Next month, Food Safety Tech invites you to join us for an afternoon of dynamic discussions about how technology (both emerging and current) can help the industry in its quest for full supply chain traceability. This is a complimentary web seminar. Our lineup of speakers includes Lucy Angarita, director of supply chain traceability for IPC, SUBWAY’s Purchasing Cooperative; Thomas Burke, food traceability and safety scientist at the Institute of Food Technologists; and Sharan Lanini, director of food safety at Pacific International. These subject matter experts will talk about the technologies that enable end-to-end visibility from farm to fork, emerging technologies and the components for success, and how to make the business case for technology adoption to the C-suite. A technology spotlight will follow each session to offer attendees a preview of available solutions that tackle supply chain challenges. You’ll also have the opportunity to ask speakers your questions during three Q&A sessions.
As our conversation about the potential of blockchain continues at Food Safety Tech, we sat down with Thomas Burke, food traceability and safety scientist, Global Food Traceability Center (GFTC) at the Institute of Food Technologists, to discuss how ready the seafood industry is in the adoption of blockchain, more specifically as it relates to traceability.
Food Safety Tech: What are the current major issues in seafood traceability? Thomas Burke: Some of the challenges are diversity in product, diversity in regulatory compliance, a hyper-globalized supply chain and variable technology adoption.
I always like to distinguish seafood traceability from other major food commodities for several different reasons. When thinking about traceability and devising traceability systems, you want to think about use cases. For most food commodities, food safety is usually top of mind; there’s also a regulatory compliance component. Seafood still has food safety as a high priority, but there are also issues with illegal and unreported fishing and fraudulent issues in the supply chain. When you’re thinking about devising a traceability system, you also have to consider different key data elements. For instance, in food safety, while location is important, the location is only really important for tracing back in the event of recalling product. In seafood traceability you’re looking at racing back to ascertain if it was caught in the right place with the right method at the right time. With this as context, you also want to think about the technological challenges and food operations wise such as the diversity of commodities in seafood—there’s diversity in species way more so than in poultry or produce. You also have very different geographic locations, different harvest methods (i.e., farmed, wild); because of the diversity of harvesting practices, there are other considerations to think about. There are some traceability service providers that rely on a constant internet connection, and that’s obviously not possible if you’re fishing on the high seas. You might have equipment for data collections that works really well in the field or in the food manufacturing environment, but it may not work under the harsh conditions of a boat or in aquaculture. So we end up seeing a great diversity of technological adoption. Especially further upstream when thinking about other small-scale fishers and smaller processors—they generally only do traceability for regulatory compliance, because they just don’t have the capital to invest in technologically sophisticated data collection management. And sometimes it’s not necessary for what they’re trying to achieve. So, we still see a lot of paper records, basic spreadsheet data management, and then it gets more complicated as you go down the supply chain. Larger processors and retailers will have more dedicated traceability systems.
FST: Where do you see blockchain entering the traceability process and what other technologies should be used in conjunction with blockchain?
Burke: One of the things that we’ve found in our work at the Global Food Traceability Center and with the global dialogue on seafood traceability [regarding] blockchain is that there’s a lot of interest and hype around the application itself, which helps draw in solution providers and developers that are interested in applying a new technology to a new use case.
Blockchain is a data sharing platform. So the technologies that it’s comparing itself to are FTP (file transfer protocol) and transferring data through an EDI (electronic data interchange). This is a new way of sharing data between supply chain partners that has some unique capabilities, some of which are very advantageous for seafood.
When I was talking earlier about how there is variable adoption of technologies (i.e., small harvesters or producers that use paper records or use minimal digital records), blockchain has the advantage that data hosting is shared and decentralized across the notes of the network. What that means is that a small producer doesn’t have to set up a dedicated server infrastructure in order to communicate with their supply chain partners, whereas that’s more of the case with EDI; even with FTP you’ll still have to set up some kind of formal relationship with your servers. What’s nice about blockchain is that in order to host information on that network, you just pay a small amount of the currency that the blockchain runs on. It’s a little bit different if you have a private or consortium blockchain, but the idea is with the open blockchain applications is that you only pay on a per transaction basis (data upload basis). The larger the network is, the cheaper that is to do. So over the month, it’s a lower cost for participants for hosting the shared ledger of updates.
There are also some other advantages: It’s immutable; once it’s on the blockchain it’s very difficult to corrupt that data. There are other components to the problem of data collection and the transportation of data, along with the product along the supply chain. You still need certain legs of that stool such as a global identifier that identifies the product as it goes through the supply chain and gets incorporated into other products; you also need to collect the related data that’s necessary to make your use case. There’s a balance between the data collection and the identification [i.e., fishermen might not want to reveal their best location]. Those all need to be part of the picture, in addition to novel data-sharing platforms such as blockchain. A big part of what GFTC is trying to do in the seafood space is gather industry and work with them to develop standards and best practices to ensure the same data is being collected at each point and that data is able to be transported with the product in an interoperable way that takes into account the diversity of technological adoption along the supply chain.
FST: What level of blockchain adoption do you see in the seafood industry? How prepared is the industry, including retailers?
Burke: As far as adoption: It depends. There are a few different aspects that depend on whether companies will invest in a blockchain solution or not. It depends on what their current adoption is and their market. Where we’re seeing a lot of interest in blockchain being used as a component of data sharing for traceability is in more niche products that have more straightforward supply chains, and they’re using traceability as a market differentiator for their product. Right now, in order to invest in blockchain, you need to devote a significant amount of staff time or invest in a service provider to devise the blockchain scheme that you’re going for. There are a lot of unanswered questions about the implementation of blockchain. There are major players using blockchain in other types of food supply chains, but those are generally very vertically integrated companies that have a lot of resources—both IT resources and monetary resources to devote to this early experimental stage. And that’s where I would see it start first. If there’s success in those more limited trials, then maybe larger multinational companies might have interest in using it as a linkage between some of the information systems.
The biggest challenge with large multinational seafood companies is they have a lot of subsidiaries. And when they have subsidiaries, they might use different ERP systems; they’re looking at ways to transport the data into those disparate systems. And with seafood, as with most food commodities, it’s a fairly low margin industry. So most companies are going to be fairly conservative in investing in a new technology until it’s really being seen as a proven and achievably implementable software solution. Larger companies are still seeing more traditional cloud hosting such as EDI as a viable option for data sharing in food traceability. But blockchain is being seen in those niche areas and as the technology becomes more proven, we’ll probably see greater adoption. There’s just still a lot of skepticism in the industry, and that’s with any new technology.
I will say with other technologies in seafood traceability, I am seeing quite a bit of promise in AI [artificial intelligence] data analytics and image processing technologies just because it’s very difficult to identify products, especially early up in the supply chain. Some of these new technologies in data processing are going to help streamline data collection and be able to process it into those key data elements that you’re looking for to achieve those traceability use cases. There’s been so much development of facial recognition technology in humans that similar algorithms could be used in labeling fish. Those are some of the other promising technologies. There are some [uses of] IoT devices and RFID but those still remain to be seen—they have implementation issues, because there are quite a few environmental interferences on water or in humidity-rich environments, especially when you’re thinking about radio frequency resistance/interference.
In seafood right now, most of the blockchain-oriented applications are in line with NGOs that are experimenting with the use of blockchain as a traceability tool—and those tend to be high-end products like tuna or crab using blockchain in limited use cases. It’s still very much in the piloting and early implementation.
FST: What are the top three advantages to using blockchain for seafood traceability?
Burke: 1. Immutability. Once you put transactions onto the blockchain, because of the way the architecture is set up, it’s really difficult to alter that record. Other data sharing platforms don’t have the advantage of a singular record. 2. Decentralization. Everyone has access to the same leger that can be shared in real time across a global supply chain. Most of the other data sharing platforms are emphasized in one-to-one communication, whereas blockchain is many-to-many. 3. Flexibility and interest from the development community. There’s a lot of creativity associated with blockchain applications right now. There are a lot of developers coming up with interesting ideas of how to maximize the architecture to work for food traceability applications. Because it has an economic structure where you are using tokens that are powering the data processing, you can potentially do interesting things with incentivizing inputting data into a traceability system and monetizing it. We’re exploring that in the global dialogue—looking to see how you can tie the value of traceability data upstream, because that will help incentivize the entire ecosystem. There have been limited trials with startups that have been looking at incentivizing data collection through blockchain.
FST: Where do you see blockchain headed in five years? Burke: I don’t see the actual architectural idea of blockchain idea going away. It’s a fairly brilliant way of ensuring that valuable data isn’t double counted or deleted. It helps reduce some risk.
The next five years will depend on what the end retailers end up adopting. In western markets, more specifically North America, the retailers have a lot of leverage in what standards and best practices are kept and carried through. So it will depend a lot on those large end retailers and how comfortable they are in adopting blockchain, and the decisions that they make behind blockchain providers.
The largest seafood markets are China and Japan, so [adoption] more depends on what those retailers/customer bases are demanding versus what happens in North America just because the demand is so much stronger there. That will also drive the development of blockchain interfaces and will influence the adoption among smaller scale fishers, which is more of the tendency in East Asia. It’s a very open question. I think it will be influenced by decisions that governments make in East Asia regarding blockchain.
I would emphasize that the success of seafood traceability and food traceability in general will be very dependent on standards, and the development of commonly understood and accepted practices, and the way those data standards are collected. So you can have a robust blockchain platform, but if every supply chain partner doesn’t agree to collect the same data and identify it in a similar way that is interoperable, it still won’t work—even if you have the most advanced technology. There’s a human process of agreeing upon the same way that traceability data is gathered. Interoperability and standards are key, in addition to the new technologies.
Consumers and industry alike want more transparency in the supply chain. In a Q&A with Food Safety Tech, Julie McGill, director of implementation and strategic accounts at FoodLogiQ explains how companies can prepare to meet the increased demands and how technology can help.
Food Safety Tech: In light of the recent outbreaks and recalls, there an increased focus on traceability. What should companies do to get ready?
Julie McGill: There is so much that companies can do today to prepare, and they can start by assessing their current capabilities. What problems are you trying to solve? Have you identified all of your products and locations with GS1 identifiers? Are you using GS1 identifiers in your systems?
Do you have a data quality program in place? Are you able to mark all of your cases with a GS1-128 barcodes? Can you scan barcodes at receiving? At delivery? Are you sending EDI messages to your trading partners?
Those with successful programs will tell you this is a marathon, not a sprint. Securing executive support, aligning internal teams and setting expectations with trading partners is key.
Having the ability to act swiftly and with precision and accuracy is a differentiator during a recall. Trading partners who have made the investment are able to understand where these affected items are in their supply chains in seconds. These programs require a solid program, disciplined approach to implementation, and ongoing monitoring and management of the data. Companies that have committed to implementing these standards are gaining a competitive advantage today, as they are ready to meet the mandates and requirements set by their trading partners.
McGill: Yes, it is possible to trace products back to the source. Growing consumer demands and regulatory requirements, such as FSMA and SIMP, have led to the need for more detailed information about food and its origins. To achieve this, it’s imperative that companies standardize business practices, product identification and item data to enable interoperability across solutions and systems.
There has been tremendous work done by industry stakeholders to address traceability. They’ve mapped their entire supply chains, identified the key data elements and critical tracking events to be captured to enable full chain traceability. GS1 US hosts initiatives in foodservice and retail grocery, plus there are a number of industry-run initiatives, including the Produce Traceability Initiative (PTI), Supply Chain Optimization (SCO2), and Global Dialogue for Seafood Traceability. Food industry partners agree that full chain traceability will be achieved through education, industry input, and the use of standards.
FST: When talking about traceability, blockchain is part of many conversations today. How does it differ from existing solutions?
McGill: Blockchain is an emerging technology that offers a way for companies to transact with each other and share information in a secure manner. What makes blockchain unique is that it is a shared, immutable ledger that records all the transactions in chronological order that cannot be altered or deleted. While this approach holds promise on raising transparency in the food industry, there is much yet to be tested and validated on its real-world application within the food chain.
The most common use case for blockchain in the food industry has been traceability. As blockchain technology, solutions and use cases are evolving, industry partners have come together to discuss it’s capabilities and use. We host a Blockchain Consortium, bringing our members together to explore blockchain. Industry groups are coming together as well, such as GS1 US, who is hosting a cross-industry discussion group to help companies better understand the transformative qualities of blockchain, including the use of GS1 Standards.
Blockchain has also made clear the need for companies to automate their record keeping and traceability systems and to eliminate the manual, paper-based processes that often slow down the resolution of a food safety outbreak or issue.
Blockchain is not a “light switch” solution. What’s widely misunderstood is that in order to achieve full chain traceability, all partners across the supply chain will need to implement processes to capture and share this critical tracking event data.
FST: Additional comments are welcome.
McGill: Foodservice companies share common drivers and common goals which improve the reliability of product information, lower costs and reduce risk. There are numerous benefits that can be realized once you have access to accurate and complete traceability data, including:
When it comes to addressing food safety, did the industry really make any progress in 2018? In 2019, what new approaches or technologies can be successfully applied to prevent problems before they occur and minimize the consumer risk, minimize the market impact, and speed up the identification, isolation and recall of contaminated products?
Field-packed produce offers a unique challenge to the fresh food supply chain, as it is not processed and is not required to adhere to an FDA mandated HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points) process. It has been a challenge for field-packed produce suppliers to proactively identify or prevent contaminated produce from entering the supply chain. As a result, during serious contamination incidents, the reaction is to pull and destroy all suspect product from store shelves and supply chain. Due to the lack of data isolating the source of the contamination, this is the safest approach, but it’s costing the industry millions of dollars. Ultimately, our inability to prevent or quickly isolate these events causes confusion among consumers who don’t know who to trust or what is safe to eat, resulting in a prolonged market impact.
In response to the latest E. coli outbreak involving romaine lettuce, the industry has proposed a voluntary item-level label that reflects the harvest location and date, to help identify safe product to the consumer. At best, this is a stop-gap solution, as it burdens the consumer to identify safe product.
I work in the fresh produce supply chain industry. When I go to the grocery store, I examine the produce, noting the brand and various other factors. I was aware of the romaine problem and the voluntary labeling program, so I knew what to look for. But I’m an exception. Most consumers don’t know romaine lettuce is grown during the summer and fall in northern California and further south during the winter in regions that include Arizona and Mexico. Most consumers don’t know what the “safe date” for harvest really means—nor should they be required to know this information. They look to the industry to manage this. If we buy a car or microwave oven that is found to be unsafe, the manufacturer and the government are responsible for identifying the problem and recalling the product. Yet, in the produce industry, that responsibility seems to be moving to the retailer and consumer.
It’s an unfair burden, as the retailer and consumer do not have the necessary information to make a definitive judgement regarding food safety. The responsibility needs to be shared across the entire fresh food supply chain. Records about the produce need to be shared and maintained from harvest to retail.
Will 2019 be the year that we realize we can address this challenge proactively to improve the safety of our fresh food?
We need a new approach that leverages innovative technology to provide a more reliable solution. For example, irrigation water is often identified as a culprit in spreading bacteria. Yet even with regular testing of irrigation water, the results do not currently guarantee food safety. We see emerging technology that will make regular testing more reliable, accurate and affordable to facilitate more proactive management of the water supply. This will be a critical part of an overall solution for proactive produce food safety.
Blockchain technology has been hailed as a savior of food safety and traceability. Early in 2018, it was all the rage, as various sources claimed that, by using blockchain, recall times could be cut from days or weeks to seconds. But was this an oversimplification? Perhaps so, as this early hype faded by the middle of the year amidst the various food safety outbreaks that went unresolved. Then last August, Gartner, a market analyst firm, declared that blockchain had moved into the “trough of disillusionment” on its 2018 Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies as a result of over-hyped expectations. The firm predicts that the technology may reach the “plateau of productivity” within the next decade. Can we wait another 10 years before being able to benefit from it? Should we?
We expect that blockchain trials will continue in 2019. But, while blockchain has shown promise in terms of being a secure and immutable data exchange, questions remain. What data about the produce will be entered into the blockchain? How is that data collected? Is the data validated? Bad, inaccurate or incomplete data makes blockchain relatively useless, or worse, as it undermines a trusted platform. Further, without broad agreement and adoption of data collection, blockchain can’t be successful.
For proactive management of food safety, we will also need to address both forward and backward supply chain traceability. One of the challenges realized from recent outbreaks is that it takes time to figure out what is happening. Identifying the source of the illness/outbreak isn’t easy. Once we identify a source (or multiple sources) of the contamination, blockchain—assuming that all of the necessary data has been collected—only helps to more quickly trace back produce to its origin. But, for growers, quickly understanding where all product shipped from a specific location or date is just as critical in understanding and minimizing consumer impact. Tracing product forward enables a grower to proactively inform retailers and restaurants that their product should be recalled.
Blockchain currently does not directly support this forward tracing, but can be augmented to do so. But blockchain can maintain a food safety data item, or items, that could quickly and reliably communicate product status at the pallet-level, providing instant food safety status to the current product owner, even if they didn’t have direct contact with the grower. As such, a hybrid blockchain approach, as espoused by ChainLink Research, is optimal for forward and backward traceability.
Equally important, we need to fully digitize the supply chain to enable blockchain. To make comprehensive data collection feasible, we need to automate data collection by utilizing IoT sensors at the pallet level, to properly reflect how distribution takes place through the supply chain. We need reliable data collection to properly reflect the location and condition of product distributed through a multi-tier distribution network. That level of product data visibility enables proactive management for food safety as well as quality and freshness— well beyond the current trailer-level monitoring that only monitors transit temperatures with no benefit to managing food safety. Effective data capture will define the next generation of fresh food management, as it embraces proactive food safety, quality and freshness management.
Goals for This Year
For 2019, our goals should be to embrace new approaches and technology that:
Identify food contamination at its source and prevent contaminated food from ever entering the supply chain. We need to focus on developing new technologies that make this feasible and cost effective.
Accurately and consistently track product condition and authenticity of fresh produce from the time it is harvested until it is delivered. IoT sensors and proactive fresh food supply chain management solutions provide this capability.
Make it cost-effective and practical for growers, suppliers and grocers to use solutions to improve the entire fresh food supply chain. If we make the process burdensome or without a reasonable ROI, implementation will lag, and the problems will persist. But if we demonstrate that these solutions offer value across the fresh food supply chain—through reduced waste and improved operational efficiency—growers, suppliers, shippers and grocers will embrace them.
We started this Q&A series earlier this year with a clear vision—to gather the success stories, best practices, hurdles and achievements from the best in our industry. Our hope is that as the series expands and evolves, food safety professionals everywhere will be informed and inspired by what the future holds.
Over the course of the year, I had the pleasure of interviewing three such experts: Bob Baker, corporate food safety science and capability director at Mars, Inc, Frank Yiannas, vice president of food safety at Walmart, and Mike Robach, vice president, corporate food safety, quality & regulatory for Cargill.
I encourage you to read the interviews for their unique perspectives, but here are a few of the biggest insights that we can all take with us into 2019.
The Continued Rise of New Technologies
Mike Robach: I am very excited about the application of new technology to our food safety programs. In-line, real-time testing gives an opportunity to manage our processes and make immediate adjustments to assure process control. This allows us to prevent product that is out of control from reaching the marketplace.
Frank Yiannas: The emergence of blockchain technology has also enabled food system stakeholders to imagine being able to have full end-to-end traceability at the speed of thought. The ongoing U.S.-wide romaine lettuce E.coli outbreak showed us, once again, that our traditional paper-based food tracking system is no longer adequate for the 21st century. An ability to deliver accurate, real-time information about food, how it’s produced, and how it flows from farm to table is a game-changer for food safety.
Blockchain has the potential to shine a light on all actors in the food system. This enhanced transparency will result in greater accountability, and greater accountability will cause the food system to self-regulate and comply with the safe and sustainable practices that we all desire.
The Most Exciting Shifts
Baker: What’s encouraging is we’re seeing is a willingness to share information. At Mars we often bring together world experts from across the globe to focus on food safety challenges. We continue to see great levels of knowledge sharing and collaboration.
There are also new tools and new technologies being developed and applied. Something we’re excited about is a trial of portable ‘in-field’ DNA sequencing technology on one of our production lines in China. This is an approach that could, with automated sampling, reduce test times.
Yiannas: While there is no doubt that there are numerous new and emerging challenges in food safety, the many advancements being made should give us hope that we can create a safer, more efficient and sustainable food system.
There is progress being made on many fronts: Whole genome sequencing is becoming more accessible; new tools are being developed for fraud detection; and FSMA is introducing stringent public-health surveillance measures that have dramatic implications for U.S. retailers and suppliers and our import partners.
Most importantly, consumers are now overwhelmingly interested in transparency. People today are further removed from how food is grown, produced and transported than at any other time in human history. Plus, they increasingly mistrust food and food companies due to the food outbreaks and scares we have faced in recent years.
Recalls and the Role of Regulation
Robach: I think FSMA implementation is going okay right now. There’s still a long way to go, and I am always concerned about making sure investigators are applying the rules and regulations in a consistent manner. I see the intentional adulteration rule as an upcoming challenge. It is one thing to conduct a vulnerability assessment and adjust your programs based on the results. It’s another to develop and implement a program that will prevent intentional adulteration as you would to reduce or prevent microbiological contamination.
I believe that food safety management programs are constantly improving and that our food is as safe as it has ever been. However, we still have a lot of work to do. At GFSI, we are continually improving our benchmarking requirements and increasing transparency in the process. We have better public health reporting and our ever-improving analytical technology allows us to detect contaminants at lower and lower levels. The industry is working collaboratively to share best practices and promote harmonized food safety management systems throughout the supply chain.
Baker: At Mars, quality is our first principle and we take it seriously—if we believe that a recall needs to be made in order to ensure the safety of our consumers, then we will do it. We also share lessons from recalls across our business to ensure that we learn from every experience.
Unfortunately, there does not seem to be a safe place for businesses to share such insights with each other. So although we are seeing more collaboration in the field of food safety generally, critical knowledge and experience from recalls is not being shared more broadly, which may be having an impact.
Baker: The food safety challenges facing us all are complex and evolving. Water and environmental contaminants are areas that industry and regulators are also looking at, but all of these challenges will take time to address. It’s about capturing and ensuring visibility to the right insights and prioritizing key challenges that we can tackle together through collaboration and knowledge sharing.
We’re looking forward to continuing our quest in the new year and already have a few exciting experts lined up. Stay tuned!
Traceability and risk management go hand-in-hand. In a Q&A with Food Safety Tech, Bryan Cohn, food safety solution engineer at FoodLogiQ, shares his thoughts on risk and the critical role of communication.
Food Safety Tech: What does risk analysis mean in a complex supply chain?
Bryan Cohn: Risk analysis means the same thing it has always meant. The concept of risk is elemental; it transcends all of humanity and is rooted deep within our very DNA. Sure, we’ve added tools and technology to help us, but we still can not see into the future; thus, there will always be a risk. The best way to perceive, evaluate and comprehend risk in a complex world is faster and more accurate communications.
FST: Why is communication critical to avoid or mitigate risks within the supply chain?
Cohn: Let’s use an analogy here. Nobody likes traffic, right? In the morning when you’re getting ready for work, you might turn on the local news or check your favorite navigation app to find out the traffic conditions along your commute. You know your commute like the back of your hand, and you’re aware of every potential trouble spot along the way. But like most of us, you probably rely on fast and accurate communication from either traffic cameras, local news reports, or navigation information on your phone to give you a real-time analysis of what is happening. So aside from the usual trouble spots, you are made aware of any unexpected traffic accidents, road construction, or weather delays, which allows you to make real-time, actionable decisions about your commute.
If we think ahead – the same way we do about our work commute – and re-evaluate our communication strategy around our supply chains, we can begin to take a much stronger proactive approach to risk analysis and mitigation. If we spot a trend within our supply chain that may increase risk, we can take action before a threat materializes or intensifies.
FST: Can your risk management plan create value in the company?
Cohn: Any time a good communications strategy is integrated into your risk management program, you create value. By soliciting, evaluating and responding to feedback, you will inherently mitigate risk by addressing potential problems before they become problems and identifying new threats in a fast moving complex supply chain.
Implementation of FSMA has prompted many organizations to take a closer look at sanitation practices, documentation of food safety plans and the traceability of materials and ingredients used to create food products.
Meanwhile, shifts in technology, such as cloud migration as well as the rise of big data and analytics platforms, present both opportunities and challenges in food manufacturing.
In many cases, digital transformation, including the adoption of a multi-cloud strategy, occurs as part of a roadmap set forth by a food company’s software vendors. Tech giants, including Microsoft, Oracle and SAP, are driving digital transformation through the modernization of ERP systems and dictating how food companies should utilize applications, data and software.
In those situations, digital transformation is not a choice, it’s a requirement. CIOs and IT professionals are seeking help. They are looking to understand the dynamics and characteristics of these new environments because they are compelled to change.
Yet, there are also organizations that would rather do more than simply follow the lead of their software vendors. Instead, they choose their own destiny in terms of IT modernization. They’re looking for opportunities by leveraging data to make better business decisions.
Before a food manufacturer can get to that point, however, there must be a strategy for gathering, storing, connecting and presenting different types of data across an organization as well as to external customers and business partners.
Managing the data required for FSMA compliance is an ideal example of the importance of pursuing digital transformation.
Food Safety Data and FSMA Compliance
A major component of FSMA involves having detailed documentation of a food safety plan and the ability to produce data proving adherence to that plan when the FDA shows up for a plant inspection. Food manufacturers need to show best practices are being followed, and that corrections are being made when concerns emerge. Otherwise, the FDA may impose fines or temporarily shut down production, which cuts into the bottom line.
Because of FSMA mandates such as the Sanitary Transportation Rule, your documented food safety plan needs to be communicated to key participants throughout the supply chain as responsibility for food safety problems typically falls back to the manufacturer.
For that reason, food processors need solutions allowing them to track and trace their product from the farm field to store shelves, or to any other final customer.
Imagine being a food manufacturer trying to document sanitation in a basic spreadsheet or even on paper. The extra work involved with specifying food safety tests, collecting and archiving results, and validating sanitation procedures would be overwhelming. Yet, just as perplexing of an issue is being a digitized food manufacturer with poor visibility and management of all the information that various IT systems and platforms provide.
Most companies acknowledge that the cloud is a necessity in today’s world. Organizations often need multiple cloud solutions to accomplish business objectives, from regulatory compliance to finances, inventory control and distribution.
CIOs, technology professionals and food safety/sanitation leaders should work with existing IT solutions partners or find consultants and experts who can ensure the following questions can be answered:
1. Is the location of your data known?
Data visibility in the cloud is the first step in the process, and it is a challenge for many organizations. You need to know where your data lives, that the right people have access to it and that it is secure. When you know where your data lives, you’ll better understand how to use and protect it.
2. Is your data in a location that allows for integration?
Can the different applications your company uses talk with each other, or is all the information siloed across different cloud providers and departments in the organization? Is it integrated? Can certain information, such as food safety plans, be communicated with partners including suppliers, distributors and your carrier network?
3. Can your data be put into a framework allowing it to be extracted, visualized and leveraged?
Data doesn’t help anyone if you’re unable to take that information and use it to make better business decisions. Whether it’s food safety, operational efficiency, forecasting needs or developing new ideas, the most successful food manufacturers will leverage integrated data to move the organization forward.
The Advantages of Pursuing Digital Transformation
If you were to go back about a decade and observed a small- to mid-sized food manufacturer using Microsoft as its data platform, that manufacturer would likely have been running applications for the business that created data while receiving little guidance pertaining to how the information should be interpreted and used. Fortunately, that has changed.
Today, companies like Microsoft, Oracle and SAP actively focus on the use of data rather than only data collection. The right IT solution, coupled with expert partners, allows you to eliminate the guesswork and leverage data to your advantage.
FSMA mandates are complicated, and compliance is crucial, but the pursuit of digital transformation supports the efforts of food manufacturers who are prepared to improve transparency and responsibility surrounding food safety.
Digital transformation represents change, which is never easy, but it will be worth the effort. Start by evaluating your organization’s technology needs as they relate to FSMA compliance as well as additional business objectives. Then, identify areas of internal strength and areas where improvements are needed.
Some food manufacturers partner with an IT solutions provider for support developing a cloud migration plan and a subsequent strategy for operating in multi-cloud environments. Others need managed services, helping them handle day-to-day IT needs through outsourcing so in-house resources can develop high-value solutions. Still, others are looking for consultative guidance to help them understand what changes in technology truly mean to their organization.
You want your people to focus on what they do best. Many food manufacturers are in locations where there’s a lack of technical resources for hire. That’s why they turn to IT consultants and service providers who understand their business, can provide expertise that fills the talent gap and are able to interpret business needs into technology solutions.
Digital transformation isn’t one big project, it’s an ongoing journey, a series of waves of new technologies and new ways to use applications and data. Make sure you find trustworthy allies to give you the guidance and solutions you need, not only for regulatory compliance but for growth and continued success.
Ensuring the safety and authenticity of food is a key responsibility of growers, producers, manufacturers and suppliers. With so many partners involved in the journey from farm to fork, tracking chain of custody data and maintaining a clear, unbroken record are essential to safeguard the quality and provenance of products. However, without proper systems to maintain transparent supply chain audit trails, businesses operating within the food industry run the risk of being responsible for adverse events that could result in health, economic or even legal consequences.
One of the biggest challenges associated with maintaining a clear chain of custody is the need to monitor the flow of raw materials, ingredients and products across increasingly global distribution networks. To successfully track food products throughout the value chain, information on product movements and quality control data must be accessible to those who need it. These systems must also remain compliant with the latest regulations, as well as ensure stakeholders can achieve the highest levels of productivity to meet consumer demand.
For players within the food supply chain to achieve transparent processes and complete traceability, robust information exchange mechanisms and integrated data management systems are key. The latest digital solutions are ensuring the integrity of supply networks by capturing and making available data from any stage of this journey for regulatory or product quality assurance purposes.
Food Safety: A Global Responsibility
The global nature of modern supply networks can make ensuring the safety and quality of food challenging. From honey and juice to yogurt and cheese, tracking the lifecycle of food products is essential to combat food fraud and adulteration, as well as safeguard consumers from harmful food contaminants, such as pesticides and bacteria. Unscrupulous behavior from businesses operating within the supply chain can, for example, cause consumers to purchase products that are not what they claim to be, and even put customers’ health at risk through exposure to potentially unsafe batches.
Given the global expansion of the food supply chain, regulatory bodies are putting increased focus on ensuring that products that pass through multiple channels and regions comply with the same regulations. By focusing on enforcing standards through audits and reviews, it becomes possible to prevent and therefore reduce the potential for adverse events occurring.1 As a result, voluntary standards such as the ISO 22000 guidelines, and mandatory regulations such as FSMA and EU 178/2002, have been put in place to set clear benchmarks for stakeholders’ responsibilities and better enforce food quality and safety.
Regulations such as these require extensive record keeping, transparent audit trails and accountability for all processes. While end-to-end monitoring of one process may be relatively straightforward, ensuring visibility for every process within a complex food supply network can quickly become an overwhelming task. In order to achieve regulatory compliance across all aspects of a supply chain, businesses must be able to integrate their data management systems to achieve full oversight. Moreover, with effective data management tools in place, businesses can organize and incorporate data from all aspects of a food product lifecycle in a compliant manner, enabling them to expand globally.
Integrating Digital Solutions for Better Outcomes
To preserve consumer confidence and brand integrity, businesses operating within the food industry are recognizing the need for automated infrastructures that can manage data, streamline processes, and ensure traceability and accountability for every product. By integrating all monitoring processes into a single system and enabling access to this information via the cloud, the latest digital data management platforms are working to alleviate the challenges associated with operating global supply networks.
Manually organizing inventory management, standard operating procedure (SOP) use, and product traceability can be difficult and time-consuming, especially if operations are on a global scale. Setting up automated processes to manage fail points using a laboratory information management system (LIMS), where they can be itemized and protocols established for potential hazards and preventive measures, can boost speed and efficiency while ensuring the highest levels of data integrity.
Routine food safety testing requires the consistent replenishment of supplies, and the failure to keep on top of inventory use can cause operations to grind to an unexpected stop. Automatic supply level monitoring and automated ordering using a LIMS can eliminate inventory fail points and help to ensure uninterrupted productivity. Furthermore, introducing electronic SOPs as part of a LIMS can define and outline workflows to prevent unintended errors and ensure reliability. Additionally, tracking and logging products using barcode readers throughout their lifecycle gives stakeholders confidence in the products they handle, and can simplify quality control and regulatory review processes.
With the need to monitor so many processes across the food supply chain, there are large volumes of instrument data, workflows and records that must be maintained. Leveraging a LIMS to collect and manage disparate data from all aspects of every process can help stakeholders to streamline workflows. From evaluating potential hazards to eliminating possible issues, having procedures tracked automatically not only transforms processes, but also simplifies quality assessment.
The latest LIMS are able to aggregate all of this data in a single cloud-based system, making this information available at the tap of a tablet or smartphone. Integrating a LIMS with laboratory equipment across food safety testing protocols allows for automated data transfer and increased lab efficiency. Data can be captured from laboratory equipment using a connected scientific data management system (SDMS), which is generated using the approved methods and SOPs available from a laboratory execution system (LES). Interfacing to each instrument using the LES ensures there are no input or copying errors. Subsequently, as process results are entered into the system, any out of specification parameters can be flagged and reported automatically.
The value of an LES within a LIMS can be seen in food safety labs where global demand drives time to market and thus the need for high production efficiency. By giving lab managers control over method and protocol management from any location, the actions of users can be easily recalled for performance monitoring and accountability purposes. And with protocols, regulations and corrective actions defined through the LIMS, labs can achieve faster and more effective decision-making.
Digital solutions such as LIMS are enabling food safety scientists to perform analyses based on readily available SOPs using LES platforms, collect and store data in its original form using an SDMS, and evaluate how the data is being collected, transferred, stored and accessed from a centralized, cloud-based LIMS. These integrated digital solutions offer comprehensive support for the organization of chain of custody data, ensuring full traceability and compliance, and protecting consumer safety and food integrity.
Improved Traceability for Regulatory Compliance
Current regulations are enforcing the quality and safety of food products using well-defined standards for laboratory processes, ensuring the transparency of data handling processes, from raw materials to packaged products. ISO 22000 sets recommendations for food safety management systems and requires businesses to implement hazard analysis and critical control points (HACCP) to ensure the highest levels of quality control and assurance throughout the product lifecycle.
Regulations such as EU 178/2002 and FSMA include mandatory requirements for the traceability of food, feed and any other food-related substance or animal through identification and food tracking programs. Given the unfortunate growth of food fraud, traceability and authentication are becoming increasingly important. The latest regulations are helping the food industry to maintain optimal production practices to safeguard public health, maintain consumer confidence and preserve brand integrity.
Systems that are fully harmonized with these guidelines can be used to maintain data in organized archives, simplify audit trail recording for proof of compliance, and enable easy-access for users to review data. The latest LIMS can support HACCP compliance by automatically alerting users to deviations in expected processing parameters. In this way, issues can be quickly identified, and corrective action can be taken to prevent potentially dangerous products from reaching the consumer.
Digital lab and data management solutions are helping food supply chain stakeholders to simplify tracking, improve transparency and ensure the highest levels of accountability to protect both product authenticity and consumer safety. The integration and implementation of these systems helps to fulfill production demands as well as meet future challenges, allowing the food industry to expand and develop services and checks with the growing global market. Moreover, the potential for food fraud or adulteration is greatly minimized, giving consumers additional confidence in the products they purchase.
Charlebois, S. Sterling, B. Haratifar, S. and Naing, S.K. (2014). “Comparison of Global Food Traceability Regulations and Requirements,” Compr. Rev. Food Sci. Food Saf., vol. 13, no. 5, pp. 1104–1123.
At a time when advances in virtual reality (VR) and artificial intelligence (AI) have begun to move from the pages of science fiction onto the floors of factories, boardrooms and businesses—and even the hands of consumers—it is easy to see how and why innovative new technologies are being viewed as game-changing breakthroughs.
One of the most exciting technology frontiers is the field of augmented reality (AR) technology, not only for the intriguing potential that AR solutions represent, but for the practical applications that are already transforming the face of industries as diverse as automotive, healthcare and aerospace. AR is changing the way products are made and tested, the way personnel are trained, and even the way factories and facilities are designed and run. It seems clear that when it comes to AR, the future is now.
The same AR-based technology solutions that are streamlining and error-proofing manufacturing and assembly processes, and making workplaces safer, smarter and more efficient, have the potential for an equally transformative impact in food production and food service environments. From food production facilities to restaurants, AR technology can improve speed, quality and consistency in any operation. Taking a closer look at some existing examples of AR applications can provide a better sense of how AR tech can help brands and businesses in the food and beverage space effectively address persistent challenges and capitalize on emerging opportunities.
Nuts and Bolts
While the platform specifics vary from one application to the next, the basics of AR remain consistent: An emerging constellation of systems and technologies designed to provide real-time audio and visual guidance, offering hands-free functionality that is both interactive and adaptive. Regardless of the industry, the ultimate goal is to ensure tasks are completed safely, correctly and efficiently.
Some AR technology solutions utilize a digital operating “canvas” as a kind of virtual overlay. This digital overlay can be projected directly into almost any workspace and onto almost any work surface. This allows AR solutions to provide prompts, pacing and direction with unprecedented clarity and specificity. It also allows AR platforms to be extremely flexible and customizable, capable of being deployed to meet the unique demands of a virtually unlimited range of scenarios, processes and work environments. The inherent flexibility of today’s rapidly expanding suite of AR tech solutions is hugely important for restaurant and food industry applications, where kitchens and workspaces vary from one facility to the next. That flexibility even extends to real-time adjustments. The best AR platforms are fully programmable, giving operators the ability to select preset sequences, programs or processes with the push of a button.
Quality and Efficiency
The promise of AR is not just the pursuit of perfection as an abstract ideal, but the potential to take substantive and meaningful steps that get far closer to an optimized, error-free operation than has ever previously been possible. AR technology can help build the perfect pizza; brew the perfect cup of coffee; cook, plate and serve extraordinary food with zero errors and higher productivity; and even ensure the right amounts of the right products are labeled, packaged and shipped correctly.
Something as simple as a lighted visual indicator projected directly onto a pizza showing exactly where every pepperoni should be placed can make a tremendous positive difference. This ensures that the right quantity is used, that every pizza looks great, and even allows those preparing each pie to move a little faster and more efficiently. Reducing waste, boosting efficiency and improving quality and presentation all in one.
Similar projection technology can ensure precise slicing and portions for a wide range of ingredients and prepared foods. In the process, workers can do away with a number of more cumbersome tools and intervening steps. Virtual solutions saving a few seconds at each step can add up to some significant time savings by the end of a shift.
The range of tools that can be integrated into an AR system is virtually unlimited. From laser tracking to precise scales, the possibilities are exciting. In the chaos, confusion and pressure of a working kitchen, anything that allows cooks, servers and other food service professionals to move faster and more efficiently is a welcome addition. Many AR systems feature integrated no-faults-forward functionality that will not allow the user to move forward to the next step if the previous steps have not been completed correctly. This virtually eliminates human error, and goes a long way toward boosting the quality and consistency of the finished product. In both a food production and a food service context, that is enormously significant.
A similarly substantive impact can be realized upstream in the food production process, as well. Part picking and sequencing technology can ensure the right products and ingredients are packed, stored and delivered correctly, allowing warehouse and delivery personnel to move faster and make fewer mistakes. Similarly, inspection and quality control processes can be more comprehensive and effective, all while taking less time.
Traceability is a high priority in food production and preparation. Whatever the path from farm to table, knowing exactly where each ingredient was sourced is important not only in terms of food safety, but also loss control—ultimately making production and preparation processes more efficient.
AR solutions can not only help increase efficiency and facilitate error-free productivity, but they can also help identify, diagnose and correct procedural pain points. Detailed procedural records and digital imagery of each food item produced ensures that potential issues can be traced not just to individual food workers, but to the exact step in the process where things went awry. The “digital birth certificates” that can be generated through AR’s advanced and accessible tracking, monitoring and verification capabilities make it possible to quickly identify bottlenecks and other challenges, and ultimately implement improvements that streamline operations.
Training and Integration
AR technology is also extremely valuable as a training tool. In the food service industry, where relatively high turnover rates are a common challenge, systems and software that can deliver a training experience that is standardized, effective and fast, are a game-changer. Eliminating training variation and ensuring that every new employee learns the same information, in the same way, is something that can have a dramatic and sustained impact on consistency, productivity, and, ultimately, the bottom line.
The kitchen of the future will also need to interface more effectively with back office systems (BOS), and AR tech solutions show great promise here, as well. Connecting detailed data feeds with a BOS in real time allows managers and other decision-makers to make more informed and strategic decisions about everything from operations and logistics, to seating and food preparation.
Efficiency Boost (Productivity)
Perhaps the most exciting aspect of introducing AR tech platforms into the food production and service industries is that the technology has the potential to address all three major priorities that brands and businesses face: Quality, productivity and traceability. And at a time when many restaurants are addressing large-scale structural challenges like rising wages, the potential to significantly bring down costs by being more productive and having greater throughput is an appealing proposition.
To understand just how dramatic the efficiency improvements can be, we need not look further than industries where AR tech already has a substantial foothold. Studies have consistently shown that, even with experienced operators, AR platforms lead directly to significant—and in many cases dramatic—improvements in productivity. A 2017 article in the Harvard Business Review cited a Boeing study that showed AR improved productivity in assembly processes by 25%. GE Healthcare saw even more dramatic results, with workers completing tasks 46% faster. Factoring in additional examples, the “average productivity improvement” was 32%, with error rates approaching zero. Extrapolate those types of results in food production and food service environments, and it’s easy to see how and why AR technology is generating so much excitement. More than just a culinary trend or fad, AR tech has the potential to spark a fundamental restructuring of the operational backbone of food service and production facilities.
In recent memory, no time has more effectively demonstrated the challenges facing the food and beverage industry than spring 2018. In addition to a widely publicized recall of romaine lettuce, several other companies have instituted noteworthy product recalls. For example:
While demoralizing for food and beverage manufacturers, these recalls may also be an unavoidable part of doing business. Plants are grown outdoors, livestock lives outdoors, and no method of sterilization or disinfection is perfect. This is why regulations exist, such as FSMA or EU 1169, so that when recalls do occur, companies can efficiently find and eliminate their contaminated products, and then find the point in the supply chain where the contaminants were introduced.
Despite their necessity, food labeling and packaging regulations represent a huge challenge for food and beverage (F&B) manufacturers—and these challenges don’t exist in a vacuum. The labeling and packaging process is already a huge challenge, which includes customer requirements such as branding, cultural and linguistic localization, 2-D barcodes, and more. How can F&B companies enmesh their regulatory requirements with these existing challenges without adding to the complexity and expense of the entire undertaking?
Challenges of the Regulatory Environment
Since 2011, FSMA has been changing the way that F&B manufacturers produce, package, ship and sell food. In a departure with previous tradition, government inspectors no longer form the first line of defense against contaminated or mislabeled food. Rather, food producers and manufacturers themselves must bear the responsibility to implement procedures that prevent foodborne illness.
In short, FSMA will force F&B manufacturers to implement full transparency and traceability within their supply chains. Artwork and product labeling must be used to support these endeavors—ideally, one would be able to scan the barcode on a food package to instantly determine its origin as well as the chain of distributors that it passed through in order to reach your hands. Right now, the industry standard is well below this benchmark.
Right now, a seven-day timeline is the best-case scenario for traceability throughout the F&B supply chain. Although the endpoints of the supply chain—grocery stores and restaurants—may use modern digital records, you’ll find growers and transportation companies still using Excel and paper records.
In the meantime, a new European Union regulation known as EU 1169 went into effect in December 2016. It made a number of changes to food labeling laws, creating a uniform standard for nutritional facts information. Manufacturers must meet minimum standards for legibility, attain a minimum font size, and notify consumers about potential allergens.
Purely by coincidence, a new FDA food labeling law has also recently gone into effect. Announced in May 2016, this rule will update serving sizes found on most food packaging, alert consumers to added sugars, and more. Although these rules were originally slated to take effect in 2018, they’ve been delayed to 2020 for companies with more than $10 million in revenue, and delayed to 2021 for smaller F&B manufacturers.
To encapsulate, F&B manufacturers must now adjust to the following factors:
The FDA is becoming much more serious about preventing foodborne illnesses
To this extent, it’s begun to demand instant traceability from F&B manufacturers
In addition, the EU will force manufacturers to update their nutritional labeling
Manufacturers must update their nutritional labels in the United States as well—but differently
Barcodes and labeling already pose a complicated challenge for manufacturers, causing product recalls and packaging write-offs. Putting additional regulation on top of that solves problems in one sense, by making recalls less likely, but also creates problems in another sense—by putting pressure on artwork and labeling departments that are already overworked. After all, regulations alone aren’t the only sources of change and challenge when it comes to labeling and packaging.
Other Stressors on Labeling and Packaging within F&B Manufacturers
Changing consumer tastes, changing marketing methods, and changing technologies all play their role in adding stress to the job of labeling and packaging within the F&B manufacturing industry.
New Branding Needs. Packaging drives 36% of purchase decisions, which means that new and eye-catching label designs are always a must. Good design is subjective, however, and tastes change. For example, most Americans are now driven towards brands that are driven towards social and environmental causes. In other words, many F&B manufacturers may soon reorient their product artwork design to reflect this new concern.
International Expansion. If EU 1169 is a concern for you, it probably means that you’re selling into countries where English isn’t the only language. It’s easy to make missteps in this realm. For example, it’s possible to accidentally approve poorly translated copy, or to approve copy that’s in the wrong language entirely.
New Technologies. In addition to the UPC, many brands are now incorporating 2-D barcodes (such as QR codes), which provide product information when scanned by a smartphone. Although these codes are supposed to provide more information to consumers, only 34% of consumers actually scanned them as of 2014. The challenge for the labeling department is to make these codes more useful and user-friendly.
These new techniques, regions and branding requirements pose challenges. Think about the possibility of approving the right logo for the wrong country, approving out-of-date artwork, or substituting an FDA-compliant label for one that should comply with EU-1199. These things will happen, and they will necessarily lead to recalls. Here’s the question: How do you structure your artwork and labeling departments to minimize these risks?
Minimize Risks with Standardized, Centralized Labeling and Artwork Management
The secret to producing compliant labeling with up-to-date branding and correct localization is to create a system that gives you as little choice as possible. In other words, you should not find yourself wandering through a nest of file folders wondering which asset is the most up-to-date or find yourself developing separate label templates for each separate region you sell into.
Instead, your labeling and packaging artwork should be able to integrate with other business applications and content libraries to ensure your accessing the correct, most up-to-date approved content and assets. In an ideal world, if you start creating a label and select “Spain” as your target market, your labeling solution would immediately retrieve the relevant content for that target market. With the right kind of integrated, dynamic, data-driven solution you can be confident that you’ll only be dealing with complete with approved Spanish-language content for your packaging and your labeling. You would have peace of mind that your solution would generate an EU 1199-compliant nutrition label template, auto-populated with the appropriate nutrition facts. Additionally, if this label is intended for food sold only by a particular supermarket chain, you would feel confident that your solution would retrieve all of the correct content, images and barcodes required for that brand.
Improve Traceability by Replacing Sources of Confusion with Sources of Truth
To ensure accuracy and consistency, your labeling solution should integrate with your “sources of truth,” namely your ERP systems, but also potentially including your manufacturing execution systems, warehouse management systems, and more. You should be able to leverage existing business processes and vital data sources to drive labeling—to avoid replication of data and potential error, and instead automate and streamline your processes.
Recalls may be a fact of life, but using the right labeling and packaging solution will let you narrow their scope—and trace contamination to its source within a much faster window. The fastest solve for this problem involves creating a true “closed loop” for artwork and labeling—a comprehensive, integrated and automated solution to provide accurate and consistent labeling.
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