Tag Archives: RFID

Data protection, security

The Digital Transformation of Global Food Security

By Katie Evans
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Data protection, security

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

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

Achieving the Highest Standards of Food Security, Integrity and Traceability

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

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

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

Digital Solutions Transform Food Security and Compliance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

References

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

Standardization of the Cannabis Supply Chain Drives Product Safety and Consumer Trust

By Craig Powell
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Craig Powell, Natura Life ≠ Science

When it comes to mainstream consumer food brands, customers expect to receive the same product each time they buy it. That consistency brings consumers back to the same brands over and over again. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said about products sold in the cannabis industry. Consumers aren’t building long-term relationships with brands because consumers don’t have consistent product experiences and often take their business to other brands.

This inconsistency plaguing the cannabis industry can be attributed to an unreliable supply chain, which plays out in multiple ways.

First, cannabis companies are having difficulty meeting state regulations. This happens because the legal cannabis industry is still relatively young and there isn’t a substantial institutional knowledge about regulatory compliance, nor are there any standardized best practices in place. Regulation is expensive and requires human and financial capital that most cannabis companies don’t have in place. Complicating things further, regulations keep changing, making it more difficult for compliant businesses to keep up, even when they have the best intentions.

Second, testing of cannabis products has been complicated. Because cannabis isn’t federally legal, standardized testing guidelines have not been developed, leaving individual states in charge of dictating their own requirements and enforcement framework. There have been numerous reports in the past few years of labs in California either improperly reporting testing results, or worse, submitting fraudulent results.

Third, problems also arise on production end of the supply chain—not only with consistency, but also with consumer safety. According to an estimate from New Frontier Data, approximately 80% of sales are still conducted through the black market. Many growers are using banned pesticides in amounts way beyond recommended levels. In addition, as the recent vape issue has demonstrated, black market manufactured products are being adulterated with toxic substances that pose significant health hazards to consumers.

Given these consistency challenges, the standardization of the supply chain—especially compliance, testing and safety measures—should be a top priority for new cannabis brands. Luckily, many best practices and standardized procedures can be adopted from the food, agriculture and pharmaceutical industries, where companies have successfully developed protocols to ensure safe and reliable products.

In addition to standardization and best practices, cannabis companies should also utilize the following recent innovations in transaction technology to provide peace-of-mind to both new brands and consumers that cannabis products are tested and safe.

Modernized Retail POS systems. Common in other consumer packaged goods industries, such as food, wine, beverages and soft drinks, RFID tags can be used throughout the supply chain to track products from seed to sale. These tags, like the “chips” on credit cards, hold electronically stored information about a product that can be accessed to verify compliance and safety.

QR Codes. While QR codes are mostly used today as marketing gimmicks, they actually have potential to provide true value for curious customers. Batch-specific QR codes could be applied to cannabis products to show detailed information about when and where it was made, what strains of cannabis were used, and testing results. This technology could be used to increase transparency between companies and to consumers.

Data Informatics. A strong information technology infrastructure can be put in place to collect and store inventory and customer data. That data can then be run through algorithms, AI and machine learning systems to help cannabis brands make better decisions about how to optimize the production of their products and how to achieve better results on future batches.

Video Surveillance. Granted, this is a more ‘low-tech’ approach, but effective, nonetheless. Video cameras can go way beyond security purposes. Footage can be viewed and compared to collected data sets to gain a deeper understanding of product flows, personnel movement and logistics that might impact a company’s final product. Video can also be analyzed automatically using AI to provide important insight to help a company fine tune their business strategies.

Consumers want to know that the cannabis products they purchase are safe, compliant and tested. Consumers also have a right to know what they are buying and expect product consistency over time from companies they trust. Ensuring supply chain consistency is key to making this happen as the industry matures. An experienced and trusted supply chain partner can help companies across different cannabis sectors, ranging from medical to food, and ensure product safety and consumer trust today through standardization and consistency. Ultimately, cannabis businesses want to cultivate a culture of excitement, not fear or uncertainty, to help the market flourish and bring quality products to our customers.

How Automated Inventory Tracking Systems Contribute to Food Safety

By Ryan Hardy
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When a business decides to invest in technology, the primary driver is usually to save money over the long term. As with most automated systems, inventory management tools can reduce costs by saving time and resources used to manage inventory.

But the benefits that automated inventory tracking can provide through traceability (of lots, batches, and even individual items) go beyond the financial. These systems can also be used in every aspect of your food safety program from helping with compliance, to improving your quality controls.

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In a nutshell, having an automated system that allows full visibility into the supply chain—that is, one that identifies in real time where items are being used and where they are sent, while retaining a historical record of that flow through the chain—makes it much simpler and faster to implement procedures to ensure the safety of the food you produce.

All about Accuracy and Speed

Speed and accuracy make a huge difference when it comes to dealing with potentially contaminated food. Being faster and more accurate than a manual inventory method is the most immediate benefit that an automated system brings to your food safety program.

The most compelling reason for having accurate and readily accessible track-and-trace data is to handle food recalls and to comply with requests for documentation from government agencies such as the FDA. In cases where consumer health is at risk, that information needs to be delivered quickly to prevent further harm, and it must be accurate to enable investigators to move in the right direction. Responding to requests for detailed documentation within a 24-hour timeframe can be nearly impossible if you are not using an automated system.

Even when the situation doesn’t involve a federal investigation, once a situation in which possible contamination or mislabeling arises, the faster you have accurate and detailed data, the faster your internal processes can move forward.

If the issue is identified through your quality control process, you will be more likely to be able to prevent contaminated product from reaching the retail outlet and thus getting into the hands of the consumer. Having traceability built into your inventory management systems provides immediate knowledge about whether a product using ingredients from the same batch have entered the distribution chain, and if so, where they are going. This greatly improves the likelihood of limiting the cost and scope of a recall.

Depending on the specific technology you employ, an automated system can provide immediate access to the track and trace information for specific ingredients at least one step backward and one step forward, as required by the Bioterrorism Act of 2002. A supply chain that integrates the most sophisticated technology, such as DNA tracking, can trace an item all the way from the farm or border to the individual consumer or restaurant kitchen.

This traceability means that if an ingredient was already contaminated before it entered your production line, the inventory tracking system can identify all products using that ingredient from the contaminated lot and thus will help you define the scope of the problem. This automation can go a step further by identifying where the ingredient lot originated, and thus help trace the ingredient at least one step backward to the vendor. If the vendor (whether a distribution company or a direct supplier) has traceability in an automated system, or if you are using a system hosted by a distribution partner, tracing the source farther back than one step is possible.

Such information can help you respond more quickly to FDA requests for product information and support the agency’s efforts in product traceability.

Protect Your Reputation

Just as using tracing technology can help identify potential contamination sources quickly, it can also be used to eliminate sources more quickly and accurately, thereby speeding up investigations into food contamination incidents. The faster a company can be eliminated from an investigation, the less time is taken away from normal production. In addition, quick exclusion can protect a company’s reputation from harm.

Additional Benefits

Through their ability to store specific data that can be used to identify potential risks, automated track and trace systems contribute to many preventive food safety measures as well as to the following corrective responses:

  • For perishable products, automated traceability can identify how long specific perishables have been in supply chain. This allows you to avoid using ingredients close to spoilage and to remove overdue products from the distribution chain.
  • During mock recalls, automated tracking systems reduce the time spent away from regular production and allow you consistent information throughout the organization, eliminating wasted effort due to miscommunications.
  • Automated systems reduce the time needed for notifications both internally and externally in the case of an incident affecting food quality or safety. This leads to faster line clearance and faster isolation of the possibly contaminated product.
  • With more effective accounting for possibly affected batches, you can better identify where to apply cleanup measures in the production chain.

In short, automated tracking can improve implementation of preventive controls to stop the contaminated product from reaching the marketplace, and in cases in which corrective actions are required, the automated system can help you respond more quickly and can reduce the scope of risk.

Not just Foodstuffs

Although raw ingredients and food products obviously require traceability, they aren’t the only traceable inventory that can impact food safety. Automated lot tracking can enhance food safety efforts related to all inventory items used in food processing/manufacturing:

  • Packaging. A sub-standard packaging lot can allow incursion of harmful substances or the growth of harmful bacteria. Leakers can contaminate an entire batch of meat or poultry product. Automated lot tracking can help you rapidly isolate the bad lot and know which production lines have already used the sub-standard materials.
  • Labeling. If an inferior adhesive has been applied to a batch of labels, you can identify which product lots to pull from the distribution chain. You can do the same if your quality controls find a batch of inaccurate labels.
  • Protective equipment and clothing. Gloves, masks and other protective gear must function properly to ensure the safety of your workers and also to prevent contamination from being introduced on the production line. An inferior batch of protective gloves that tear during use, for example, could violate your food safety practices. Identifying the bad batch quickly and removing it from the operations area immediately can save potential contamination.
  • Cleaning solutions. Even a batch of cleaning solution can be sub-par. If tests show that cleaning has not eliminated the targeted bacteria, for example, you can more quickly take measures to determine whether the root cause of the problem was a procedural issue or a quality issue with the batch of cleaner.

Beyond the Production Line

The benefits of automated tracking systems to your food safety program extend beyond the production line. They can also enhance decision-making, vendor management and communications functions.

When it comes to potential contamination, decision making needs to be both timely and based on the best information available. Automated systems can provide you with accurate information quickly to help you answer these and other key questions, so that the decision on what actions to take can be based on good information:

  • How widespread is the potential contamination?
  • Where is the product in the production and distribution chains?
  • Have we already exposed consumers?

These systems can put the answers to these questions in front of the appropriate decision makers early in the process. The technology can be configured to allow access to the data via a browser, so if those who make the final decisions are located elsewhere, they can see in real time the same information that you are seeing in the plant. This makes communication about potential contamination more effective and clear, since everyone can see the same thing at the same time, and it can eliminate the potential for miscommunication up the chain of command.

By identifying where bad lots entered your supply chain, automated track-and-trace can enhance supplier accountability. You can accurately see if you have vendors with recurring issues in the quality of the supplies they are providing.

Automated Inventory Tracking Technologies

An automated inventory tracking system depends on three components:

  • A physical component, such as a label or tag, which contains detailed information identifying the specific lot or item.
  • A database, where each discrete data item is stored.
  • A reporting interface that allows people to access and use the identification information. This is the programming code that performs searches, retrieves the data, and formats the information in a formatted report, which is then presented on the screen, saved to a file, or sent to a printer.

The most common physical components used by automated inventory tracking systems rely on barcode or RFID technology, or a combination of both. The choice of which technology to use to integrate into the inventory management database layer of the system depends on a number of factors, but both have been proven extremely accurate (some sources say up to 99%). What is more important than the choice of tracking tools is the quality of the data encoded in them.

The latest in tracking technology uses an engineered DNA marker, in the form of an edible spray. When applied to produce, this DNA marker can track the individual item (i.e., an apple, head of lettuce or onion), along the entire food supply chain, identifying where it was farmed, the date it was picked, and where it was processed.

Whatever form of technology you employ, ensuring that your data is complete and accurate and can be integrated into both your supply and distribution chain is critical to realizing the benefits of that system in supporting your food safety efforts.

The WDS Food Safety Team also contributed to this article.

Traceability in food manufacturing, Honeywell

Traceability Not a Trend. It’s a Reality.

By Maria Fontanazza
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Traceability in food manufacturing, Honeywell

Businesses throughout the food supply chain are using a variety of traceability tools to capture critical information during the path from the field to the consumer. Traceability has always been viewed as an important capability within the supply chain, but FSMA, coupled with retailer and consumer demand, is pushing it to the highest levels yet.

Technology solutions that provide continuous identification and verification include mobile computers, scanners, RFID and mobile printers. While growers, packers, wholesalers, distribution centers and retailers involved in the fresh produce, poultry, meat, and seafood segments are using these technologies, speculation continues about adequate adoption levels.

The larger food providers are embracing track and trace technologies, while smaller business have been much slower to adopt, according to Bruce Stubbs, director of industry marketing at Honeywell Sensing & Productivity Solutions. “It’s going to be difficult to convince the smaller growers to invest in the technology—a lot of them see it as a cost,” he says. “What’s helping is that the retailers are starting to push back and say they are going to require their suppliers to be compliant with [traceability] mandates and if not, they won’t do business with them.”

Out in the field, companies are leveraging scanning and printing technologies, including smart printing technology (essentially a PC with printing capability). The printer hosts data capture and traceability software, providing the tasks and traceability through the software to the scanning devices. It can capture and print the food traceability label, which contains the discreet information, at the point of harvest. At the transportation level, businesses are using mobile computers to scan and capture product information that tracks down to the details from what part of a field, or even which tree in an orchard, a product has been harvested. Traceability technologies are including sensors throughout the cold chain to monitor temperature and humidity as the product is transported from point A to B. All information moves forward into the production facility and the retailer’s distribution center. Once at the retail store level, grocers will be able to pinpoint, within potentially thousands of stores, the specific batches and lots, a key capability in the instance of product issues and recalls.

Traceability is a holistic process, and the potential for its continued growth within the food industry is high. “I see it becoming more prevalent as consumers demand it, and retailers and manufacturers must adapt. I also see them moving away from paper,” says Stubbs. “We’re close; it’s almost like there’s a trickle in the dam right now, but I really believe that over the next couple years, the dam will break and most [companies] will need to adopt [traceability solutions] or they won’t be able to effectively do business with a lot of the food retailers.”

Stubbs also anticipates an increased adoption of 2-D barcodes versus 1-D linear laser barcodes, as 2-D barcodes can contain far more information. “We are at the tip of those technologies—they exist. It’s just the integration of these systems and providing the information in a format at the supplier or food manufacturer level,” he says.

How is your company implementing traceability solutions? What challenges and benefits are occurring as a result?