Food and beverage traceability should not be taken with a pinch of salt

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By Paulo de Matos, SYSPRO Chief Product Officer 

According  to the Australian Food Safety Information Council, there are an estimated 5,400,000 cases of food poisoning in Australia every year and 120 deaths. 1.2 million people need to visit their doctor, with 300,000 prescriptions for antibiotics provided and 2.1 million days of work lost each year. The estimated annual cost of food poisoning in Australia is $1.25 billion, so it is an issue not to be taken lightly.

Food safety is covered by several standards in the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code. These standards aim to lower the incidence of foodborne illness by strengthening food safety and traceability throughout the food supply chain, from paddock to plate.

To regulate this vast industry, we have a trans-Tasman governmental body that is responsible for developing food standards called Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ). FSANZ’s annual report announced that a record number of product recalls and safety food incidents were recorded in Australia in FY19. This included the notorious strawberry needle contamination scandal of 2018. We have also seen outbreaks of listeria, salmonella and E. coli affecting frozen fruit, vegetables and eggs. Food wastage has been the immediate outcome, which places pressure on an already strained food system.

As recently as February this year, Lion Dairy and Drinks issued the recall of its one-litre and three-litre full cream milk manufactured at its Penrith site due to contamination of E. coli. The affected milk is sold in 7-Eleven and Aldi under the brands 7-Eleven, Aldi Farmdale, Community Co, Dairy Choice and Dairy Farmers. If consumed it could have caused illness including diarrhoea, vomiting and urinary tract infections. Serious cases may even cause pneumonia and meningitis in newborn babies.

As a solution, food and beverage manufacturers are looking towards food traceability technologies such as those found in an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system, to not only identify and respond to food safety issues, but also to support supply chain optimisation and the reduction of food loss. It is however vital to select an ERP solution that not only provides visibility of your supply chain, but also identifies measures that can be actioned.

Think proactively: preparation is key

As the old saying goes, prevention is better than cure, but what are some of the proactive steps that manufacturers should take to ensure traceability in the supply chain?

For one, food and beverage manufacturers need to be compliant with regulatory bodies. With the rise of global product recalls, more regulations than ever before have been implemented to protect the end consumer, all out of necessity.

Full visibility of your supply chain is also key – one of our customers who have implemented Lot Traceability modules for greater visibility is Gorant Chocolatier. In September 2009, Gorant Chocolatier did not have a fully integrated manufacturing system in place and was recording data manually on spreadsheets.  “Before SYSPRO, we did everything manually – everything from spreadsheets to handwritten delivery notes to our customers and it took a lot of labour to do that. In addition, if we were ever faced with a recall, it would have taken us a great deal of time to trace where those finished products went,” says Gorant Chocolatier Purchasing Manager, Mary Ann Yerage.

In the pursuit of proactive preparation, it is also important to implement a Traceability solution that allows you to perform regular “mock recalls”, time them and ensure they are meeting both the regulatory and supply-chain partner requirements for completion.  The organisation must get the “Mock Recall” functionality working correctly as this is the basis for success or failure of any recall.

Where actions speak louder than words

Visibility through end-to-end tracking is pivotal in the traceability process, but what should you do if a food item is found to be deficient?

The first vital step is to trace and account for every suspect item throughout the value chain. This requires an ERP solution with traceability capabilities, that must be able to track several units of a stock item from the same lot or batch number. Once these have all been found, manufacturers can then implement product recalls or quarantine suspect goods.

Your ERP system should also assist with the visibility of the communications (or activities) that occur between the touchpoints of an organisation to facilitate proactive intervention by management, improve relationships, and eliminate duplication of effort. With early identification of a defect and the ability to quickly communicate with affected customers, you can minimise the reputational damage of a recall.

Food recalls may be on the rise, but with the right ERP technology in place, you can minimise the risk before, and mitigate damage during a recall when time is of the essence. Traceability and quarantining of suspect goods should be second nature to the Food Defence team, and not a sudden event thrust onto an unprepared organisation.

Lastly, attitude is everything – a recall is to protect consumer safety first and foremost.  That should also be the end goal of the organisation, not cost or brand damage minimisation which seems to be the most prolific approach.

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