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From: Food Quality & Safety magazine, August/September 2007

Protecting the Food We Eat

Real-time information on production processing, inventory, quality testing, and operator accountability supports manufacturers with high quality delivery and product lot traceability

by Beth Berndt

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.

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.

Business Boom

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.

Another business trend now influencing food manufacturers is a new level of awareness that being able to provide accurate, timely, and complete product traceability includes the ability to collect and relate product formulation and operational processing standards. This includes collecting actual information about production results in every aspect of the manufacturing process—not just about the movement of ingredients, intermediates, and finished products from inventory or to suppliers, distributors, and customers.

Manufacturers realize that having an audit trail that provides information on ingredient, intermediate, and product movement through inventory—as well as the manufacturing process activity—requires standardized and automated interaction in real-time between point-of-action plant personnel and business systems.

Further, standardized best practices that also support product traceability must be repeatable, scalable, and transferable in order to produce products of consistent quality that can be audited. The ability to audit is now based on ingredient inputs and the use of specified plant equipment flowing through detailed processing operations and value-add operator activities that also include quality sampling, electronic signatures, and recorded quality test results.

Need for Detailed, Real-Time Information

For food manufacturers, inherent complexity and variability introduce another level of granularity when defining manufacturing processes by product and production line. It is necessary to collect detailed information in a timely manner during processing and to provide the right level of performance metrics, actionable information, and control.

Manufacturing execution systems can meet requirements and monitor capital equipment performance but cannot evaluate or respond to multiple performance metrics in the way operations personnel can. Such decisions are often based on concurrent data points, such as quality sampling and testing, quantity rates and throughput, equipment performance, and especially changes in demand and supply availability or specialized operator scheduling and activities.

This means that enterprise business systems need to move from product lots into another level of production performance results. For complete support of product-lot traceability to be effective, process performance information must be collected at the point of action by production operators. This will provide information on how a product was manufactured. It will also reveal the production line and process used, associating each activity with a specific date and time.

The primary goals of enterprise business systems that automate process instructions and activity reporting on the plant production floor are to ensure consistent decisions and actions and to capture these results in real time, making them visible as part of the enterprise business system.

But the hidden—and equally important—benefit lies in making action unavoidable during production and processing while also capturing real-time information about each product and process. This provides an added dimension of product traceability.

Empower Production Operators

An additional element of managing production involves empowering production operators with the necessary tools, information, and flexibility to make adjustments without the loss of critical capacity that can occur while an operator seeks supervisor or managerial review.

Setting clear and controllable parameters around resolving conditions, such as substituting ingredients, formulating corrections, fine-tuning processing equipment to meet the Original Equipment Effectiveness (OEE) standards, and automating the ability to take corrective action as part of inline processing further enhances a manufacturer’s ability to deliver quality measurements and reporting. These are critical for accessing the history of each traceable product lot.

The combination of all of these automated pro duct and process standards and the collection of real-time information about production processing, inventory movement, quality testing, and operator accountability supports manufacturers effectively using a consistent production process with high quality delivery and product lot traceability. This next generation of business automation is already delivering a new level of control and performance in support of improved product traceability for today’s food companies.

Berndt is director of industry solutions for consumer products for Ross Systems. Reach her at 770-351-9600 or bethberndt@rossinc.com.

References

  1. USDA Safety and Inspection Service. Available at: www.fsis.usda.gov/Fsis_Recalls/Open_Federal_Cases/index.asp. Accessed August 2, 2007.
  2. U.S. Food and Drug Administration and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. What You Need To Know About Establishment and Maintenance of Records. Available at: www.cfsan.fda.gov/~acrobat/fsbtrec.pdf. Accessed August 2, 2007.

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