Data collection boosts food safety

by Charlotte Atchley
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Data management systems can not only measure inventory but some can even record the quality of ingredients such as the level of protein in the flour.
 

FSMA changed FDA’s regulatory focus — and the responsibility of the food industry — from responding to food safety problems to preventing them. “To be effective in this effort requires real-time knowledge of process and manufacturing operations,” said Michael Palmer, manager, ingredient systems applications and services, Gemini Bakery Equipment/KB Systems. “Efficient corrections to recipes, data-driven lot control and rapid responses to manufacturing process variances are all keys to preventing food contamination before it reaches the marketplace.”

Data-driven lot tracking enables bakers to trace ingredients throughout the entire production process, from receiving of raw materials through distribution of finished products, something required by FMSA. “Things like capturing lot numbers automatically using bar codes and tracking those lot numbers through the process are very critical from a FSMA perspective,” said John Hunter, sales account manager, bakery and ingredient handling, Buhler. “There are requirements in FSMA to trace ingredients and where you’re products are going.”

Lot tracking is a requirement for good reason. This level of data management empowers bakers to take control over their product and process.

“Data collection is very important to the baker for tracking raw material lots by batch,” said Doug Hale, vice-president of operations, Dunbar Systems, Inc. “This provides the ability to identify where a raw material was used in a finished product.” Having every ingredient recorded and tracked throughout production gives bakers the power to identify issues that may arise, pinpoint recalls if necessary and show FDA records in case of any recall incidents.

Maintaining the data on each lot of raw materials minimizes the impact a recall has on a baker’s products. “By tracking all these raw ingredient lots, if a baker has a need for a quality control hold or a potential recall due to a raw ingredient, the company can limit the amount of finished product that goes on hold by isolating only the batches produced with that raw ingredient ID,” said Jason Stricker, director of sales and marketing, Shick Solutions.

All of this can be accomplished right at the beginning during ingredient receiving, by scanning bar codes on ingredient lots and tracking those identifications by batch throughout production. With real-time data on those ingredients, bakers can even act on problematic batches immediately instead of waiting until they come out of the oven hours later, according to Bill Kearns, vice-president, engineering, Fred D. Pfening Co. This can save bakers a lot of time when it comes to quality control.

Buhler can also tie this level of lot tracking into other quality control monitoring, such as metal detection, to give bakers a full picture of their product quality. Even having data on something as specific as flour particle size, Mr. Hunter explained, can tip an operator off to issues at the sifter.

“If you could track that automatically, then you can prove to FDA that there is a solution,” he said. “You would have a record that either everything is OK or that action was taken.” At the end of the day, FSMA aims for recorded proof of how food safety situations arise and the ­solutions implemented to resolve them.

While all of this data most certainly comes in handy tracking raw materials and helping bakers show records to FDA in case of a product recall, having this data can also help bakers improve their process overall. Data analysis not only shows bakers where a problem has occurred, but it also allows them to see how much process consistency they are achieving.

“We are now giving our customers more and more control over the process and individual pieces of equipment that they never had in the past,” said Adam Jacobs, electrical engineer, Fred D. Pfening Co. “They can get information that they never could access in the past.”

Bakers can see how many hours a motor has run or how many cycles a valve has performed. With data, bakers can see and track trends in production.

“The reason why it’s important to manage the data and see what trends exist is because then you can do something with that data,” Mr. Hunter said. Recipe management and data collection are only the first steps. It’s how bakers use that data that really empowers their operations. “For example, if I were measuring the temperature of my powdered ingredients that went into my dough mixer, and I saw a variation in that, and at the same time, I saw a variation in the quality of the baked product, then I could see there’s a relationship between those two things with the data,” Mr. Hunter continued. “If I don’t have the data, I’m guessing, which is never a good thing.”

Data and recipe management give bakers control over ingredient weight tolerances and ensure first-in, first-out use of raw materials, Mr. Hale said. They can also help standardize processing formulas and track changes made to those formulas.

Shick’s AIM software can track and report any data collected, which can then be useful in tracking product consistency. This includes common features such as ingredient weighments, temperatures and even features outside the ingredient handling system, such as mix times and speeds, fermentation and lay times.

With a recipe management system, formula changes can also be placed firmly in management’s hands, achieving even more consistency. “A recipe management system helps tackle the problem of human e­rror by removing the human from the equation,” Mr. Jacobs said. “Automating the system takes a lot of control away from the operators, so human error greatly decreases.”

Buhler’s WinCos system also places the control in the hands of a few. Recipes are programmed into WinCos’ system, and only those who are authorized have access to make changes to those recipes. This ensures consistency from batch to batch. “For most of our customers, the recipe is what makes their product,” Mr. Hunter said. “How they manage their recipes, that’s their brand.”

The importance of safeguarding that recipe for a consistent process and product is critical to safeguarding the brand. What better place to protect a baker’s brand from the outset than the very first step of baking — the handling of ingredients.

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