After the recent recall of salmonella-tainted peanut products and last year’s mistaken recall of tomatoes (when tainted peppers were actually the problem), food processors can no longer afford to delay implementation of automated solutions for tracking shipped products and tracing all incoming ingredients. 

As controller and director of IT for meat seasonings and spices supplier A.C. Legg, John Burks believes that when reputation is critical, even a small to medium-sized processor should opt for a system equipped to ultimately save its existence. According to Burks, products with more than 20 ingredients from different suppliers need track and trace functionality in case of a recall, and manual systems or hand-cobbled-together software won’t do. When A.C. Legg’s auditor, Silliker, suggested mock recalls, the existing system was too slow to produce results.

About four years ago, Burks began searching for an out-of-the-box system that would fulfill regulators’ requirements and reduce tedious programming. By implementing CDC Software, he eliminated one major IT issue: custom programming that was continuously changed on the whim of staff members, resulting in a never-finished, potentially unstable system.

The project progressed in three stages: accounts receivable/payable and invoicing; purchase orders and inventory; and track and trace. The last phase also involved a hardware upgrade: Barcode scanners and wireless interfaces provided a level of complexity that didn’t exist before. (Burks already had digital weighing systems and automated form fillers in place.)

Cultural changes eventually came as well. All individual workers were given logins and became directly responsible for the quality of the products they made. Management now tracks their work, recipes and ingredients.

The tools prove the recipe consistency of every product. Mock recalls can be done in 10 minutes, and with COAs from suppliers and an in-house lab, ingredients thoroughly are checked before they’re used in a product. Down the road, Burks plans to tie the new system into the lab software network for even faster results.

While the system supports track and trace, it has made A.C. Legg more efficient and improved its product quality. According to Burks, processors can’t afford to be without an automated system today. Their existence may depend upon it.