Despite numerous high-profile (and even deadly) food recalls during 2011, food safety remained a widely misunderstood concept. Many food companies still don’t understand the full spectrum of activities that food safety entails. They might have a plan to prevent physical contamination, or chemical or microbiological contamination, but rarely are all three aspects combined into one comprehensive program.
Let’s take a closer look at each of these three areas to better understand the requirements for solid enterprise-level food safety.
Common examples of physical contamination would include glass or plastic particles. Many companies combat the accidental inclusion of these kinds of foreign objects by following a HAACP plan. However, the physical aspect of food safety goes beyond HAACP to include things like rodent droppings on warehouse or factory floors. Thus, prevention of physical contamination also includes a hygiene program, and that’s just one additional element.
The second aspect is chemical contamination, which involves product formulas. Manufacturers procure ingredients and additives from supply-chain partners. These ingredients might ship to the manufacturer’s facilities in 60-pound bags, with 50 bags on a pallet. Workers receive the goods and check for certificates of performance before sending them along to a warehouse. When it’s time for production, the goods leave the warehouse for a spice room or pre-mix room, and it’s here that food-safety integrity often breaks down with regard to the chemical aspect.
Workers in spice rooms tear open bags and scoop out ingredients onto plastic trays that sit on scales. However, there’s rarely any process of checks and balances to make sure that the right quantities are being sent along to production. In order to combat chemical contamination, that tray and the original bag need bar codes that can be scanned at each step along the way. Importantly, the bar code ID not only reflects information, but also receives information. The batch identification can be altered at any time to document alterations that workers make to chemical composition (e.g. if other ingredients are added, how they are mixed, etc.). Ultimately, the shop-floor worker will scan the tray to confirm that the final product was made, staged and consumed according to protocol before adding it to production. In this process the worker will be assisted by machines that compare information inside the product ID with master recipes and kick out the product if it isn’t up to formula.
Master recipes make the chemical aspect even more complex. The master recipe can never be changed and comes from product development. However, the control recipe can be changed and involves ingredient substitutions on the shop floor due to ingredient shortages. If a worker performs a substitution but the new ingredient doesn’t match the master recipe in terms of grade, class, fineness, color, etc., it could leave the door open for contamination.
Microbiological contamination rounds out our enterprise food-safety list. This aspect is particularly tough because the contaminants are not visible. Night shift workers are typically tasked with spraying and scrubbing down all work surfaces using anti-microbiological foams, in accordance with clean-in-place standards. Here the enterprise relies on the work force to break the supply chain so it can resume in the morning with sanitized surfaces. Just as with our spice-room workers and even the folks working in receiving, training is critical to make sure that microbiological contamination remains in check. When good policies, processes and procedures surround all three aspects, they complement each other to help guarantee food safety.
Our discussion here has only been an overview of the three main aspects of enterprise food safety. For instance, microbiological contamination could be further broken down to a discussion of allergen contamination. Preventative measures here include making sure that production runs containing allergens are kept until the end of the second shift, after which point the overnight crew removes traces of allergens from production equipment. We could continue to drill down, but suffice it to say that food safety is a complex topic that involves the entirety of the organization.
Managing this complexity can seem overwhelming, but there is help. An out-of-the-box ERP solution like it.CPG can help companies manage the documentation and tech standards needed to support capabilities like batch identification. But before it.CPG can do its work, the organization must ready itself through change management, which I have previously discussed here. Policies, procedures and processes must be put in place to rigorously uphold food-safety standards throughout the enterprise, at which point it.CPG can support and enhance those efforts.
For more information, feel free to contact me at Johann.Heydenrych@itelligencegroup.com.