Food Manufacturers: Stop, Automate and Listen

With food and beverage recalls consistently on the rise, there are things manufacturers should know about automating the processes that play vital roles in these recalls.

Automating machinery and assembly lines has been the norm for generations, and companies have even recently begun investing in more automated technology for business management and material tracking processes. And while these innovations have done wonders for the manufacturing industry, it’s time food manufacturers in particular expand automation even more broadly into procedures in the plant – such as their quality management processes. With food and beverage recalls consistently on the rise, there are things manufacturers should know about automating the processes that play vital roles in these recalls.

By adopting a more comprehensive automated food safety management system,,these manufacturers can eliminate the inefficiencies, risks and wastes that come with a manual paper-based system. More importantly, it ensures you’re in compliance at all times with the food safety standards and procedures established by recently created or amended Federal regulations, including the FDA’s Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).

ALSO SEE: What Food Manufacturers Need to Know About the Food Safety Modernization Act

After all, the end goal of the FSMA is to devise more standardized operations across the industry, better access to information and more accountability if and when these requirements aren’t being addressed – which is exactly where this more widespread automation comes into play.

The fact of the matter is this: each year, millions of people get sick from recalls that could have potentially been avoided – in some cases involving hospitalization, and in the worst cases, death.

Sure, there will always be an exception to the rule, and it would be reckless to claim that implementing automation into multiple aspects of your supply chain will completely eliminate food and beverage recalls, but what if there was a solution to bring these numbers down drastically and continuously for years to come?

The safety of consumers should be ample motivation to implement more automation into processes and systems. But just in case it’s not, the economic and business impacts brought on by food recalls are dramatic and build a compelling case for increased process management automation on their own:

  • The annual economic cost of a recall is $77 billion
  • The average cost of a food recall for an organization ranges from $10 million to $90 million
  • Consumer loyalty and confidence in a brand can decline immensely following a reported food recall
    • What’s more, the stock price of an organization could fall up to 22 percent within the first two weeks following the recall.

There are three classes of food recalls:

  • Class I – the most severe type of recall because the use of, or even exposure to the product, could cause serious harm, and sometimes death
  • Class II – might produce negative effects, but it tends to be temporary and/or easily treatable – many allergens, for example
  • Class III – typically harmless to the public, could be something as minor as a mislabeling issue

The most common reasons food and beverage products are recalled:

  • Contamination with a pathogen such as E.coli, salmonella, listeria, etc.
  • Undeclared allergen
  • Labeling Error
  • Manufacturing Error
  • Foreign Object Contamination

There is no singular explanation for the issues above that lead to recalls, but rather a slew of commonalities in the supply chain that can, on their own or combined, lead to such contaminations and errors. Of these, the most common tend to be outdated facilities or practices, employee/human error, an increasingly complex supply chain with more and more players entering every day, traceability concerns and natural disasters – each of these have been culprits of some of our nation's worst food recalls.

In recent years though, the FDA has had more pressure and responsibility to strengthen our country’s food safety standards. The most noteworthy piece of legislation by far has been the FSMA. Passed by Congress in 2010, the ruling showed a positive shift in how we, as a nation, should ensure the safety of our food. Rather than working on better or quicker remediation of these recalls, the FDA focuses on motivating food companies to be more active – and proactive –in the prevention of food recalls.

The FSMA mandates comprehensive food safety hazard plans such as HACCP and HARPC that call for the frequent evaluation of potential hazards, controls and critical points throughout the food manufacturing process. Food companies must be vigorous in taking preventative measures against these possible threats and have tactics in place to address any and all that may be found. Those that don’t do so stand to face consequential fines and potential consumer backlash, among many other negative consequences.

Additionally, food organizations are required to register their facilities every two years. This means they must keep records of the manufacturing process, internal audits, product testing and more for easy access. Given that approximately 15 percent of our food supply comes from outside the U.S., it’s also key that these manufacturers achieve compliance from their foreign exporters. The FSMA also gives the FDA mandatory food recall authority if necessary.

An HACCP/HARPC process that automatically connects to a quality management system will provide increased visibility into all complaints, audit findings, corrective actions, change management and supplier quality scores to prevent food recalls. Automation aids in every step along the way of the food supply chain system achieving its ultimate goal: providing a quality product to the consumer.

In short, automation should be an investment food and beverage companies make to propel themselves, and our country, into this new era of food safety.

More in Home