Fall marks the start of the holiday season for many, which means serving up delicious meals. And while this is the best time of year from a revenue standpoint for food manufacturers — many see tremendous spikes in sales with seasonal food offerings — it is simultaneously one of the most stressful times of the year for them.
With added demand comes added pressures on the supply chain, which could lead to rushed processing and lapses in quality control. And, as you know, cutting corners on quality control can have serious consequences for food manufacturers and, ultimately, consumers. The CDC estimates that 48 million people get sick from a foodborne illness each year.
While unsafe food handling at home leads to some of those illnesses, food manufacturers aren’t immune to cause. According to FoodSafety.gov, in 2016, a great deal of food contamination occurred before food even entered the home. For example, more than 400 frozen vegetable products were recalled after a Listeriosis outbreak was linked to a Washington state processing facility. The site, a collaboration among various government agencies, also lists significant incidents in which Salmonella was found in alfalfa sprouts and pistachios, as well as E.coli in contaminated flour.
Ensuring that your food safety and HACCP plans are in check is key to preventing occurrences like those. Here are a few specific areas to focus on.
Identify and Fix Your Supply Chain Weakness
Now is the time to do a thorough review of your supply chain and examine any safety issues that need attention. Two vital areas to look at are your processing and packing methods. Take a deep dive into those aspects of your supply chain to ensure that your team is properly trained and is handling food with sanitation and safety in mind.
Detailed supplier audits are also critical to foodborne illness prevention. When it comes to food safety, working with quality suppliers breeds quality results. When was the last time you checked in with your suppliers on their certifications? Are they compliant with regulatory requirements and transparent with you about their safety and testing processes? If you’re not sure, or the answer is no, it’s time to find a new supplier. Using suppliers that value protecting the end consumer as much as you do is well worth the investment.
Follow the Trail
Also worth the investment: tracking and monitoring your product throughout the supply chain. To best do this, you need specialized technology that will enable you to have real-time visibility into all areas of product development and distribution.
An integrated Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) solution designed specifically for food manufacturers should serve as your system of record, consolidating information on your ingredients, suppliers and distributors. It should also document all processes and automatically alert you to any quality issues. Connecting your ERP with your Enterprise Asset Management (EAM), Manufacturing Execution System (MES) and Warehouse Management System (WMS) also can help move the needle on efficiency and close the gaps on information exchange holes.
Not only does a fully integrated ERP system with bidirectional lot traceability assist you from a risk mitigation standpoint, but it also can help you identify additional areas where productivity needs improvement and costs could be reduced.
Prepare for the Worst So You Can Perform Your Best
By being proactive in examining your manufacturing processes, organizing data and information on your product, and monitoring its progression throughout the supply chain, you’re taking the right steps toward preventing foodborne illnesses.
However, contamination can still occur, and you need a preparedness plan to act swiftly and minimize any impact on the consumer in the event of product recall. Identify the point person from your organization who will communicate action items to all involved internal parties and partners. Run drills and test to see if, and how quickly, the traceability resources you’ve put in place can answer the following questions:
- Where are my products located?
- Where, when and in what quantities were my products produced?
- Which ingredients and processes were used to make these products?
- Where, when and in what quantities were the products shipped to/from?
- Who supplied the raw ingredients and when?
- Were the raw ingredients used in any other products?
In the event of a recall, knowing the answers to those questions will help you get a better grasp of the situation. Such detailed information results in a more targeted recall, minimizing the potential impact to the organization and consumers.
Another important factor to consider in advance of a contamination incident is your external communications plan and how and when to alert customers. So many brands have faltered here. A national restaurant chain continues to struggle because of its highly public outbreaks of E.coli and norovirus in 2015. In contrast, a major ice cream brand that pulled all of its products off the shelves in the same year had strong customer loyalty that helped its recovery.
Intelligent technology that provides accurate, real-time information will go a long way in maintaining consumer trust in your products.
ꞌTis the Season for Food Safety
As you approach peak season, addressing any potential problem areas and ensuring that you have the right tools and processes in place to prevent and control food safety issues should be at the top of your must-do list. Take the time to conduct audits, deploy traceability technology and create a preparedness plan. Your customers and your company will thank you.
Jack Payne is VP, Product Management & Solutions Consulting for Aptean