Tag Archives: software

Supply Chain QA Management Goals

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Need more help with setting strategic goals and tactics for success in supply chain quality assurance management? This month an upcoming webinar will help attendees do just that, along with delve into the perspectives of two project managers of Fortune 500 companies and how they used a supplier quality management software platform to manage quality assurance.

The complimentary webinar “Achieving Significant Goals in Supply Chain QA Management” (Register) will be held June 22, 2017 at 11 am ET. Speakers include Sandy DeGroot, formerly of Campbell’s Soup organic division, John McGlinn, vice president of sales at EMNS, Inc., and Justin Ramos, partner at Brand Solutions Group.

barcode

How Digital Technology Streamlines Supply Chain Management

By Alex Bromage
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barcode

Today’s food and beverage producers must deliver to exact requirements and provide safe products of the highest quality. In an increasingly global and connected world, the emergence of new business models, such as Amazon Food and the offer of direct deliveries to consumers, is creating ever more complex supply chains for manufacturers. The number of steps between the raw ingredients and the consumer is increasing, creating new and more numerous challenges inside the production process for food and beverage manufacturers. Thus it is important to remain committed to constantly innovating and developing new services and technologies to support customers with increasing supply chain complexities. This includes systems to help track products as they enter the factory environment, when they leave the factory, and when they enter the retail distribution chain. The digitalization of management processes and services, alongside basic management processes, is playing an important role in helping food and beverage manufacturers to manage these complexities.

Learn more about keeping track of your suppliers at the Food Safety Supply Chain Conference | June 5–6, 2017 | Rockville, MD | Attend in-person or virtuallySupplier Base

The first step to keeping food safe starts before the raw ingredients enter the processing facility. The safety of raw material is so important because it impacts the end quality of the product. Pasteurization and heat treatment can only improve the product so much, and therefore the higher quality the raw ingredients, the better the final product.

Basic management processes must be in place at this stage of the supply chain, ensuring the good management of the supplier base. Working closely with customers to implement supplier framework audits that allow them to benchmark their suppliers’ performance is crucial. Through this supplier framework customers to collaborate transparently with their suppliers, encouraging the open sharing of information and traceability in the supply chain.

Production Process and Entering the Retail Distribution Chain

Increased sophistication of tools in the industry is also enabling high-level traceability at the packaging stage. This means that food and beverage manufacturers are tracking and tracing products right the way through to the consumer. One such available tool can enable food and beverage manufacturers to program their entire plant through a single data management system, and improve product traceability internally. Specifically designed for the food and beverage industry, specific software provides a user-friendly interface through which customers can control their entire operations—from raw material reception to finished packaged and palletized products. Streamlines data collection facilitates accurate data analysis to ensure that safety standards are maintained throughout the production process.

Using unique package identification technology, such as a 2-D barcode on packages, information can be processed this information and the product(s) tracked throughout the supply chain. For example, if a manufacturer were to experience a food safety issue in a certain production batch, the tool would be able to track all products in that batch and support making a recall. In addition to improving functions on a reactive basis, a reporting function, is designed to provide data to help prevent issues from happening again in the future, mitigating against food safety risks.

As new business models continue to emerge and more parties become involved in the production process, the complexity of the supply chain will only increase. Digital strategies alongside basic management processes have an increasingly important role to play in helping food and beverage manufacturers manage these complexities to ensure that their food is safe for the end consumer.

8 Food Industry Trends Fueled by FSMA

By Lori Carlson
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FSMA is fostering a surge in technology solutions, analytical tools and training products marketed to the food industry in the name of achieving FSMA compliance. And while many of these products were available pre-FSMA (especially in other industries like the life sciences), FSMA’s momentum has fueled the adaptation of solutions to meet the specific needs of the food industry for achieving and maintaining regulatory compliance. This article is a summary of emerging trends in food safety management by producers, manufacturers, distributors and retailers through the application of technology, educational tools, monitoring and detection systems, and other support mechanisms.

Want to learn more about FSMA trends and compliance? Attend the 2016 Food Safety Consortium in Schaumburg, IL | December 7–8 | LEARN MOREWhether by the spark of FSMA or because it makes practical sense (and most likely, a bit of both), businesses are integrating their food safety programs with enterprise initiatives and systems for managing compliance and risk to achieve increased visibility and harmonization across the organization.  The most popular trends fueled by FSMA largely reflect technology solutions to achieve this integration.

Subsequently, solutions that support risk assessment, supply chain management, real-time monitoring, corrective action, self-assessment, traceability, and training management are most attractive and lucrative from an ROI perspective. And while it may be hard to find a one-size-fits-all technology solution depending upon the needs of the organization, technology service providers are quickly raising the bar to meet these growing needs as organizations strive to reduce risk and increase compliance. Other top trends at the periphery of technology solutions include the mobilization of food safety personnel and increased availability of on-demand training and detection tools to bring the FSMA movement full circle.

1. Software-as-a-service (SaaS) technology solutions quickly gained a following in the food industry in recent years to achieve an automated food safety and quality management system (FSQMS) solution.

The substantial management components and recordkeeping requirements of the FSMA rules has accelerated the food industry’s need for automated solutions to document program management, queue workflows and distribute notifications for corrective and preventive action (CAPA). Understanding this need, many SaaS providers evolved with FSMA to provide functionality that dovetails with new regulatory requirements.

2. Increased availability of risk and vulnerability assessment tools is of significant importance in meeting many requirements of FSMA’s rules.

The regulatory language of all FSMA rules is steeped in risk analysis to support the prevention of food safety hazards and threats. This creates a demand for user-friendly tools and training courses to help food businesses analyze and update their management systems within the context of these new requirements. Risk and vulnerability assessment tools currently available to the food industry are diverse in functionality and vary in scope and cost.

For example, FDA’s free online tool, FDA-iRISK 2.0, assesses chemical and microbiological hazards in foods through process models, which quantify risk across scenarios and predict the effectiveness of control strategies.  Commercially available food hazard assessment tools based on HACCP/ HARPC principles include Safefood 360° and EtQ, which provide risk assessment modules as a part of their SaaS platform.

Universities, trade associations, and commercial risk management and consulting firms came together to produce two very different food fraud vulnerability tools to support the industry. SSAFE by the University of Wageningen RIKILT, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam and PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) is a free online tool and mobile app, which guides users through a decision tree and assessment questionnaire to determine fraud opportunities, motivators and gaps in existing controls. EMAlert by the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) and Battelle is a subscription-based online tool to assess vulnerability from economically motivated adulterants (EMA’s). Individuals conducting vulnerability assessments are recommended to periodically access food risk databases such as the U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention’s (USP) food fraud database to stay informed of historical and emerging threats to the supply chain.

And in support of FSMA’s Food Defense rule, the FDA developed a free food defense software tool, Food Defense Plan Builder (FDPB), to help food businesses identify vulnerability to intentional adulterants and terrorist attacks on the food supply chain.

3. SaaS platforms, app-friendly assessment tools and FSMA recordkeeping requirements are creating a natural pathway for the increased use of mobile devices and electronic recordkeeping and verification.

From supply chain management to effective traceability to regulatory compliance, efficient document management and on-demand data retrieval is a must have of the modern FSQMS. Food businesses recognize the inherent obstacles of paper-based systems and increasingly trend towards rugged mobile devices and electronic recordkeeping to make better use of personnel resources, technology solutions and data. FSMA is helping leverage this trend two-fold through increased requirements for documentation and verification of food safety management activities and by not requiring electronic records to additionally meet the provisions of 21 CFR part 11 (electronic recordkeeping).

4. An increased demand for more effective, frequent and accessible training must be met across an organization to maintain an adequately trained workforce responsible for implementing FSMA.

To keep up with this demand—as well as the training demand imparted by GFSI schemes and fact that a company’s FSQMS is only as good as those who develop and operate it—food businesses are turning to online and blended learning courses to increase training frequency and effectiveness. In Campden BRI’s 2016 Global Food Safety Training Survey, 70% of food processors and manufacturers responded that they received training deficiencies during audits as the result of a lack of refresher training and/or lack of employee understanding.

In an effort to help close this gap and meet new implementation requirements of FSMA, food safety training providers are increasing offerings of eLearning courses, which provide targeted content in shorter duration to meet users’ needs in an interactive (and often multilingual) format. Shorter and more frequent targeted training is proven to increase knowledge retention and job performance. E-Learning training solutions can be found through dedicated training service providers as well as universities, trade associations, regulatory agencies, scheme owners, certification bodies, and other compliance organizations.

Depending upon the training provider, online training may be distributed through a learning management system (LMS) to provide additional training tools, assess training effectiveness and manage the training activities and competencies of all participants.

5. Targeted monitoring and verification activities such as product testing, environmental monitoring or water quality testing are helping to increase the demand for pathogen testing and push the frontier of improved rapid pathogen detection methods.

In a recent Food Safety Tech article, Strategic Consulting, Inc. noted more than a 13% annual increase in pathogen testing by contract food laboratories as determined by a recent industry study conducted by the group. The study additionally identified turn-around-time as the second most important factor for suppliers when choosing a contract lab. Increased access to rapid pathogen testing—and in particular, detection without time-dependent cultural enrichment—are primary needs of food businesses as regulators and customers push for enhanced monitoring and verification via testing mechanisms.

Currently, there are numerous rapid methods based on DNA, immunological or biosensor techniques. These methods can detect foodborne pathogens in relatively short amounts of time ranging from a few minutes to a few hours. But they often require pre-processing strategies to reduce matrix interference or concentrate pathogens to meet the level of detection (LOD) of the assay.1 These strategies increase the overall time of the assay and are largely the next hurdle for improved rapid detection.

6.  Food businesses are experiencing a wave of self-assessment followed by CAPA as organizations work to analyze and update their food safety systems and protocols within the context of applicable FSMA rules.

This trend has the potential to be the most beneficial to the supply chain and consumers as it provides a distinct opportunity for food businesses to reconsider previously overlooked hazards and vulnerabilities and upgrade food safety controls along with the management system. Seeing the FSQMS with fresh eyes—outside of the framework of a familiar standard—can lead to significant improvements in food safety management, product safety and quality, and even operational efficiency.

7.  For many food businesses, heightened regulation has spurned the need for dedicated staff to support compliance efforts.

Many food businesses are subject to multiple rules—some of which require a dedicated individual such as the Preventive Controls Qualified Individual (PCQI) to assume responsibility for the implementation of various provisions. And food businesses are not exempt from the acute need for qualified individuals with a food safety skill set. Across the industry, from service providers to retailers and everyone in between or at the fringe, executives understand that it takes tireless leadership and knowledgeable staff to produce safe food.

8. More than any other trend, communication on FSMA, food safety and related topics is easily the most prevalent exhibiting exponential activity over the past five years.

Whether in support or contention with the proposed (now final) rules, FSMA promulgates constant dialogue about food safety, what it means and how it should be implemented. The constant flurry of communication provides both benefits and deterrents to understanding the new regulations and identifying effective solutions for compliance. This dichotomy creates a significant need for authoritative and easy-to-understand information from consolidated sources within the industry such as trade associations, risk management organizations and food safety schemes. The divide has also helped fuel the need for information hubs like the Global Food Safety Resource (GFSR) that aggregate critical regulatory information, food safety solutions and best practices to reach a global community.

Reference

  1. Wang, Y. and Salazar, J.K. Culture-Independent Rapid Detection Methods for Bacterial Pathogens and Toxins in Food Matrices. Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety. 2016; 15(1): 183-205.
Randy Fields, Repositrak
FST Soapbox

Sanitary Transportation Rule: Ignore at Your Own Peril

By Randy Fields
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Randy Fields, Repositrak

FDA posted the FSMA rule on the Sanitary Transportation of Human and Animal Food in April. The majority of retailers, wholesalers, suppliers and carriers will have one year to comply with this new rule. The sanitary transportation rule sets out to prevent practices that would introduce contamination risk during the transportation of food through the supply chain.

For retailers, wholesalers, suppliers and carriers, the final rule is really the sleeper regulation among the new FSMA laws. You probably have your HAACP plans and preventative control procedures in place, but do you have the necessary documents in place with your carriers to meet the FDA’s requirements?  And, are those documents easily accessible?

Under FSMA, you must address all FDA record inquiries within 24 hours, and these inquiries can go back two years, plus 12 months beyond the expiration of related service agreements. Failure to respond to an FDA records inquiry is considered a “prohibited act” and can land you in hot water with both the FDA and Department of Justice, which acknowledged they will enforce FSMA through civil and criminal penalties. That’s a game changer.

You are now required to ensure that transportation equipment does not cause the food it is carrying to become unsafe. You must also maintain adequate temperatures throughout your portion of the supply chain and prevent cross contamination. And, you must train your personnel in sanitary practices. All of these factors—processes and procedures, agreements and formal training of personnel—must be documented and made available to the FDA. Put simply, compliance with FSMA is proven through documentation because according to the FDA, if it is not documented, it did not happen!

So what’s the best way to comply with the new rules? Having the information on paper in filing cabinets simply won’t do. Can you imagine searching for specific confirmation that an employee received the proper training in a bank of file cabinets? Even with an efficient system, that could be like looking for a needle in a haystack. Collecting the information in spreadsheets is only slightly better, as it simply digitizes the disorganization.

Retailers, wholesalers, suppliers and carriers need to start their compliance process by reviewing and understanding all of the FSMA rules, guidance procedures and responsibilities. You ignore them at your own peril.

Then, consider automating your recording keeping system.  It is really the only way to efficiently collect and manage the documentation needed to comply with the new law.  When reviewing technology options, make sure you choose a system that is not only easy to use by frontline workers, but also provides sophisticated reporting and alerts to point out potential problems in real time. And, if possible, the solution should do more than just report on food safety activities. As long as you’re investing in a technology to meet FSMA requirements, you might as well implement a system that can potentially save money in other areas such as managing business or training documentation, new vendor approvals, or carrier optimization.

The bottom line is that the sanitary transportation rule will require that you devote additional resources to make the entire extended grocery channel more risk free for consumers and companies alike. And the best way to do that is to implement new technology that gives visibility to product transfers from point of production or processing to the point of purchase, and documents each step along the way.

Stack of papers and folders

Supplier Documentation: To Automate or Not to Automate

By Maria Fontanazza
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Stack of papers and folders

Q&A Part I: Hiring and Training, Understanding FSMA Remain Big Industry ChallengesIn part two of Food Safety Tech’s Q&A with TraceGains, Anthony Arocha (customer success consultant), Rajan Gupta (vice president of customer success), and Jason Ulrich (customer success manager) explain the factors at play surrounding the lack of supplier documentation in the food industry.

Food Safety Tech: Just 44% of respondents said they automate supplier documents. What information can you glean from this? Why aren’t more companies automating?

Arocha: Companies understand that using technology is essential to manage the increasing demands on accurate food safety documentation and verification. For many companies, it is likely to be just a timing and resource issue as to why they have not yet adopted automation—timing as in they have not yet reached the pain threshold required to justify the new cost to implement and to have a resource to support or focus on it. As companies grow and new budgets get created, it is just a matter of time before they will have to include automation help if they have not already.

Gupta: I believe lack of internal respect for QA and thus lack of education and funding are key contributors to this area. Most of the quality staff is stuck doing daily activities with limited time to explore options to make their processes better. Lack of empowerment to make business process changes is also a large factor in not adopting technology. Marc states that the companies have silos as indicated by the transparency gains from technology—while that is true, the root cause of this may be that the various groups within an organization have never really paid attention to FSQA areas and thus never envisioned having access to information that can help the organization proactively manage risk and increase food safety awareness.

Ulrich: This is all about people money, and time. The industry as a whole doesn’t have enough in quality departments. The lack of qualified individuals available in QA departments has always been an issue. The money is usually used to improve production and other departments except quality. That leaves the limited resources in the department with very little time to review and implement new processes or software.

Food Safety ad Quality Assurance Survey, TraceGains
2016 Annual TraceGains Food Safety & Quality Assurance (FSQA) Professional Survey (Figure courtesy of TraceGains)

FST: Regarding supplier documentation management, where are companies falling short?

Arocha: Supplier document management is not easy. You are at the mercy of your vendors. I think the biggest issue is trying to do everything too fast versus having a risk-based approach and focusing on the top priority items first. Build on success. If you try to do too much too fast, it is hard to pick out the success stories easily and can become overwhelming.

Gupta: Anthony is right but he is also stating the obvious problem – “mercy of vendors”. We believe that technology such as TraceGains Network can improve efficiency greatly in sharing documentation and risk-based data, but lack of education and rapid acceptance within the industry of new approaches hinders innovation and limits already stretched resources to take shortcuts that may not be the best course of action long-term.

Ulrich:  In addition to what Marc, Anthony and Raj stated most are afraid to challenge the supplier. There is a fear of making them angry or asking for too much.

FST Soapbox

Intelligent Algorithms Shape Food Safety

By Steven Burton
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The North American food safety testing market is projected to reach $16 billion by 2020, according to a recent study by Markets and Markets. In just a few short years, it’s safe to say that purchasing a software solution to create and manage food safety programs will become ubiquitous, equivalent to that of employing any other software tool such as Microsoft Excel.

However, there is a broad range of capabilities for food safety software, and some solutions are much more complex than others. Many types of HACCP software operate as part of an ERP system, merely managing documents online under IT administration. But the technological capabilities of a food safety management system are endless in terms of value-driven innovation. Any competitive software on the market should go further, and be flexible and agile enough to meet and contain the challenges of a changing regulatory landscape and aggressive market space.

One of the ways food safety management can take things further is through the use of intelligent algorithms that can help food safety professionals get the most out of their software—and their HACCP plan. For example, instead of manually searching for all the physical, chemical and biological hazards (as well as radiological hazards under HARPC), intelligent algorithms can use data from other HACCP plans to suggest hazards. By comparing facility types, process flows, ingredients and more, a sophisticated algorithm can make smart suggestions that give food safety professionals a significant leg up, cutting down research time and providing a context of learning since it’s much easier to learn by example than starting from scratch. As such, suggestions can equip food safety professionals with the right mindset to discover potential hazards.

There are core benefits to searching for software technologies that have intelligent algorithms in place to analyze and retrieve data for those food businesses looking to get the most long-term value out of their vendor purchase.

Facilities with High-Risk Products and Complex Process Steps

High-risk foods are defined by the FDA as foods that “may contain pathogenic microorganisms and will normally support formation of toxins or growth of pathogenic microorganisms.” High-risk foods include raw meat, poultry, fish, dairy, fresh fruit, and vegetables, and processors working with these products handle more hazards and process steps in general than processors making low-risk foods. Instead of sorting through hundreds of hazards, facilities with high-risk products and complex process steps are able to skip much of the manual grunt work and simply select automatically generated hazards and process steps suggested to them at their fingertips.

Small Business Owners or Basic Food Safety Professionals

It’s common for small food businesses to put the bulk of their food safety duties on the shoulders of the owner. For many who have no previous background in food safety, there can be an unexpected and frustrating learning curve to overcome before you can pay the sweat equity required to develop a HACCP plan, and not for lack of trying. Similarly, junior food safety employees in new facilities can find established food safety practices challenging to navigate. Through intelligent algorithms, a software system can reinforce food safety hazards and process steps that might have been missed or forgotten by making them instantly available for retrieval and selection.

Giving Back Time

Recordkeeping is an essential component to an excellent food safety culture. In the grand scheme of things, managing resources to allocate time to high-level tasks that require human expertise on the production floor is a critical activity that most food safety professionals prioritize. Having more time to correct potential risk actions is crucial to ensuring the lowest possible likelihood of a recall. Smart software systems facilitate better employee time management practices so they can maximize their hours for meaningful, rather than menial, work. By taking back the time that would have been spent researching hazards, smart suggestions provide food safety professionals with a starting point that allows them to choose from a curated selection without delay.

Experimental Facilities with Changing Product Portfolio

Facilities that have a tendency to experiment with product development (i.e., food startups) are prone to using a significant amount of ingredients and formulas. When it comes time to present the right information for inspections and audits, this translates into a substantial amount of additional work in maintaining a HACCP plan. Intelligent algorithms enable a clear and organized focus, eliminating the minutiae surrounding information management of experimental product development.

New Regulations and International Compliance

Around the world new regulations surrounding acceptable food safety documentation are coming into effect; notably, FSMA even adds to the traditional hazards included under HACCP. For foreign exporters as well as American businesses, regulatory expectations for a more comprehensive approach to hazards and critical control points are higher than in the past. In the face of new regulatory demands, smart algorithms help food businesses lay out a common framework so that they can build internationally compliant programs

Extra Safeguard Check

Human error is inevitable. The beauty of technology is that it acts as a safeguard to ensure there are no glaring omissions that may have an impact on food safety duties. As a final once-over before sending in the HACCP plan, it makes good sense to have smart suggestions to cover all the bases.

Intelligent algorithms allow food safety professionals to do more with their time. By selecting from suggestions related to ingredients, materials, packing and process steps, a considerable amount of time is restored to the work day compared to the time-consuming exercise of manually assembling lists. The main benefit to a food safety software solution with intelligent algorithms is to reinforce the right mindset for listing physical, chemical and biological hazards for ingredients, material, processes and beyond. While smart suggestions should always be verified by a food safety professional familiar with the internal operations of a facility, for companies that aim to work smarter but not harder, smart algorithms are a key feature to keep in mind when researching software vendors.

X-Ray Detector Technology Heightens Sensitivity

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Safeline X-ray technology. Image courtesy of Mettler Toledo
Safeline X-ray technology. Image courtesy of Mettler Toledo

A new X-ray detector technology features a 0.4-mm high-sensitivity detector that enables the integration of a 100-W X-ray generator. The technology, provided by Mettler Toledo, offers improved detection levels with a 20% power reduction under standard operating conditions.

The Safeline X-ray system includes software that “lends itself especially to ‘difficult’ or ‘busy’ images which contain varied density distribution, and is especially valuable for inspecting multi-textured foods and products that have a tendency to move around inside the packaging, such as boxes of cereal or bags of mixed nuts. In fact, detection sensitivity is unaffected by any type of packaging thus improving false rejection rates,” according to a company press release. The system enables the removal of contaminants before products leave a factory.

TraQtion dashboard

New Software Warns of Out-of-Compliance Suppliers and Products

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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TraQtion dashboard
TraQtion dashboard
Screenshot of TraQtion dashboard. Click to enlarge (Courtesy of NSF International)

TraQtion has announced new software that is designed to help companies better manage supply chain risks. By scanning, evaluating and interpreting data, the upgraded cloud-based software is able to anticipate potential issues and whether corrective measure must be taken immediately, and alerts clients to suppliers, products and sites that pose a higher risk. Its intelligent compliance engine runs an algorithm in the background to provide visibility to problem areas and prioritizes responses across a company’s locations accordingly. A product inspection module automatically identifies in-spec and out-of-spec products through testing and inspection. A dashboard gives users an overview of the company’s quality and compliance program, and uses a color-coding system to rate suppliers, products and sites.

TraQtion is a wholly owned subsidiary of NSF International.

Ryan Mead, Focus-Works
FST Soapbox

8 Reasons to Go Digital 2016

By Ryan Mead
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Ryan Mead, Focus-Works

This year, more food manufacturing companies than ever are actively seeking software solutions for food safety and quality management. The majority of food businesses still collect food safety records using pen and paper, which is a time-consuming process and is far from reliable. Fortunately, food safety software is drastically changing the way HACCP and other QA/QC data becomes collected and stored. The following are some reasons food safety software is a must-have in 2016.

1.     Overwhelming Amount of Paperwork

Many employees at food manufacturing facilities—whether meats, baked goods, or beverages—still rely on pen and paper forms, checklists, and log books to manage their food safety operations. This allows operator errors and omissions to happen far too easily. Even well managed systems that use paperwork can reach a tipping point. Quality managers already have a big enough workload, and piling on the job of verifying all paperwork only increases the chances of a failure.

2.     Constant Change in Food Safety Standards

FSMA, the most sweeping reform of food safety laws in more than 70 years, was signed into law in 2011. While most food manufacturers have only been mandated to register, the time of more strict enforcement is coming. Global standards for food safety such as, SQF and BRC, fall within this generation of compliance. The necessities of these programs are constantly changing, becoming stricter and introducing new categories of requirements. Food safety software offers an effective way to deal with the ever-shifting landscape by providing evolving solutions managed by a software provider.

3.     Consumer Confidence

Consumer expect a safe and healthy product, and as such, a company must instill a feeling of confidence. When a product is expected to provide nutrition, energy and enjoyment any incidence of foodborne illness will only prevent future confidence in the product. In addition, the consumer is likely to spread the news among peers about how he or she became sick. It is the duty of the food company to do everything in its power to process, store and prepare food in the safest way possible. That process starts with ensuring a higher level of reliability in a food safety program, which can be achieved by using food safety software.

4.     Economics

No food company wants to deal with the hassle of a lawsuit from an outbreak or recall. These events can cost thousands, if not millions, of dollars in damages and  cause serious loss to a company of any size. Although many companies carry insurance for these occurrences, there still is the loss of sale from consumer mistrust. Investing in software can help companies increase profits by improving efficiencies. For example, companies can measure these efficiencies not only from labor savings but also from significant savings in paper and toner (i.e., saving $2000–$5000 a year).

5.     Operator Error and Omission

In an age in which documentation is becoming digitalized, food safety requirements are becoming more tedious. Even the smallest employee error can have massive repercussions. The cost of added staff is one thing, but the reliability of the data and adherence to schedule is another. Relying on inaccurate data collection may result in a recall or damage to a company’s brand.

Pencil whipping (faking paperwork) occurs for a variety of reasons, from employees taking short cuts to avoidance of writing down out-of-spec data. Manual record keeping has proven over time to be prone to errors. Employees, bored with the distraction of measuring and writing down dough or batch temperatures, piece weights or metal detector tests, and fill out forms with moot numbers just to complete the form.

6.     Monitoring and Notification

Being aware of control points is another way in which companies can avoid disaster. Food safety software can give companies the ability to monitor oven and freezer temperatures, metal detectors, tests or any other control point in real time. This capability also alerts users when a control point is out of deviation (doing so at a glance), along with sending custom notifications, allowing a plant to quickly address problems while simultaneously properly documenting the issue.

7.     Audits: Go from Stressful to Easy

An upcoming audit can be stressful for any company, involving numerous people who are gathering an abundance of documentation. With food safety software there is no reason to scramble to get documentation together or waste precious time preparing it. Auditors can simply view a company’s software for any requested documentation. For example, a company can produce random temperature logs, metal detector times, SSOPs, customer complaints and a variety of other documentation in just a few clicks.

8.     The Technology Is Available

One of the reasons why so many companies continue to use paper and Excel-based systems today is because they are unaware of the abilities and functionality available to them. After completing the formidable task of attaining a new-found level of compliance, some companies may find it daunting to continue to go to the next step of converting to a computerized system. Finding user-friendly food safety software that has good customer support, as well as solutions that are customized to user needs, is not necessarily easy. The key is to find software and a supplier that can provide the right solution for your company and food safety program, whether it’s HACCP, BRC or SQF, and ensure that it fits within an acceptable budget. Consider not only the initial cost but also the cost of implementation. What resources will be required? How much can the supplier help with implementation? Having the right answers and the true costs will assist you in arriving at the correct solution.

Jim Hammel, vice president, customer success at Sample6
In the Food Lab

Using Software for Environmental Tracking and Data Visibility

By Jim Hammel
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Jim Hammel, vice president, customer success at Sample6

There is growing evidence that a strong environmental program is critical to identifying potential issues before they threaten product. This data must be captured regularly based on a robust environmental sampling plan and then analyzed in order to take advantage of the results. However, without the proper tools, this is challenging, time consuming and ineffective.

How Software Strengthens a Sampling Program

The most critical component of an environmental sampling plan is zone coverage. Many sampling plans exclude zone 1, direct food contact, because this implicates the finished product and may lead to a test-and-hold situation. However, at minimum, zones 2-4 should be covered in a sampling plan. In addition, it is important to randomize test points and schedules. Sanitation crews are held to rigorous standards, but it is human nature to complete repetitive tasks in the same manner. By randomizing which test points are tested—by day, time and operator—quality teams are more likely to identify potential areas of concern. Randomization is a challenging task to complete manually but a routine task for software.

Using Software for Environmental Tracking and Data Visibility
Using software enables environmental tracking and provides and data visibility. Image courtesy of Dietz & Watson

In addition, ensuring test-point coverage is a key component to sampling plans. An interval for test-point coverage is typically included in environmental sampling plans. It is up to quality teams to ensure that their sampling programs are consistent with these business rules. When this is tracked in an Excel spreadsheet, randomization is typically sacrificed to ensure test-point coverage. This is tracked in a large table with dates on one axis and test points on the other. The challenges to this approach include randomization, analysis and management of more than one test-point coverage interval. Business rules of this nature can be easily managed through software algorithms. In fact, the task of creating a schedule according to a series of business rules is not unlike a macro.

Lastly, robust sampling programs include detailed remediation and response plans in the event of a positive or presumed positive test result. The details on these plans are reviewed internally to ensure that the issues have been adequately addressed. Documentation that each step has been completed in a timely manner is absolutely essential in today’s regulated food production environment. Remediation records may be requested in a government or supplier food safety audit. Emails, meeting notes, pictures and cleaning records can certainly be kept in file drawers, but the more accessible this information is, the more likely it will be used. Approval processes and business workflows have been automated in a variety of software tools. Everything from sales to expense reports has sought support from software to ensure that their workflows are executed consistently and with traceability. Software can support food safety efforts in this way as well.

Dos and Don’ts of Data Analysis

The next challenge in environmental monitoring is the volume of data generated and the tools required for effective analysis. A robust environmental sampling program for Listeria can range from 10 to 15 samples per week per line—often much more. Each test result includes metadata such as sample location, day and time, sample collector and result. In a plant with 10 lines, there are 150 test results per week, or 7,800 test results per year. When compiling results for the past three years, the numbers reach nearly a quarter of million just for pathogen testing. Routine testing such as yeast, mold and Enterobacteriaceae should also be considered in the analysis. The sheer volume of the data can be challenging in a spreadsheet but routine in a database.

Don’t rely on unmanageable spreadsheets. Analysis should look for trends in the data as well as compliance to the program. Completing this task in spreadsheets requires that the data be properly formatted. Further, the database-like structure that would enable analysis is often inconsistent with the table format used for sample schedule generation. In addition, this task is time consuming, manual and error prone; therefore, the frequency of analysis may be reduced.

Don’t take an analog approach to floor plans and risk it being outdated. Particularly for environmental data, it is important to understand the proximity of test points and their results. This allows managers to look for patterns or workflow trends that may be impacting results. This task typically requires mapping the test points and their results to a floor plan. Many plants keep a copy of the floor plan and recent findings posted on the wall.

Do use the tools available. In today’s data-rich food production environment, successful data analysis must be automated.

Answering the Call for Communication

Lastly, for an environmental monitoring program to be effective, communication is critical. The members of the quality team need to know what specific tasks are expected of each of them and when. Sanitation workers need to know what areas require their timely response. Executives need visibility into the results and actions underway so that they can support their teams and make critical food safety decisions. While these tasks can be completed manually, it is ripe for automation and new tools are streamlining the communication process.

Food safety managers and quality teams are working diligently with their sanitation teams to keep their plants and product safe.  However, they need to leverage the available tools needed to do their jobs efficiently and effectively. New software tools designed for the food safety industry are changing the way the industry handles safety initiatives. In particular, sampling program, data analysis and communication tools are ripe for automation. Take advantage of technologies and tools already in use in business today so you are prepared to manage the food safety challenges of tomorrow.