Globalization of the food supply chain is a driving factor behind the increasing number of food safety incidents. Producers and importers must perform precise, real-time product safety testing at all stages of production, processing, and distribution to ensure quality and compliance with food safety legislation. Each step in the food chain has its own challenges. Laboratory information management systems (LIMS) play a critical role in the workflow of food producers, ensuring that test data from all parts of the delivery chain are captured and analyzed to guarantee consumer safety.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the European Food Law guide major food producers importing and exporting from the United States and Europe. Batch traceability is key for monitoring product quality and effectively managing recalls with limited product loss.
Traceability in European Food Law (EC#178/2002) is defined as the ability to trace and follow a food, feed, food-producing animal, or substance intended to be or expected to be incorporated into a food or feed, through all stages of production, processing, and distribution. Ideally, any substandard components should be detected during the crop growing, raw materials collection, or processing stages, preventing unfit products from reaching the public. In cases when substandard products have been released, traceability of affected product batches can lead to a more effective recall and prevention program, thereby limiting the manufacturer’s exposure to costs and possible litigation.
LIMS in the Food Industry
Sophisticated LIMS solutions are designed to efficiently manage batch relationships among raw materials, processed materials, and packaged goods, enabling analysts to identify the batches affected by contamination and automatically suspend release of a product during investigation. LIMS are designed to manage and control the quality assurance process, organizing and storing analytical data and facilitating the conversion of data to information. This process is fully automated, ensuring that the majority of sample results will be within acceptable limits, filtering and highlighting failures to initiate follow-up investigation. The LIMS workflow schedules analytical work-up for samples with positive results, addressing the need for rapid screening techniques to identify potential contaminants.
Food analysis techniques produce large quantities of different types of data. LIMS automatically gather, store, manage, and report on these data, including sample preparation data, instrument-generated data, standards, reagents and media, reference data for users, and management and metrics reports.
Food samples used for safety testing are often time and condition sensitive, requiring fast turnaround or storage in suitable conditions. LIMS can identify each sample; uniquely generate labels, bar codes, and hazard data; store metadata; and sample life cycle transactions. Freeze/ thaw cycles and preparation steps are logged, sample inventory maintained, and work for laboratory staff prioritized. Overall, the use of LIMS in the food safety workflow ensures that samples are handled correctly and processed within allowed time frames.
Food producers and importers face strict penalties for noncompliance with food safety legislation. At the same time, food recalls are expensive both financially and in terms of damage to brand or company reputation. The ability to trace the components used at any point in the food manufacturing and supply chain is a function that is critical to ensure product quality and regulatory compliance.
Batch traceability can be easily and effectively achieved using a LIMS solution. A LIMS can control the sample chain of custody, automate data collection from instruments and analyzers, manage data by exception, and facilitate certification. A LIMS will collect results directly from instruments and determine whether they are within acceptable limits, making the system ideal for managing data for food producers and importers.
Implementing LIMS for Yogurt Producer
One of the world’s leading dairy product manufacturers needed a LIMS capable of ensuring optimum quality control in its yogurt products. Making the transition from a paper-based manual system to one that automates almost every quality control (QC) sample check and reporting process is a major undertaking for any company. With U.K. production at over 1.8 billion containers of yogurt per year, the time was ripe for change at Müller. They chose Thermo Fisher Scientific to provide a solution.