Track & Trace in the Food and Beverage Industries

September 21, 2014

Tomato with Bar Code

 

Background

In an industry that is becoming increasingly governed by the Safe Food for Canadians Act (SFCA) and the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), it has become critical for Food and Beverage manufacturers to ensure, as much as possible, the safety of their products.  And should a potential recall event happen, Food and Beverage manufacturers need the ability to rapidly track every element of production and of product input to respond in an appropriate manner.

Food safety concerns continue to be at the forefront of public attention, in part due to issues such as salmonella found in eggs and tomatoes, and melamine in milk, all of which have led to high-profile product recalls.  And more critical than the cost of the recall, is the potential impact to your brand’s value

In today’s age of globalization, ever-increasing consumer awareness, and continually evolving government regulations, there is a legitimate urgency among manufacturers to increase their investments in plant floor and enterprise technology for food safety to protect their brands.   Minimizing the impact of a recall by ensuring rapid response and consumer communication is a top priority. Complying with Section 204 and Section 103 of the Food Safety Modernization Act is more than just regulatory compliance, it is also brand protection.

 

Current News

Regulatory agencies around the world are increasing their focus on preventative strategies, and food safety and quality programs are placing greater emphasis on better processing practices, escalating initiatives surrounding quality. Both the Canadian Safe Food for Canadians Act and the US FDA are increasing regulatory compliance on food manufacturers.

The ability to trace back all input to a final product, including which animals or grain the raw material came from, is critical to responding to such an emergency. In fact, the nature of legislation around food safety is to prevent food safety issues firstly and then to respond to them secondly. The US FDA employed the Institute of Food Technologists to conduct Traceability Pilot Projects to make recommendations for FSMA.  (See the recommendations here.) Manufacturers are realizing that building the necessary Manufacturing IT infrastructure to enable automated Track and Trace in their manufacturing processes not only helps them meet the guidelines and intent of the acts, it can also help them improve and cut cost from their processes. And with the ability to rapidly identify material, WIP inventory, and finished goods inventory in the event of a potential recall, this infrastructure will assist them in avoiding potential damage to their brand`s value.

Recall costs, which can include logistics, disposal of product, responding to consumer complaints, handling lawsuits, and repairing public relations, can be enormous for companies. And that’s not counting the brand image impact and lost sales that can be difficult to monetize.

In many manufacturing environments, producers understand the value and benefit to them of the ability to track and trace all aspects of their production processes. There are questions like HOW am I actually doing this in my facility and what is the potential cost to me and my organization if I am not accurate enough or fast enough in my response?

For example, temperature trending led one food manufacturer to discover that its oven temperatures were not consistently being met for its product, increasing product safety risk and requiring corrective action. Trending data provided the critical intelligence needed during the process before it reached the failure limit, enabling operators to adjust the ovens “on the fly” compensating for the temperature drifts and ensuring product safety and saving costly batch input.  In some high risk foods, process parameters are as critical to safety as they are to quality and consistency.

Understanding patterns and relationships between various sets of data such as temperatures, speeds, pH levels, and humidity—rather than compartmentalizing potentially at-risk products using post-production testing—can help eliminate the true root cause of product risk.

Measured against food safety metrics, trending with real-time notifications of process upsets can help manufacturers identify and address small issues before they escalate into bigger problems.

Only by establishing a holistic, integrated strategy with the right set of software capabilities can manufacturers leverage the critical insight, consistency, and transparency needed to identify and address potential food safety issues while products are still within the factory walls. Technology is a critical enabler for tighter real-time controls to help safeguard processes and prevent quality issues.

Examples of preventive controls include sanitation procedures for food contact surfaces; environmental monitoring to verify pathogen controls; a recall plan; supplier verification activities; and a food allergen control program.

Next steps

Developing an understanding of the infrastructure needs and costs for your operations is the first step.  It is critical to find a consulting partner that understands:

  • Regulatory compliance needs specific to your operations
  • Enterprise data, reporting, and systems (e.g. ERP)
  • Manufacturing processes, like batching and packaging operations
  • Manufacturing technology, from sensors, RFID technology and barcode readers, to PLC’s, plant wide networks, and historians

With this, a roadmap for technology infrastructure needs can be created, cost estimates can be established, and you will have a Blueprint for Success.

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