We’ve all heard the reports. “Peanut Recall Sparks Large-Scale Food Safety Concerns.” “Pistachios-Salmonella Link Probed.” “Fears of Tainted Spinach Sweep the Nation.”
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The good news from all this is that the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) are clamping down on food quality standards and regulations to help protect the American people.
One example is the FDA’s 2007 Food Protection Plan, which, according to the FDA, seeks to “… address the changes in food sources, production, and consumption that we face in today’s world … to protect the nation’s food supply from both unintentional contamination and deliberate attack … [through] prevention first, then intervention, and finally, response.”
The government’s efforts are only part of the battle, however. The food manufacturers themselves carry an even heavier burden. It may surprise some to know that over 70% of food and beverage companies in the United States use Excel spreadsheets to capture and track quality data from their complex food manufacturing operations. Over 50% still use paper, according to AMR Research in its March 2009 “Enterprise Quality Management in Food & Beverage” research findings. Furthermore, AMR also found that 23% of companies acquire their manufacturing process quality data manually.
In a country that processes over 15% of the world’s meat, these figures are frightening. How can the public be kept safe from food contaminants with these minimal manufacturing quality management standards? The short answer is, we can’t.
The other side of this equation is the business viability of the food and beverage manufacturers. A single product recall can cost one of these companies millions of dollars in lost inventory and orders, while severely tarnishing their brand image. In light of the dire economic challenges we face today, with customer loyalty rising and dropping along with the cost of a gallon of milk, a recall can be the kiss of death for a manufacturer.
Solutions Are Available
Fortunately, there are solutions that can automate, integrate, and streamline both manufacturing quality and supplier quality processes. Many companies use enterprise software applications at various levels of the manufacturing operation to capture quality control and safety data. These manufacturing intelligence software solutions include enterprise resource planning (ERP), manufacturing operations management (MOM), and manufacturing execution systems (MES), which often involve intensive and costly customization efforts to fit the quality and compliance requirements of the food industry.
Other companies, however, are realizing that there are dedicated software solutions built to immediately address reconciliation of quality issues across the supply chain. Enterprise quality management systems (EQMS) are beginning to replace homegrown, manual, and isolated tools that require extensive customization to manage quality processes for which they are not specifically designed. Furthermore, EQMS systems can be used to implement processes and escalation procedures that essentially drive any centralized quality improvements.
Deploying an EQMS enables companies to seamlessly integrate data from many organizational silos and applications, including ERP, MES, and MOM, to provide a single view of all quality-related processes in manufacturing. With such a comprehensive system in place at the corporate level, manufacturers can achieve better regulatory compliance, reduced manufacturing cost, greater production efficiency, improved customer service, and more. In turn, consumers enjoy safer food and beverage consumption and gain added protection from potential quality issues.
This article will further discuss enterprise quality management as it is employed today—and the value this approach can bring to a troubling scenario.
According to the AMR research referenced above, food and beverage manufacturers cite the need to ensure customer satisfaction and reduce the cost of quality as the two primary pressures driving food safety initiatives. At the executive level in particular, there is significant concern about increasing both the predictability and the reliability of the product supply on the shelf. With so many suppliers and partners typically involved in a manufacturer’s development and procurement of its food products, careful management of the supply chain network is a business imperative.