Food safety and quality assurance (FSQA) issues pose the biggest risk to the brand reputation and financial health of food and beverage companies. Yet, when it comes to daily FSQA operations, industry has struggled with making broad and effective changes. But in the face of regulatory challenges such as the Food Safety Modernization Act, pressure to provide safe, quality products on time and within budgetary key performance indicators (KPIs), heightened consumer awareness of food safety issues, and of course C-suite commitment to protecting market value and brand—a fundamental change in FSQA operations is necessary. This article makes the case that key to this change is leveraging the power of cloud-based food safety technology solutions.
Right Time and Right Technology
When I first came to the food industry as an evangelizer of technology for improving FSQA, I was told, “Food companies don’t deploy technology.” After much research, it became clear that food companies did deploy many software solutions for various corporate functions—supply chain management, procurement, finance, human resources, to name a few. These technologies saved time, saved money, and created operational efficiencies.
What was true, however, was that the FSQA functions within food companies, which logically would seem to be top candidates for the benefits of automation, lagged behind in technology adoption. It is this author’s belief that this was due largely to the types of FSQA solutions that were available pre-cloud/pre-mobile—traditional on-premise or “behind the firewall” solutions. FSQA teams aren’t sitting at their desks in front of computers. They’re in the field doing pre-harvest inspections; on the plant floor monitoring food safety processes; on the road auditing high-risk suppliers; or onsite responding to customer issues. Technology solutions that required users to be at their desks were therefore inefficient. On-premise technologies were also expensive to deploy and maintain, making it difficult to build a business case given low food industry profit margins.
But over the past decade, we’ve seen this change. Today, many FSQA technology vendors offer cloud-based solutions that can be accessed anywhere, at any time, using mobile devices. And as a result, we’re seeing FSQA technology adoption becoming more mainstream.
Affordability of FSQA in the Cloud
Cloud-based technologies are “multi-tenant.” This means that there are central applications, built with best-practices functionality, that are shared by all of the companies using the solution—but every company has its own private, sub-section—configured for its specific needs. The “tenants” enter the applications with their own secure logins. There’s no hardware or software to buy and maintain.
Additionally, when industry drives the need for changes to the applications, all of the tenants receive the enhancements, keeping the systems up-to-date for all. For example, if you are using a cloud-based solution for Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) automation and one of the schemes issues a new code version, the vendor would typically update the code and push it out to all companies using that application—eliminating the need for you to spend time and money making these changes.
Common Myths About the Cloud
Myth 1: Cloud-based applications are not as secure as on-premise solutions. The bottom line is that today’s cloud-based applications are highly secure. Think about cloud-applications we use every day, such as online banking, where highly sensitive information lives in the cloud. Vendors follow very strict rules about security and offer audits to prove that they meet or exceed standards.
Myth 2: Lack of controls over who sees what. Cloud-based applications are roles-based, meaning you control who sees what. Think about logging into your online banking account, you see your activity and balances, not those of everyone else who uses that same application. With cloud-based FSQA apps, you control who sees and does what. You might allow suppliers to login to enter certificate of analysis information, for example, but not allow them to see other data in the system.