1 September 2006

Chasing the cheddar

Tracking and tracing processes help manufacturers meet new standards to keep food safe

By Ellen Fussell Policastro

Where one batch ends in the food and beverage industry, another process begins called tracking and tracing. This means keeping a journal of sorts in the manufacturing process and beyond to help ensure safe products are leaving the plant and continuing on safely to their intended destination, our mouths. Metamorphosing legislation in the U.S. and Europe also marks the origin of new processes and technologies to help keep food safe throughout its journey, beginning at birth, in the manufacturing process. 

Fast Forward

  • Food safety initiatives in Europe and the U.S. incite progressive traceability laws.
  • Building better batches means tracking and tracing start at the plant.
  • European dairies meet traceability standards and improve processes with new control systems. 

The U.S. Bioterrorism Act of 2002 was one catalyst that led to manufacturers beefing up their tracking and tracing procedures. The European Union's (EU) Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy crisis (mad cow disease) and other food scandals led the EU to legislate an action plan for a new food policy as well. The laws required manufacturers to track the production from the farm to the fork and all steps in between. Key elements in the new approach were a framework regulation, an independent body providing scientific advice to the legislators, a specific food and feed safety legislation, including a major overhaul of the existing hygiene legislation, and a framework for harmonized food controls.

To capture that information in the manufacturing process, "it's important to make sure the same procedures are followed at all facilities," said Jerry Horne of Kansas City, Mo.-based  MARKEM, a hardware and software provider for food, beverage, and pharmaceutical package coding. "That's important from a logistics standpoint because manufacturers want to have the same procedures to follow throughout their company to ensure the best quality control for their products. The EU laws are basically dictating standards," he said.

Food safety is driven not only by regulatory requirements, but "by companies buying products or by the purchaser/buyer relationship," said Dr. John Larkin from the National Center for Food Safety Technology, Food and Drug Administration (FDA). One such relationship (between supplier and manufacturer) helped a European dairy manufacturer comply with EU food safety laws, improve logistics with fewer mistakes in palletizing, picking, and shipping, and increase sales across six plants.

A brighter butter trail

With 30 food processing facilities from The Netherlands, Belgium, and Germany to Russia and Poland, Campina provides liquid and powder milk products, yogurts, desserts, cheese, butter, cream liqueurs, and other ingredients for the international food and pharmaceutical industries. The company produces over 160,000 tons of cheese and 65,000 tons of butter annually. But the company's logistics processes lacked uniformity from plant to plant, and labeling mistakes were making their way into the process. This precluded meeting regulatory and customer requirements. The solution was a new product and pallet labeling system.

The new system needed to be able to handle fixed and variable weight cheese and butter products, ensure improvements in logistical operations, and improve product tracking and tracing. The company needed to base its labels on international standards for encoding text and numbers.

The new system includes software to integrate product traceability and packaging line management. Each day, or as required, the SAP system transmits a lot number, product number, and proposed ingredients for each order. The management system allows supervisors to determine the actual ingredients they need for each order and match ingredient lot numbers with product lot numbers. The supervisor can then plan and prioritize the orders for daily production.

When the operator selects an order to run, the system prompts the operator to run a test label and confirm its accuracy and readability before they begin actual product labeling. Based on order information from SAP and the in-line weigh scale, automatic printing and application of labels precedes in-line bar code scanner verification. If labels are not readable, the system automatically stops the packaging line so the operator can take action.

The boxes continue to the automated palletizer for pallet-loading instructions from the order information in the management system, or operators can enter it manually. The software automatically determines when stacking occurs of which product, as well as the correct number of boxes. The system automatically generates, stores, and prints pallet labels with all the necessary product information and the pallet serial shipping container code number.

After the pallet label application, the operator uses a radio frequency wireless handheld scanner to scan the pallet label and identify whether the pallet is going to shipping or warehousing.

On time, on target

By using the new tracking system, Campina is saving about $237,866  (  185,000) per year across six production plants and $64,297 (  50,000) per year in the four co-packing sites, said Huub Buckx, the company's head of data and systems management. Third-party logistics suppliers are also saving nearly $102,87 (   80,000) a year because they can simplify inbound and outbound operations with automated labeling and tracking. The system allowed more frequent on-time deliveries, shorter delivery times, and fewer mistakes in palletizing, picking, and shipping. More results include less downtime and fewer customer returns due to incorrect product or expiration dates. Reliable data to the SAP system led to shorter planning cycles and accurate and timely customer billing.

Operators were leery of the system at first, seeing it as more work because the process was different, Buckx said. But a week of training alleviated the apprehension and even boosted performance. Operators were glad there was no manual data entry, which also minimized mistakes, he said.

The company has installed the new traceability system in six manufacturing sites and four co-packer plants in Belgium and the Netherlands. It is interfaced to the SAP systems at eight of these locations.

Hungary for milk

Antal Nyilas, plant director at Hungary's Nutricia Group, a manufacturer of milk, cream, sour cream, yogurt, and flavored milk drinks, was looking for a clear, well-documented production system with a modular solution to build on as the plant needed it. One of the main factors in looking for a new system was no extra hardware. It was important for the user to control and supervise the plant from any PC, irrespective of whether the system is located in an office, by a machine, in a rack room, or even at home. 

Because the system is based on Windows 2000, it's an open system, which makes it easy to operate, and operators can easily integrate applications from the user's environment, Nyilas said. Operators can access it remotely, as well as control and supervise. So ABB engineers could work at the plant in Debrecen or at their headquarters in Budapest, 200 kilometers away, he said.

Data is usually stored in different places and platforms, even in paper files. But with the new integrated control system, Nyilas' team could sort data in one central location.  The project's main goal was to introduce industrial process automation in the entire plant's processes at Nutricia Production House Rt. in Debrecen. The project was split into four implementation phases:

  1. Implementing the primary automation level 
  2. Extending the automation level to main technologies
  3. Implementing computer-based batch production
  4. Implementing the electrical production documentation system and its connection to the central production planning and supervisory system 

The new system controls and supervises yogurt mixers, coolers, and pasteurization rooms. The process involves recording of the milk reception data and the level and temperature of silos and tanks. Operators can follow the whole process on nine operating displays with the help of human system interface operator workstation and a controller, which also help process panels record the running time of the feeders and store data for studying and analyzing efficiency later.

The next phase is implementing the computer-based batch production. The core of the solution is operators can reach all batches centrally with the help of a controller and batch management software. Linking up the production electronically with the manufacturing planning and supervisory system is easy. Using MES guarantees improved efficiency; the computer stores the data and all information operators need within the manufacturing schedule. When parameters change, the computer can immediately change the plan to meet the new specification.

Tracking and Traceability: It's the Law

The U.S. Bioterrorism Act of 2002, in direct response to the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001, requires manufacturers in the U.S. to establish and maintain records of where they purchased an item and who they sold it to. There's also a tracing requirement about when they receive it and where it goes. The Food Allergen Labeling Consumer Protection Act requires labeling of major food allergens. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) standard CFR21 Part 11 requires electronic signatures when changes occur in the manufacturing process.

Now the FDA is taking a more proactive stand for people to use radio frequency identification (RFID) technology, said Jerry Horne, solutions key account manager at MARKEM. Part of the FDA law enacted back in the 1980s required a pedigree to track manufacturing all the way to consumption. But because of a rise in counterfeiting paper documents, the FDA now recommends using electronic documents and tracing with RFID technology.

The FDA will "fully implement regulations related to the Prescription Drug Marketing Act of 1987, which requires drug distributors to provide documentation of the chain of custody of drug products," or pedigree, "throughout the distribution system," officials said in a 9 June 2006 FDA press release. In the same release, the FDA announced new steps to protect consumers from counterfeit drugs; using electronic track and trace technology, such as RFID, which creates an electronic pedigree (e-pedigree) for tracking the movement of the drug through the supply chain.

During the next year, the FDA's enforcement of the pedigree regulations will focus on products most susceptible to counterfeiting and diversion. By educating consumers about RFID and the labeling of RFID-tagged drug products, the FDA hopes to further the effectiveness of current food and drug safety laws.

About the author

Ellen Fussell Policastro is the assistant editor of InTech. Her e-mail is  efussellpolicastro@isa.org.


Introduction to Applying the Batch Control Standard ANSI/ISA-88.01 (IC40C) www.isa.org/link/IC40C

Batch Control Part 3: General and Site Recipe Models and Representation www.isa.org/cap/Batch_3

Emergency Batch Landing www.isa.org/link/BatchLanding