How To Avoid Being The Next Food Safety Scandal

Source: Aptean

A recent undercover report did more than uncover low standards of food safety at a major food manufacturer – it also highlighted the importance of organizations having the relevant technology in place to prevent issues arising on the shop floor.
One of the largest food manufacturers recently found itself battling to save its reputation (not to mention its biggest customers), following undercover footage that showed poor food hygiene processes and inadequate scrutiny of its food safety procedures at one of its largest sites.
The scandal revolved around the handling of poultry on the production line, with workers seen altering sell-by dates on packages, as well as mixing old and new produce. The damage was near instantaneous, with three supermarket chains pulling their business and halting deliveries from the factory. Government investigations into the scandal means that the cost to the company’s reputation could grow to catastrophic levels.
At the very least, the organization will suffer with having the terms of its deals to supply the main supermarkets renegotiated aggressively, and in the worst case it could lose the contracts altogether. The scandal could even see members of the leadership team forced out of their positions. They are ultimately responsible for the quality measures and management system put in place. Although they may not be involved in the day-to-day activities, the buck stops with them.
Despite its focus on one organization, the scandal presents a major challenge to all food manufacturers. What has not appeared in the news so far is that this is likely to be the tip of the iceberg. The company involved merely has the unfortunate distinction of being the one exposed. And manufacturers will now be under even greater scrutiny, and challenged to demonstrate their commitment to food safety and consumer welfare.
With such high stakes involved, it can seem strange that companies still rely on in-house (mostly paper-based) procedures on their factory floors. Often the reasons for sticking with the current solution center on attempting to avoid upsetting the status quo. “It’s how we’ve always managed it” is a commonly heard refrain; but, just like the latest software, business practices have to constantly evolve and change to remain relevant and up-to-date with modern manufacturing needs.
The emergence of the digital world has changed the way people across the globe consume information, and the manufacturing world has to evolve and keep pace with this to meet the demands of the big supermarket players. When the importance of data is growing, why should supermarkets not expect their key suppliers to provide quality information to them at the click of a button? And what reason do manufacturers have to not clearly demonstrate that their quality records are trustworthy, authenticated by permissible staff, and show a complete timeline of the quality operations alongside any exceptions and anomalies?
By taking advantage of a solution-specifically designed for the food and beverage industry, businesses can focus on building positive awareness of their brands. 
Another perception that often stands in the way of innovation in manufacturing is that implementing a quality system is a huge investment – both in terms of software and people power. This is simply not the case – and you only need to look at Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES) as an example. They can be implemented and delivering tangible results in under 90 days, which provides manufacturers with the peace of mind that their quality operations are being handled using a built-for-purpose solution.
A solution like an MES gives businesses a clear advantage over their previous paper-based systems. As well as having the ability to show full compliance in the event of an audit, manufacturers can demonstrate that any opportunity for the manipulation and falsification of records has been eradicated. At this point, quality management can be freed up to focus on tasks that actually add value in and around each facility.
Businesses that continue to rely on outdated, paper-based systems risk facing their own scandal and reputation crisis. Even if they avoid this threat, they will be separated from successful companies who select their shop-floor systems more wisely.
These businesses are also in a better position to retain the trust of the world’s biggest supermarkets, safe in the knowledge their quality operations are completely accountable, easily auditable and not open to manipulation or the falsification of records.
What an MES also offers that pen and paper cannot is an operator interface that enables shop floor staff to be alerted when a check is due. This provides site-wide visibility into quality operations, while supporting escalation and alerting routines that ensure the right person knows at the right time whenever a quality issue arises.
Admittedly, it is not the process that is to blame for the systemic mislabeling of food when there appears to be a cultural problem, as indicated by the encouragement of malpractice by supervisors. However, enforcement of good manufacturing practices is made all the more difficult with a paper-based system – opening the door to manipulation and sloppiness. Having an electronic system in place will not make the change alone, but it provides operational transparency and provides management with the visibility it needs to enforce best practice.
The risks to a manufacturer’s reputation of poorly managed quality operations are an issue that companies can actively manage and prevent, purely by implementing the right system to suit their needs. It is a task that should not be approached lightly, but the potential pitfalls are extremely small when compared with the massive impact simply standing still could have on a business wishing to maintain its status quo.
Doing what you have always done is the enemy of progress – whether that means improving the quality of food safety in your factories or driving great results within your business. Implementing a quality system may seem like an undertaking that does not provide a measurable ROI, but when faced with a potentially company-ending scenario – as witnessed recently – that investment in the right system will seem like a small price to pay. At the very least, it could see you avoid being right at the center of the next food safety scandal.