The number of food product recalls and packaging scandals in recent years has made many consumers cautious about what exactly they are eating. As a response to this, demand for traceability in the food manufacturing industry has increased.
In turn, this has put pressure on food manufacturers to audit their packaging halls more regularly and rigorously than ever before, which can be a significant burden when a complex array of coding and packaging systems are in use. Here, we explore how they can solve this problem, and improve the efficiency and accuracy of their audits and traceability searches.
Paperless factory floor
While paperwork is a core component of any Quality Management System, any technical manager knows that it only takes one piece of paper to go missing or something left incomplete to lead to lost time or even disastrous results when it comes to an audit.
The problem with paper is that it relies on the operator (who may have more pressing issues on their mind than auditability) to conduct the test they were required to do and fill it in correctly. Secondly, errors are time-critical. The paperwork needs to be stored and filed in a way that enables quick retrieval and cross reference to other key documents before an audit comes along. However, there is a risk of data and valuable information being lost or spoilt before it gets to this point and no matter how fool-proof your filing system may be - human error can still occur.
As we move into the “fourth industrial revolution” – Industry 4.0 – isn’t it about time we moved away from a clumsy, paper approach and jump on to the digital bandwagon before we get left behind?
The ability for these kind of checks to be completed on handheld electronic devices, as an example, is becoming more of a reality for factory operations. Factories that embrace the move to a paperless factory floor with the use of automation can retrieve all the information they need easily and efficiently. A paperless system holds individual operators accountable for all their decisions, since it’s clear to see who was operating a particular machine, or making a quality check at any given time.
A key solution to improving the efficiency of audits is providing real-time access to information. A scenario we hear all too often on the factory floor is that there are issues with timing. This is because, like we explored above, many are still doing paper audits and then keying the information into a system, which can be very slow-moving.
A joined-up, automated system creates greater scope for the collection of data, which can be used for reporting purposes. Built-in line reports and audit logs increase traceability and accountability. Additionally, details of all QA checks can be consolidated into an audit log, reducing the amount of physical paper records that have to be retained and stored.
What is required?
Legal traceability requirements for all EU food and feed businesses took effect on 1 January 2005. Further details of these requirements can be found here.
While there is no legal requirement for an automated system to meet these requirements, businesses should consider the benefits to be gained from automation, specifically :
- Detect errors on the packaging line to avoid any withdrawals or recalls of products
- Make links between the sale of a finished product and the source of materials used to produce it
- Improve consumer protection through better targeted, and more rapid recalls and/or withdrawals
- Improve efficiency within businesses, with more information to assist in quality control and management
- Provide reliable information to consumers to support authenticity claims about products
- Increase consumer confidence