Product inspections, swab sampling, Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) certifications, freshness tests, hygiene audits, and more—there is no shortage of testing within meat and poultry production systems. Regulatory and customer audits demand accurate and complete testing on a multitude of parameters, all designed to help the industry meet consumer expectations and comply with regulatory standards for food safety.
With all this testing, managing and analyzing the resulting data can be a full-time job. One of the last things a plant manager wants to think about is gathering more data, but using testing analytics more strategically can lead to better management of food safety, product quality, and overall operations, paying dividends in regulatory compliance, customer satisfaction, and consumer trust.
Here are four best practices that can help you make better use of food safety data.
1. Understand the Why
When it comes to food safety validation, it’s important to understand what data you need and why you need to collect it. By setting data collection goals, you can ensure your testing generates the most relevant data, leading to better food safety intervention decisions.
Start by defining three to five questions you need to answer to improve food safety. Often, these questions align with the food safety concerns that may keep you up at night. Getting a handle on these questions can help you collect the data needed to address those concerns.
For example, you might ask: “How can we reduce total pathogen loads so antimicrobials can do a better job of meeting food safety performance standards?”
Gathering pathogen data at each step from preharvest to postharvest can help identify the points where pathogen loads spike and interventions could be added or improved. You may want to start by measuring the types and levels of pathogens that are present on animals entering your establishment. Animal-borne pathogen data may be helpful information as you assess needs for preharvest interventions to bolster your plant’s multi-hurdle food safety solutions.
2. Fine-Tune Your Record Keeping
Data overload is a pitfall of any testing system. The meat and poultry industry as a whole collects millions of data points each year to meet HACCP or other audit requirements and to evaluate effectiveness of food safety interventions.
Once collected, it’s important to keep data organized so that it can be useful in analyses and decision making. Even more important, data must be quickly accessible in case of a potential recall or food-borne disease outbreak. As food safety recalls have evolved over the past few years, accurate data and record keeping may mean the difference between a short-term, localized issue and a nationwide recall involving millions of pounds of product.
Keeping data organized and analyzing it effectively are two of the biggest challenges the industry faces every day, week, and year. Most operations can improve the way they input and store data to more easily observe or evaluate trends.
Some companies create their own customized internal record-keeping systems or purchase online systems. The best record management system is one that meets your needs. Most often, simpler is better.
Establishing data spreadsheets across complexes within a company is also important to allow observation of trends across different geographic locations as well as different management styles. Having uniform data collection and record keeping among complexes is critical for future trend and metadata analysis.
Once data has been organized in an online record-keeping system, analysis and interpretation become important. When keeping and analyzing records, metadata can be just as important as outcome measurement. This is where trend analysis and decision making can occur. Metadata analysis can be difficult but very important, especially when determining current trends and future predictive modeling.