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From farm to fork: Digitalizing your food and beverage operation


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Operators are still unsure of where to start when it comes to creating a traceability system.
Photo: Matthias Kabel via Wikimedia Commons

It provides a competitive edge while ensuring your traceability plan is recall-ready.

Tracking the movement of food and ingredients has always been a time-consuming task for food manufacturers, and it’s become increasingly difficult as our food system continues to globalize. A traceability plan is also an essential first step in building an effective recall plan. No manufacturer wants to consider their products may be recalled for any reason, but when it happens it’s vital that recall is conducted quickly and efficiently, both for public safety and for the reputation of the business. The longer and less organized a recall is, the more money and customers you may lose in the long run.

Unfortunately, many food and beverage operators are still unsure of where to start when it comes to creating a traceability system. Because the new regulations are “outcomes-based” rather than prescriptive, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) does not map out a “one-size-fits-all” traceability program to follow. That means manufacturers have the opportunity to create a customized system that fits holistically within their process, while adding value to other areas of their operations.

According to Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, agriculture and food production contributes more than $111.9 billion to Canada’s total GDP. However, food and beverage makers face enormous pressures just to maintain their tight margins. At one end they are squeezed by retailers adjusting prices to suit cost-conscious consumers, while at the other they must juggle high overheads and fluctuating costs of inputs like commodities and energy. As a result, Canadian manufacturers are increasingly focusing on better cost control methods, while relying on a much wider range of sources –both domestic and international – for their ingredients.

Meanwhile, Canadian consumers are already driving changes to the food and beverage manufacturing process, demanding more transparency and convenient, technology-enabled access to information about food companies’ ingredients, business practices and values.

Concepts like Industry 4.0 are rapidly transforming Canadian manufacturing, but the food and beverage sector has been slower to adapt to digitally enabled technology. Now, as traceability becomes mandatory for many food and beverage businesses, it’s time for manufacturers to examine their facilities to decide if they have the right processes and technology in place to handle the challenges they now face. For instance, you will likely find that investing in a digital preventative control plan and traceability program is crucial due to the complexity of the food chain and food safety requirements. But automated systems and sensors can also help to improve inventory management systems, allowing you to better monitor supplier ingredients, warehouses, logistics and retail points.

Most importantly, these systems give food companies the valuable ability to capture, store and transfer data. If there is a recall – or an audit by the CFIA – data for the entire supply chain can be provided at the touch of a button. Ease of functionality and training also means you’re no longer reliant on one employee to keep and understand your recall plan.

Automating your data collection process and adding connectivity offers additional benefits, such as boosting overall efficiency and productivity, while cutting downtime for maintenance or equipment change-over. It also helps reduce costs by streamlining the supply chain, minimizing loss and food waste throughout the process, and potentially shortening lead times for bringing new products to market. Manufacturers with automated processes are better able to create customized or short-run products for clients and better manage their resources through just-in-time production. Connected systems also ensure the company is operating at peak efficiency so it’s best positioned for growth when opportunities arise.

On March 6, 2019 at 2 pm EST, I’ll be hosting a webinar to discuss the key elements of an effective traceability system. My guest, Dana McCauley, and I will explore how innovation in the era of Industry 4.0 is reinventing the way organizations along the value chain communicate and work more collaboratively. Please join us for this important webinar. Click here to reserve your spot today.

Mike Hutson is a solution architect at SYSPRO Canada. SYSPRO is a global, independent provider of industry-built ERP software for manufacturers and distributors with offices in Burnaby, BC, Mississauga, Ont. and Halifax.