How Automation Heightens Food Supply Chain Safety Amidst Unprecedented Challenges
It’s no secret that food supply chain management has become more complex than ever before. Just as we thought we saw the end of supply chain issues caused by the pandemic, geopolitical emergencies like the Ukraine Grain Deal and climate emergencies like CO2 shortages are further disrupting the food supply chain and causing devastating problems for food manufacturers. Even major food production companies like General Mills are grappling with supply chain hiccups as production lines screech to a halt due to key ingredients running late.
A recent survey of business decision makers indicate that these persisting supply chain issues won’t be alleviated at least until the middle of 2023. Supply chain issues are here to stay, and companies must learn to adapt to them in order to maintain reputation and profit.
Specifically with food manufacturers, ongoing supply chain issues create numerous food safety and quality issues in the production line by exposing weaknesses in a company’s food supply chain management system. Poor food safety impacts customer health, consumer loyalty and company reputation while also increasing the risk of recalls, product disposals, or government issued penalties that cause great financial loss for companies.
Icicle’s automated food safety and supplier management systems allow you to thoroughly and efficiently address vulnerabilities in your management systems. Effective management systems mitigate food safety risks brought along by food supply chain disruptions and allows you to focus on growing your business, even as unpredictable times persist.
Guard Your Production Line from Food Supply Chain Safety Issues
Food supply chain issues disrupt production schedules and introduce serious food safety issues to production lines. To ensure that food manufacturers have adequate management systems to analyze and control biological, chemical, and physical hazards, the US FDA (along with most other regulatory authorities) requires the creation of Hazard Analysis Critical Point (HACCP) plans. These safety plans must be adaptable to unexpected events like the pandemic – a crisis with heavy impacts on the supply chain that are still ongoing today.
Due to their dynamic nature and the large quantities of information you need to maintain your documentation, it is difficult to manage multiple HACCP plans manually. Canadian poultry producer Hayter’s Farm implemented Icicle ERP in 2013 to centralize their HACCP plans and make it easier to set food safety standards as well as train employees as their production size grew. With all of their HACCP plans built directly into their Icicle account, Hayter’s food safety team eliminated the need to track and maintain binders full of paper documents. Instead, any change to their food safety program is automatically propagated throughout the system, which is always operating on real-time information that is accessible to authorized users from any secure, internet-enabled device.
Having Icicle made it really easy to incorporate new HACCP plans with the process flowcharts and the processes and all the hazard analysis – that was very quick and easy to input into the system.
Dave Maguire, Coordinator at Hayter’s Farm
But Icicle is more than a digital document storage system: the proprietary technology operates from a complex model of your food business, linking employee workflows to relevant Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) to make the right information accessible to the right people, even if they have to work from home or any other location. Automated tasks and targeted prompts help employees complete their work at the highest standards, all while feeding information into Icicle for an airtight documentation and traceability chain.
The team at Hayter’s Farm loved the way they could add photos of deviations and nonconformities for employees to reference when conducting inspections, helping them train staff on the job with confidence. With less manual paperwork – and less human error from smudged or lost documents – their staff was able to focus on solving problems on the production floor to keep operations moving forward. Icicle even integrates with other tools like temperature sensors to alert staff immediately if something is out of range, enabling rapid corrective actions that minimize problems and avert disasters.
Automation advantages like these mean that you can maintain the highest safety and quality standards even when you are understaffed or shuffling production schedules or formulas. Unexpected food supply chain issues are easier to tackle head on when you have already alleviated the burdens of paperwork, automated data collection for regulatory compliance, and opened the door to remote management of crucial compliance activities.
Be Confident in Product Quality Amidst Global Food Supply Chain Shortages
While the pandemic brought production lines all around the world to a screeching halt, Big Mountain seamlessly responded to supply chain issues by planning out how they secure quality ingredients to ensure they meet their schedules and targets. Sub-par ingredients can spoil before you use them – delaying production, wasting valuable resources, and decreasing profit – or they can shorten the shelf life for finished products, leading to consumer issues and financial penalties. Either way, quality ingredients are hard to obtain during supply chain shortages but necessary for food businesses.
The first step to planning out your food supply chain is finding a line up of trustworthy vendors. Icicle’s supplier management feature assesses vendors based on supplier quality, cost, delivery and risk potential so you can have a list of back up vendors, just in case. You can also easily keep track of supplier certifications to track your supplier’s compliance with your company’s safety and quality standards.
[Supplier management] is a very strong feature of Icicle; not only does it give us information at our fingertips but it’s like a direct line to the vendor. Icicle makes it much easier. This is an area that could be very complex. […] I think this is an area that’s really adding value on our end.
Patrick O’Sullivan, Plant Manager & Project Manager, Big Mountain Foods
Once raw materials from your supplier hit the production line, inspection and quality control measures from Icicle’s QA dashboard ensure that quality standards are met by establishing quality baselines and monitoring all of your inputs and outputs. Paired with the Laboratory Management Module, customizable lab templates streamline quality testing and deliver results to you quickly, alerting staff when test results don’t align with the established baseline so that immediate action can be taken. As the last step, Icicle automatically generates a Certificate of Analysis (CoA) to further demonstrate to customers and auditors that your product is meeting quality requirements throughout production.
Defend Your Production Line From Food Fraud
Recently, CO2 shortages are at the centre of food fraud warnings, with the closure of major CO2 plants giving fraudsters good opportunity to offer cheap alternatives. Economically motivated food fraud costs the global food industry 10 to 15 billion dollars a year and introduces many food safety issues into the supply chain. To protect your business from losing profit and company reputation to suspicious suppliers, Icicle offers assessment templates to assist you in making smart decisions regarding vendors.
Threat and Vulnerability Assessments help you gauge the potential risks of certain products. These assessments ask you questions in terms of both the ingredient and supplier. For example, if you were conducting an assessment on a high risk product like CO2, you would be asked questions such as “Would it be relatively easy to substitute or adulterate the product with a cheaper alternative or filler?” Questions about vendors may be along the lines of “Have you had a long relationship with the supplier?”
Each answer is weighted according to its significance and then statistically analyzed to generate a food fraud vulnerability score for the particular ingredient. These assessments not only protect your production line from potential fraud, but also help fulfill FSMA regulations which require threat and vulnerability analyses of your food supply chain.
Icicle uses the information from completed Threat and Vulnerability Assessments to generate TACCP and VACCP plans (which stand for Threat Assessment and Critical Control Points and Vulnerability Assessment and Critical Control Points). Once you have identified high risk ingredients in your value chain, the TACCP and VACCP plans act as a workflow guide to advise you on how to mitigate potential risks caused by the ingredient throughout your production line. For example, a risk-migitating strategy could be to utilize vendor controls so that only suppliers who have been certified by the appropriate people in your business can supply raw materials.
Icicle’s Automation Assists You in Managing Food Safety Across Your Value Chain
Recent food supply chain issues are causing unexpected and uncalculated production line issues, but automation is the key to smoothly navigating any curveballs thrown your way. With features like automated temperature monitors, supplier management and Threat and Vulnerability Assessments, Icicle supports your food business to flexibly handle supply chain issues, and can even decrease operational and insurance costs by providing you with strong defense strategies against potential product recalls.
Learn more about how Icicle can secure your food supply chain with our free Supplier Audit Checklist, and get in touch with us to experience how Icicle smoothly manages food safety so you can focus on growing your business amidst supply chain challenges.