As a result of recent food safety scandals, the public’s understanding of and appetite for food traceability and safety information has never been greater. Consumers and retailers now expect easy access to information on how and where food was manufactured, where the ingredients came from, and where the finished item ended up. The expectation is that this information should be available at the touch of a button or presented on food packaging and labeling.
Here are five key areas a food firm can address to ensure they meet this appetite for information and to protect consumers, retailers and themselves in the future.
1. Supply Chain Audits
Understanding and actively monitoring the supply chain in its entirety is critical for a food firm in order to help avoid a potentially crippling food safety crisis. At the heart of a supply chain audit is comprehensive traceability information on the origins of raw materials and the journey they take through manufacture to delivery. Supply chain audit information should also include a detailed record of supplier accreditation information along with their respective food safety and traceability procedures. Ideally, this data will be held centrally and captured electronically. Manual, paper-based food safety monitoring processes are time consuming and carry a high risk of error and non-compliance compared with using an automated electronic data capture solution. The information required in the event of a product recall or a food safety issue can be queried and collated in minutes with an electronic traceability solution. On the contrary, manual systems require hours to sort through hundreds of paper based records, which by their nature can be inaccurate or misplaced.
2. Know What’s Required
Awareness and understanding of sector specific and general food safety legislation or industry requirements are important elements in protecting a business. For example, can a business provide full traceability information for a particular batch or product on demand to customers? Does it adhere to U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requirements for a particular sector or niche?
The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) is the most sweeping reform of FDA’s food safety authority in more than 70 years and was signed into law by President Obama on January 4, 2011. It aims to ensure the U.S. food supply is safe by shifting the focus from responding to contamination to preventing it. This act gives the FDA new and enhanced mandates and authorities to protect consumers and promote public health. In addition, the Manufactured Food Regulatory Program Standards (MFRPS) are a set of standards developed by the FDA that can be used by individual states as a guide for continuous improvement for state food manufacturing programs.
Each and every element of a supply chain needs to work continuously, harmoniously and efficiently. This requires regular upgrades and replacement of outdated equipment. While this can be costly, the long-term benefit will outweigh the short-term expense. Investing in state-of-the-art modern information technology can give a business the edge over its competitors, improve customer service, and boost the efficiency of employees and operational processes.
Modern ERP (enterprise resource planning) solutions automatically collect electronic data, which can be shared and interrogated to inform critical business areas, such as Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) policy requirements, quality assurance, and traceability or supply chain audits. This data can also be used to provide real-time business intelligence reporting, KPIs (key performance indicators) and dashboards.
Logistics and route optimization software can be used to dynamically plan trailer loads ensuring that the transportation conditions meet the required specification for variables such as temperature and packaging. Delivery routes can be optimized to ensure that the quickest and most efficient route from A to B is taken, reducing the time that food spends in transit.
4. Become Flexible and Agile
If a business is flexible and agile, it will be able to react rapidly to changing market conditions or customer requirements. A modern food business will have eliminated time-consuming and error-prone paper-based procedures, have well practiced “what if” scenarios in the event of a supply chain failure or emergency product withdrawal, and have back up contingency plans in place to maintain a near 100 percent order fulfillment record.
Everyone involved in the provision of a supply chain needs to be aware of all of the regulatory and self-administered food safety policies and requirements, their importance, and the consequences of failure to comply. Regular staff training and performance assessment is critical to providing a safe and efficient food supply chain and a high level of customer satisfaction.
How does your food business stack up? Is it a proactive or reactive organization? Are processes and procedures adequate or are there gaps to fill? These five tips, along with the ERP software like that provided by LINKFRESH, can serve as an important starting point for success in today’s information-driven marketplace.
Robert (Rob) Frost is Group CEO for LINKFRESH, which combines expertise in IT and the fresh food industry to meet the global demand for fresh, affordable and safe food in the most cost-effective way, enabling the food supply chain to grow and prosper responsibly.