Safety, Traceability in Food Manufacturing

The volume and severity of food recalls in recent years are enough to scare any consumer away from grocery aisles and frighten any food manufacturer into thinking that its product might be next. The industry got a taste of that reality with the massive recall of Salmonella-contaminated products made with peanuts originating from the Peanut Corporation of America (PCA). By March 2009, the recall included more than 3,200 products, with the number rising daily. Then, just as the dust seemed to settle, a separate recall of Salmonella-tainted pistachio products hit the market.

The average recall takes 34 days to enact, according to AMR Research. Bar code-based lot tracking can help food manufacturers more quickly identify the source and all recipients of recalled products.

The average recall takes 34 days to enact, according to AMR Research. Bar code-based lot tracking can help food manufacturers more quickly identify the source and all recipients of recalled products.

Of course, recalls aren’t unique to the nut industry. In the last quarter of 2008, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s website listed 33 Class I food recalls and safety alerts—those posing the most serious health risks to consumers—and the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported 18 recalls related to meat and poultry. Some of those highly publicized recalls included cocoa with a possible melamine contamination, tomato sauce with a label that did not declare milk ingredients, and several beef products with possible E. coli contamination.

These cases should set off an internal warning alarm for any food industry executive. Indeed, a 2008 AMR Research survey of 251 food and beverage supply chain decision makers in the U.S. and Europe showed that more than half had participated in a health and safety recall in 2007. And these incidents came at a high cost: More than half of the recalls resulted in write-offs exceeding $10 million.

On top of that, companies face the risk of lingering consumer backlash from recalls. According to separate surveys conducted by Deloitte Consulting LLP and Gallup Inc. in 2008, about 60% of Americans have avoided certain foods or brands because of a recall. By February of this year, sales of peanut butter were down 25% for all brands, whether or not they had been involved with the recall. Contributing to consumer and industry unrest is the fact that many recalls are slow to get started, take a long time to perform, and produce incomplete results: AMR’s respondents said it takes an average of 14 days to discover the need for a recall and 20 more days to enact it.

That kind of recall lag time, and the genesis of some food recalls, can often be associated with the technology used in the manufacture of food products. Manufacturers using multiple software solutions to manage their businesses may be at the greatest risk for inefficient recalls. This article explains the recall dangers related to that technology setting and explores a strategy for solving those problems so that your company isn’t part of the latest recall statistics.

Many recall problems stem from the use of multiple software systems and/or manual processes for managing a food manufacturing business. When you have one program that handles recipes, one for sales, another for accounting, and paper-based systems for inventory and production, you have no way to establish and maintain the process controls essential to product safety and traceability.

House of Cards

Many recall problems stem from the use of multiple software systems and/or manual processes for managing a food manufacturing business. When you have one program that handles recipes, one for sales, another for accounting, and paper-based systems for inventory and production, you have no way to establish and maintain the process controls essential to product safety and traceability.

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