As you work to stay informed on the latest updates in food safety, you may have encountered the term “food intelligence platform” and made some assumptions about its meaning. There are a number of misconceptions surrounding software platforms in the food safety arena, which can lead to misinformed decisions about what type of solution is best for your operation. To support you in addressing this challenge, we’re taking time to debunk myths about food intelligence platforms and explain the fundamental differences between a laboratory information management system (LIMS) and food safety software.
What is a laboratory information management system (LIMS)?
Data has become more integral to the implementation of effective recall prevention and food safety plans than ever before, with traceability emerging as a crucial theme. As the global supply chain becomes more complex and regulatory bodies enforce stricter compliance standards, there’s a vital need for food companies to collect, store, analyze and report on increasingly copious amounts of data from many different sources.
A laboratory information management system, or LIMS, is a solution that supports this need by automating food safety and quality testing data via a centralized software system. It enables food safety, QA and lab teams to monitor batch relationships between raw materials, processed materials and packaged goods, and ensure that all testing samples are properly managed and processed. A LIMS serves to make laboratory data readily available to the necessary departments and individuals so they can leverage the information to identify and address hazards.
What is food safety software?
Today, it’s necessary for your entire plant structure to be focused on meeting food safety regulations and consumer standards. Otherwise, you’re vulnerable to experiencing serious noncompliance penalties, costly recalls and reputational risk. As a result, data management and analysis have become highly critical for food and beverage manufacturers, and adoption of a laboratory information management system is a common solution. A LIMS, however, addresses only a fraction of the much larger and more complicated issue.
Food safety software fills the remaining gaps by supporting full visibility across your facilities, departments and supply chain. It features the kind of proactive tools that generate schedules for your company’s environmental testing plan, improve communication and compliance throughout the organization, accelerate reaction time to non-conformances, lend real visibility to trends and hotspots across all of your plants and streamline the many components of audit preparation.
How does food safety software exceed the capabilities of a LIMS?
Here’s a more distinct breakdown of the critical areas where food safety software surpasses a LIMS in terms of supporting comprehensive food intelligence, automation and insight.
FSMA has transformed the industry, urging manufacturing companies to shift their food safety programs based on more preventive approaches. The focus on modernization has led many organizations to employ a technological solution that fosters deep visibility into their operations. To adopt the necessary preventive measures for monitoring, corrective action and verification, your team must be able to see the entire facility in a way that clearly illustrates the status of these elements.
Only a solution designed specifically for real-time tracking, organization and accessibility of food safety data can support a proper level of visibility. Unlike proactive food safety software, a LIMS does not inherently feature the ability to highlight color-coded test points on your plant’s floor so you can visually evaluate the current conditions in one glance. An intelligent food safety software like CONTROL-PRO even has a dynamic slider that lets you travel to a specific period of time and view only the results during that period. This enables insight before and after certain events, allows comparisons of seasons and may help you track down the harborage source.
A strong environmental testing program requires the ability to select appropriate sampling points and test them on a regular basis. To accomplish this, it’s essential to construct schedules using your business rules and best practices, focusing on components like:
- Zone coverage
- Sampling order
A LIMS does not have the capability to generate schedules that support your company’s environmental testing plan. Only a food safety solution with the means to enable testing schedule randomization can ensure the kind of optimal testing point coverage to meet stringent regulatory standards.
You must be able to add test points from multiple zones or areas of the plant in a randomized fashion. To make this easier, opt for a food safety software that allows you to build a schedule “scenario” based on your business rules so that it can be used over and over again. Saved scenarios make the process of building recurring schedules much more efficient and effective.
TEST DATA MANAGEMENT
In the world of food safety, quality assurance and compliance, documentation is everything. If you’re not able to show proof of your efforts to maintain a compliant food safety plan, it’s as if you never took those actions at all. It’s crucial to have a system in place to verify that you are constantly performing preventive controls and that they remain effective. And if you end up on the receiving end of an FDA audit, you’ll need to provide documentation for several aspects of your food safety plan, including your routine testing results and investigative testing results.
The best way to accomplish this is by having it all digitally stored in a centralized food safety software database that can organize and produce the required materials in less than 24 hours. With all of your testing data aggregated in one spot, you can filter and print answers for any audit in mere minutes, as opposed to hours or days. Documentation that’s stored and accessible in a pinch puts your operation in a better position to meet FSMA requirements and avoid recalls.
Any and all corrective actions or data points that go undocumented or unseen can cause major food safety complications down the road. Without complete visibility and the dynamic management controls of an intelligent food safety software, your company is not optimally equipped to meet compliance standards and minimize the risk of food safety liabilities.
Unfortunately, a LIMS does not set up workflows and automatically notify stakeholders of corrective action events based on your own internal policies. It won’t allow for each step in the process to be recorded and time-stamped as a corrective action moves toward completion. Food safety software leverages features that enable this level of transparency and management.
Think of what you could accomplish in terms of profitability if you had the advantage of robust tools that generate industry-standard and customized reports, enable you to review results in the floor plan to see patterns or gaps, use a comprehensive filtering engine to segment your data and help you compare results between different plants, for different programs, at any point in time. These are not capabilities that a LIMS is apt to offer.
The food safety decisions, actions and plans that unfold within your business are only as constructive as the reporting and analysis upon which they are based. With the right food safety software, you can manage your entire testing program, track all new and historical data, create audit trails and reports, make informed decisions about corrective and preventive actions and document every compliance effort.
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 guide now.