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Custom solutions critical for food, beverage manufacturers

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Regardless of what products food and beverage companies manufacture or grow, they have a simple unifying goal: Provide consumers with a safe product.

How food and beverage companies achieve that goal, however, is as varied as the products they ship to customers. A patchwork of programs and regulations guide manufacturers and grower-shippers on food safety processes in plants and packinghouses. That includes the Food Safety Modernization Act, California/Arizona Leafy Greens Marketing Agreements, Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI), British Retail Consortium, and Good Agricultural Practice standards.

A food or beverage company might even have different in-house food safety procedures depending on the variety of what they produce. The Food and Drug Administration’s FSMA, for example, proposes stricter traceability rules on certain fish and cheeses, chicken eggs, fresh-cut produce, leafy greens and other fruits and vegetables.

As food safety regulations — and requests from customers to follow various programs — have increased, so has the need to collect, retain and share information with regulators and partners in the supply chain.

More companies are turning to plant management software to address food safety oversight, as well as collect data used to enhance the overall efficiency of manufacturing plants and packinghouses.

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The same, yet different
SafetyChain Software, a plant management software provider, works directly with company executives and plant personnel to tailor platforms that meet the needs of food, beverage and consumer packaged goods manufacturers.

Barry Maxon, SafetyChain CEO and co-founder, said a vice president of quality at a customer once said something years ago that underscores the SafetyChain process and configurability for new clients: Food and beverage companies all do the same thing — differently.

That’s where SafetyChain solutions architect Brandon Wright comes in.

“I’ll walk through their facility with them and try to understand how their process works, how that process of making things engages with humans, and how those two pieces engage with data,” Wright said. “How do we capture that data, whether it be for food safety, or process management or compliance?”

The process, which SafetyChain refers to as “blueprinting,” configures the platform’s backbone with forms that address everything from receiving to tracking temperatures, finished product, maintenance and sanitation checks, and corrective actions taken when parameters aren’t being met on the line.

“(Companies) can build their forms to capture data and trend data they way they want to and need to, because someone making a specialized olive oil blend is going to be measuring it differently than someone who’s harvesting blueberries out in the field,” Maxon said.

By the time the plant management platform goes live, according to Maxon, “we’ve already figured out the huge base of infrastructure that you need to have to support a real-time operation, we’ve thought about compliance, we’ve thought about data redundancy, about how to handle if WiFi isn’t available, about security, about operational demands, and ease-of-use for production line workers.”

During a recent SafetyChain web seminar featuring Blue Bell Creameries’ use of plant management software, the dairy products manufacturer outlined the blueprinting process involved in adopting the platform.

“As we were building these forms and doing the training and getting more people involved, (employees) actually bought into this and were coming to me, and saying, ‘Hey, we could do it this way or change it up this way, make it easier and more efficient,’ so we received a lot more buy-in from that,” Josh Kalich, Blue Bell food safety and projects manager, said during the March 23 web seminar.

Kalich suggests that companies involve employees who are excited about the data potential during the blueprinting process. Feedback on tailoring the forms to meet the needs of specific facilities is important, he said.

“I picked an individual that knew the forms very well, and was very energetic about it, very positive,” he said. “. . . The biggest thing is getting people involved. Find your strongest people, people that want to work with it.”

The plant management platform is engineered to be updated or added to as manufacturers’ needs change, which is critical as technology allows improvements to be introduced faster, Wright said.

“The days of ‘This is the way we’ve always done it’ are no more,” he said. “Now it’s, ‘How do we want to do it?’”

As consumer interest in how food, beverage and consumer packaged goods companies grow and process products, manufacturers are tracking everything from their carbon footprint, use of resources and how much waste they generate.

Sustainability reports are more common in providing the transparency sought by customers and consumers. Wright said plant management platforms can also capture sustainability information to support ESG initiatives if a manufacturer builds it into the blueprinting process.

“We’re really here to empower these businesses to use the information that is happening,” Wright said. “If they can figure out how to capture it, we can do it.”

For example, Maxon said, dairies can monitor resources in real time.

“If you’re a dairy and running a (clean-in-place) process, you’re putting a tremendous amount of water and electricity into that process,” he said. “Just by being able to measure data in real time, you can help the operator fine-tune that process to reduce your use of water and reduce your spend on electricity.”

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