4 Ways to Leverage Automated Systems to Manage Food Quality and Safety Processes
The food manufacturing industry has been revolutionized by automation in recent years. What used to require excessive time and effort to manage via paper-based methods and cumbersome strategies is now streamlined through digital data collection, organization and reporting. Instead of wasting valuable production time on manual, labor-intensive processes for ensuring food quality and safety, plants have the benefit of optimizing these efforts through automated systems.
Why, then, are some companies still failing to meet current safety standards and quality objectives. Why are they still suffering from inefficiencies that lead to costly problems? Is your organization facing a similar predicament?
Even if you have an automated management system at your disposal, you may not be utilizing it correctly. A food quality and safety management solution is there to make operations easier, quicker and more accurate. If you’re not seeing these benefits, you may not be working with the right tool or getting the most out of it.
With new FSMA requirements in effect, and the evolution of industry safety standards making stronger management a necessity, it’s absolutely critical to ensure you’re implementing the most effective and efficient food quality and safety processes. Use these four tips to take advantage of automation in your facility and set a precedent for compliance and optimization.
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1. Establish a Foundation of Success through Proper Setup
When it comes to running a successful food quality and safety program, two of the most vital factors are communication and visibility. Unless your entire team is equipped with the tools and processes to contribute effectively to testing and monitoring efforts, you won’t realize the full potential of automation in addressing the challenges occurring throughout your facility.
So, how do you make cross-department communication and visibility a reality and get everyone involved in your EMP? By setting up your solution properly. Utilize automatic alert and notification features to relay timely business and safety information to the right stakeholders and team members without the need for manual involvement, risk of human error or bottlenecks.
Make sure you’re executing a solid setup of your automated system to deliver the following efficiencies, conveniences and risk mitigators:
- Plant visualization via color-coded floorplans
- Automatic scheduling and monitoring properties
- Consistent contact between front-line supervisors and employees
- Customized and detailed workflows
- Robust reporting
- Functional checklists for effective change management
- Practical means of documentation, archival and auditing preparation
2. Go Beyond Data Collection to Data Assessment
If you’re using an automated system solely to store food safety and quality data, you’re not reaping the myriad of compliance and management benefits that automation yields. To fully harness that data, you need to make assessment and reporting a routine practice. This is the best way to improve your processes, rectify inefficiencies and minimize the risks and costs associated with blind, outdated methods.
Data analysis should be performed regularly and effectively to be useful. It involves approaching your data with insightful questions such as:
- What percentage of positives are in your plant?
- What’s your target?
- What is your testing coverage?
- Are you adhering to your frequency plan?
- Have your remediations been carried out according to your protocol?
- Are there hot spots?
Let’s not forget that under new FSMA rulings, you are legally bound to “establish and implement a food safety system that includes an analysis of hazards and risk-based preventive controls.” In order to implement the appropriate and necessary steps for monitoring, corrective action and verification, you must be able to access and evaluate your collected data. This is the only way to make informed decisions, take required actions and be truly proactive rather than reactive.
What’s more, the positives gleaned from data analysis and reporting far exceed those connected to regulatory compliance. With dynamic data features, you have the control and insight needed to protect your brand and your bottom line. Leverage automation to take an action-oriented approach to some of the following data components:
- Quantitative and qualitative testing data
- Pathogenic and hygienic testing data
- Indicator organisms, allergens, toxins, residue, etc.
3. Keep Data and Documentation Highly Organized
We’ve already established why data is so critical. Now it’s important to highlight how to manage and organize that data. Think about your current data processes for food quality and safety. Is the information easy to find? Is it simple to analyze? Is it supported by strong documentation? Can it be accessed quickly and universally?
To manage all aspects, from preventive analysis to compliance audits, you should be taking every opportunity to organize your data and documentation so that it can be utilized to the fullest, including:
- Your food safety plan
- HACCP/HARPC documentation
- Routine testing results
- Investigative testing results
- Corrective actions
Are you digitally storing and organizing all of these elements in a centralized database that can produce any necessary materials in less than 24 hours? This level of coordination and management puts your operation in a better position to promote transparency, foster communication, meet FSMA requirements, prevent recalls, boost productivity, maximize quality and eliminate inefficiency.
4. Execute a Training Program for Full Utilization
Your food quality and safety management system can only be effective if all team members understand how to use it properly. Otherwise, you’re left with an automated system that isn’t serving its full purpose or fulfilling the objectives you anticipated when you first adopted it. The team needs to understand:
- How the technology works
- What best practices they should be applying
- Why these tools are in place
- Any guidelines surrounding use
Training needs to be consistent and validated. Education regarding your automated system should be an integral part of your efforts to achieve a strong food safety culture. This is a long-term commitment that requires participation from users at all levels of the company. Prioritize the training effort to get everyone up to speed on leveraging your automated solution, and reinforce this knowledge continually.
Automation is a crucial way to streamline your processes to reach the ultimate goals of food quality and safety. To get more expert insight on where your strategies in this area may be falling short, take our free FSMA Assessment quiz.