Food safety technology, including data collection and reporting, plays an important part from the beginning to the end of the production process.

Data collection and reporting

“From ingredients through finished products, tracking incoming materials through a warehouse management system helps with traceability and stock rotation, as well as being able to track when and where those materials are used,” says Alicia Swanson, food safety professional, AIB International, Manhattan, KS.

Such a management system helps reduce costs and maximize resources by keeping track of inventory movement, which will help in the event of a withdrawal or recall, she notes.

Erica Vannini, sales department, EyePro System USA, Inc., Chicago, says that her company uses technology to gather production data related to food safety and regulatory compliance.

“EyePro provides Vision Inspection solutions to check on product quality and compliance. Our systems acquire 2D measures (diameters, length/width), 3D measures (heights, 3D profile, slope, etc.) and color measures. This allows our customers to know their products, improve their process, but also to identify and reject any non-compliant product,” she says.

This could be related to product quality (e.g. too small, too big, too dark, too light, too low, etc.), or to product defects (spots, indentations, broken edges, burnt points, etc), she adds.

“The correct use of this technology—which is a combination of Vision, using HD cameras, and specialized inspection software—allows our customers to identify also defective products which have food-safety-related issues. The most common is foreign materials, when these are on the product surface and can be identified for color differentiation compared to the typical product color learned by the system,” Vannini notes.

“We have recently introduced also our new technology called MULTI-EYE. This technology, using a combination of spectroscopy and imaging technology, offers the possibility for real-time and on-line image analysis of features typically not detectable with traditional technologies (True Color Vision, Metal Detector and X-Ray).”

The system acquires images of the products at different wavelengths and elaborates the information to detect foreign bodies, based on different wavelength response, and to classify them—the system can learn classes of contaminants, Vannini says.

“The information can be visualized real time on the systems’ HMI and on dashboards with key real-time information that can be visualized on big displays positioned in different areas of the plant, and is then stored on a database for future analysis. Our Statistical Package Q-Analyzer allows our customers to query the database creating ad-hoc reports by selecting a particular product and period of time. The reports can then be exported in different formats (e.g. Excel, PDF) and can be shared,” she expands.

The information can be used to monitor the process and the presence of food-safety-related defects identified by the system, Vannini says.

“The customer can also go back to a certain period of time to check the data, for example in case of a customer complaint.”

Jim Hardeman, chief product officer, director of marketing, ComplianceMetrix, San Diego, CA, says that their technology, the CMX1 Enterprise Quality Management Software (EQMS) platform by CMX, is specifically designed to help foodservice brands in the following ways:

  1. Design and source finished products and food ingredients from suppliers
  2. Maintain and monitor continuous product quality, consistency, and food safety
  3. Manage food related quality incidents, withdrawals, and recalls

“At a high level, CMX1 is a cloud-based software platform that provides restaurant and grocer brands a single view of ongoing product tests and results, helps identify systemic issues that may require a change to the product specification and inconsistent and low performing suppliers, and includes comprehensive closed-loop Corrective Action and Preventive Actions workflows to ensure critical non-conformances are being addressed,” Hardeman says.

All data is stored and made available for visualization, dashboarding, Business Intelligence reporting, and for informing Supplier Scorecards—all designed to give brands insight on product quality, safety, and compliance, and where to focus their efforts towards continuous improvement, he notes.

“The baseline of any quality and food safety monitoring program starts with the Finished and Raw Material Product Specifications. CMX1 includes a fully integrated Product Lifecyle Management (PLM) module that supports the creation and approval process of specifications from initial draft to finalized status, including collaboration with suppliers,” Hardeman explains.

The specification templates can vary by product type and include detailed information for finished product standards and process control points, which are critical for testing and monitoring, he says.

“CMX1 also includes an integrated module for managing product tests and results. The module provides a single consolidated view for product tests, such as microbiological, chemical, sensory, physical, and nutritional. Brands can define the test type, set scoring criteria, and pass/fail parameters. All the tests and results are organized by product, product category, supplier, and test type,” Hardeman adds.

“In working with our many customers, tests are collected in a variety of manners and formats whether received directly from external labs via data feeds, from production data and product inspections received from suppliers/distributors, and/or Quality Assurance teams performing internal product evaluations leveraging our platform.”

“As an example, we have several customers that receive microbiological, chemical, sensory, physical, and nutritional test results from 3rd party lab partners they contract with. Lab partners test against the parameters outlined in the finished product specifications and the results are either manually uploaded into the platform for processing or imported automatically through APIs. CMX has existing integrations with many of the most well-known 3rd Party testing organizations. Failed tests can trigger a closed-loop CAPA process with suppliers, as well as require the submission of another sample to be retested,” Hardeman says.

For more frequent testing and the capture of production data, CMX1 can also be utilized to capture BME (beginning, middle, end) test results from a supplier for production runs, and product inspections performed by suppliers or "pull" tests for products being tested by a distributor, he adds.

“Production data can come in the form of a data feed or provided by the suppliers via a web form to collect the required data. Results can be reviewed and approved prior to lot releases if required.”

Further, the module can also allow for internal quality assurance teams, and/or suppliers to perform more in-depth product evaluations and product inspections and capture the results electronically, Hardeman says.

“As opposed to providing only the results or uploading Microsoft Excel-based inspections, brands can utilize a visual designer and a natural language rule builder to create web-based forms ranging from simple inspections to more in-depth product evaluations. The self-service tool allows for the definition of KPIs, pass/fail logic, and min, max, target values for testing at the item, bag, case or pallet level.”

The module can be used independently or automatically pull in the Finished Product Standards from product specifications when housed in CMX1’s Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) module for verifying specification compliance, he finishes. All results from product tests are captured electronically and are available for analytics, reporting, dashboarding and visualization for providing trends and insights by supplier, product, product category and more.

Allergens, sanitation, and pest control

Prevention of allergen cross-contact is important to ensure there is no trace of an undeclared allergen in a finished product, says Swanson.

“Technology can assist in scheduling production to reduce allergen cross-contact, testing the cleanliness of surfaces to ensure no allergen is present, and ensuring labels and packaging correctly declare the right product/right package and any allergens. All of this is can be trackable with software that streamlines record-keeping with 24/7 access, one-click reports and email notifications.”

She says that sanitation and maintenance each help prevent food safety issues.

“Facilities should have a schedule for each that includes activities like inspecting equipment for metal-to-metal contact that could lead to a recall, a regular pest management schedule to reduce pests, and scheduled maintenance to reduce equipment breakdowns. Each can be tracked to ensure schedules and procedures are followed.”

Inspection technology can also be used to help prevent issues from occurring, Swanson notes.

“For instance, pest management goes hand-in-hand with proper storage practices and stock rotation. To reduce stored product pest development or an infestation that could lead to food safety issues, proper ingredient storage and use are critical. Using technology, you can track inventory over time to better understand them and identify patterns that need correcting. Through this process, you can more effectively catch possible recalls before they occur.”

Related: Slideshow: Food safety technology—data collection and reporting

Preview: Don’t forget to attend our webinar, “Top Advances in Food Safety Technology,” on June 4, 2020, at 2pm EST, where this topic will be discussed in more detail. Click here to register.