Food Safety Magazine

SIGNATURE SERIES | October 2012

Feeding the Food Supply Chain with Technology

By Mohan Ponnudurai, Sparta Systems


Today, food manufacturers must sell to consumers from different demographics who demand a variety of healthy, high-quality products at low prices. At the same time, they need to adhere to regulations and are already challenged with the high costs of distribution and the need to stay competitive. As a result, manufacturers are turning to technology to address these concerns and ensure quality starts in the supply chain and is reflected behind the labels on store shelves.

Regulations are set for all types of industries, but the oversight in the food and beverage industry is not as heavily prioritized and often overlooked. For the food and beverage industry, regulations primarily fall into two categories: food safety, where the product may be physically harmful; and labeling, for which completeness and accuracy are paramount. If overlooked, they may lead to serious consequences, and in some cases death. The problem exists because current processes are managed manually—paper or excel-based—and are not connected to a centralized quality solution to detect any deviations.

To keep up with demand, companies are partnering with suppliers from all over the world, broadening and diversifying supply chains. Manufacturers need to address the risks that are associated with globalization, including contamination, packaging errors, mislabeling, tamper protection, transportation and more. Managing and scoring suppliers as well as tracking the production sequence can help ensure regulatory compliance and pinpoint the culprit of an incident or recall.

As companies expand, their tracking methods can become outdated and, as a result, will not properly manage food distribution, inspection and complaints. These aged solutions are blocking the availability to access critical information, making tracing the input and output of the supply chain tedious and time consuming. This affects product safety, corporate reputation, customer satisfaction and can ultimately lead to a financial loss.

Having a strategy to track manufacturing processes from start to finish can detect a problem, stop distribution and assist in a recall all at once. Technical solutions such as Product Lifecycle Management and Quality Management Software (QMS) exist to address these challenges. The food and beverage industry is turning to technology to manage product-related information like specification, formula or ingredient lists, and storing it in a data model. By integrating to an information-based architecture, users and applications can easily discover when a downstream piece of information needs to be updated. For example, if an ingredient is replaced and the product has an organic claim, the ingredient needs to be validated and approved before moving along in the supply chain. If the new ingredient does not meet set standards, the product will be flagged as failing the organic qualification and production will be blocked.

When such production is blocked or stopped, plant operators can quarantine the goods already produced so they do not leave the premises or mistakenly end up in the supply chain. Having a QMS system in place will trigger the Manufacturing Execution Systems to pinpoint the location of these tainted products quickly and easily. This process opens the flow of communication by providing plant operators the data necessary to investigate the cause of the offense, ensure it is not repeated and inform all other systems. The intercommunication and bi-directional transfer of information is what synchronizes processes to address any challenges in real-time.

The food and beverage manufacturers of today are relying on technology to avoid risks within production and maintain competitiveness in their markets by ensuring their products are safe and meet regulatory requirements while meeting consumer demands. The efficiencies afforded by these strategies allow manufacturers in the food and beverage industry the tools needed to control costs, address and maintain safety and quality specifications and provide acceptable return on investment, which in turn allows for product innovation and greater choices for consumers.

Find out more at www.spartasystems.com.