The food industry has always tracked its activities and operations with paper files and records, whether it be recording environmental conditions such as temperature, humidity, pressure or time. Even in the technical age, you might ask why industrial food manufacturers and distributors are notorious for resisting new investments into data-led digital software? There are a few reasons for this: costly internal structural investments need to be made first in devices like tablets and computers for this software to be used effectively. Business owners are also reluctant to waste time and resources on training their staff to use these digital systems. There is also a fear of being over-reliant on technology in case of system or power crashes, whilst the inertia mindset of feeling comfortable with using a tried and tested formula still exists. These have all contributed to the food industries misperception that it may not be cost-effective in the long run.
It doesn’t take a genius to notice that storing and accessing past data with technology is far easier and less time-consuming than if you were to use paper. Being able to search for specific information related to a certain time-period or product will make it a lot easier for food businesses to comply with stricter regulations upon investigation or seasonal audits. Using technology is far more efficient, accurate and faster. Moreover, the process of proving compliance with a specific food safety plan is simpler with the acquisition of data-based technology, as information can be accessed and viewed instantly across time and in real-time.
As consumers and public authorities become increasingly more sensitive and environmentally conscious, using paper as a means of recording food information is leaving knowledge gaps that have the potential to affect many brand names in the industry. Businesses now have to accurately trace source materials, manufacturing, packaging and labelling processes to satisfy consumers that want to know exactly where the food is coming from and how it was produced. If problems arise in the final product, tracking down the source is far more complicated when using paper files. Keeping track of materials’ origin, processing and distribution with paper is also extremely time-consuming and prone to significant human error.
The ability of firms to be able to collect large sets of data and analyze them over time allows optimization of the production process. Changes that need to be made or problems that were otherwise hard to see (as they were hidden away deep in the supply chain) can now be addressed through data analytics. Problems can be solved much faster reducing overall negative impact. Moreover, being able to view production data from across an enterprise in real-time through a cloud enables a firms food safety digital platform to locate and fix instances of non-compliance; transparency and accountability is also vastly improved as invested parties can view and access supply-chain information from anywhere in the world in real-time and across time.
Having data analytics at your disposal has immensely powerful consequences for product quality, supply-chain efficiency and brand reputation. Food safety managers will now be able to compare across time and in real time PH levels, times, pressure, humidity and temperatures; data anomalies can be seen or predicted before they become serious problems that affect your bottom-line; improved product quality reduces the risk of recalls; sensors can locate and communicate the source of contaminated produce 10 times faster than traditional traceback methods, which solidifies and builds trust with customers and other businesses. The shorter the time frame between a food safety problem and the identification of its cause, the better it is for the reputation of your brand.
Despite the significant sunk cost of investing in new technologies, staff training and employing an in-house or outsourced team that can help your business solve technology-based problems, the switch to digital record keeping will eventually save time and money. As it becomes a trend and competitors begin to adopt data-led technology, the survival of your business will ultimately depend on how successfully you can implement performance-enhancing digital software into your company that improves its operational efficiency and profitability. Your food products will be much safer, and of far better quality with greater monitoring apparatus. Businesses like restaurants will be protected from brand risk and lost revenue if a food quality or safety issue emerges with access to track and trace technology.
In summary, going paperless is a no brainer for food businesses, particularly for those that are more exposed to food safety risk. Product quality, public food safety, accountability, brand image, transparency and bottom-line profit are all seriously important factors for distributors, producers and customer facing food businesses to consider when thinking of making the leap to digital technology.
In an increasingly complex global food supply chain, manufacturers, growers, and distributors alike are pushed to ramp up their traceability procedures and efforts to implement transparency.