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Data Readiness and Digitization for Food Producers
March 15th 2022

Data Readiness and Digitization for Food Producers


Last week, we held an engaging panel discussion with leading industry food manufacturers about how digitizing their food safety program enhanced their visibility, output, and freed up resources. The conversation was hosted by Mérieux NutriSciences with participation from BioMérieux. 

In this blog, we’ll uncover some key takeaways from the discussion. 

Leading up to the panel discussion, Will Melnyczenko, Global Business Development Director, shared important context relating to the value of data readiness and digitalization in your operation: 

Testing finished products, as well as monitoring your food production environment for pathogens, and spoilage organisms is really key to ensuring consumer safety, as we all know… But we know that the data associated with this surveillance and the corrective actions tied to that data can quickly become burdensome to manage, especially with the manual approach. We found that many food producers are using pen and paper or a plain excel file – where errors can occur and time is zapped by reformatting and oftentimes not backed up, at risk for lost information.

According to bioMérieux’s digital readiness survey that polled 344 respondents, 87% of respondents said that their environmental monitoring programs are not digitally optimized. Breaking the survey results down further, 30% of respondents shared they are using a manual approach with just pen and paper, and 56% are using a spreadsheet style approach like using Excel. 

MeInyczenko touches on the FDA’s proposed Food Traceability rule that was published in September 2020. While the FDA currently has had food traceability requirements in place, the proposed update is intended to enhance traceability recordkeeping for certain identified foods beyond a limited “one-up, one-back” traceback approach.

“Technology enabled traceability is going to create food traceability advancements, including rapid trace backs and identifying specific sources of data. Really, the ultimate goal is for the FDA to be able to quickly remove products from the marketplace, when necessary, to prevent any injuries to human health.”

Given this context the panelists were asked to speak on their own methods for digitizing their systems in their facilities. The panel included: 

  • Wendy Bigala, Corporate Microbiology Program Manager, North America, OSI Group  
  • Ledon Black, Microbiologist Specialist, Hill’s Pet Nutrition
  • Sarah Burt, Senior Microbiologist, Lamb Weston Corporate: Food Protection
  • Michele Sayles Ph.D.,  Executive Director of Food Safety and Quality, Diamond Pet Food
  • Kris Young- Manager, Food Safety & Microbiology Product Safety, Quality, & Regulatory, Hill’s Pet Nutrition

The panelists were asked three questions related to their environmental monitoring program. Read below to see their answers. To access the entire webinar and discussion, click here

Question 1: What are the top advantages your company has seen through digitizing your environmental monitoring program?

Bigala: I’ve worked with Enviromap with two companies over the past eight years and there are great advantages to using a digital platform. First and foremost, you want to make sure you use a platform that can support your current and also future growth, by selecting a company with a platform that can provide technical support as you grow.

The advantages of this are that you can centralize your data. If you are a company that’s on a global platform or just a national platform with many locations within your organizations across North America, you can centralize the visibility, and the trending of data across many locations, which is key. You can change the culture to a data-driven culture to help meet these changing and shifting regulations and requirements. It improves collaboration both at the national level and globally.

Sayles: Wendy mentioned a term that is near and dear to my heart, and that’s being data-driven. And unlike my fellow colleagues here today, I’m probably the rookie in the group when it comes to Enviromap because we have only been basically tinkering with it for about a year and a half. I think in today’s realm, I’ve been doing food safety for over 20 years, one of the things that keep coming back is making decisions. How do you make decisions? Having scientific evidence to support those decisions, or to back those decisions, the rationale is important.

One of the nice things is the visual aspect, looking at how we can change things up. We have to relay messages back up to management, who maybe don’t understand our vocabulary or know what we do day in and day out. So this helps us be able to show the amount of work that we do… And so, I would say probably for us, and for our company, it’s just been a tool to be able to wrap your arms around information and utilize it in a more efficient manner.

Burt: For our company, to kind of touch on what Wendy and Michelle talked about, there’s been a big push for standardization between all of our facilities. And this program allows us to have that standardization so that data is collected in the same way, it’s presented in the same way. We can look at it in the same way across all facilities and we can look at different aspects of it. The big portion of it that we really utilize amongst our company is the standardization.

Young: For us, the key was that we wanted to be able to use the data to make data-driven decisions. But for us, first, it was, how do we get there? And the biggest advantage for us with Envriomap was that we eliminated a lot of those manual tasks that took forever for our teams to go do.

They spent more time updating spreadsheets when we were a more manual program. They spent more time transferring CoA data to the spreadsheet and really didn’t have a lot of time to focus on looking at the data, because they spent so much time inputting the data into a spreadsheet. Of course, in addition to doing all the corrective actions. And so, for us, the big push was, this would actually eliminate that and make it more efficient for us to be able to then look at the data and help us to focus on that. Versus, oh, my goodness, I’ve got to enter all this information into the spreadsheet, then I’m tired of looking at it. At that point, you’re not really getting the value out of the information. So that was the big push for us there so that we could become more and more data-driven, more deep data focus.

Black: I’ll just add the need for data in real-time. So, when the data comes in through Enviromap, it’s updated every 24 hours. So, you don’t have to spend time waiting for data to come in, or you don’t have to spend time entering data. So, the data comes to you in real-time, and it just populates into Enviromap so you can use that data to do anything to improve your processes.

Question 2: Were there any challenges in communicating with your nonfood science leadership about the need for data readiness? And if there were, how did you overcome those?

Bigala: It’s important to communicate with the senior leadership team or corporate team to show them the governance around the system, speak to the data when you have audits, whether it’s a third-party audit, whether it’s the FDA coming into your facility, the system really does come in handy. Having that system to show how you’re managing your data, how you’re taking a preventive approach to use data to identify, to just not be a reactive organization, but a proactive organization. The data can help you to become more proactive in your decision-making.

It can help you to look at the controls that you have in place to see how effective they are. Are there other measurements that we can use that we have identified that can make processes more robust?  You can just speak with the data to show them the ROI for acquiring and implementing these systems and the governance that comes along with it because corporate has lots of questions. They cannot see paper. They are not going to come in and look at spreadsheets and paper, but when you have a system like EnviroMap, dashboards can be built. So corporate can have a full view of your KPIs, and key performance indicators. Or they can build other indicators to look at it from a proactive approach to say, hey, you know, do we have activity here?

Enviromap is a company that has technical experts that can work with you to customize dashboards so that you can see them from any view that you desire. And their team can work with you to get those dashboards set up for your factory level and then also, for your corporate level to see and link it to other systems. 

Question 3: According to the bioMérieux digital readiness survey, 87% of food manufacturers reported they are still using manual or electronic log-based (i.e. Excel) systems for the EMP – does this surprise you? What advice would you give someone that is considering the investment of EnviroMap? 

Black: It does not surprise me, because I lived there just last year. And it was time-consuming to enter, and all that data, and trying to track and trend then, and not being able to analyze the data as we want to. The advice I would share is that since joining Hills, I realize that this program is excellent. You get a great return on investment because you spend less time doing the things that are mundane or the things that are more time-consuming, rather than analyzing the data. So, with the new tool, I think you can analyze the data better. The data is there for you to make proactive decisions, not reactive decisions, as Wendy said earlier.

Watch the entire discussion below.

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