Laura Mushrush – Food Safety Website Breaking news for everyone's consumption Mon, 24 Aug 2020 14:05:52 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Laura Mushrush – Food Safety Website 32 32 Part Two: OEE data analysis — What’s your biggest pain point? Mon, 24 Aug 2020 04:05:53 +0000 Continue Reading]]> Editor’s note: This is part two of a four-part series on understanding and implementing overall equipment effectiveness strategy. This series is sponsored by SafetyChain Software.

When it comes to food manufacturers improving plant efficiency using overall equipment effectiveness (OEE), simply looking at output figures is not enough, says Clara Gavriliuc, Vice President of Data Analytics for SafetyChain Software.

“Without analyzing the data of each of the three OEE components during the production day, it is hard to address the root cause of inefficiencies that will contribute to significant long-term costs,” explains Gavriliuc. 

For optimum data collection and analysis, the opportunity lies with real-time plant performance software that is capable of tracking anything from downtime to how long it takes ovens to get to the right temperatures, to packaging.

“There are certain time inefficiencies that are easy to see and easy to calculate what impact they’ve caused,” says Gavriliuc. “However, there are many inefficiencies that may be hidden and only revealed when looking at data that isn’t typically captured by paper-based documentation.” 

Identifying the biggest pain points
Often, these hidden data can be used to avoid or minimize production loss from the easier to see inefficiencies. Hands down, one of the biggest and easiest to see pain points for reduced output in food plants is unplanned downtime from breakdowns. 

“From an availability standpoint, breakdowns are simple: The inefficiency cost is calculated by the amount of time you’re down and what that would have been worth if product was produced. However, what often happens is that food companies will look at this figure at the end of the day and not progress it further to identify the true root cause,” explains Gavriliuc. 

When analyzing real-time data, employees can monitor different components of the production line that may signal a potential breakdown risk. For example, if the data is showing time per unit is slowing down in one specific area of the line, that area can be assessed immediately for what is causing the performance issues. 

“What they may find is that a product isn’t feeding well into a machine and is at risk for jamming or a piece of equipment needs to be recalibrated,” says Gavriliuc. “So, what may seem like a small pain point that is slowing down production may actually be the culprit of something much larger. We don’t want to wait until something breaks – we want to be proactive. Addressing the root of the issue immediately can have huge savings in downtime production loss later.” 

While real-time data can be used to help head off any major downtime issues, they can also be used to justify upgrades into equipment or signal the need for investments into personnel training. For example, say there are two lines that are producing the same exact product. Line one is keeping up with throughput targets and moving along seamlessly. Line two is starting to bottleneck. 

Having real-time data will help to operators and supervisors to quickly identify which area of the line is slowing things down. 

“Perhaps a machine just needs to be calibrated and it is back to operating. Or, if the machine just isn’t capable of operating at the capacity required, OEE can help determine if it is cost justifiable to make an upgrade,” says Gavriliuc. “If the cause of slow throughput happens to be a personnel issue, then new training can be put in place to help get workers operating at the level they need to be. Whatever the root cause is, real-time data gives managers actionable data that will allow them to make immediate decisions to help improve overall efficiency of a food processing facility.” 

Analyzing the data
When it comes to analyzing data to determine what actions can be taken to mitigate the biggest pain points, they must maintain a balance of the three areas of OEE: Availability, Performance and Quality.

“You can focus on increasing availability and performance, but if it jeopardizes quality and you’re wasting product, then you’re not efficient. Or you can focus on quality, but if your machine availability and performance isn’t keeping up with demand, then you’re not efficient,” concludes Gavriliuc.

“Remember, OEE is a good indicator of how you are performing in all areas of production.” 

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Part One: You may not fully understand OEE, but you care about it Mon, 17 Aug 2020 04:08:02 +0000 Continue Reading]]>

Editor’s note: This is part one of a four-part series on understanding and implementing overall equipment effectiveness strategy. This series is sponsored by SafetyChain Software.

For many food manufactures, the concept of measuring overall equipment effectiveness, aka OEE, is a common strategy to track output efficiency. However, if not fully understood or analyzed properly, companies can be suffering significant economic losses due to operational inefficiencies that are hidden in the data.

“OEE is one of the best metrics for tracking the efficiency of a plant by benchmarking progress, identifying losses and improving the productivity of manufacturing equipment,” says Dr. Clara Gavriliuc, vice president of Data Analytics for SafetyChain Software. “All of these factors contribute to huge economic losses when negatively impacted, making it essential for companies to implement effective OEE strategy that takes all operation data into account.”

There are three areas of data that contribute to OEE:


Is the machine operating or not? Availability loss includes output reductions due to downtime, whether that be from breakdowns, calibrations, routine maintenance, product changeover and even the process warmup period.
“This is the most popular data point for people to analyze because it is easy to see the economic impact,” says Dr. Gavriliuc. “For example, say you charge $1 for a product and can make 60 of them in one hour. If your machine is broken down for one hour, you can easily see that the breakdown cost you $60 in product loss.”


How fast is the machine running? This can be caused by machines not equipped to handle a certain product and aged or unmaintained, uncalibrated equipment and even inadequate personnel training.

“This is where we start to see the opportunity to improve equipment efficiency through hidden data,” says Dr. Gavriliuc. “You need to look at how many products are being produced per an ideal cycle time and if there is opportunity to cost-effectively increase the productivity per minute whether it be calibration or upgrading the machine. This is valuable data for justifying a new piece of equipment.”


How many products are meeting specs? Quality issues are leading culprits of product and time resource waste.
“Machine availability and performance output data can be exceptional, however, a company’s OEE and income will suffer if the quality of the product is leading to rejections – and therefore waste and decreased profits,” explains Dr. Gavriliuc. “Not only does the quantity of rejection need to be analyzed, but more importantly, reason. Identifying the root cause will reduce chronic and long-term quality issues.”

Calculating OEE

OEE = Availability x Performance x Quality. The final OEE figure is represented as a percentage of efficiency from 0-100.
In the industry, there are five levels of OEE benchmarks:

  • 0-25% = Unacceptable
  • 26-55% = Needs improvement
  • 56-70% = Industry average
  • 71-85% = High performance
  • 86-100% = World-class

“Food manufacturers wanting to set a realistic OEE goal should be striving to be at 80 percent. Anything under that is leaving a lot of profit potential on the table,” she says.

OEE scenario

To calculate OEE, go back to Dr. Gavriliuc’s example of a line producing 60 products in an hour worth $1 each in profit. In this plant, a shift is 8 hours, therefore, the expected output is 480 units. It costs this line $100 per shift to run.
Due to a product formulation changeover, the machine is only operating for 7 hours. Availability: 7hrs x 60 units/hr = 420 units per shift

However, the machine is running slower than usual and is only producing 50 units per hour. Performance: 7hrs x 50 units/hr = 350 units per shift. Due to a scale needing to be calibrated, 25 units were underweight and did not meet spec. This means the final shift output was 325 units.

Quality: 325 units per shift. This means: Availability (7/8hrs = 87.5%) x Performance (420/480 units = 87.5%) x Quality (325/350 units = 92.8%) = 71% OEE.

On a good day at 100% OEE, it only cost the company $0.21 per unit to run the line ($100/480). However, on this day when only 325 units were produced, it cost the company an additional $0.31 per unit.

The numbers in this scenario are scaled back for simplicity. When put into practice in food plants producing thousands of units per day, the cost of inefficiency quickly adds up to thousands of dollars.

The danger of not fully analyzing data

According to Dr. Gavriliuc, it is common for plants to calculate OEE by simply dividing the actual units produced per shift by the total output potential.

“This is not a very accurate way to configure OEE because it offers a limited view into output efficiency,” concludes Dr. Gavriliuc. “To truly get on top of inefficiencies, to get a plant to optimum OEE, digging through the data of each OEE component to find the root causes of these issues is a must.”

In part two, Dr. Gavriliuc explains how to audit OEE data to identify the biggest pain points.

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Which EMP testing solution is best for facilities’ unique operations? Mon, 27 May 2019 04:03:07 +0000 Continue Reading]]> Editor’s note: This is part of a series on food safety costs for businesses. The series is sponsored by CERTUS Food Safety. This piece explores considerations when choosing a pathogen testing program. 

It’s pretty simple – food compromises are bad for business, says Chief Scientific Officer Douglas Marshall, Ph.D., CFS for Eurofins Microbiology Laboratories Inc. 

“If a food brand is splashed in the news for a recall or an outbreak, not only is it going to affect that particular brand or that particular product produced, but it’s going to affect everything else that’s attached to that brand,” states Marshall. There’s the cost of the recall, lawyers and potential criminal financial liabilities – not to mention civil lawsuits from the victims.”

There are significant financial ramifications for missing the mark when it comes to the integrity of food released to the market – making pathogen testing a linchpin in the overall success of a business. 

However, the not so simple part of this cost of doing business is figuring out a pathogen testing strategy that best suits environmental monitoring program needs and any required customer or government standards – while still allowing the company to turn a profit.  

Third party laboratories and in-house laboratories based in a central location to serve a company’s multiple manufacturing sites are industry standard, says Marshall. As technology advances, in-house pathogen testing kits are also making their way to market. 

KISS your woes away
There’s a whole laundry list of considerations that make one method of pathogen testing more suitable for a company than another, says Marshall. Because of this, he advises to follow the KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid) when making decisions, prioritising the following aspects: 

  • Proven efficacy by independent, third party organisations like AOAC, AFNOR and MicroVal
  • Accepted method of testing by customers 
  • Feasible for personnel
  • Cost effective 

Determining if a test is accepted by customers and has proven efficacy is straightforward. However, the most challenging comparison to make is when it comes to costings and personnel requirements, he adds. 

“At the end of the day, you’re in the business of manufacturing food – not running laboratories. This requires a high-tech, special skillset that comes with the overhead costs of the physical lab itself, but also the warm bodies with a scientific background to actually execute the tests,” he says. “Those people aren’t cheap, and they don’t grow on trees. They can also cause bigger business management issues in the event of unavoidable things like employee turnover, vacation time or sick leave. This is why it is important to make sure analyses are done correctly. Then at the end of the day, their conclusion is something that’s right for their operation as a whole for long-term success.” 

Mix and match
According to Marshall, there is no pathogen testing silver bullet that gives a cut and dry solution to all the needs of a company. However, there is a lot to be gained when utilising a combination of different methods. 

“One thing company’s often fail to recognize is you really need to be running a positive control, which necessitates you have some sort of a laboratory environment. Without that, you have no data that says your test is actually working,” he says. “You need to do verification every day to ensure the method is delivering an accurate data point every day. You also need to be doing validation, which is usually once a year, once quarter or once a month depending on your budget and your risk profile. Third party labs are a good verification resource for in-house testing.”

Third-party labs are also beneficial for companies performing testing in-house when certain accreditations are needed.

“For example, ISO 17025 accreditation. The vast majority of third-party labs hold that accreditation and they have very robust quality systems to be able to earn it and maintain it. Those running small in-house laboratories planning to bring their operations up to that level may find the process financially not do-able, so they’re really running their testing environment in a way that may not be very robust,” he explains. “Others will outsource to meet customer expectations. Perhaps their system doesn’t have the level of sensitivity required.” 

Integrating in-house pathogen testing kits also have their uses for companies needing to make quick business management decisions, adds Marshall. 

“One of the main advantages of doing in-house testing is reducing turnaround time to achieve an actionable data point, especially for perishable product. The longer it is sitting in a warehouse or sitting in a truck waiting for laboratory results, the more you’re cutting into the shelf life of the product. If the data can get there quicker, then that allows that company to reduce their cost of warehousing and shelving,” he says. 

Is it better, faster and cheaper?
When assessing a current pathogen testing system and analysing potential new technologies, Marshall encourages food companies to answer the following before deciding: 

Is it better? 

Is it faster? 

Is it cheaper? 

“These are the three things to always look for – and explore every aspect of. For example, is it better? This could mean a number of things, such as: easier to use, less floor-space, less waste, fewer technician hours, or more sensitive – all of those could be better. All of those things could be all on the “better” category,” he concludes. “Make sure every component is taken into consideration, because there are serious financial problems for getting it wrong.” 

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How do I test thee? Let me count the ways Mon, 20 May 2019 04:04:37 +0000 Continue Reading]]> Editor’s note: This is part of a series on food safety costs for businesses. The series is sponsored by CERTUS Food Safety. This piece explores different pathogen testing methods for environmental monitoring. 

As food safety regulations have improved and increased within the last decade, a technology boom has given the industry access to more accurate and efficient pathogen testing methods, says Erin Crowley, chief scientific officer for Q Laboratories Inc. 

“This has been a welcome development for our industry, but it can be overwhelming to navigate through the different types and their various workflows,” Crowley explains. 

While some pathogen testing methods, otherwise known as assays, are designed to give rapid results in the matter of a few hours, others can take days to process. However, depending on what is being sampled (also referred to as an analyte) and what pathogen it is being analysed for, each assay has an important place in an environmental monitoring program. 

Crowley outlined four common pathogen testing methods. 

1. Immunoassay
“Immunoassays are based on the principles that specific antigens will stimulate very specific (unique) immune responses and that the proteins produced by the immune response – called antibodies – can be used to signal the presence of a target compound in a sample,” explains Crowley. 

According to her, there are two types of immunoassays: sandwich and competitive. 

Sandwich assays use two antibodies to bind a specific target. One antibody is typically immobilized to a solid support such as nitrocellulose membranes found in lateral flow test strips. This can also be done with a microtiter plate which allows for specific antibody collection, commonly referred to as the ELISA (enzyme linked immunosorbent) test. Each test operates on a visual reporter system, with a lateral flow test signalling pathogen presence with line intensity, explains Crowley. Enzymes used for an ELISA test will catalyze a reaction, changing the solution a different color on the microtiter plate, allowing for an optical density assessment. 

Recently a new real time rapid pathogen detection system has been introduced based on Surface Enhanced Raman Spectroscopy (SERS) technology. SERS generates signals that are measured in the near infrared wavelengths where absorption of complex samples such as food is minimal.

“The amount signal produced is directly proportional to the amount of antibody sandwich formation that occurs. By adding known amounts of a specific sample to a detection system and measuring the amount of signal produced, a standard curve can be produced,” she explains. “When a sample containing an unknown amount of analyte is tested, the result can be compared to the standard curve and the amount of analyte in the unknown sample can be quantitated. A plate reader may be used to perform quantitation of ELISA tests.”

When analytes are too small to be sandwiched, competitive assays are used to detect the presence of a specific antigen with only one antibody. 

“In competitive assays, analyte in the sample competes with analyte attached to a solid support (lateral flow test strip) or enzyme (ELISA) for the antibody binding site. In competitive assays, the darker the line or greater the optical density the lesser the concentration of analyte in the sample,” says Crowley. 

2. Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR)
“PCR is defined as a technique in molecular genetics that permits the analysis of any short sequence of DNA, or RNA – even in samples containing minute quantities of DNA or RNA. By incorporating a thermocycler, PCR is used to reproduce (amplify) selected sections of DNA or RNA for analysis,” she explains. “A thermocycler heats and cools the DNA in pre-defined cycles, aiding in the amplification.”

In the past, amplification of DNA involved cloning the segments of interest into vectors for expression in bacteria and took weeks. However, conducting PCR in test tubes or reaction tools has whittled the amplification process down to just a few hours. PCR is highly efficient so that numerous copies can be made of the molecular material, adds Crowley. 

3. Isothermal
Isothermal amplification is a molecular detection technique that has increased in popularity as an alternative to traditional PCR, explains Crowley. It is broken down into different techniques, with the most prevalent being: LAMP (loop-mediated isothermal amplification), NEAR (nicking enzyme amplification reaction), SDA (strand displacement amplification) and HDA (helicase-dependent amplification).  

“All isothermal amplification is completed at a constant temperature, usually around 60°C. Therefore, it does not require additional equipment such as a thermocycler,” she explains. “Typically, isothermal analysis is completed by reading from the bottom of the reaction tubes and utilizes bioluminescence or fluorescence.”

According to Crowley, LAMP is rapid, sensitive and amplification is so extensive that the magnesium pyrophosphate produced during the reaction can been seen by eye – making it well-suited for field diagnostics. NEAR is another rapid and sensitive test, quickly producing multiple short nucleic acids for target sequence – enabling detection of small target amounts in minutes. NEAR is most commonly used for pathogen detection in clinical and biosafety applications. 

4. Culture
“Growing bacteria in pure culture is still one of the most widely used methods in microbiology.  These are conducted through the traditional gold standard methods used frequently for certain analytes,” says Crowley. 

Most cultural methods originate from regulatory agencies, she adds, including Food and Drug Administration, United States Department of Agriculture, Environmental Protection Agency and standard organizations like International Organization for Standardization.

“Other cultural methods include Compendial methods and those from the Standard Methods of Dairy,” Crowley explains. “While often viewed as less rapid options, these are often methods relied upon to provide confirmatory results when a presumptive result is obtained by a rapid screening method. This is often achieved using selective agar and biochemical tests specific to the target analyte.”

Selecting the best pathogen testing method
When it comes to determining which assay is best for a company, Crowley cautions against taking a one-size-fits-all approach, and to instead assess which test is best suited for individual components within the facility. 

“One method that works for one product type or user, isn’t the ideal fit for another. Some assays are better suited for one or two types of products in a manufacturing facility whereas another is better suited for high-throughput testing labs with a wide variety of test products,” she explains. “There are assays that run one test at a time or others that multiplex several targets at once. It is often that assays for environmentals are suited for that alone, but others are better suited for complex matrices like spices or chocolate.”

While the reliability and accuracy of these five highlighted assays are validated, they must be verified to truly determine if they will fit within a facility’s particular needs. According to Crowley, the best place to start is by researching the validation certificates from third-party organizations such as AOAC, AFNOR and MicroVal.  

“See what testing has been conducted and what matrices have been validated, then reach out to the method developers and inform them of your needs,” she concludes. “We are lucky to work in such a collaborative industry. Take advantage of the endless resources at your fingertips.”

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Developing effective sanitation practices requires strategy and teamwork Mon, 13 May 2019 04:03:44 +0000 Continue Reading]]> Editor’s note: This is part of a series on food safety costs for businesses. The series is sponsored by CERTUS Food Safety. This piece explores the development of effective sanitation practices. 

When developing and implementing a comprehensive sanitation program, food companies need to relentlessly look for pathogens, rather than swabbing to satisfy compliance requirements, says Food Safety Specialist Ryan Dunn of DeVere Company Inc.

“The biggest mistake I see when doing an initial audit of a food company’s sanitation program is that they are not trying to find problems,” explains Dunn. “Rather than looking for a specific pathogen, like listeria, and looking for specific pathogens in high risk areas, the company will stick to a standard set of swabs and not deviate this practice when consistently receiving negative results.”

Instead, food companies need to be approaching it with the mindset that pathogens are present – and must do everything possible to find them, prevent them from contaminating product and find a solution to mitigate any future risks. 

According to Dunn, this requires a strategic Environmental Monitoring Program (EMP) to assess the effectiveness of current sanitation practices and to gather and analyze required data to implement corrective actions. 

 “Look at it as one big defensive line. Your EMP program is always going to be paramount to knowing where your issues are and leading into those corrective actions – which is usually where things fall short. You know you have an issue and put all corrective actions through your verification process. But, how do you take your swabs, your vector swabs and follow-up? A lot of facilities have issues with closing those corrective actions now because so many of them are redundant depending on how many swabs you had,” he explains. “EMP should ensure follow-up swabs, and that high risk areas are focused on. It should also ensure additional non-routine swabs are being introduced, with results reported to the food safety team. It goes hand-in-hand with a food-safety program – serving as a blueprint of how a facility operates.”

Create an EMP team
Through his experience of working with individual companies on EMP, Dunn has found one of the most effective ways to create and execute a comprehensive program is to create a designated EMP team. This should include “owners” of specific aspects, like quality and sanitation managers, to be the driving force behind EMP practices related to their area of the operation. 

“Making sure that your team is large enough to be able to make a voice but also small enough to be able to work together as a team to where you can get things done. Depending on the size of the facility and automation, I’ve found teams are most efficient with six to 10 members,” he explains.  

While not a common practice, Dunn also advocates for EMP teams to include one outsider within the company that doesn’t specialize in food safety. 

“Get a member of the finance team or someone the front office and let them come out and help you.  I know a lot of people might not jump to that opportunity but you’d be surprised the insight you’d get from folks that are not completely blinded by the day-to-day operations. You get questions that normally other professionals in the industries won’t ask because we all assume we understand it if that makes sense,” explains Dunn. “In one company we worked with, we brought in the maintenance team leader. Typically there is friction between maintenance and sanitation. However, he had a tremendous amount of insight to offer and contributed a lot of useful outside thinking that allowed the plant to feasibly improve food safety practices.”

Zone-based swabbing
When developing an EMP, the team should look at the facilities as a whole, and perform a risk assessment over the entire plant. This will help establish pathogen testing location, time and frequency.

“An EMP team will map out the facility and look at all the risk factors. Multiple risk assessments will be conducted by your team, looking at all the areas in your plant, from where vectors are located to where employees are walking,” he says. “Everything that can pose a risk will be taken into consideration to determine swab sites.”

There are four standard sampling zones for all swab testing, based on risk. Generally, sanitation effectiveness swabs for things like aerobatic plate count are done Zone 1 and Zone 2, and EMP pathogenic testing is done in Zone 3 and Zone 4.

Zone 1: Direct product-contact surfaces like processing equipment (non-EMP)

Zone 2: Non-food contact areas closely adjacent to Zone 1 like equipment framework (non-EMP) 

Zone 3: Non-food contact surfaces not close to Zone 1 like floor wall junctions or forklift traffic patterns

Zone 4: Remote from product processing areas like employee breakrooms

Once the EMP team has established swabbing guidelines based on the risk assessment, it is paramount they be followed in conjunction with good manufacturing practices (GMP) to minimize any additional pathogen contamination risk. 

“Humans are the number one vectors and typically the biggest risk factor to a food safety compromise. Food fall is one of the main issues, with people coming in and out of different areas of a facility. Because of this, micro-mapping a facility is very beneficial to outline which areas of a plant an employee is allowed in and which areas they must avoid to prevent cross contamination,” explains Dunn. “Human error is also leading cause for failed EMPs. This has to be executed by your team – and that takes good management leading a good crew. One of the craziest things I’ve seen over the years working in plants is that a company will have a guru-quality manager that’s been in the industry for years and knows everything. They’ll know all the procedures and have a tremendously put together plan. But if every single bullet point on the plan isn’t being implemented – then the plan doesn’t really matter.” 

There is no one and done
The most important factor to a successful sanitation program is to update the EMP practices based on where issues are coming in from. 

“EMP is a complete living program that evolves and changes every month as you look at the areas you’re excelling in and the areas that need to be improved. It’s constantly changing so that your program isn’t going to become stale – It’s actually going to evolve into what you need it to be,” concludes Dunn. 

(To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety Website, click here.)

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In-house pathogen testing reduces time and cost resource Mon, 06 May 2019 04:04:27 +0000 Continue Reading]]> Editor’s note: This is the first installment of a series on food safety costs for businesses. The series is sponsored by CERTUS Food Safety. This piece explores the question: Are hidden costs eating away business profits?

When analyzing the cost required to run a profitable food processing facility, expenses like staff, equipment, and facility maintenance tend to be the most carefully examined. However, hidden costs caused by inefficient processes may be having a knock-on effect on the overall profit margin of a business.

John Bodner, PhD, Director of Product Development for CERTUS Food Safety, says there is a huge opportunity for food processing companies to save time and money by making investments into their food safety programs. According to Bodner, one of the most impactful, yet easily achieved process changes is to bring pathogen testing in-house. 

“Pathogen testing is one of the most important elements of a food business. It can also be one of the greatest contributors to hidden costs when sourced to an outside lab. Sample collection, supplies, shipping and lab fees add up very quickly,” Bodner says. “However, it’s the cost of time that is dipping into business profits the most.” 

While timing varies amongst test methods, it’s common for businesses who outsource testing to experience a delay of 48-96 hours from the start of pathogen testing to receiving results – not including the time it takes to transport samples from the producer site to the lab. This can be mitigated, explains Bodner, by bringing pathogen testing in-house. Depending on the test, there are in-house pathogen testing products on the market capable of delivering results in a span of 8-24 hours.

“The sooner the result, the sooner a plant can commence remediation at the site of the presumptive positive findings. The sooner they can conduct vector analyses to find the root source. The sooner they can resample the area based on their Pathogen Environmental Monitoring Program (PEMP) to verify the destruction of the offending organism,” he says.

“Not to mention, the sooner the result – the sooner the business can release their product. Paying for storage to maintain the product until it can be released is a hidden cost that can easily creep into a business. Getting actionable results sooner allows for less storage time and the ability to move inventory sooner.” 

Food safety is an investment
Developing an effective PEMP should be viewed as an investment instead of a cost, says Bodner. Food companies should take a comprehensive approach, selecting the most capable personnel to contribute to HACCP, GFSI and lab personnel teams. This should also include evaluating the need for laboratory equipment and a cost-benefit analysis of using a third-party lab.

“Food producers need to make the investment to protect consumers and their brand. Brand reputation is significant in any business, but in the food industry it takes on added importance given the products’ potential to negatively impact human health,” concludes Bodner. “Beyond damage to the brand, there are legal and financial consequences. Investments must be made to mitigate risk and expedite business to provide customers with a safe product.” 

CERTUS Live Demos at Food Safety Summit
Rosemont, IL | May 7-9 | Booth 613

(To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety Website, click here.)

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Easing the growing pains of going digital with food safety records Tue, 10 Jul 2018 04:32:50 +0000 Continue Reading]]> Editor’s note: This is the fourth installment of a four-part series on electronic record keeping enhancing companies’ food safety efforts. The series is sponsored by PAR Technologies.  

It’s not a matter of “if” but “when” digital platforms will be required for food safety records, says Matthew Botos, CEO of food safety software company ConnectFood.Com. While the industry still primarily operates with paper-based records, there is a lot to be gained by being ahead of the curve in adapting more efficient and accurate practices.

“Companies must keep records of their daily processes for up to two years according to State and Federal regulations. Given the requirement to maintain records, it is time the food industry embraces that change with digital records due to several advantages,” he explains.

“Such as: real time access to product and facility information and the ability to detect problems prior to their occurrence, automated corrective action workflows, accurate electronic signatures and stamps, and a searchable database of record history. Knowing in the moment what is happening in your facility through a digital record alert system will save money and make a company more efficient.”

Premal Bhatt, QA and Food Safety SME, agrees, adding it is imperative food companies make food safety part of their mission statements, investing in the best systems to achieve this. 

“Due to recent public health scares resulted primarily from broken supply chain system In the Food industry, there is urgency to go digital to maintain corporation brand name and avoid damage to company’s bottom line,” he adds. 

Finding the right platform
While there are multiple food safety data management software programs on the market, when it comes to selecting which one is best, accessibility, accuracy and efficiency should be top priorities, says Botos. 

“First and foremost, food safety is about a company embracing a culture of best practices. I frequently tell companies that they need a system that provides appropriate data and that works for their facility and processes,” explains Botos.

“A company should spend time analyzing what services they need: which logs are required, which records need to be managed, a way to tell the company’s story. You must be comfortable accessing the data you will collect. In the case of an inspection, audit, or product recall, the records you keep could make or break the future of the company.” 

According to him, it’s also essential for digital record keeping software to be fully adopted and supported by all team members responsible for using it in order to be effective. 

“Software is part art, and value is sometimes based on perception. If your team finds a solution they all see as valuable, then everyone has to get behind it and make the transition in the organization’s culture,” Botos adds. 

Invest in infrastructure and training
Before companies break up with paper and go digital, they must take a step back and make any necessary structural investments and have a plan to adequately train employees. 

“The transition from paper to digital record keeping will be a culture change more than anything,” explains Botos. “Before companies focus on button clicks to enter log data, they have to step back and make all the structural investments first.” 

At the bare minimum, these investments include good internet access in and around critical facility areas, cohesive hardware such as tablets, an in-house or out-sourced technology support team and personnel training.

“Any time an organization switches to a new platform or installs a new piece of equipment, training is paramount. It is no different than installing a new retort system, a new oven, or moving from pasteurization to aseptics – training is the key to success,” adds Botos. “Proper investment in gaining technological efficiencies does take up-front investment, but the switch to digital record keeping will eventually save time and money on the factory floor, not to mention easily analyzing data will help make manufacturing run smoother and provide a safer food supply.”

Start simple and start now
According to both Bhatt and Botos, the industry’s transition from paper-based records to digital will be gradual. 

“The transition will initially happen gradually since research and innovations in are constantly happening to achieve the most efficient digital system. Additionally, stakeholder’s participation and government policy making is slowly catching up on this aspect of doing business,” explains Bhatt. “Later on, the transition will happen rapidly.”

For companies looking to stay ahead of the curve and take advantage of digital benefits, Botos recommends to start simple and to start now.  For those who are hesitant to make the transition, he suggests using pilot trials for different technology systems to fully see the potential advantages that can be accomplished. 

“Change is always a little awkward, but if you take it slowly and investigate what works for your team and your facility, you will find a day-to-day process that works for everyone. You’ll never know what works for your company if you don’t make the effort to try. Remember, this is the future, and being ahead of the curve will be in your best interest,” concludes Botos. “Paperless record keeping is coming. It is a brave new world and from large companies to small companies there are solutions that exist. Food safety is so important and the better records we have and the more data associated with these records will only make for a safer food supply.”  

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Now that you’ve got the data, what are you going to do with it? Mon, 02 Jul 2018 04:00:09 +0000 Continue Reading]]> Editor’s note: This is the third installment of a four-part series on how companies can use electronic record keeping to enhance food safety efforts. The series is sponsored by PAR Technologies.    

As companies transition from paper-based food safety records to digital platforms, managing the increased amount of data can become challenging, especially when passing it up and down the supply chain in a usable format. 

To view a larger version of this graphic, please click on the image.

“The challenges cut across sectors and actors: There are too many systems with too many formats,” says Drew Zabrocki, CEO of software and application programming interface company Centricity Global. “A majority of resources are spent on duplication of efforts and pushing paper – digital or otherwise – instead of making a meaningful impact on food safety, sustainability or social mindfulness.”

Along with the extensive time and money resource it takes to channel multiple data collection platforms into one usable source, the issue of who owns the data and how it is shared between supply chains then comes into action.

  • How much should data be shared between supply chain partners? 
  • How are supply chain partners notified when updates are made to shared data? 
  • How does this shared data become revalidated back into different systems? 
  • If there is a food safety compromise that happened because shared data wasn’t fully analyzed, who is liable? 

According to Zabrocki, these are just a few of the many significant questions that led to the development of Trellis Framework, a collaborative brainchild between the Produce Marketing Association, Purdue University’s Open Ag Technology & Systems Group and a few select industry partners including, Centricity Global. 

At first look, one of the most unique components of Trellis Framework is that it’s a decentralized open source – meaning it belongs to no one and is free to use, with data being owned and controlled by its original source. However, one of its biggest benefits is the ability to translate data from multiple platforms into one universal language and source. 

“If you are a seller of products, you may have to put your data into five or ten different systems. For example, if you want to do business with Walmart, Wholefoods in the US and Tesco in the UK, you have to import your data into each of their very different systems,” Zabrocki explains. “Companies are having to manage all this data, which is typically not well organized in PDFs and spreadsheets, and are spending a lot of time resource shuffling paperwork around instead of analyzing the data that is available to them. 

However, Trellis Framework can bring all the software together so that people don’t have to keep re-keying data. Most importantly, it removes the middle-man collecting fees for simply hosting the information of others.” 

Making a smart transition
When it comes to finding the right provider to work with when utilizing digital records, Zabrocki urges companies to be diligent in finer details that may have a huge impact on their future business. 

“In this digital age, if you don’t own exclusive rights to your data, you’ve already lost. Read the fine print and ask the questions of who owns the data, and who all owns your data,” he explains. “And remember, you don’t need to go it alone – there are multiple resources and people to help you.” 

(To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety Website, click here.)

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Digital records bring greater food safety, management benefits Mon, 25 Jun 2018 04:01:24 +0000 Continue Reading]]> Editor’s note: This is the second installment of a four-part series on how companies can use electronic record keeping to enhance food safety efforts. The series is sponsored by PAR Technologies.  

“Today’s food supply chains have an inherent weakness: individual parties are using disparate digital systems, different technologies, and paper-based processes to bridge the gaps,” says Premal Bhatt, QA and Food Safety SME. For the last 15 years, Bhatt has worked to establish global food safety and quality standards. 

The food industry’s tendency to operate in silos instead of a “single end-to-end view of the food delivery prevail” has created costly delays in handling food safety issues, explains Bhatt. However, there is a promising remedy made available with digital record keeping: Blockchain.  

“Blockchain is a digital computer networking technology that creates a complete, immutable record of transactions that have been made, and shares it in real time among all participants in a network,” he says. “It provides impressive advantages such as transparency, immutability, traceability, better management of product shelf-life, and rapid determination of the cause of a foodborne illness outbreak or food fraud.” 

Th recent foodborne illness outbreak caused by romaine lettuce being contaminated with E. coli 0157:H7 greatly magnified traceability issues within the current fragmented food safety record keeping systems, says Bhatt. 

In a piece by Steve Suppan, senior policy analyst at the Institute for Agriculture & Trade Policy, he explained the experiment conducted by Walmart and IBM to trace a package of sliced mangoes to their source. While Walmart’s traditional trackback time took almost seven days (six days, 18 hours and 26 minutes), the digital program was able to whittle it down to 2.2 seconds. 

“The Blockchain-connected sensors can locate and communicate the source of contaminated produce far more quickly than traditional traceback communication, and well within the 21 days of the harvest to wholesale processing to retail to consumption cycle,” explains Suppan. “Reducing the time for identification of the source of food borne illness will not only protect more consumers, but increase the brand value and reduce the reputation risk that comes with being identified after the fact of contamination as a site of foodborne illness.”

Real-time data has multiple benefits
Along with improved traceability, digital records bring various business advantages. Greg Sommerville, founder of Global Supplier Verification, says real-time data that is assessable anytime, anywhere is one of the biggest benefits. 

“Technology is going mobile so records and production can be monitored remotely. Employees can log in from anywhere and see what is happening at that time. Storing items in the cloud with a strong security brief is key in ensuring everyone the companies that wants to have access does,” says Sommerville. “Cloud storage allows a digitally connected supply chain where partners within the supply chain have access to relevant records for themselves, verifying practices and ensuring requirements are met.” 

According to Sommerville, digital technology is also beneficial in keeping in compliance with food safety plans through automated sampling to ensure correct samples are taken off the line at the right time and right amount. 

“Sensors in equipment are being used as early warning indicators for machinery or to keep critical limits in place,” he explains. “The sensors can record on a continual basis with notifications to responsible persons if the system starts to fail.”

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Break up with paper; commit to digital; embrace food safety Mon, 18 Jun 2018 04:00:55 +0000 Continue Reading]]> Editor’s note: This is the first installment of a four-part series on electronic record keeping to enhance companies’ food safety efforts. The series is sponsored by PAR Technologies. 

Whether it be for improved business management, safeguarding against food safety compromises or ticking all the boxes to keep the FDA at bay, record keeping is the backbone to a food company keeping the lights on and remaining in operation.

Paper is still the norm… for now
According to Matthew Botos, CEO of food safety software company ConnectFood, although paper-based records are still standard within the food industry, there has been a “slow but steady movement” to digital platforms. 

“The food manufacturing industry is one of the oldest verticals. Once populations started growing and products were shipped over longer distances, there was a need for more regiment to how we told the story of why our products are safe. The food safety instructor’s mantra is: ‘if you have not documented it, you have not done it,’” explains Botos.

“Paper was the natural way to record times, temperatures, and other metrics that show a company is delivering a safe food product. It has always seemed to be the easiest medium to scribble notes of the product onto and sign off quickly. Given the age of the food industry, we find it’s only now starting to think about investments in technology.”

Digital antidotes for headaches
To stay in compliance with the Food Safety Modernization Act, a company must be able to turn over at least two years of its food safety records to the FDA upon request. This is to prove activities such as monitoring and verification within a food safety plan have properly occurred. On condition that records are legible and organized, the FDA will accept them in digital or paper formats. According to Botos, the ability to search for specific information with ease and identify patterns makes digital a more efficient system.

“Think about finger printing – comparing old paper records to data taken from a crime scene was so much more difficult prior to having digital records that can be searched and produced in seconds,” he explains.

“It is the same concept with digital recordkeeping: we will now be able to produce reports and adjust manufacturing on the fly to have a safer and more secure food supply. Digital records are the future of food safety documentation because they are quicker, more accurate, and more efficiently searched in the case of an inspection.”

While keeping track of years’ worth of records to hand over to FDA inspectors in a timely manner comes with its own unique challenges when navigating paper-based filing systems, it also limits accessibility. This is one area food companies find digital records stored on the cloud much more beneficial.  

“At the end of every day you can use technology to automatically review your manufacturing reports to make sure that everything was within tolerances,” adds Botos. “You will be able to easily compare lot codes to times of manufacturing and be able to compare many data points such as flavours, pH levels, times, temperatures, and many other factors to assure product safety and quality.”

Paper does have its uses
Before buying a shredder and going completely paperless, companies need to recognize the benefits of utilizing paper records in conjunction with digital, advises Donna Kristine Manley, president of Food Safety Advisor. Manley is a food safety auditor and consultant with a specialty in records management. 

“In my experience, both hard copy and electronic records are good to have. I don’t believe in just having all electronic records because of computer problems, i.e., computer crashes,” explains Manley. According to her, paper records are especially useful when reviewing temperature logs. “You can always recognize through hand writing who documented temperatures and there is more accountability.”

Making the transition
One of the reasons the movement to digital records has been steady is due an unwillingness to step out of comfort zones, concludes Botos.

“There are several reasons for this hesitation from food companies. The first being that once you are comfortable with a certain way of doing things, it is often difficult to transition to a new way of doing them. What is tried and true is what you innately want to stick with,” says Botos.

“Who would have thought that texting would be such a powerful tool twenty years ago?  Digital record keeping is a similar trend that I am confident will take over. We all carry small, powerful data recorders and super computers on our person every minute of every day. I guarantee you that we will continue to increase their use in recordkeeping.”

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