Data Management for Food Manufacturers: Digital De-Silo-ing

As a producer of food products, you understand that food quality and safety data is both critical and sensitive. But what some manufacturers often lose sight of is the fact that it’s also owned by YOU. This may sound patently obvious, but it is virtually certain that you as an organization are not EMPOWERED to access, aggregate, analyze and act on YOUR data!

Try this thought experiment: how long would it take to get an answer to the question “what is my incidence rate of positives trended against 1st-clear sanitation performance for the past 9 business days?”  I guarantee you you’ll find your data is walled off from easy access while surrounded by a digital moat. There are historical reasons that organizations such as 3rd party service labs provide your data in very specific formats (Certificates of Analysis etc…): it is both necessary for some aspects of your business to have these forms of output, and they are legally required if for example a lab is ISO certified.  All that is well and good, but does NOT solve for the problem of enabling you to mine ALL of your own data in order to take action to improve the safety and quality of your product!

Whether you rely on an internal lab team or outsource to various other testing partners, it’s necessary to maintain control over all of your food safety and quality data. Ask yourself: Do you have comprehensive access to your historical data? And if your company changed lab service partners, would you still be able to access and leverage it? It’s time to educate yourself on the importance of breaking down silos, digital and analog.

Here’s what you need to know.

The Dangers of Forced Data Siloing

For any food manufacturer to be compliant and successful over the long term, they must be able to make smart decisions about food safety and quality, implement immediate and effective corrective actions, adhere to strong food safety plans, and evolving regulatory mandates while continuously improving processes and operations to minimize the risk of costly, brand-damaging recalls! To deliver against this obligation and commitment to produce safe and high-quality food, your team and you critically need all the right data and analysis at your fingertips!.

You may not have realized it, but your lab services configuration impacts your company’s ability to maintain solid and current food safety and quality data as well as to access that data quickly and use it to improve manufacturing conditions. If lab test results are controlled by one outsourced lab, this information can be in jeopardy of becoming “locked-up” and may be used as a negotiating tool in future lab service negotiations. Conversely if you mix and match your lab services, you have to manually aggregate and normalize your data before you can do anything with it.  All of this is on top of incurring the cognitive load of staying on top of the service provider to return data to you! Remember, this is YOUR data, and regardless of your decisions to outsource your lab services, or to whom you award the outsourced business, you should always retain access to and full use of your test result data.

The Customer-to-Lab Relationship

Fortunately, data “lock-up” does not have to be a reality for your operation. To understand this concept more completely, let’s examine the four basic ways a food manufacturing company can configure its lab services relationship. We will focus on the first three in this discussion:

  1. Internal: Your facilities use internal lab services exclusively
  2. 1 to 1: Every facility sends its testing samples/data to one laboratory organization
  3. 1 to Many: Your facilities send testing samples/data to multiple  laboratory organization
  4. Hybrid: Your  facilities use a mix of external and internal lab services

Depending on the type of customer-to-lab relationship your company employs, there are likely to be nuances unique to that scenario, but the challenge of overcoming data lock-up  remains the same. That’s why it’s paramount to define a data management strategy and solution for:

  • Future-proofing food safety and quality data access, retrieval and reporting regardless of your lab services strategy
  • Managing  access rights to certain individuals, departments, facilities and partners
  • Collecting and returning  testing data in a uniform, templated way, regardless of the providing source
  • Automating critical notifications and alerts related to testing outcomes, so you can take immediate action
  • Ensuring data can be used to inform other operational areas of the business

Lab-Agnostic Data Management – Questions You Should Be Asking

However you choose to process your food safety testing data, the key is to leverage an effective solution for preserving that data, its accessibility and its potential to reduce risk. To dig deeper into the concept of food safety data management and uncover the realities associated with your choice of software solution, consider the following questions you should be asking your food safety software provider:

Core Competency

The interoperability and scalability of your data management solution is deeply embedded in who owns the food safety and quality software product.

  • Is the software the core offering of a company, or is it a side business?
  • What is the responsiveness to feature requests?
  • What restrictions are tied to recovering (your) data?
  • Can the data be easily (re-)integrated into your business systems?
  • What’s the level of technical customer service that is available?
  • What online training resources are available?

Security and Safety

Whenever critical data related to your contamination prevention and compliance efforts is collected, stored and managed, ensuring the security and safety of that data is vital.

  • Where is the data being hosted for a non-native software organization: on premise or in the cloud?
  • What security practices are implemented (e.g., audits and penetration testing)?
    • Are they automated or conducted manually?
    • What is the frequency of security tests and audits?

Third-Party Service Provider Interoperability and Future-Proofing

Don’t overlook the importance of ensuring that your solution can be easily integrated with other systems, as well as preventing the potential loss of data if you decide to change your lab services provider in the future.

  • Does the solution integrate with other software solutions utilized for essential operational functions and roles (e.g., food safety workflow managers and QA managers)?
  • If you change lab providers, will your data be exportable in a usable form?
    • In what format?
    • What if they upgrade their own systems and do not maintain backwards compatibility?
  • How far back will the data be available (so as to use it to identify trends and “pre-recall conditions”)?
  • Does the current lab services provider offer data integration with other lab services in order to allow data access regardless of the mix of service providers?

It’s YOUR Food Safety Data

YOUR food safety data must be accessible no matter what. Regardless of what lab service provider you use or how many, and despite whether you decide to change lab service providers at any given time or add a new one, do not allow your data to be locked into a proprietary system. Doing so increases your company’s risk of having its food safety data restricted from full access and analysis.

Think of it this way: Instead of doing all of your grocery shopping at just one store, you sometimes go to different places because they specialize in certain items, like meat or produce. Over time, a store that once offered high-quality produce might fall behind other stores in this category, which prompts you to make a switch and ensure you’re getting the best products for you and your family.

Now, what would happen if a grocery store told you that in order to shop there, you’d have to do so exclusively and give them all of the money you intend to spend in the next several years … or forever? No matter how good their product is today, you’re not likely to make that kind of absurd commitment.

The same lens should be applied to your lab services provider if they ask you to put all of your testing data into their proprietary EMP workflow software solution. What will you do when you decide to in-source your lab, or to choose a new outsource provider that offers better service? Or a better price? Will you be able to get your data transferred, retaining its full history and value? It is YOUR data after all.

All of this points to one fundamental piece of advice: It’s far better to work with a software  solution provider that is decoupled from any potential “data silo” scenario . This is the only way to make sure you have complete control over, access to and transparency with your own food safety data.

For example, Corvium’s industry-leading CONTROL-PRO empowers you to:

  • Access and recover your data without any restrictions, from a central, secure  repository, connecting to as many lab service providers as you like.
  • Combine food safety test results from multiple sites to obtain a complete picture of your food safety risk
  • Conduct discovery activities that interact with your data set in real time, including complete drill-down and drill-through functionality
  • Investigate trends and outlier results to immediately take action before problems cause shutdowns, poor audit results or recalls
  • Visualize all facilities in never before available detail, with all of your data at your fingertips!
  • Easily generate schedules that support your company’s preventive controls activities, such as the environmental testing plan
  • Manage your corrective actions including automatic re-test scheduling and close outs
  • Resolve technical issues quickly via the dedicated Customer Success Team

To learn more about how the scheduling, monitoring and reporting of your environmental testing can be automated through a cloud-based, comprehensive solution that liberates your data and reduces your brand risk, download your free guide now.

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