In June of this year, United Food Group, LLC, a Vernon, Calif.-based establishment, recalled a total of approximately 5.7 million pounds of fresh and frozen ground beef products produced in April.1 This recall was due to possible E. coli contamination following a notification issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Safety and Inspection Service.
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Since 1994, there have been more than 750 cases of meat and poultry product recalls reported by the Safety and Inspection Service. This is an average of more than four product recalls per month over the past 14 years. More than three-fourths of these cases have been identified as Class 1 recalls, involving a health hazard in which there is a reasonable probability that eating the food will cause health problems or death.
Given increased concerns about safe food handling and manufacturing, reflected in the enactment of the Bioterrorism Act of 2002, automated enterprise business systems that enable a food manufacturer to track and trace the immediate links between sources and recipients have become important contributors to the overall quality and safety of the food products they deliver. Companies that manufacture, process, pack, transport, distribute, receive, hold, or import food must establish and maintain such records for two years, “to allow the Secretary to identify the immediate previous sources and immediate subsequent recipients of food, including its packaging.”2
Such regulatory compliance mandates have had a clear effect on food manufacturers’ investment in enterprise business applications to support accurate record-keeping for food and beverage manufacturers. More recent customer and competitive market pressures have generated added business drivers that underscore and extend existing requirements to be able to track and trace from supplier sources, through both manufacturing and the sale of products to other manufacturers, wholesalers, food service, and consumer retail market channels.
A clear and emerging business trend that affects food and beverage manufacturers’ product traceability is related to the continued acceleration of the rate of business among manufacturers, their supplier base, and their increasingly demanding customers. With lean initiatives and the pressure to reduce inventory buffer stocks, manufacturers receive, produce, and deliver products with a greater frequency of inventory turns and replenishment cycles.
This means that material moves through the supply chain faster, which in turn results in the use of inventory data collection through mobile devices, with inventory bar coding and radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags containing information on container, product, lot, and quantity. This information can be captured rapidly and passed on to enterprise business systems.
As a result, customer expectations about the acceptable minimum length of time a manufacturer has to construct a clear picture of where all quantities of a product lot are in the supply chain have also increased. The more limited time frame manufacturers now have to complete a product lot recall is a point of negotiation when establishing contracts today—well beyond compliance to current regulatory mandates established by governing agencies in the U.S.
Mock Audits Necessary
In an attempt to improve brand protection and consumer confidence, customers also solicit tighter relationships with their suppliers and manufacturers in other ways. They may include periodic requests to conduct mock audit recalls as a condition of their contractual supplier relationship. Such mock traceability audits are also often a mandated condition of manufacturers who outsource some or all manufacturing processing to other manufacturers.
In addition, customers and contract manufacturers have introduced on-site sampling of the quality of ingredient and product inventory lots. Auditing of operational processes and adoption of standards, best practices, and continuous improvement initiatives throughout the manufacturing process are also becoming standard. As a result, today’s manufacturers must consider the capabilities of their enterprise business systems to communicate and enforce product and processing standards and best practices throughout production and inventory. This is an integral part of delivering effective product lot traceability, in support of perfect order customer commitments.