Allergens in food can have serious health consequences and in the worst cases, inadvertent contamination can be fatal, says Eric Carter, Solutions Architect at Indigo Software. According to the Association of UK Dieticians, between 1-10% of adults and children are estimated to have a food hypersensitivity of some description and 20% of the population report experiencing reactions to certain foods, making them believe they have a food hypersensitivity.
We have all read news reports about the individuals who had serious lactose intolerance inadvertently consuming dairy products which resulted in death. These are tragic cases and for every fatality that’s widely publicised, there are many hundreds more people who have suffered a severe reaction from mistakenly eating something they are allergic to. Many new, plant-based alternatives to meat and dairy products contain serious allergens – nuts, seeds, pulses, wheat and soya predominantly. These should always be labelled correctly and stored away from other raw materials to avoid contamination, but errors happen and allergens can creep into a production line.
WMS controls watertight food safety processes
As food manufacturers are keenly aware, it is essential to have watertight processes enabling full stock traceability. Having the ability to manage which stocks are selected for a production run, and then have the right controls in place to trace an item from the moment it arrives onsite to its final dispatch as a finished product, are now more important than ever. Where a business has achieved a BRC approved status the ability to track and trace through a mixture of Process, Procedures and Compliance must be proven.
This is where implementing a Warehouse Management System (WMS) and integrating it with an existing ERP system to power real time decision making comes into its own. A WMS can control every aspect of your warehouse operation, separating activities between raw materials and finished goods. It gives food manufacturers the ability to trace every product made together with its constituent ingredients right through the warehouse and beyond to the customer. Users can track which batch of ingredients were used in a production batch and know exactly where those goods ended up. In the event of a food safety recall the products can be isolated swiftly to maximise consumer safety levels.
A WMS provides food manufacturers with complete control of all stock coming into the warehouse, being moved around the 4 walls and into production and then control of finished products as they leave the warehouse. This can be done at the single item, case or pallet level. Particularly important for allergen control, is the ability to select raw materials and stock with special characteristics to meet specific requirements and the ability to trace when a specific batch of stock has been issued and to which dispatching point. If necessary, stock batches can be quarantined and investigated for contamination, with a complete audit trail for compliance reporting.
Just as important as traceability management is stock rotation. Consumers want to eat the freshest food possible but fresh ingredients are highly perishable. Many food raw materials have limited shelf lives and when using a WMS, it is easy to track stock according to production, best before, expiry or inbound receipting dates. Operating First-In, First-Out (FIFO) stock rotation for efficient shelf life management becomes a routine procedure – for raw materials as well as packaging, thereby reducing levels of waste.
This highlights another danger for consumers, when foods that may be in date are contaminated with a bacteria, like salmonella or e Coli, and they inadvertently enter the supply chain. Finished goods that contain the offending raw ingredients need to be recalled quickly to minimise any threat to public health. A WMS helps here too, by supporting real time reporting of outbound customer deliveries, ensuring full stock traceability through the supply chain and simplifying product recalls in the event of a QA issue.
For any food manufacturer implementing warehouse management software can expect to recoup their investment many times over in a short space of time. Frequently it is the smaller, artisan manufacturers that get caught out when it comes to allergen controls, because they lack the technological capability to trace every stage in the manufacturing chain. Now, with rapid implementation WMS solutions available, like Indigo QuickStart, introducing traceability need not result in any disruption to your business. Clearly there is huge scope for manufacturers to improve food traceability and tightly manage allergen control and with allergies on the rise everywhere in the world, it is time to embrace what a WMS can offer.