Learning from the past to avoid future food safety mistakes

Recently, I set myself an ambitious goal and decided to hike Hadrian’s Wall.

If you don’t know what that means, in 122 AD Hadrian, the then Emperor of Rome, set out to draw a concrete line in his empire and cement his legacy by building a wall that would mark the edge of the Roman empire.

Stretching from Wallsend in the east of Newcastle-upon-Tyne to Bowness-on-Solway, less than a mile south of the Scottish border and north of Carlisle in the North West, the wall is approximately 84 miles long (or 135 km).

With two friends, we endeavoured to not use smartphones and relying on maps and road markings hidden behind bushes we could sight, as well as the directions of the (very few) locals we happened to stumble across who were out walking their dogs, or laughing at the naive tourists.

All was going as well as could be expected, until the end of day 2, when I slipped in some mud and ruined my shoes.

I am quite an avid runner, but a novice hiker, and didn’t anticipate this.

Running in a race is an easy enough task once you crack the routine; wake up in the morning, check the weather, dress for what may come, set out for the day, and hopefully, come home successful and tired.

Anticipating potential pitfalls (literally) and how to bounce back from them over a 5-day trek in the remote countryside, is another matter I had no frame of reference for, so failed to properly prepare for.

As I stumbled out of the mudpit, I was unable to dry my shoes thoroughly at the next pitstop, and my feet began to blister on the 3rd day.

By the 4th and 5th, as we came in to the home stretch, my brothers-in-arms who I had set out with where long since ahead of me and enjoying a well-achieved finishing ale and cider respectively, I stumbled into the last 10k of the walk, hobbling under an immense pain, but with a determined ambition to finish.

In this instance, I admonished myself for not being adequately prepared, and belittled my own success, realising that although I was approaching the finish line, I’d made things immeasurably more difficult for myself than my friends who were more used to hiking and had prepared appropriately, with adequate and purpose-built clothing, an expectation of (real) pitfalls, and who were well scarred with previous travails, callouses, corns, and all.

While doing so, I thought of all things to take my mind from the pain, and my mind travelled back to a conversation I had with a recently appointed QA manager at the European Food Sure earlier this year.

They mentioned that their current method of working with SharePoint and excel was causing significant pain and undue stress on their teams and that most of their working week was being spent chasing materials and completing paperwork rather than leading their staff and systems in the direction that matched the company’s growth targets and strategy.

I drew the parallel between my current situation, not having researched and prepared as well as my companions, to hers, not having the appropriate toolset to make her life easier.

What I know from working with these companies on a daily basis transitioning from traditional systems to fully cloud-based Food Safety Management Systems, is that manual systems by their very nature require dramatically increased inputs in order to maintain them, never mind growing them to accommodate a business as it scales.

Without great quality data and experience we are completely blind when we are faced with decisions

The realization appeared, almost like the final pub did over the brow of an upwards hill (the ignominy of the finish line), that without great quality data and experience, we are completely blind when we are faced with decisions that need to be made.

The importance of great data

Imagine a scenario where you join a company that have no records, have never heard of HACCP, and have just focused on production, without ever realizing the importance of demonstrating their compliance.

You have been tasked with righting the ship and prepping the staff to be audit ready.

Where do you start?

Do you begin with compiling data for non-conformances, failed calibrations, risk analysis of suppliers, or even the individual output of each employee?

If you focus on one particular aspect, how best to start determining the most appropriate way to make educated decisions about the future?

Without any data, no matter which you choose, you are equally as blind and operating on guesswork and assumptions. You may get it right and start with the most significant resource drain, but you’re equally as likely, if not more so, to get it just as wrong (a topic previously covered in a former blog ‘What happens when you get it wrong’).

Good data and strong tools are the best friends you need when making any decision, whether it’s for a hike or for determining the quality and legal compliance of a Fortune 500 at a Business Group level.

Combining these two for any scenario reduces a lot of pain and allows for fragmented and disparate individual elements or areas of assessment to be brought together to reveal a more encompassing big picture.

Cloud-based Food Safety Management Systems allow you to achieve this and bring all of your food safety data into one organized, coherent, and structured system which is always accessible and retrievable.

The struggle of maintaining applications versus data retrieval

Say you get the system off the ground, everything works as it should and you have full oversight.

With everything in hand, the business decides to progress and bring to market new products.

This means more production lines, perhaps more sites, these you know less well, and you may need to re-conceptualize the wheel again to accommodate where they fit in to your plans and structure, and how you can effectively support their safe operation with your current commitments.

There are only so many hours in a given day and you have to focus on the operation of everything you have already created.

So, you do what can reasonably be expected and bring in help.

This help doesn’t know the system as well as you, nor too may they be as inclined to put in the same level of elbow grease that you are.

This system is your baby, your creation that you know inside-out and have given life to, and while new hands will help operate it, they have their own viewpoints, inputs and contributions that may affect their system.

With the best intent, as your eye focuses only on your own tasks you are responsible for, creep may set in and exponentially, over time, the systems may become different versions of themselves, appearing similar on a surface level, but truly an uncanny valley under the hood.

The natural tendency for any manual management system is towards disorganization, disintegration and ultimately failure.

The natural tendency for any manual management system is towards disorganization, disintegration and ultimately failure

If tasks are not completed as stated, the system loses integrity, and the more it depends on human labor and manual work, the quicker it slips into disrepair, and inevitable ruin.

Internal audits are often planned and scheduled on a grid system which defines what is to be audited, who will perform it, when it is to be conducted, and against what standard or checklist.

Planning this alone requires a lot of input, and implementing its application requires more in oversight at a higher level, which too often requires the most domain knowledgeable staff.

Stepping back a moment, before this is even applied, it requires a human to assess the plan, and if they fail to do so appropriately, or are late in doing so, the system has already begun to crack and show fault.

Of course, this ignores that the output derived will then yield nonconformances, which need to be notified, assigned, reviewed, and corrected.

Getting great data requires a great system where these problems do not occur in systems which are by their nature, pre-disposed to faults and failures, or at the very least mitigated against so their impact is minimal.

How food safety systems use technology to get data

When I want to travel between two points, I know that I always have the option of a plane, train, automobile or other.

Likewise, I know that in these situations for QA’s and Technical Directors and others, that when they want to future-proof their systems, they have the option of utilizing a system like Safefood 360°.

We already work with many of the word’s leading food businesses around the globe that are compliant with FSMA, GFSI, BRC, and what can seem to be an almost innumerable amount of other local legislative and retailer standards like Tesco, Costco, Coles and many others.

These systems work with us not because we’re a panacea for their woes, but because we fundamentally understand what is important to them in the first instance, the continuous refinement and improvement of their systems, and give them the tools to accelerate and build towards this.

Safefood 360° offers best-in-class BI tools that allow you to immediately see at a bird’s-eye view what is going on in your system in all places, in real-time.

see at a bird’s-eye view what is going on in your system in all places, in real-time

This means no more late nights scratching your head over an excel sheet or spending more time than necessary constantly referring between two screens wondering how two facilities that are supposed to be operating the same systems and standards, with the same training and support, are yielding vastly different results.

It means no more travelling to these sites, and constantly greasing the wheel and assessing, retraining, and re-assessing to make sure it sticks and is embodied in the culture of its operators.

We do all this while we conduct the heavy lifting for you.

Ensuring that your system is built, to your own perfect standards, so that you can continue to focus on what’s important to you, while your system continues to work to the ideal standard you envision.

Appreciating the every day

We live in an age of technology where we take most things for granted.

I can drive to the office, fly to meetings, or take a boat down the canals of a conference in Amsterdam, yet I chose to walk across a fly-over countryside just to know that I could.

A journey that took <90 minutes on a train took 5 days, and 3 more of healing afterwards.

Was it any more rewarding? Arguably, I got more satisfaction knowing that I could do it, but was any more difficult? Exponentially!

Would I do it again? Never, once really was enough and the opportunity cost of 7 days was too noticeable to give up again.

Technology allows us to unshackle ourselves and accelerate production at an unthinkable level from 10-15 years ago. Yet, too often do we marginalize it in the face of compulsory tasks and only ever think it can be used at a macro level because we think it might be too much work to set up, never mind that the reason it seems too much work, is because we are inundated with consuming tasks from a broken system in the first instance.

When we focus on solving the every day, we can really appreciate it more and give ourselves the time and luxury to focus on the future and the next steps.

I came home after the hike and although I couldn’t walk, I embraced my laptop as it allowed me to keep in touch with the office while my foot healed and saved me from having to do any more walking or commuting to the office, making my life a lot easier.

The good news is, you don’t need to fly to England and hike for a week to experience the same.

Let us help have the technology work for you, and show you how Safefood 360° can be applied to help make your life easier today.


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