In the same way that technology expands the reach of information on a global scale, it can aggregate information from various divisions within the same enterprise to create a portal for superior organization and business intelligence. Frequently, more than in other industries, the food business is under extreme pressure to ensure the production of quality products while maintaining strict regulatory compliance and a high level of productivity. Without adhering to these rigorous standards, companies run the risk of audits, recalls, erosion of consumer confidence, and loss of brand integrity.
Food producers and manufacturers need to go through a complex web of processes to bring raw materials through their production lifecycle to packaging and release to the market. With diverse remote sources involved and multiple divisions within each company, all procedures require meticulous monitoring and constant improvement to keep up with the high demands of the world’s growing consumer base. In addition, global regulations require stringent controls, ensuring the food put on tables is safe for consumption. Implementing data management systems to monitor and collect a multitude of testing and quality control data allows these companies to focus on their primary objective—bringing safe and healthy food from farm to fork.
Data management systems have become the foundation of any food safety laboratory to track samples and comply with increasingly complex regulations, but how does implementing an integrated laboratory information management system (LIMS) help to increase productivity and streamline workflow without taking too much time dealing with the system itself? Here are some tips and best practices for working with LIMS, how to leverage the integrated system, and why it is essential for managing today’s complex global food safety requirements.
Identify and Manage Fail Points
From a food safety and quality perspective, there are several potential fail points within a typical food manufacturing process that must be recognized and closely tracked. Monitoring these checks across multiple processes can quickly become overwhelming, causing delays and eventual bottlenecks in overall production. From receiving raw material to competent batch release, laboratories can have a substantial influence on production speed and efficiency.
In order to increase lab efficiency and not tie up man-hours in the tracking of every individual procedure, it is important to itemize all fail points, establish a protocol for these hazards in the LIMS, and manage processes so not even the smallest detail is left to chance. Integrated informatics builds in fail points in order to preserve data integrity across three common areas where prevention is key to success: inventory, standard operating procedures (SOPs), and traceability.
Inventory. Cataloging products can initially seem like a basic management project. Most laboratories run routine tests and regularly need the same stocks replenished. However, because inventory is generally a straightforward process, fail points regarding pre-planned ordering or automated supply level monitoring can easily be overlooked. Using a LIMS to electronically track supplies as they are used and send an alert when items are running low enables labs to maintain their efficiency and eliminate fail points in this area.
SOPs. These are one of the most significant procedural necessities in any lab, outlining what needs to be done and exactly how. Straying from SOPs can cause severely detrimental effects for food safety due to unintended errors that could be avoided. A LIMS can implement electronic SOPs to protect against this risk and statistical quality controls to detect non-conformance, defining stepwise workflows and technical corrective actions to ensure consistency and adherence to protocols.
Traceability. Tracking and logging a product from origin to release provides accountability and accuracy of results needed for quality control and regulatory review. Given that labs typically work with thousands of samples, this process can be laborious and full of potential fail points. Without a documented and unbroken chain between data and sample, results become indefensible. An integrated informatics solution reinforces adherence to encoded guidelines, safeguards data quality, and accelerates the delivery of results so that production can continue uninterrupted.
Maximize Process Improvement
Most quality assurance and quality control systems follow the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) methodology. HACCP aids in the development of relevant regulations to ensure proper workflow and prevent food safety hazards. In order to handle the extensive volume of instrument data and records generated from comprehensive HACCP programs, labs can leverage LIMS to collect and manage data over the entire lifecycle of a food product. Analysis of data from this approach aids in the improvement of involved processes by considering the five critical steps outlined below.