls or to mirror successful outcomes. However, in reality, the notebooks never see the light of day again. The grower talked about the pain of this process—when he goes on vacation, no one can fill his shoes; when he retires, so does the information in his head; when auditors come in, they’ll have to duplicate work to create proper documentation; and worse, it’s impossible to determine what resources are needed proactively based on anything other than gut. Here’s the bigger issue: All of the solutions are there; they’re just filed away in notebooks sitting in the filing cabinet.
Labor is the number one expense for commercial growing operations. Unless you’re a data analyst and don’t have the full-time responsibilities of managing a complex growing operation, spreadsheets and notebooks won’t give you the details needed to figure out when and where you’re over- or under-staffing. Guessing labor needs day-to-day is horribly inefficient and expensive.
Another challenge is managing food safety and compliance. Food contamination remains a huge issue within the agriculture industry. E. coli, Listeria and other outbreaks (usually linked to leafy greens, berries and other specialty crops) happen regularly. If crops are not tracked, it can take months to follow the contamination up the chain to its source. Once identified, growers might have to destroy entire batches of crops rather than the specific culprit if they don’t have appropriate tracking methods in place. This is a time-consuming and expensive waste.
Existing solutions that growers use like ERPs are great for tracking payroll, billing, inventory, logistics, etc., but the downside is that they’re expensive, difficult to implement, and most importantly aren’t specific to the agriculture industry. The result is that growers can manage some data digitally, but not everything, and certainly not in one place. This is where a cultivation management platform (CMP) comes into play.
FST:How are technologies helping address these issues?
Kopf: More and more solutions are coming online to enable commercial growers to detect, prevent and trace food safety issues, and stay compliant with regulations. The key is making sure growers are not just tracking data but also ensuring the data becomes accessible and functional. A CMP can offer growers what ERPs and other farm management software can’t: Detailed and complete visibility of operations, labor accountability and crop traceability.
A CMP enables better product safety by keeping crop data easily traceable across the supply chain. Rather than having to destroy entire batches in the event of contamination, growers can simply trace it to the source and pinpoint the problem. A CMP greatly decreases the time it takes to log food safety data, which also helps growers’ bottom line.
CMPs also help growers manage regulatory compliance. This is true within the food industry as well as the cannabis industry. Regulations surrounding legal pesticides are changing all the time. It’s difficult keeping up with constantly shifting regulatory environment. In cannabis this is especially true. By keeping crops easily traceable, growers can seamlessly manage standard operating procedures across the operation (GAP, HACCP, SQF, FSMA, etc.) and streamline audits of all their permits, licenses, records and logs, which can be digitized and organized in one place.
FST: Where is the future headed regarding the use of technology that generates actionable data for growers? How is this changing the game in sustainability?
Kopf: Technology such as artificial intelligence and the internet of things are changing just about every industry. This is true of agriculture as well. Some of these changes are already happening: Farmers use autonomous tractors, drones to monitor crops, and AI to optimize water usage.
As the agriculture industry becomes more connected, the more growers will be able to access meaningful and actionable information. Plugging into this data will be the key for growers who want to stay profitable. These technologies will give them up-to-the-second information about the health of their crops, but will also drive their pest, labor, and risk & compliance management strategies, all of which affect food safety.
When growers optimize their operations and production for profitability, naturally they are able to optimize for sustainability as well. More gain from fewer resources. It costs its customers less money, time and hassle to run their farms and it costs the planet less of its resources.
Technology innovation, including CMPs, enable cultivation that will provide food for a growing population despite decreasing resources. Technology that works both with outdoor and greenhouse growing operations will help fight food scarcity by keeping crops growing in areas where they might not be able to grow naturally. It also keeps production efficient, driving productivity as higher yields will be necessary.
Beyond scarcity, traceability capabilities enforce food security which is arguable the largest public health concern across the agricultural supply chain. More than 3,000 people die every year due to foodborne illness. By making a safer, traceable supply chain, new technology that enables growers to leverage their data will protect human life.
Modern food supply chains are inherently complex, with products typically passing through multiple suppliers and distributors, as well as countries and continents, before they end up on the supermarket shelf. While global supply chains offer consumers greater choice and convenience, they also make protecting the security of food products more challenging. With additional stakeholders between farm and fork, products are exposed to an elevated risk of biological or chemical contamination, as well as food counterfeiting and adulteration challenges—potentially putting consumer health and brand reputation in jeopardy.
Given the importance of maintaining the safety, quality and provenance of food products, global regulatory bodies are placing the integrity of supply chains under increased scrutiny. In the United States, for example, the adoption of FSMA moved the focus from responding to foodborne illnesses to preventing them by prioritizing comprehensive food testing measures, enforcing inspections and checks, and enabling authorities to react appropriately to safety issues through fines, recalls or permit suspensions.1 Similarly, China’s revised Food Safety Law (known as FSL 2015) is widely considered to be the strictest in the country’s history, and seeks to drive up quality standards by empowering regulators, and enhancing traceability and accountability through robust record-keeping. 2 The European Union continues to closely regulate and monitor food safety through its General Food Law, which is independently overseen by the European Food Safety Authority from a scientific perspective.
Achieving the Highest Standards of Food Security, Integrity and Traceability
For producers, manufacturers and distributors, the heightened regulatory focus on the security and integrity of the food supply chain has placed additional emphasis on accurate record-keeping, transparent accountability and end-to-end traceability. To meet the needs of the modern regulatory landscape, food chain stakeholders require robust systems and tools to manage their quality control (QC), environmental monitoring and chain of custody data. Despite this, many businesses still handle this information using paper-based approaches or localized spreadsheets, which can compromise operational efficiency and regulatory compliance.
The fundamental flaw of these traditional data management approaches is their reliance on manual data entry and transcription steps, leaving information vulnerable to human error. To ensure the accuracy of data, some companies implement resource-intensive verification or review checks. However, these steps inevitably extend workflows and delay decision-making, ultimately holding up the release of products at a high cost to businesses. Moreover, as paper and spreadsheet-based data management systems must be updated by hand, they often serve merely as a record of past events and are unable to provide insight into ongoing activities. The time lag associated with recording and accessing supply chain information means that vital insight is typically unavailable until the end of a process, and data cannot be used to optimize operations in real-time.
Furthermore, using traditional data management approaches, gathering information in the event of an audit or food safety incident can be extremely challenging. Trawling through paperwork or requesting information contained in spreadsheets saved on local computers is time-consuming and resource-intensive. When it comes to establishing accountability for actions, these systems are often unable to provide a complete audit trail of events.
Digital Solutions Transform Food Security and Compliance
Given the limitations of traditional workflows, food supply chain stakeholders are increasingly seeking more robust data management solutions that will allow them to drive efficiency, while meeting the latest regulatory expectations. For many businesses, laboratory information management systems (LIMS) are proving to be a highly effective solution for collecting, storing and sharing their QC, environmental monitoring and chain of custody data.
One of the most significant advantages of managing data using LIMS is the way in which they bring together people, instruments, workflows and data in a single integrated system. When it comes to managing the receipt of raw materials, for example, LIMS can improve overall workflow visibility, and help to make processes faster and more efficient. By using barcodes, radiofrequency identification (RFID) tags or near-field communication, samples can be tracked by the system throughout various laboratory and storage locations. With LIMS tracking samples at every stage, ingredients and other materials can be automatically released into production as soon as the QC results have been authorized, streamlining processes and eliminating costly delays.
By storing the standard operating procedures (SOPs) used for raw material testing or QC centrally in a LIMS, worklists, protocols and instrument methods can be automatically downloaded directly to equipment. In this way, LIMS are able to eliminate time-consuming data entry steps, reducing the potential for human error and improving data integrity. When integrated with laboratory execution systems (LES), these solutions can even guide operators step-by-step through procedures, ensuring SOPs are executed consistently, and in a regulatory compliant manner. Not only can these integrated solutions improve the reliability and consistency of data by making sure tests are performed in a standardized way across multiple sites and testing teams, they can also boost operational efficiency by simplifying set-up procedures and accelerating the delivery of results. What’s more, because LIMS can provide a detailed audit trail of all user interactions within the system, this centralized approach to data management is a robust way of ensuring full traceability and accountability.
This high level of operational efficiency and usability also extends to the way in which data is processed, analyzed and reported. LIMS platforms can support multi-level parameter review and can rapidly perform calculations and check results against specifications for relevant customers. In this way, LIMS can ensure pathogens, pesticides and veterinary drug residues are within specifications for specific markets. With all data stored centrally, certificates of analysis can be automatically delivered to enterprise resource planning (ERP) software or process information management systems (PIMS) to facilitate rapid decision-making and batch release. Furthermore, the sophisticated data analysis tools built into the most advanced LIMS software enable users to monitor the way in which instruments are used and how they are performing, helping businesses to manage their assets more efficiently. Using predictive algorithms to warn users when principal QC instruments are showing early signs of deterioration, the latest LIMS can help companies take preventative action before small issues turn into much bigger problems. As a result, these powerful tools can help to reduce unplanned maintenance, keep supply chains moving, and better maintain the quality and integrity of goods.
While LIMS are very effective at building more resilient supply chains and preventing food security issues, they also make responding to potential threats much faster, easier and more efficient. With real-time access to QC, environmental monitoring and chain of custody data, food contamination or adulteration issues can be detected early, triggering the prompt isolation of affected batches before they are released. And in the event of a recall or audit, batch traceability in modern LIMS enables the rapid retrieval of relevant results and metadata associated with suspect products through all stages of production. This allows the determination of affected batches and swift action to be taken, which can be instrumental in protecting consumer safety as well as brand value.
Using LIMS to Protect Security and Integrity of the Food Supply Chain
Increasingly, LIMS are helping businesses transform food security by bringing people, instruments and workflows into a single integrated system. By simplifying and automating processes, providing end-to-end visibility across the food supply chain, and protecting the integrity of data at every stage, these robust digital solutions are not only helping food supply chain stakeholders to ensure full compliance with the latest regulations; they are enabling businesses to operate more efficiently, too.
Workplace safety in the food industry can be challenging. The precision required of workers in slaughter, meat packing or wholesale processing facilities can lead to serious harm or worse. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the potential hazards in this industry are many: Knife cuts to the hands and the torso, falls, back injuries, exposure to toxic substances, carpal tunnel syndrome, and even infectious diseases.
This industry may have more challenges in safety than any other industry. Yet, there are companies that excel in safety performance, even given these challenges.
Organizations that are serious about protecting their workers must do far more than react after an injury or rely on awareness-based safety efforts. Typically this approach only delays the next injury. Safety is not just about responding to injuries, but is about the ongoing identification of exposure, the implementation of control systems, and assuring these controls are used to neutralize the exposure.
The challenge is that the root of why an exposure exists or can even thrive in an organization maybe due to culture, organizational urgency, operational instability or a lack of understanding about the concept of exposure, to mention a few. Because the issue is bigger than safety programs, safety excellence requires all levels of an organization, from the C-Suite to the frontline worker, committing to a process that focuses on exposure. This needs to be done in a way that creates trust that safety is a value and if there is a values conflict, that safety has top priority.
Ultimately, it’s about shifting culture by making a safety excellence a priority.
Oftentimes leaders articulate that they want a safe culture, but they may not fully understand their role in creating the culture they desire and how they sustain the change. Senior leaders must go beyond a catch phrase approach to safety and actually articulate what are the cultural attributes they want to see firmly embedded in their organization.
These may be:
Workers watching out for each other and a willingness to step in if somebody is at risk.
Workers stepping up to address physical hazards without being asked.
A willingness to report safety concerns and incidents.
Once the attributes are defined, then the organization is ready to understand what it takes to support that culture.
However, senior leadership needs to drive that change. Once upper management understands that accountability starts with them and not with the worker, they can move forward and create a culture that reinforces practices that identify potential exposure before incidents take place and not after. Doing so not only has the potential to lower incident rates, but it also:
Boosts morale. Workers believe the company has their backs and will commit to safety principles.
Strengthens trust between workers and management. Workers believe that safety excellence is a shared responsibility.
Increases commitment to all organizational objectives. Social theory research has shown that if you do something for someone else, they experience a pull to reciprocate. The more we do, the stronger the pull. When management shows that they can be trusted with employee safety, employees are free to reciprocate in other areas.
Our strongest and deepest relationships are built on a foundation of safety—not just physical safety but also psychological safety. If we come to believe that another person is interested in our physical or mental wellbeing, the foundation strengthens.
When leadership uses the power of safety they will see employee engagement increase. And the safety implications of worker engagement are profound: Disengaged workers are focused on their own safety. Involved workers are concerned with their own safety but are likely also concerned with the safety of their workmates and perhaps certain other people they interact with. Fully engaged workers are concerned with the safety of everyone around them and without prompting take proactive actions to help others.
Engaged workers are more likely to follow rules and procedures, be more receptive to change, and give discretionary effort. It seems like all companies are doing some type of engagement survey, yet the actions they develop to try and raise their scores are often lacking. Organizations that are serious about having an engaged workforce must fully understand how safety is foundational to engagement. More importantly, safety involvement activities need to be designed and implemented in a way that moves employees beyond mere involvement to full on engagement.
When a company demonstrates it values safety, workers will volunteer to get involved. Leadership must carefully consider what safety involvement activity is right for the culture. When employees participate in a successful and rewarding involvement activity, their personal level of engagement will move upward. Leadership must then figure out how to expand safety involvement. This isn’t done by demanding involvement. It requires purposeful planning and patience.
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