“We recognize that it’s time to look to the future of food safety once again, with a view that builds on the progress we’re making with our regulatory framework, but also leverages the use of new and emerging technologies to create a more digital, traceable and safer system,” reads a newly released statement from Acting FDA Commissioner Ned Sharpless, M.D., and Deputy Commissioner Frank Yiannas on steps to usher the U.S. into a new era of smarter food safety.
The announcement introduces the FDA’s plans to develop a “blueprint” intended to further modernize and evolve the country’s approach to food safety.
Why the need for a greater push in this area? Technology is advancing at an unprecedented rate, elevating everyday processes and activities to new heights in terms of effectiveness and efficiency. Yet, companies in the food and beverage industry have been much slower to embrace these advancements than other industries out there. Concerned about the expense and implementation impacts that introducing new technologies might have on their operations, many have clung to their traditional, outdated methods, which pose major risks to the success of their food safety programs.
Given that the CDC reports an annual U.S. tally of 48 million people getting sick from foodborne illnesses – including 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths – the option for manufacturers to take a pass on necessary food safety technologies is no longer a viable option. The truth is any risk to public health is a risk to food and beverage companies’ brand and bottom line. A recent report from Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty indicates that “product-related risk is one of the biggest perils businesses face today.” The data reveals that the average costs of a recall in the food and beverage industry can exceed $9.42 million, with the possibility of total losses from individual events far surpassing this figure. Lapses in food safety are both dangerous and costly.
That’s why technology has become so valued in this arena – and why the government is prioritizing technological advancements and implementations in its approach to fortifying the safety of the country’s food supply. On the heels of the FDA’s announcement, and in the interest of educating affected companies on the importance of this effort, we’re highlighting some of the most valuable and necessary food safety technologies in the industry.
Digitized Food Safety Auditing
Food safety and QA managers have long been mired in pen-and-paper approaches to auditing. Even computerized spreadsheets require time-consuming (and therefore expensive) efforts to collect data, maintain logs and report on outcomes. These methods leave far too much room for human error, inaccuracies, and inefficiencies that pose dangerous risks to both the fulfillment of compliance regulations and the overall safety of the company’s products. As regulations evolve, audit requirements mount and food safety recalls incur more damaging costs, the responsibility of ensuring audit readiness becomes increasingly stressful and unmanageable for managers who continue to rely on outdated, manual processes.
Today, software is available to digitize the entire internal auditing and external audit preparation functions. By embracing a digital solution, you can optimize your program with critical advantages like:
- Highly efficient documentation and archival
- Unification and standardization across departments
- Dynamic and streamlined reporting capabilities
- Automatic scheduling and monitoring properties
- Holistic plant visualization
- Customized and detailed workflows
- Functional checklists for change management
Accessing, framing, formatting and producing food safety information is fast and hassle-free when you’re equipped with a smart, cloud-based, industry-centered management software. All of the checkpoints and deliverables you need are at your fingertips, stored in one centralized database and accessible in a short amount of time.
Application of Blockchain
The concept of blockchain did not emerge for specific use in the food safety field. In fact, it was originally developed as a data technology that gave birth to cryptocurrency (what many know more specifically as Bitcoin). Over time, however, the technology has been applied to address data needs in other industries, including the food and beverage sector.
According to the Institute of Food Technologists, “Blockchain has the potential for disparate parts of the food supply chain to input data into a shared ledger that reaches both ends of the market, from producer to consumer.” And in April, a Swiss food technology firm introduced two blockchain-related food safety technologies: one aimed at reducing microbial contamination in dry goods, and the other serving as a scale system that self-optimizes and produces a constant flow of production data.
Of course, there are still kinks to work out. Blockchain is predicted to reach its optimal productivity within the next decade, and food producers don’t necessarily have a decade to wait on the technology to catch up with their needs. In the interim, the automation and integration of food systems can help manufacturers document food safety and compliance, creating transparency by tracking a product’s journey from the farm to consumers.
Food safety automation is no longer a luxury, but rather a necessity to protect your brand, and here are some of the most glaring reasons why:
Process Improvement: All departments, functions, schedules, and data must be tightly managed in order to overcome food safety challenges and reputational risks. Automated controls and workflow management software equip your organization to strengthen communication; collect, assess and report on critical data; manage testing schedules; prepare for audits and respond quickly when corrective actions are warranted.
Organization-Wide Involvement: The responsibility of food safety should be a wholly shared one, from top-level stakeholders to maintenance, QA and the lab. A fully automated system enables you to empower each department to gain a strong understanding of food safety and take part in risk management. It provides easy access to an organized database of policies, workflows, and reporting, as well as a way to seamlessly exchange information and features to support scheduling, standardization and compliance.
Control and Visibility: When it comes to ensuring quality and safety, a lack of control or visibility can cause major problems. With automated software, you’re able to detect and control all aspects from personnel cleanliness and hygiene to equipment sanitation protocols, temperature requirements, chemical reactions, ingredient mixing and package storage. For every component of your quality and safety plan, there must be a verification process, documentation, evaluation, reporting and more. Without the control and visibility that automation provides, your efforts to meet these needs become less effective.
Artificial Intelligence (AI)
“AI makes it possible for computers to learn from experience, analyze data from both inputs and outputs, and perform most human tasks with an enhanced degree of precision and efficiency,” explains Food Quality & Safety. Here’s what the publication says are some of the valuable ways in which AI is augmenting food safety and quality initiatives:
- Monitoring: “Sensors not only monitor temperature, humidity, pressure, and time, but they also record data, highlight areas of improvements, and in some cases, make critical decisions to ensure the safety of the products is not compromised … Other monitoring techniques include utilizing spectroscopy, lasers, X-rays, or cameras to examine both intrinsic and extrinsic characteristics of produce from harvest to packaging. This is a huge leap from conventional sorting systems that separate what is programmed as ‘acceptable’ from the ‘rejected’ lot, to almost intuitively making decisions based on best yield by sorting products based on their optimized use.”
- Traceability: “Today, executing strategic safety interventions in the event of a recall relies heavily on utilizing the least amount of time possible to gather data, interpret the findings, validate them, and share the results. AI systems have made it possible to compare historical data and predict certain events across multiple timelines from different regions.”
- Sanitation: “Clean-in-place (CIP) systems are programmed to clean equipment in timed cycles. The advantage of operating a self-cleaning unit is that it limits human intervention, which in turn, limits the chances of cross-contamination from foodborne pathogens.”
The truth is protecting consumers from the plethora of biological, chemical and physical hazards that can lead to foodborne illness and other health issues is an ever-evolving undertaking.
Innovative technology continues to advance food safety strategies and facilitate regulatory compliance across the supply chain. Maintaining the status quo is no longer an option. As information and technology progress, so must your efforts to integrate these advancements and make every effort to protect the consumer AND your brand.
To get a closer look at the cloud-based, comprehensive food intelligence platform that helps minimize risk, prevent recalls and streamline operations, download your free CONTROL-PRO guide now.