Processors maintain efficiency while meeting customer and regulatory demands

Food and beverage processors can easily become overwhelmed as they work to meet challenging customer requirements and government regulations while maximizing efficiency and minimizing costs.

To meet these demands, processors must have systems in place to rapidly identify and track every ingredient for each product through all processing steps: from receipt through processing, packaging, and shipping to the exact customer location.

In the case of an investigation or product recall, a processor must be able to quickly show documentation of each processing step performed, not only within its own organization but also at least one step back and one step forward in its supply chain. They must be able to quickly identify the problem product or ingredient, deliver required documentation, and isolate any other affected products.

The toughest decisions facing food and beverage processors is how to prepare for audits or recall situations without slowing down the overall productivity or eating up the budget.

As senior managers huddle with their IT and operations departments to come up with the best solutions, the three main questions become:

  1. How can we possibly gather and maintain all the records that our customers and regulators might need?
  2. How can we respond to unexpected audits without disrupting operations?
  3. Where do I start in improving our product traceability?

First, avoid paper documentation.

Today’s regulations and customer requirements stress prevention of safety and quality problems, not just the ability to react to an issue. The procedures and protocols being enforced are to ensure that an outbreak or issue doesn’t happen, in addition to being able to respond quickly should one take place. Prevention requires attention to detail, which necessitates efficient methods of organizing disparate data from many sources. Food safety plans must be written down, steps must be followed, and actions must be documented.

A tipping point has been reached. It’s no longer possible to manage all of the required documentation on paper, with error-prone spreadsheets and rows of overflowing filing cabinets.

Processors can look to the latest technology for help. For example, many are turning to Cloud-based solutions where detailed, comprehensive electronic reports can be pulled from anywhere at any time.

Second, be ready to respond quickly to audits.

Like the Boy Scouts of America, the motto for food and beverage processors is "Be Prepared."

In order to prevent full-scale recalls, regulators and agencies that oversee food standards have been conducting more frequent audits. Not only are there more audits, they require more documentation and even faster turnaround times.

Leading food and beverage processors are using single-source systems that maintain real-time and historical data for all ingredients and intermediate inventory. When an auditor comes calling, the processor is able to turn requested information around quickly -- usually within 24 hours – while avoiding stress, paper cuts, and disruptions to the day-to-day business.

In a recent mock recall of one Cloud ERP customer, required documentation was turned around in under four hours.

Third, build traceability into your DNA

A key step in achieving true traceability is in connecting plant floor production data with real-time traceability data. The only way that can be accomplished is by moving from disparate systems to a scalable, single-source Cloud technology that serves as a complete Food Safety Management System (FSMS).

Leading processors use barcoding technology to track intermediate inventory at a detailed level, providing the "one-up/one-back" traceability required by regulators and customers.

Today’s solutions combine this instant traceability with Manufacturing Operations Management, recipe management and electronic HACCP. It also includes industry-leading security measures that ensure that processors’ recipes and brands are completely protected.

Tougher regulations? Bring ‘em on.

We’ve touched on the main things keeping food and beverage processors awake at night. And these are just the challenges they face today. As the government introduces steps to enforce the Food Safety Modernization Act that was signed into law last year, it’s likely that the pressures everyone is feeling today will intensify.

The good news is that by addressing these issues now, they’ll have established a foundation for electronic documentation, quick audit response, and full traceability. That’s everything they’ll need to tell customers and regulators to go ahead and "bring it on."

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The authors

Tom Nessen is Plex Systems’ Food Programs Senior Solution Engineer. He has more than 13 years of experience as a technology consultant to large, small and mid-size companies.

Jon Cowan has spent more than 14 years in manufacturing, providing plant floor automation, MED and ERP systems. For the last eight years, he has provided enterprise software solutions to process manufacturing industries, with a focus on food and beverage processors.