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  Manufacturing Insights   |   October, 2013
Automating Food Safety Now Possible for Smaller Food Manufacturers
by Thomas R. Cutler
 

While required of small food manufacturers, food safety documentation technology was too expensive for 90% of the food industry, which have fewer than 200 employees and annual revenues of less than $20 million dollars. The introduction of cloud-based solutions has changed the food safety and quality conversation for even the very smallest companies.

Nearly a decade ago all the large food processors, manufacturers, and distributors faced the realities that food quality and safety are priorities for consumers. From Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) to the Bioterrorism Act to lot traceability, food leaders responded with actionable technology solutions. Small or large in company size, from billion dollar organizations to five person salsa producers, all in the food industry recognized that reputations and brands were at risk when safety concerns and product recalls were daily front-page news stories. The cost of low quality kills brands and people.


The global ingredient supply chain

From a grain of pepper from China to a curry flavor from India, the percentage of food manufacturers with multi-cultural global ingredients has multiplied 300% in the past five years. Nearly 21% of all finished food products have ingredients from more than four countries. Tracking, tracing, and accounting for these variables becomes a deeply challenging process for QA and QC food managers around the world.

Increasingly companies are turning to HACCP and the ISO 22000 standard to control for the wild variability and food quality variances found between different nations. ISO 22000 is the international standard for food safety management systems and requires a rigorous ISO audit to confirm eligibility. ISO 22000 emphasizes communication, systems management, prerequisite programs and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's HACCP principles to ensure complete food safety along the food chain. Manufacturing facilities must be structured to dynamically integrate quality and food safety management programs, assuring the ability to produce high-quality, safe products.


Spear-heading Cloud-based Food Quality for the Small Food Processor

Based in India, Shikha Singh is an experienced food industry professional specializing in Quality Assurance, Quality Control Testing, Food Safety Audits, Training and Consulting. She is an expert in food industry standards including ISO 22000, HACCP, FSSC and proficient in food testing.

Singh started her career with a fast food company as a member of the quality assurance team. She then became a food safety expert and consultant where she provided aid and assistance to companies looking for external help to attain certification and implement food safety systems.

Singh is an accredited Lead Auditor Professional (IRCA approved) and provides services to manufacturing enterprises that supply ingredients to many of the giants in the food industry.

Most recently, Singh is working to improve food safety in India by automating food safety processes. She is spearheading the roll out of Burton Software Inc.'s product; Icicle, an affordable cloud-based solution designed to improve the safety of the world's food supply, and is responsible for overall operations throughout the country.

Singh suggested, There is an increasing globalization that has shifted the general trend of "preference to home cooked food" to more and more toward packaged food. With increasing consumption and awareness, the food industry drivers are focusing on assuring food safety to consumers.


India's Role in the Food Safety Conversation

The national legal body, "Food Safety Standards Authority of India (FSSAI)", has kept a vigilant eye on the business owners to ensure food safety. FSSAI allows business owners to avail third party certification for any globally accepted food safety standard/guideline including HACCP.

Singh also noted that, "India has hugely trended as an export hub for major countries of the world because of many factors. To keep up with the food safety standards across the globe, Indian players in the food industry are diligently focusing on attaining and maintaining food safety certification (which includes HACCP)."

The safety standards for food in India are very similar to those in North America and this is driven by the customers. Exporting to US, UK and Middle East nations, requires significant attention to stringent rules and regulations; an HACCP-based food safety system has become mandatory.

One distinction that adds complexity to HACCP is the ISO 22000 as it has more global acceptance than only HACCP. Singh suggested, "When a GFSI (Global Food Safety Initiative) standard is required by a customer, preference is towards FSSC 22000, which requires an established ISO 22000 and TS 22002-1 system."

The increasing trend of automation and computer based operations and systems in India will obviously pave way for an IT based solution for food safety; because of the cloud-based pay-as-you-go method, even the smallest food companies can avail themselves of solutions such as Icicle.<


Affordable HACCP Solutions Create Game-Changing for Small Food Processors

Based in Richmond, BC, Canada, food technologists around the world are working closely with Burton Software building a global network of food safety stakeholders who have access to the latest technology to manage food safety issues and procedures. Steven Burton is the founder of Burton Software which offers the first affordable cloud-based solution to improve the safety of the world's food supply. Icicle, the flagship technology enables companies involved in the production, processing, and distribution of food products to develop and verify food safety plans. Icicle is the HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points) solution that improves the quality and safety of products by developing tools that manage food safety plans, document procedures, and carries out inspections.

Very expensive quarter million dollar solutions have been available to the large food companies for a decade. Internally housed and IT staff required, the "big boys" in the food industry did not flinch at spending the money. Small 10,000 square foot operations with ten employees succumbed to paper and Excel spreadsheets to meet the HACCP requirements.

Thanks to cloud-based solutions, the technology necessary to collect the required data, can affordably and automatically generate food safety plans. Changes to individual ingredients, materials, processes or packaging are automatically propagated throughout the system, insuring that plans are kept current across product lines and plants. Users are guided through the HACCP analysis process where hazards are identified and addressed. Authorized users can generate HACCP plans for any facility, including multiple plans per facility and customized plans for specific product groups or customers.

Steven Burton, who developed the Icicle solution noted, "Food companies now have the ability to fully synchronize operations across facilities and across the globe. The emergence of a new hazard or a change to any aspect of an existing hazard is immediately understood. Automatic alerts initiate recalls and modifications to existing formulas. Standard operating procedures (SOPs) are available to employees regardless of physical location. Documentation which validates food safety procedures can be printed on-demand to satisfy the requirements of auditors regardless of which specific certification authority certifies the company's products."

Steven Burton came to software development after selling a manufacturing company he founded in the 90's; he designed and built software applications for a variety of vertical markets, locally and abroad, eventually serving as Chief Architect/CTO/VP Engineering for a number of Vancouver-based start-ups.

Burton formed consulting relationships with manufacturers across Canada, some of whom were food processors. The deadly Listeriosis outbreak in 2008, had raised public awareness of food safety yet a steady stream of outbreaks continued to occur. Food processing clients reported that they used manual systems to analyze and control risk.

Investigating the potential for a technological solution to the problem of creating, managing, and verifying food safety, Burton found that existing systems that could help reduce the risk of food-borne illnesses were either too expensive or inadequate to achieve the rigorous task. Quickly the mission became developing an affordable, enterprise-scale solution to improve the safety of the world's food supply. Icicle is the result of these efforts.

Burton knows this is the cutting edge of a global technology shift. Without being grandiose he is keenly aware this technology will save lives. "Seeing companies adopt our technology and watching the positive impact it makes on food safety standards is extremely fulfilling," Burton offered with humility


Thomas R. Cutler is the President & CEO of Fort Lauderdale, Florida-based, TR Cutler, Inc., (www.trcutlerinc.com). Cutler is the founder of the Manufacturing Media Consortium including more than 4000 journalists, editors, and economists writing about trends in manufacturing, industry, material handling, and process improvement. Cutler is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists, Online News Association, American Society of Business Publication Editors, and Committee of Concerned Journalists, as well as author of more than 500 feature articles annually regarding the manufacturing sector. Cutler can be contacted at trcutler@trcutlerinc.com. See More Details.

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