Today’s food safety and quality assurance (FSQA) professionals face a multitude of challenges when it comes to the goal of providing consumers with safe, high-quality food while remaining profitable. On the safety side, challenges come in the form of compliance with ever-expanding regulatory, non-regulatory, and customer-based requirements, as well as managing materials and ingredients from a growing global supply chain. On the quality side, challenges center around keeping the cost of goods made in line with key performance indicators, while continuing to maintain the consistency and quality that protect your brand and keep customers in your supply chain—along with consumers—coming back for more.
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To achieve both safety and quality assurance in light of these challenges, food suppliers, manufacturers, distributors, retailers, and services companies are turning to emerging software technology in growing numbers. These tools fall into two categories:
- Reactive. When noncompliant supplies, production materials, and/or finished goods enter the supply chain, these trace-and-recall solutions are designed to find and remove products from the chain in the fastest manner possible before they reach and possibly endanger consumers.
- Preventative. These technologies help prevent noncompliant materials and raw ingredients from coming in and noncompliant finished goods from going out. The key part of this emerging technology is food safety chain management.
This article focuses on prevention, explaining how new software helps participants in a food supply chain save time and money by creating efficiencies and promoting safety and quality compliance.
The Basic Principles
There are five basic principles of food safety chain management:
- Prevention. Food safety chain management focuses on prevention because it carries a lower cost than reaction—think about the cost of a smoke alarm vs. the cost of repairing fire damage. The business case for food safety chain management can be based on return on investment, which makes it easier to gain executive buy-in.
- Safety and quality. Food safety chain management functionality covers both safety and quality assurance. Preventing safety issues is critical; just one major problem that reaches consumers can have dire health and financial consequences. But ensuring consistency and compliance with quality attributes on a day-to-day basis is what protects your overall brand and market value by maintaining consumer confidence.
- Globality. All participants in a company’s supply chain, upstream and downstream, from anywhere in the world, must be connected to ensure safety and quality transparency and visibility.
- Real time. To focus on prevention, food safety chain management is designed to take place in real time—whether it is receiving and analyzing data or sending alerts when noncompliance is detected.
- Farm to fork. Food safety chain management addresses the entire supply chain: inbound, during production, and outbound.
Food safety chain management focuses on prevention because it carries a lower cost than reaction—think about the cost of a smoke alarm vs. the cost of repairing fire damage. The business case can be based on return on investment.
How does it work?
The overall purpose of food safety chain management technology is to create efficiencies that help to ensure regulatory, non-regulatory, and customer-driven compliance along every point in the supply chain. Although functionality will vary by solution, its six key areas include:
- Automation. The ability to automate the scheduling of all FSQA activities, with alerts when tasks are missed, ensures critical control points and quality standards are met.
- Real-time data collection. FSQA testing and other data can be entered electronically from any source, including suppliers, third-party labs, plant equipment like weighing machinery, and mobile devices in real time.
- Real-time data analysis. All FSQA test results and other data are compared to specifications in real time.
- Real-time issuance of certificate of analysis (COA) and alerts. When data and results are within specification, a COA can be generated automatically to move a product to its next point in the chain. If a noncompliance issue is detected, text or e-mail alerts are immediately sent to the relevant stakeholders so that corrective actions can be taken at the earliest point possible.
- Finished product communications. All finished product COAs and other appropriate data can be sent to customers automatically if finished goods are in compliance. In the case of internal hold-and-release programs, reviews can be completed automatically, and real-time acceptance alerts can be sent to enterprise resource planning systems or shipping departments.
- Performance analysis. All data and documentation, including supplier information, production data, corrective action documentation, and finished product testing, are time stamped and available for audit readiness, benchmarking, and performance analysis.
When effectively implemented, FSQA will help companies reap important benefits, including:
- Time saving. This is achieved through both labor and speed to market in the execution of FSQA tasks and programs.
- Economic gains. Hard-dollar ROI, including increasing yield, risk mitigation, speed to market, trending and performance analysis for continuous improvement, and prevention of withdrawals, rejections, and recalls, is possible.
- Process efficiencies. This will help ensure FSQA compliance.
Food safety chain management functionality covers both safety and quality assurance. Preventing safety issues is critical; just one major problem that reaches consumers can have dire health and financial consequences.
Technology at work
There are many scenarios and examples of how food safety chain management can work in your environment. For the purpose of this article, we follow a chicken fillet sandwich served at a fast food chain.
- At the farm. Growers who provide lettuce for the finished sandwich often wait for harvest inspectors to issue reports from the field. Hand-written reports on field safety observations and quality attributes such as color, size, and signs of insect infestation are typically filed the day after inspection. Using food safety chain management methods, however, inspectors can enter data, including digital photos, into mobile devices immediately.
QA managers receive this information in real time on computer dashboards or on mobile devices, enabling immediate, best-practice decisions. For example, a QA manager can decide whether to harvest a particular growing area if the lettuce does not meet specifications for the fast food chain customer but meets the requirements of another customer.