About 15 years ago I wrote the first time about automation of food safety tasks using computer systems. My work at the time had been incorporated in a book called “ISO-9000 in der Prozesstechnik” (ISO 9000 in Process Industries). There are actually still used versions available on Amazon, but you may want to skip it anyway. First you may have trouble reading it, since it is in German, secondly it is pretty dated and thirdly, well not one of my best writings I guess.
The quality management movement had hit the food industry in Europe in the mid 90′s. Progressive companies started implementing ISO 9000ff based quality management systems, because their customers wanted it. While ISO 9000 was and still is a generic definition on what needs to be part of a quality management, it required already a lot of documentation, administration effort and some thoughts on how to ensure the safety of food products in a cost efficient manner. As a matter of fact, ISO 9004 provided specific guidelines on the cost effectiveness of a QM system, basically saying don’t test, if the error detection benefit outweighs the costs of prevention and testing. That was the time that I entered the space automating food safety systems for some thought leaders in the food industry.
Over the next 15 or so years things evolved. Industries such as the food industry but also others defined more specific guidelines on the aspects of quality management systems. Some of these regulations have been mandated by the government (such as HACCP), some came from voluntary effort within the food industry, BRC, SQF and IFS to name a few. ISO 22000 in addition to that. We have today not only industry specific standards we need to adhere to, we also have a choice which one. Thanks to industry efforts to accept pretty much any of these under the GFSI roof, companies can see which certification or management system works best for them based on locality, type of business etc. Also the systems evolved, since the increasing demands required increased functionality to maintain the same cost levels in a competitive market space.
For me, as a food engineer and technology geek, these systems are largely the same. They all use common sense to achieve a common goal: safe foods. These systems require for more than 15 years more formalized and organized business process, which is common sense too. Formalizing business processes can be done on paper, and any of these standards is strong on documentation requirements, planning requirements, approval and signoff requirements, document control and steering requirements and training requirements. A lot of stuff to do. All can be done on paper!
Similar to any other un-automated business process, you will have certain issues with a manual process:
- data will not be accurate, since it cannot be validate by a computer system.
- data will not be current, since you need to retrieve paper where a newer version or revision has been created.
- data entry will be inefficient and therefore costly to do, it requires additional labor and additional storage.
- data utilization will be limited, traceability is slow and data analysis is difficult.
As the industry automated its warehouses, its order-to-cash processes and the very essential accounting functions it must automate the processes related to food safety systems as well. It must do so to stay cost competitive and leverage the data collected with these systems in their management reporting to make important and smart decisions. I think there is no question on the need for automation of food safety systems and companies can opt for 2 different approaches as they can with pretty much any of their investment choices. They can go “best-of-breed” and opt for companies like Foodlogiq that provide automation for just certain processes very closely related o food safety and Quality Management which they then need to integrate with their other corporate systems for Warehouse management, order processing and other tasks, or they choose an highly integrated ERP System that is not only focused on their industry, but also provides auxiliary functions for document management and control as well as an integrated QM/LIMS system for managing the HACCP plans, such as e.g. CSB-System provides. Some may use a hybrid between these approaches, since e.g. traceability is largely a function of a good Warehouse Management and Inventory system, and may be incorporated there, while other functions may be in other systems. In any case, automation of food safety systems is needed so that companies can stay cost competitive and ahead with the intelligence about their business.