How digitization can improve food safety

· 3AG blog,CHFA

If you are a food and beverage manufacturer in the consumer packaged goods (CPG) space, food safety is clearly one of your top concerns. You have every reason to be kept up at night thinking about threats such as unlabelled allergens, foodborne diseases and chemical contaminants.

The industry is heavily regulated to protect consumers as well as businesses all along the supply chain. If you’re a small-to-midsize enterprise in this space, without the resources of the large, multinational players, staying on top of all the moving parts can be time consuming and anxiety inducing. There is so much to think about.

You need to ensure you’re compliant with laws and regulations at federal, provincial/state and local levels. Depending on what you sell and whom you sell to, you likely have to maintain certification in one or more Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) platforms. Your preventive control plan has to be documented and Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) compliant. And you may have additional customer-mandated stipulations if you sell to other businesses. All this can add up to major, ongoing headaches.

Beavis and Butthead breakin' the law

The risks of non-compliance and what to do about them

The risks of non-compliance are considerable. Failing a food safety inspection can result in a punishing fine or an even more damaging shut down. A food recall can be catastrophic; a joint study by the Food Marketing Institute and the Grocery Manufacturers Association found that the average cost of a recall is $10 million. And there is also the potentially irreparable damage to your brand to consider. For these reasons and more, businesses in the food and beverage manufacturing supply chain are generally vigilant about food safety management and devote time and resources to it at almost any cost.

The question most businesses ask themselves is whether there are better ways to ensure safety and compliance; can it be done more efficiently and produce equal or better results? If you’re performing critical processes manually, such as checking and recording critical control point data, capturing data to help with traceability and generating compliance reports, you’re likely wondering whether you could automate some of this work. The great news is there are many options to consider. The not so great news is that there are many options to consider.

Sometimes people are the problem

Automation is transforming the manufacturing sector overall, and the food and beverage industry is no exception. Many businesses have deployed Internet of Things (IoT) solutions to automatically monitor critical control points in production processes. Wireless, cloud-based IoT solutions are making it easier than ever to replace tasks traditionally performed by clipboard-wielding employees with sensors capturing streams of shop-floor data. That means temperature and humidity problems and equipment maintenance issues can all be addressed in near real time. And businesses can capture the data required for reporting and analytics.

Digital data provides pathways to safety compliance

The digitization of manufacturing is resulting in massive increases in the data available for reporting and analysis. The systems that make up the modern factory stack, including supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA), manufacturing execution systems (MES) and enterprise resource planning (ERP), all make it possible to create digital models of manufacturing operations. This allows you to simulate changes digitally and measure their impact before implementing them in a live production environment. As well as enabling gains in efficiency, productivity, profitability and quality control, the data from these systems can be used to improve food safety—provided that you can harness all the data effectively.

One key pillar of food safety that digitized manufacturing systems can support is the tracing of materials and products through the supply chain. As a food or beverage manufacturer, you’re legally required to ensure you can trace ingredient lots back to your immediate suppliers and trace products forward to your immediate customers. If your manufacturing software (especially your ERP) is already capturing information about suppliers, material requirements, batch lot numbers, product inventory, quality control, customer orders, purchase orders and delivery schedules, the key data required for traceability are already available to you.

octopus with lots of tools

Consider all your options

If your business is embracing digital transformation, the question isn’t whether you should implement a digital solution for food safety, but what kind of solution to implement. There is certainly no lack of options.

There are numerous safety and compliance software packages on the market that can accommodate some of the requirements of food and beverage manufacturers, including hazard documentation, audits and inspection reporting, employee training and more. There are also quality and compliance solutions specifically designed for the food industry that integrate with ERPs; however, you may be concerned that you will end up managing safety and compliance in a silo. How to ensure these systems all speak to each other? Is integration with legacy systems really possible?

There are also full ERP systems designed specifically for the food and beverage industry. These generally have comprehensive feature sets that cover safety and compliance monitoring requirements. Some even help with predictive analysis of hazards, so that you can understand which products or processes are at risk and take proactive, preventive actions.

You may have an ERP system that you’re overall satisfied with and have legitimate concerns about replacing with yet another solution; ERP implementations are reputedly long, complex and expensive. You may find your current system can be customized to include the food safety monitoring features you need. Or you may find it simpler to rip and replace and view the new system as an investment in the future.

Again, so much to think about. Faced with these options, what to do?

The first step is an informed conversation

Start by connecting with experts who can help you assess the current state of digitization in your operations; speak with you about your current food safety policies, processes and reporting; and explore smart ways to deploy technology that reduces the burden of food safety compliance while helping you achieve simplicity, integration and insights.

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