There’s a well-known cliche that says, “Information is power.” It’s a wise saying – one that’s certainly proven to be true in the areas of food safety and quality. But the interesting thing about information is that it’s both infinite and ever-changing. What the age-old adage doesn’t clearly communicate is that information is only as powerful as the processes and tools used to harness it.
The power that comes from information, particularly with regard to your environmental monitoring program, requires a comprehensive means of collecting, accessing, combining, sorting, and filtering that information for meaningful analysis. It is not the information itself, but rather the insight derived from that information that enables you to improve operational efficiency and achieve more successful food safety outcomes.
The Power of EMP Information
Food manufacturing and processing organizations are required to comply with specific mandates for environmental monitoring in order to verify their Sanitation Controls. In most cases, companies are doing what they must to meet these obligations. Few, however, are leveraging automation and digitization to derive maximum value from their efforts.
Environmental monitoring technology is any type of technological solution that supports compliance with environmental monitoring regulations. The benefits of automation come not just from using software to manage each one of those EMP aspects, but also from combining and analyzing the data to assist decision-making.
Far too much environmental monitoring data is not digitized today. And when you get right down to it, the REAL benefit of automating any aspect of your EMP is the digital transformation of the data itself so that it can be analyzed, filtered, sorted, and combined with other data sources.
Think about the different types of testing your organization employs for monitoring pathogens, allergens, contaminants, quality measures and sanitation practices. With an automated solution for managing the information from those testing efforts, you could begin to identify some critical cause-and-effect relationships. With an EMP that is not digitized, however, those data correlations are relatively difficult to identify.
Unfortunately, the majority of food companies today are operating without the value of technology-driven information and analysis. They may be adhering to regulation on how testing should be performed or sanitation should be carried out, but they are not recognizing the potential impact of that testing by looking at the data, making comparisons and drawing valuable insight from what’s there. Only the most forward-looking, advanced organizations are doing that. And they’re the ones that are deriving maximum value from their EMP.
The Burden of Wasted Resources
Many food and beverage companies spend a great deal of time and money hiring microbiologists to staff their food safety teams. These are highly trained scientists with in-demand skills and know-how such as microbiologists and chemists.
All too often, though, they become consumed by the tedious tasks of manually collecting and recording data, individually constructing and populating analysis spreadsheets, printing out and collating reports for storage in physical three-ring binders and hauling out this information for auditors. This is a major waste of talent, for both the scientists themselves and the organization at large.
The less time these valuable, highly-paid team members spend performing mundane data management duties, the MORE time they can spend pinpointing trends and uncovering the root causes of failures, and initiating true improvement in the performance of food safety.
If they had the means to free up their time physically managing data, they could use those hours working in analysis platforms to understand where the problems are occurring and how to shift the EMP accordingly. Ultimately, that’s how the company can spend their money most wisely to protect the consumer and the brand. But that’s only possible when you embrace technology to automate testing programs and data management.
Jeremy Leavitt, the Safety and Compliance Director at Borton Fruit experienced firsthand the shift from being inundated with EMP binders and paperwork to freeing up valuable time with automated processes and environmental monitoring software. Before the shift, his team was spending approximately 40-60 hours a week managing their testing programs. With the efficiency of the software, they’ve been able to cut that time down to 20-30 hours a week (a 50% reduction!). To understand just how vastly this transformation impacted Borton Fruit’s entire food safety effort, hear about the change from Jeremy himself.
4 Steps to Technology-Driven Change
These facts and stories show the magnitude of value that can be achieved from modernizing your EMP and data management approach. So, how can you start to make the transformation? What’s required to begin putting the wheels in motion for your operation? It comes down to the following four steps.
Step 1: Understand Your EMP
The only way to successfully digitize your program is to first have a clear, comprehensive program in place. Are your EMP policies fully fleshed out and documented? You’ll need written documentation detailing your systematic approach to monitoring the food environment during all phases, including manufacturing, processing, packing, holding, and transporting.
Step 2: Identify Your Points of Data Collection
This is the stage at which you pinpoint all of your sources of information by determining where data collection is happening (or needs to happen). Then, all along this chain, identify where workflow automation can take the data management process out of human hands.
Because let’s face it, humans are fallible. We will err. And even one simple penmanship misread could spiral into a major food safety misstep. Consider how the number seven written on a testing label, then incorrectly read as a nine, could end up indicating the wrong test location or revealing a false result. At best, this type of mistake contributes to serious inefficiency, as corrections must be made. At worst, it could jeopardize the overall safety and quality of your products.
Next, figure out where there are opportunities to digitize and leverage that data for optimal value. Take, for instance the adenosine triphosphate (ATP) testing, which has been moving in-house for many companies. Facilities are using a kit to garner immediate readings on bacteria markers. How can the data from those readings provide more value than just the instantaneous positive or negative? When collected over time and run through analysis software, you’d have the means to see trends and hotspots.
Maybe the data shows you need to clean or replace a particular machine. Big capital expense items like that are hard to justify when you don’t have the data to back them up. Digitization hands you that data on a silver platter so you can make the necessary adjustments and avoid much more costly expenses (like those incurred during and after a recall).
Step 3: Develop a Strategy to Standardize and Centralize
Especially if you’re managing more than one site or facility, it is paramount to know that you’re ensuring standardized data collection processes across the board. A proper EMP solution should be able to ingest data from ANY type of collection device, process or service, store that information in a centralized place and provide access to those who need it, when they need it.
Step 4: Formulate a Set of Meaningful Analysis
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach for analyzing data because every company is different. It all depends on the specifics of your particular products. Unravel this reality for your organization by first asking: What are we trying to analyze? It all starts with a hypothesis.
Any analysis is really research using data, and you have the responsibility of proving or disproving that hypothesis using data (NOT intuition, opinion or bias), and then repeating the process to ensure a verifiable outcome rather than a one-time anomaly. THIS is what the microbiologists on your staff should be doing to reduce risk. THIS is what you’re paying them for. Make sure you’re giving them the time and the tools to do that for you.
Now’s the time to modernize your environmental monitoring program by supporting it with valuable automation and software. Begin today by first implementing a strong approach to your EMP. Download this free checklist to ensure you’re taking all the right food safety measures.