By Ian Scott-Mance
Food safety and regulatory compliance are hot topics for food manufacturers. Ian Scott-Mance, Technology Manager of Mettler-Toledo ProdX™ considers how digitalized product inspection technologies can help them to meet these demands.
Food safety is of critical importance, and the food industry has become increasingly heavily regulated. Success for food manufacturers, both now and in the future, comes from being adept at producing safe, high-quality food and in being able to demonstrate beyond question that the processes used to make that food meet regulatory demands.
Today, technology is helping manufacturers to align themselves with these requirements. Food safety and quality standards in production can be improved using product inspection systems for x-ray, metal detection, checkweighing, and vision inspection. In parallel, the digitalization of much production line equipment – and product inspection technology, in particular – is making compliance with food safety regulations both simpler and easier.
Digital inspection technology can continuously monitor and record production line performance, which manual processes simply cannot match. In addition, standards owners and regulators are placing an increasing focus on food safety digital transformation. Not only is digitalization better able to support food safety compliance, but it is quickly becoming an expectation that food manufacturers embrace it.
So, the digitalization of product inspection has a direct bearing on the capacity of food manufacturers to demonstrate food safety compliance. Improved compliance comes through a variety of different aspects of the operation. In this article, we consider five ways in which food safety compliance is improved by digitalized product inspection.
1. Tamper-proof performance logging
Digitalized product inspection systems constantly monitor and record performance data, compile authenticated activity as it happens, and apply appropriate security features to ensure the data gathered cannot be tampered with. This gives food manufacturers, auditors, regulators, and customers confidence that optimum product inspection performance is being maintained.
This is especially true around system verification activities. When a test is carried out on the equipment, a range of data is recorded automatically, verifying that a test took place and storing the test results and other relevant information with a digital timestamp that cannot be changed. There is nowhere to hide here. Testing results cannot be falsified or altered without the culprit leaving evidence, and auditors examining the records will be able to identify anomalies. The confidence this inspires in the data is vital for food safety compliance.
2. Real-time monitoring of Critical Control Points
Product inspection is most effective when used at Critical Control Points (CCPs) in the production line, where it can identify issues impacting product quality and food safety. Digitalized product inspection performs this function in real-time and can immediately warn of production line issues. This allows the manufacturer to quickly intervene and address any problems, potentially saving a large volume of products or ingredients from being wasted or quarantined, and reworked.
As well as improving production efficiency, reducing waste, and helping to ensure that only good quality products leave the factory, this capability also provides data supporting compliance with food safety regulations.
3. Automation of data collection and report creation
Across the world, food manufacturers must adhere to national, regional, and industry regulations to make sure their products are safe. This helps food manufacturers to focus on a wide range of areas, including HACCP, traceability, food fraud prevention, management commitment, and food safety culture.
Digitalization of product inspection means that data related to procedures such as system testing, managing rejected products, and checking all products are correctly packaged and labelled, is collected automatically, removing the need for manual collection or handwritten records. This makes food safety compliance both easier and cheaper for food manufacturers.
4. Boost transparency through connectivity
The industry-wide push from regulators and standards bodies for better food safety compliance will lead to more transparency in food manufacturing. Digitalization plays a critical part in developing this transparency. It enables food manufacturers to gather meaningful production line data automatically, and this data can populate databases and track and trace systems within the digital supply chain.
Food safety data captured by by-product inspection machines can be captured and shared with ERP and factory management systems via a range of secure and industry-standard machine-to-machine connectivity protocols. This makes record-keeping and compliance with food safety regulations much easier for food manufacturers to achieve.
There is another factor to transparency: by embracing it, food manufacturers are opening their factories and processes up to a higher level of scrutiny. This requires a different mindset from their employees, which takes us to the fifth example of how the digitalization of product inspection helps food safety compliance.
5. Cultural change
With digitalization and transparency, there is nowhere to hide. Food safety-related processes such as regular testing of product inspection equipment must become part of the culture of the factory rather than potentially being seen as a box-ticking exercise. Indeed, the requirement for such a culture is increasingly included within standards and regulations.
Digital records can be made tamper-proof, introducing a greater level of process governance. Crucially, all stakeholders have to be aware that non-compliance is also recorded.
Effecting this culture change requires proactive management strategies to keep people engaged and motivated. Training workshops might be required, in which objectives and goals are presented and business benefits explained. Concerned employees also need to be reassured. One way might be to highlight how new ways of working might deliver new opportunities and new skills that could increase their value to the business and possibly their salary.
Most importantly for the food manufacturer, getting the culture right means it can better comply with food safety regulations, helping to strengthen its reputation and its relationships with customers and regulators.
Improved food safety compliance is both a journey and a destination, and digitalization of product inspection is a critical part of both the process and the objective. There has to be a higher-level reason to undertake the journey, though. The automation, the real-time monitoring of processes, the harnessing of digital data, the increased openness and transparency and the imperative of managing a new culture internally, are all worthwhile because they help to make a food manufacturer’s business and its key supply chain relationships both stronger and better.
Ian Scott-Mance is the Technology Manager at Mettler-Toledo Product Inspection. With over 25 years’ experience in digital marketing, Ian is one of the main driving forces behind developing Mettler-Toledo’s digital presence. This entails overseeing the development of the company’s web presence plus customer digital solutions such as ProdX™ data management software. ProdX™ records all product inspection activities, helping manufacturers develop their digitalization plans and achieve digital maturity for food safety.