Automation
TECH FLASH

How do you deal with traceability?

February 23, 2012
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Some processors store manually recorded data away in filing cabinets, which makes a recall a nightmare-like challenge. Source: SG Systems.

Today, it’s difficult to find a bakery or food production facility that hasn’t already invested financially in some kind of traceability method to enable the tracking and tracing of ingredients used within its process. However, do any methods provide a return on investment (ROI)?

Once ingredients are received into a food manufacturing facility, ingredient traceability typically takes four routes through a manufacturing process, according to Stuart Hunt, president of SG Systems LLC. They are:

1. Bulk ingredients—delivered to a mixer through bulk delivery systems

2. Minor ingredients—manually added to the mixer in the form of whole or part bags

3. Micro-ingredients—hand scaled and added to the mixer manually

4. Topping ingredients—added post-mixing to the divided and portioned batch.

“The FDA and some of the major retailers provide timeframes for ingredient recall of anything from two days to four hours and downward,” adds Hunt. “But, is it really possible to track and trace ingredients through these stages of delivery when a single micro-ingredient such as an enzyme could be weighed into literally hundreds of formulations and batches across many weeks of production and be present in possibly millions of finished products?” Hunt calls this potential problem “a food nightmare for the unprepared.”

Processors have three options or scenarios, according to Hunt. They are:

1. Do the minimum. This requires compliance with the Bioterrorism Preparedness Act 2002 (BPA 2002) and FSMA, and involves simple recordkeeping of goods received and shipped finished goods. A manual process on paper can achieve this, but processors will need to keep records from at least six months to two years. When there’s a problem, thousands of finished products could be affected. With this scenario, there is non-existent ROI and a high risk to brand and shareholder value.

2. Spend heavily on manual recordkeeping. Taking the BPA 2002 one stage further and investing in more paper trails to keep track of “where used” in the production facility is the common approach to satisfying retailers looking for damage limitation during the ingredient or finished recall process. The manual process is often done by making operators complete paperwork to record lot numbers that have been used in each batch, etc. The cost of doing this, says Hunt, is fixed and recurring. Some processors have ERP systems, but are asking operators to enter data manually, which is still time consuming and costly, and not necessarily accurate. In this scenario, there is still non-existent ROI, but a low risk to the brand and a high risk to shareholder value because of increased permanent costs.

3. Invest moderately in real-time data collection systems. Real-time data collection systems ensure lot numbers are captured at the receiving, weighing, mixing, portioning and shipping stages, eliminating most paperwork and manual ERP administration. Usages at the bulk, minor and micro-ingredient levels can be recorded automatically as lot numbers are added into the mix (even controlling the weights added through the hand scaling processes to reduce giveaway in addition to the correct inventory rotation).

The ROI in the last scenario, according to Hunt, comes in five key areas. First, controlling the micro-ingredient scaling process enables exact weight to be hit and the lot numbers to be automatically recorded—all with integration into ERP systems. Second, interfacing with bulk delivery systems enables lot number usages to be accurately tied to micro- and minor ingredients added at the mixing process. Third, electronically interfacing with sales order processing allows manufactured batches to be linked to a finished product count on the floor and batch numbers allocated during shipping. Fourth, there is no recall administration; all data is in the system and available when needed. Fifth, an automated system provides brand protection. Should a problem develop, with nearly instant access to data, products can often be stopped in minutes from leaving the plant or warehouse. With an automated system, Hunt projects ROIs as short as six months, low risk to brand and low risk to shareholder value.

For more information, contact Stuart Hunt, 214-819-9570, SG Systems.

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