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Explore This IssueOctober/November 2013
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Food safety concerns continue to be at the forefront of public attention, leading to high-profile product recalls. In today’s age of supply chain globalization, ever-increasing consumer awareness, and evolving government regulations, there is a legitimate urgency among manufacturers to take more ownership of food safety to protect consumers and their brands.
The best way to optimize quality and minimize risk for prevention is through fully-integrated, end-to-end software capabilities. Forward-looking manufacturers that develop and implement integrated strategies with the right technologies can consistently deliver high-quality products, which in turn, drive productivity and efficiency improvements.
Prevention is the Goal
Until recently, most food manufacturers tried to minimize impact by reacting quickly. Common strategies in place were trying to identify and isolate tainted products through traceability to avoid any further potential harm to consumers, and damage control to minimize lost profitability and negative publicity. Now, as an industry, we have recognized the need to take a more proactive approach to food safety and efforts are under way. However, those efforts need to be fortified.
While response and communications to recalls are still critical, the shift now must be toward proactivity—preventing recalls and building in safety upfront before products reach consumers.
Government regulatory agencies and retailers worldwide are placing a higher priority on preventative strategies. They are strengthening requirements, improving processing practices, and escalating quality initiatives. This requires an integrated plan that drives more control across production and fosters closer collaboration between key stakeholders in the food industry: Suppliers, producers, regulators, academia, and consumers.
Manufacturers who incorporate real-time operational intelligence capabilities can gain the deep insights needed across to predict when problems are likely to occur and take real-time, corrective action. If they can stop a problem before it starts, they not only ensure consistent quality and food safety, but they also are able to be more productive and efficient—a critical advantage to stay ahead in today’s highly competitive environment.
Critical Software Capabilities
1. Anywhere, anytime decision making. In today’s mobile environment, it’s imperative to deliver relevant information and notifications to operators and other key decisions makers wherever they are and through whatever mobile devices, such as smartphones and tablets, that they are using. Being able to respond quickly to critical events—minimizes the risk of safety mishaps while increasing productivity.
Tools that give these mobile decisions makers contextualized information, based on their role and location for better, faster decision making, address the challenge of deriving meaning from the myriad of data available in today’s operations while improving the way people work today, which is largely untethered.
Access to real-time and geo-intelligent information leverages proven mobile technologies to flexibly empower decision makers. For example, an operator walking in the plant gets notified of an event critical to his role, such as an out-of-spec incoming raw material, a quality sample lab result that has failed, or a metal detector check that is due. The operator can take immediate action and prevent the issue from escalating or being missed altogether.
2. Trending helps eliminate the root cause of product risk. The key to preventing recalls is the ability to proactively recognize production trends as they happen and take immediate corrective action as needed. It requires a shift from looking solely at historical data to connecting it to real-time production information.
Software with sophisticated trending capabilities can identify trends and deliver detailed insight into plant operations, including root-cause relationships. This allows quality improvements that will mitigate risks as they arise. Measured against food safety metrics, trending with real-time notifications of process upsets can help manufacturers identify and address small issues before they escalate into bigger problems. Understanding patterns and relationships between various sets of data, such as temperatures, speeds, pH levels, and humidity, can help eliminate the true root cause of product risk versus the reactive approach of compartmentalizing potentially at-risk products using post-production testing. For example, one food manufacturer used trending data to discover that its oven temperatures were not consistently being met for its product, increasing product safety risk. This critical intelligence was surfaced during the process before it reached the failure limit. Operators took immediate corrective action and adjusted the ovens “on the fly” to compensate for the temperature drifts, mitigating risk and ensuring product safety.