It was lunchtime. And all I wanted to do was have a nice, healthy salad. But my food and beverage industry experience was forcing me to consider all of the different types of produce that have been recalled over the years due to food borne illnesses. I think my entire bowl would be empty if I combined all of the various recalls.
Food safety is a hot topic these days, both in consumer media and in the food and beverage trade. Despite the perception that it’s all bad news, the industry has embraced a very proactive approach to notifications and recall measures.
For example, produce suppliers have worked with the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) to make sure that the industry standards created result in the best and most efficient processes. And to communicate any public announcements, the industry has developed relationships with associations like the National Grocer’s Association (NGA).
But the most important part of this proactive approach is still in the works – and it’ll completely change food safety as we know it.
It all centers on one word: traceability. The U.S. House and Senate are currently working with the FDA on legislation that would require food and beverage companies to follow strict laws about where food comes from and what happens to it before it ever hits the shelves – AKA “traceability.”
In fact, a recent report from the Institute of Medicine (IOM) and the National Research Council goes so far as to say that the federal government should establish a centralized food safety data and analysis center and develop a specialized food safety inspections workforce. But that’s another topic for another day.
To tackle the bigger problem, I think you first need to look at all the little problems. One of these is the fact that all the documentation and processes are still, for the most part, disconnected.
What this means is that traceability-specific software (like HarvestMark and Red Prairie) isn’t designed to manage supporting paper documents such as purchase orders, invoices, bills of lading, etc. The result is the equivalent of a jigsaw puzzle that’s missing a quarter of its pieces. Sure, you have some pieces, but you’re missing just enough that the picture isn’t complete. In the event of a food recall, when time is of the essence, having to hunt for missing pieces isn’t acceptable.
The FDA agrees. In its Food Enhancement Safety Act, it included requirements for food and beverage document management, such as workflow and document imaging. Spreadsheets are no longer an okay option. So it’s not just those in the enterprise content management (ECM) industry like me pointing to ECM software as a necessary solution anymore. It’s the federal government, too.
Here are a few specific situations that show ECM’s relevance in traceability:
Companies can say they’re executing the correct quality measures all they want. But ECM allows them to prove it with traceable processes, data and documentation.
Quick information access is a must in a high priority situation like a food recall. ECM organizes documentation in a way that makes this possible.
What happens if everything’s traced, but a food recall still happens? The recalled product needs to be stopped as quickly as possible, and all the right people and companies must be notified ASAP. Automated processes can be created in an ECM system, so when this happens, it can send notifications immediately with the simple push of a button.