For those working in the Food and Beverage (F&B) industry, it’s likely already clear that the effects of climate change, supply chain challenges, and global geopolitical events are increasing the risks. While food safety has always been an industry-wide priority, these new forces are pressuring F&B enterprises to evolve and optimize how they approach food production and food safety.
Leading F&B companies are adopting sustainable sourcing methods, implementing sustainable packaging, and transitioning to more plant-based foods. Each of these innovations, however, introduces new food safety challenges. As Deann Akins-Lewenthal, Senior Director of Global Food Safety at Mondelēz International, noted, “If we alter food safety with changes in sustainable practices, then by definition, that’s not sustainable.”
As the industry evolves, new thinking is required across the entire sector. Arnie Sair, Head of Global Quality & Food Safety at Bunge, explained: “The risk profiles of our products that we had for the previous 200 years have changed. And that’s going to mean different technical skills, different resources, different technologies, and different testing capabilities.”
In my role as head of F&B Strategy at Veeva, my team and I have the opportunity to engage and partner with food safety leaders from some of the world’s leading companies as we strive to help move the industry forward. We’re proud to have convened panels of industry leaders at both the GFSI Conference in Atlanta and the 2023 Veeva Industries Executive Summit, and have drawn inspiration from their experiences and visions for the future of food safety.
It’s clear that for companies in the F&B industry, food safety isn’t just a moral issue; it’s become an enabler for sustainable growth. In this blog, I’ll look at two key trends in food safety as we head into 2024, exploring how leading F&B companies are working to transform food safety through close attention to technology, processes, and people.
Data standardization and analysis is key
There’s a strong desire among F&B leaders for food safety to become more proactive and less reactive, predicting and addressing problems before they happen rather than recalling products after they reach stores. To achieve these goals, leading companies are modernizing their approach to data.
Many industry leaders have noted that F&B companies have a lot of data, but it’s typically spread across many different systems. The key to greater insight lies in unifying that data to gain a holistic view. “We really want to be able to think differently, to be able to bring all this data together,” stated Akins-Lewenthal, “whether it’s internal manufacturing data, external manufacturers, or suppliers, and start looking at what are those leading indicators that might say something’s changed.”
As discussed in my previous blog, Enabling Predictive Food Safety and Quality Management, a unified approach to data is essential for companies that want to transition to predictive food safety. The right technology can enable organizations to “connect the dots” to identify risks and trends in real time, offer greater transparency to all relevant stakeholders, and facilitate proactive steps to head off future issues.
The goal is integrating data management and analysis to enable food safety monitoring to become a dynamic process. “I’m really looking at moving from a way of managing food safety that I still see as being very static to a completely dynamic one,” said Olivier Mignot, Vice President of Global Quality Management at Nestlé. “We evolve our monitoring plan maybe once a year. And in the meantime, a lot of things are happening: change of suppliers, response to loss, sustainable sourcing, change of raw materials, climate changes, impact of seasonal variation to the quality of the crops that are used for the raw material.”
Gaining a holistic view and transitioning to dynamic food safety requires connecting all data sources to look across the data, identify patterns, and make the necessary inferences. Data analysis can involve simple statistics, but increasingly, F&B companies are looking to machine learning and artificial intelligence to identify patterns that might otherwise escape detection. “Figuring out how we use data to predict is what we’re looking at closely with data scientists, both internally and externally,” explained Stacey Popham, Global Vice President of Quality, Food Safety & Regulatory at Barry Callebaut.
F&B companies are starting to recognize that shared access to food safety data can benefit everyone. “We’re also looking at collaboration,” said Akins-Lewenthal. “How do we as a peer set work on this problem together around digital and data? Our organization has a program called Material Monitoring, where we look at chemical contaminants potentially coming in on raw ingredients. How do we get together and share that data across the board so we all have a bigger dataset to potentially get insight from?”
Leadership and change management are essential
As far as my team and I have seen, no established global F&B company has completed the process of data modernization. It’s still a work in progress. However, the companies positioned to succeed understand what their key problems are, know where they want to go, and have a realistic understanding of what they can do and how fast they can transform.
The F&B companies that will succeed with digital transformation also understand that transformation is about more than just rolling out new technology. “It’s the execution,” explained Sair. “It’s the hazard plans. It’s the food safety plans and mitigation. And then it’s also just the hearts and minds of the employees that we have at our facilities.”
You have to bring the whole organization along with you on the journey and recognize that people are always essential to success. “If an operator—who perhaps even only five or ten years ago was performing a manual task—is confronted with an iPad, a cobot, or an automated line, how do we bring them on that journey? What are the competencies they need?” asked Greg Pritchard, Vice President of Food Safety & Quality Management at Nestlé at last year’s GFSI Conference.
If frontline people need to interact directly with the systems where data is gathered and analyzed, those systems must be easy for them to operate. If writing something down takes less time than entering it into a system, the digital transformation journey is at risk.
As Ghita Hansen, Vice President of Quality, Environment, and Safety at Novozymes, noted at last year’s GFSI Conference, “You can do systems; you can do a lot of things. But if you don’t think the people into it, you don’t change.”
Ultimately, food safety always comes back to the consumer. “Our factories need to be audit ready, anytime,” explained Mignot. “I’d like to turn this into visit ready–a consumer knocking at the door, walking the floor, and seeing with his own eyes how we manufacture food. Being visit-ready all the time would be a big step forward.”
Learn more about how Veeva is partnering with F&B companies to modernize food safety and quality processes here.
Watch the full panel discussion “Building Trust Through Food Safety & Quality in the Digital Era” from the 2023 Veeva Industries Executive Summit here.