Food Safety Magazine

Signature Series | December 5, 2013

The Future of Food Safety: Taking a Proactive Approach with Technology

By Mike Edgett

The Future of Food Safety: Taking a Proactive Approach with Technology

Many food manufacturers continue to delay investment in supplemental safety measures, believing that their current solution is “good enough.” Suddenly though, an issue occurs and they realize they are not prepared to respond as quickly and accurately as needed. This reactive approach is one that should not be taken if businesses want to avoid a potential impact to their profit margins. Investing in new technology can help preemptively dodge unforeseen safety threats and allow faster response to any suspected problems. This can be a vital component for enabling effective food safety and compliance initiatives: to help prepare both manufacturers and distributors for potential product recalls. By taking proactive measures and investing in technology before any incidents occur, businesses can protect themselves from liabilities that might threaten production or relationships with customers.

The threat of a recall creates motivation for implementing a thoughtful safety strategy, but it is not the only incentive for doing so. Today’s consumers are demanding more detailed information on how and where their food is manufactured. Labels with claims such as “gluten free” or “zero trans fat” must be 100 percent accurate and can vary from country to country. Potentially severe dietary restrictions like peanut allergies make it important for manufacturers to know exactly what ingredients are utilized. This allows them to understand how they are handling food byproducts and whether or not the finished product comes in contact with precarious food items. The ability to track and demonstrate the full production process is essential to ensure safety. Modern technology presents a faster, more accurate method for tracking the manufacturing process than ever before.

Additionally, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is enacting or further refining more stringent food legislation. New laws for processes including labeling and importing ingredients create added potential for compliance issues that did not exist in the past. Manufacturers should invest in technology to enable conformity with these increasing regulations. Today’s enterprise resource planning (ERP) solutions and related applications can deliver the ability to accurately monitor the production process. These tools provide visibility across the supply chain to grant insight on when a shipment leaves the plant, where it is going and whether it makes any stops along the way.

Implementing a proactive safety management strategy that utilizes an ERP system can help food manufacturers identify and reduce risks. They can protect products and help their company avoid bad publicity or costly lawsuits that might arise from a safety issue. Food contaminants can come from many sources, including improper temperature levels, labeling errors or equipment safety issues. Technology allows manufacturers to take preventative measures by integrating programs, such as quality assurance or scheduled routine maintenance for machinery. Through automated data capture and easy access to critical information, companies can prevent safety issues before they arise by providing the necessary tools for making safe decisions on a daily basis.

Perhaps the most important aspect of enterprise technology is visibility. With integrated formula management and supply chain visibility, users can monitor the movement of raw materials through the plant and track shipped inventory through different logistics providers. This visibility, combined with access to real-time data, provides the ability to trace and pinpoint the exact location of specific product batches. Take, for example, a product batch that accidentally comes into contact with peanuts when it is not supposed to. The company would then be able to quickly identify this lot and remove it from all locations where it was distributed. This also helps to save manufacturers money, because rather than recalling an entire shipment, they only have to remove what is necessary—lessening the amount of wasted product. Additionally, integrated planning tools help companies to replenish the product faster, helping to further reduce the amount of lost revenue. By accurately assessing resources, manufacturers can maximize their production capacity to replace the removed stock.

In circumstances where consumer or employee safety is at risk, communication is key. Today’s manufacturing technology allows users to quickly communicate critical alerts throughout the company to ensure that everyone is taking necessary precautions and is aware of any impending issues. By maintaining accurate, up-to-date customer and supplier information, manufacturers can ensure timely communication with external parties as well.

With integrated systems in place that create a holistic view of operations, food manufacturers and distributors can more effectively prevent safety issues. By identifying and mitigating any risks before an incident occurs, companies can exercise best practices and eliminate liabilities. Reliable, comprehensive data and an efficient means of communicating with all necessary stakeholders gives companies the tools they need to demonstrate compliance with government regulations and efficiently manage any safety threats that might arise.

Mike Edgett is director, industry marketing, process manufacturing at Infor.