Cooking Up a Food Safety Plan

Dec. 23, 2015
Protecting the public and protecting business is the top priority for food processors these days, which is why a new category of food safety automation software is appearing.

Food safety is on the forefront of everyone’s minds these days as Chipotle Mexican Grill publically struggles to get to the bottom of several food poisoning incidents that has the Center for Disease Control (C.D.C.) and Prevention investigating another strain of E.coli outbreak at the restaurant chain.

According to a New York Times article, the C.D.C. chief of outbreak response and prevention stated that “one of the challenges here has been that we have been able to identify the restaurants where people ate, but because of the way Chipotle does its record-keeping, we have been unable to figure out what food is in common across restaurants.”

As Chipotle attempts to assuage customer and investor outcries by emphasizing its commitment to food safety—which includes hiring a food safety testing and consulting firm—food manufacturers are taking note of the need for meticulous record-keeping, especially with the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Food Safety and Modernization Act (FSMA) looming deadlines.

The FSMA mandates that companies have quality control mechanisms in place to reduce the risk of foodborne illness. And, according to the FSMA web page, it will enforce best practices by: “Assessing whether systems are working effectively to prevent problems and taking immediate action to protect public health through voluntary corrective action or a range of administrative remedies.”

Now, what in the world are administrative remedies? It doesn’t sound very pleasant.

You know what else won’t be pleasant for manufacturers? The FDA’s surprise audits. That’s right: “Third-party certification bodies accredited under the program are required to perform unannounced facility audits and to notify the FDA upon discovering a condition that could cause or contribute to a serious risk to public health.”

Specifically, the auditors will be looking for transparency in the manufacturing facility and across the international supply chain, and that will require enhanced record-keeping for collecting and analyzing safety data in real time at every transaction point. Documentation will need to be readily accessible because who knows when that FDA auditor will show up—unannounced—on your plant floor requiring information on-demand.

Are you ready?

Many manufacturers are probably not, I suspect. And, since necessity is the mother of invention, I feel a whole new category of automation software coming on—like Icicle, for example, a new product and division of Burton Software that automates food safety processes.

The Icicle hazard analysis system is a cloud-based data model that hyperlinks everything together from procedures to inspection records and corrective actions. The software, which was introduced in 2013, continues to evolve to include things like allergen management, quality control, and track and trace. It also supports the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) standards to ensure international compliance.

To get started, companies upload existing food safety documentation, including Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) plans and procedures, into the system. Additional support is provided with procedure writing and on-site assessments to ease the audit process.

“Our last audit was not too long ago from the government of Canada,” said Icicle customer Mitchell Pugh, operations manager at Chewter’s Chocolates. “They asked for a certain product and what hazards were there and I was able to pull that up within five minutes. They were in and out within an hour.” In addition, the cloud-based infrastructure provides the flexibility to access one program from multiple facilities and any mobile device, he said.

In some cases, auditors are provided with direct access to the Icicle account to verify information on their own. Ultimately, it is about adding automation into the food safety process to not only meet regulatory requirements, but also to maintain product quality, prevent recalls, and keep the public safe, said Steve Burton, Icicle creator and CEO of Burton Software.

“There’s a need for risk-based food safety control under FSMA, and companies don’t have that automated,” Burton said. “We developed a high performance cloud-based software system that is not just for document storage, but with the press of a button, documents are generated automatically.”

Icicle works with food manufacturers, but the product is also used in restaurant food chains, Burton said...

Hmmm, I’m thinking of one restaurant chain in particular that might want to give him a call.