Tag Archives: security

Mahni Ghorashi, Clear Labs
FST Soapbox

Why the Food Safety Industry Needs the Cloud

By Mahni Ghorashi
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Mahni Ghorashi, Clear Labs

Cloud computing and storage, the breakthrough technology that once dominated headlines, conferences and CIOs’ strategic plans, is now commonplace in most industries. That is not to discount the journey it took to get here, though. This easy acceptance wasn’t always the case, and in fact, some of the world’s most important industries are lagging behind.

Food safety is one such industry that stands to gain the most from adopting cloud technology but continues to rely heavily on manual processes, paperwork, and cumbersome on-premise databases. These methods are seen as fail-safe, proven by history to be effective enough and compatible with the overarching goals of the industry. We’re suffering from the age-old adage: If it isn’t broken, we don’t need to fix it.

While the food safety industry has good reasons for taking a more conservative approach to new technology, I’d argue that the most pressing risk to our industry is the failure to invest in innovation. In our own attempts to avoid risk, we’re actually exposing ourselves to far greater losses both in protecting consumers and new opportunities.

A Path Forward For Food Safety

The food safety industry is changing, and changing rapidly. However, despite advances, the industry still faces major challenges. We’ve seen more than 200 recalls just this year. An average recall costs $10 million dollars in direct costs alone. On average, it takes 57 days to recall food, according to a report by the Office of Inspector General.

At the same time, we’re beginning to generate more data than ever, with technologies like blockchain and next-generation sequencing coming online in a big way. We’re about to experience a data explosion arguably bigger than in any other industry. A single NGS test can give industry officials hundreds of millions of data points per analysis, and routine pathogen tests are happening at high volumes around the clock.

This amount of data cannot be contained in the spreadsheets and on-premise databases of today.

The hesitation to adopt cloud-computing is not unfounded, given the initial fear around outages and security, and a disbelief that the technology could ever be as reliable and secure as their existing systems. And the hesitation is even more understandable when you consider that food and beverage is the third-most hacked industry. The damage from these breaches can be extensive, with reports that 70% of hacked food and beverage companies go out of business within a year of an attack. There is a substantial cost for lax security or prolonged outages.

Clearly, any solution has to be comprehensive, and our justifications for switching systems have to be all the more clear. But we cannot as an industry sit idle.

The food safety industry has an opportunity to learn from those who have gone before us and build a stronger, more robust cloud infrastructure.

We’re starting to see this shift take place – some of the top poultry manufacturers have already made the leap into cloud computing. They and others will prove that the value of making the move far outweighs the risk.

Quality Control and Consistency

Right now, it’s not uncommon for food safety employees to record their observations via paper and pencil. In a best-case scenario, these professionals are forced into spreadsheets with limited interoperability. In either scenario, there are huge amounts of friction when it comes to sharing information and, in fact, data can easily be lost as inboxes fill, software crashes, or papers get buried in the shuffle.

By enabling instantaneous data sharing, the cloud makes collaboration across an organization easily accessible for the first time. This, in turn, boosts productivity and also guarantees a higher degree of consistency in both process and results.

Employees can instantly share results, communicate across departments, and easily control permissions and access to information, allowing others to iterate on or apply their findings in real time.

Speed Across an Organization

The drive to increase efficiency actually underwrites the entire food safety industry. Experts are constantly asking how we can be faster at assessing risk, managing recalls, and generally running a business. These questions are only becoming more important as the threat of foodborne illness continues to rise.

The cloud enables greater speed in tracking food information inside and outside of the lab. Perhaps more than any other tool, cloud technology is going to allow the food safety industry to more quickly and effectively manage recalls.

Technology that allows companies to immediately update information company-wide without the burden or drag of an unwieldy IT infrastructure is valuable. Technology that gives you easily interpretable results, so that you can make quick decisions for the good of public health safety is valuable.

Cloud technology enables both. You could easily process terabytes worth of data and spit out easy, comprehensible results that would have otherwise taken days or weeks to produce.

This ability, which on its own is attractive, is especially important as you get into more complicated pathogen tests. For example, with traditional serotyping, a substantial portion of calls are subjective. The speed of cloud computing can take away some of that guesswork.

Dramatic Cost Savings

Not only does the cloud offer a faster system for storing and accessing information, but it also offers cheaper infrastructure, usually an offshoot of its speed. A survey of more than 1,000 IT professionals found that 88% of cloud users pointed to cost savings and 56% agreed that cloud services had helped them boost profits. Additionally, the absolute cost of the cloud is continuing to drop, improving margins.

With the cost savings enabled by the cloud, the food safety lab no longer has to stay a cost center. Adopting cloud technologies can create more wiggle room in a company’s budget and free up resources for ambitious experiments, new product development, and other activities that contribute to the bottom line of the organization.

Security and Regulatory Advancements

The cloud also allows companies to more easily cooperate with HAACP and FSMA regulations. With all of this organizational data easily available and updated in real time, organizations can ensure they’re keeping pace with regulatory requirements by easily producing traceability records and managing compliance requirements across multiple locations and vendors, for example.

While better, more transparent data management company-wide has always been the draw of cloud, the technology has been crippled by simultaneous concerns about security. Food safety executives feel stuck between wanting to comply with best practices and needing to protect sensitive and valuable information.

Fortunately, food safety has waited long enough. Even as recently as 2015, cloud breaches of major organizations’ databases were still making headlines. However, the technology has come a long way in a short time. Cloud providers are beginning to implement automatic checks of systems to analyze threats and identify their severity.

These advancements speak to the food safety industry’s primary pain points, security and speed. By solving for both, the cloud has reached a maturity worthy of the food safety industry.

The Future: Data Pollination

Finally, the cloud makes it much easier to share data across departments, organizations, and even entire industries.

We’re entering an era of data pollination. What I mean by that is there an opportunity to mesh food safety data (genomic data, label information, etc.) with other forms of data—human microbiome data, for instance, to create “personalized” food, enabling consumers to eat ideal foods based on their genetic makeup. While this trend has already taken off, it could be further improved and better validated by bringing food and genetic data out of their silos.

On the opposite end of the production line, data pollination could also help farmers, who have huge amounts of data at their fingertips, understand how they can play a larger role in food safety. If data can enable farmers to produce bigger yields, data can also certainly help farmers prevent any environmental causes of food safety on the farm itself.

Bringing together the data from the entire lifecycle of food—from farmer to consumer—can only be a good thing, powered by the cloud.

Conclusion

The food industry should not look at the task of updating their infrastructure to the cloud as a burden or an extra cost—it’s an investment and when done right, it can provide far greater returns. We have the advantage of late adoption and learning from the implementation mistakes and successes.

This isn’t just incremental improvement territory—we’re talking about making a quantum leap forward in our industry.

Erin Mann, Food Protection and Defense Institute
FST Soapbox

Improving Food Supply Chain Resilience Through Proactive Identification Of Risks

By Erin Mann, MPH
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Erin Mann, Food Protection and Defense Institute

There was a time not long ago when most of the food Americans ate came from close to home. Consumers primarily ate what was in season and there were less processed and manufactured foods in general. That has all changed. Our world is more accessible, people are traveling more frequently, and as they do, they are also expanding their palates. Consumers can have Thai food for lunch, Ecuadorian for dinner, and enjoy fresh produce year round regardless of the growing season near home. Similar changes in diet and consumption patterns can be observed across the world. This global “shrinking” (globalization) demands longer and more complex food supply chains to move product and provide ingredients.

Attend the Food Safety Supply Chain Conference | June 12–13, 2018 | Rockville, MD | Learn moreTo support changes in consumer demands, food supply chains that support movement of ingredients and products from farm to fork are becoming increasingly global, dynamic and complex. These supply chains are comprised of complicated networks of farms, production or processing facilities, and storage and distribution channels with product moving via road, rail, ship and air across the globe. These supply chains provide the global food and agriculture sector with efficient access to suppliers and consumers around the world. Unfortunately, however, food supply chains are vulnerable to disruptions such as natural disasters, transportation hazards, cyber attacks, product contamination, theft and unexpected shutdowns of key supply chain nodes. Any of these disruptions could lead to significant public health and economic consequences.

Many supply chain risks and vulnerabilities are directly related to the way a supply chain is constructed. First, there are often several degrees of separation between the point of production and the source of raw ingredients with limited visibility of the pathways in between. Spices are an illustrative example of this supply chain challenge. Spice supply chains are notoriously long with product moving through a complex web of farmers, brokers, processors, wholesalers and exporters. By the time a spice reaches a manufacturer for use in a processed food product, the manufacturer may have adequate visibility and information only about the supplier from whom the spice was most immediately purchased. The manufacturer may not have good visibility of supply chain components further upstream. Depending on the nature of the manufacturer’s customers and distribution channels, the same manufacturer may also have limited visibility of downstream supply chain components. This limited visibility up and downstream could be true for every step of the chain. Without end-to-end supply chain visibility, stakeholders cannot adequately assess risks related to supplier quality and reliability. Tracing product forward and backwards becomes a very difficult task. In the event of a supply chain disruption or contamination event, limited supply chain visibility not only impedes mitigation and response efforts, but also exacerbates the event.

Second, supply chains are often constructed in such a way that certain components of the supply chain are more critical than others. For example, a supply chain may rely upon a single manufacturing plant through which all ingredients and all finished product are routed; a shutdown or failure at that point in the supply chain would greatly impact normal operations. Likewise, a supply chain may rely exclusively on a particular transportation route; a disruption to that route from a disaster could significantly delay delivery of product to consumers. A supply chain may also source the majority of a raw ingredient from a single supplier; a disruption to that supplier could force a producer to scramble to identify and vet alternative suppliers.

CRISTAL
CRISTAL (Criticality Spatial Analysis). Photo: Food Protection and Defense Institute

Forward-thinking approaches are needed to address supply chain challenges related to supply chain complexity and poor visibility. While some supply chain risks cannot be avoided entirely, understanding supply chain structure and proactively identifying supply chain hazards based on the structure of the supply chain will ultimately improve supply chain resilience. For example, end-to-end, geo-spatial mapping of the supply chain of a particular product line would allow stakeholders to identify risks such as exclusive reliance upon a single supply chain node. However, such an approach is not easy. End-to-end geo-spatial mapping of a supply chain requires data and information from multiple stakeholders. Sharing information across organizations is both culturally and logistically difficult.

To address these challenges, the Food Protection and Defense Institute (FPDI) has developed technology that allows private food companies and the government to document, visualize and compare supply chains in support of risk and criticality assessments, mitigation efforts and event response. With support from the Department of Homeland Security, FPDI developed CRISTAL or Criticality Spatial Analysis. CRISTAL is a geo-spatial web application that allows organizations to document supply chains from end-to-end, including supply chain components owned by other entities such as suppliers or distributors. Additionally, CRISTAL allows users to visualize the geo-spatial structure of a supply chain alongside hazard layer data, including cargo theft and natural disaster hazards. By increasing supply chain visibility, CRISTAL ultimately facilitates supply chain documentation, product tracing, and event response. Finally, CRISTAL supports efforts to identify where mitigation resources are most needed during potentially catastrophic supply-chain failures.

More information about the CRISTAL technology is available on the FPDI website. Organizations interested in using the technology may contact FPDI at fpdi@umn.edu.

Integrated informatics and food labs

Using Data to Ensure Food Chain Security

By Maria Fontanazza
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Integrated informatics and food labs
Integrated informatics and food labs
Integrated informatics enable labs to execute and manage all lab processes easily, with the data rigor and intelligence that lab managers require to drive efficiency and profitability, for the lab and for the business. Image courtesy of Thermo Fisher Scientific. (Click to enlarge)

Moving forward, if food manufacturers, suppliers and distributors want to be ahead of the game, they’ll need to have the ability to view their product throughout the supply chain. During a discussion with Food Safety Tech, Trish Meek, director of product strategy at Thermo Fisher Scientific, explains the importance of product traceability in the food chain, from both a consumer and food producer’s perspective.

Food Safety Tech: In your recent article about Integrated Informatics, you cite it as an ideal solution to modernizing a highly distributed food chain. What are the challenges you see companies facing in managing their global supply chain?

Trish Meek: We’ve seen the issues related to intentional adulteration documented throughout the media, and they extend to traceability. For example, what Tesco experienced during the horsemeat scandal wasn’t necessarily intentional adulteration, but rather a matter of not understanding the supply chain. Horsemeat was introduced in France as legitimate meat and then it ended up in the UK. In this case, you have a lack of traceability and thus a lack of understanding of what has happened to your product in its lifecycle.

Trish Meek, Thermo Fisher Scientific
“With consumer demand for foods that are free of gluten, GMOs and antibiotics, it’s becoming more important to customers that they understand everything that has happened to the animal and the food source.” –Trish Meek

In this complex world of suppliers, distributors and food producers, having the ability to pull in analytical data and manage it regardless of the source (whether it’s from the initial ingredient supplier or the final manufacturer) is a critical piece in understanding the overall lifecycle picture. An integrated informatics solution provides a single source of truth for that information: From the technician operating the lab process to the lab manager who is overseeing to the integration into the enterprise-level system. It provides a complete view on everything that has happened to your data, while also enabling the management of regional specifications.

FST: What are the biggest concerns in the area of food chain security?

Meek: Traceability is key, and the common denominator is food chain security: Ensuring that you’re providing security and with an understanding of everything that happened to your product, which leads to quality assurance and brand security.

FST: What are the concerns related to food chain security?

Meek: There are a few concerns:

  1. Adulteration
  2. Correct label claims. For example, 30% of the populous is trying to avoid gluten. While 1% is truly allergic to it, there’s a lot of gluten intolerance. Take, for example, recent commercials from Cheerios saying they are ensuring traceability and can say with confidence that their product no longer comes into contact with wheat in any part of the process. There’s an understanding that consumers want to believe what’s on the label, from both a health and allergy perspective as well as a concern in the public around unhealthy ingredients added or antibiotics used. As a food producer, you want to make sure you can honestly state what has happened to the food and that what you’ve put on your label is true. People are willing to pay a premium, and so there’s a drive towards the premium of being able to claim no GMOs on a label or an organic product.
  3. From a food producer’s point of view, having traceability from all suppliers is key. They want to ensure that any raw materials have been handled and managed with all the same scrutiny and adherence to regulatory requirements as their own processes. With ingredients coming from all over the world, manufacturers are relying on multi-sourcing ingredients from places they don’t necessarily control, so they need to have the traceability before the ingredients appear in the final product.

Using an Integrated Informatics Platform

Trish Meek: Through an integrated informatics platform, users can manage the entire lab process and integrate it into the enterprise system. Having the ability to incorporate the lab data is critical to ensuring product safety, quality and traceability throughout the entire supply chain. Because the solution encompasses lab processes and required lab functionalities, it enables efficiency both in the laboratory as well as across the entire operation. The solution provides an opportunity not just to the top-tier food producers but also the regionally based middle-tier companies that want to set themselves up for future growth.

The reality of the regulations today is that you must look towards the future. Twenty years ago, we weren’t including information about what nuts were present in the labeling. Now there’s consumer awareness and a change in labeling. And five years from now, there could be a different allergy that needs to be documented in the labeling. Integrated informatics gives you the business agility to take on that next step of analysis and adapt to the marketplace.