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ERP systems provide visibility into food safety

John Moore | Oct. 2, 2013
As food production gets increasingly complicated, food manufacturers often struggle to track products from raw materials to packaged goods -- and, in the event of a recall, from packaged goods to raw materials. Even those with automated quality systems often find it hard to integrate supply chain data. That's why some food makers are turning to specialized ERP systems.

Levin says food manufacturers large and small may lack automation in the food safety area. Part of the problem is the highly distributed nature of food production. The process a vast supply chain that encompasses harvesters in the field, manufacturing plants that take in the raw ingredients and distribution networks that ship products to warehouses, restaurants and grocery stores.

Deploying systems able to span such an environment is one issue. Another consideration: The food industry's razor-thin margins. "Companies don't want to add additional expenses," Levin says.

To Address Food Safety, ERP Remains Way to Go

Many manufacturers get by with paper and spreadsheets, according to industry executives. But for those companies pursuing automation, ERP is perhaps the most widely used system for addressing food safety and quality.

Love & Quiches took that route with VAI's S2K, with the vendor providing customization to meet the company's more specialized requirements. As a result, if a recall were to occur, the company would be able to nail down the source of the issue at the lowest common denominator - the individual raw material that goes into the product, according to Aronin.

ERP's capability to contribute to safety and quality programs has become a selection criteria for food and beverage companies - and their suppliers. That was the case for Gelita, a global supplier of collagen proteins to the food, health, nutrition and pharmaceutical industries. The company in September went live with Epicor Software's ERP software in its Australian operations.

"When Gelita looked into options to replace its existing ERP and legacy systems, one of the key requirements was the ability to control product quality - including product release and traceability," says Rubens Maia, business process manager for Gelita Australia.

Christine Hansen, product marketing manager at Epicor, says "the ability to deliver on quality across the enterprise" has been a key extension to ERP systems for some time. "This is even truer in industries as highly regulated as the food and beverage industry."

"ERP is the core component that enables forward and backward traceability, says Tom Muth, senior manager of product marketing and process manufacturing for Epicor.

Traceability, a top objective in food quality circles, means that a manufacturer can track all the phases of a food product's production and distribution. That traceability extends forward (from an ingredient to the initial stage of food production, for instance) and backward (from a distribution center to a manufacturing plant).

Linking Food Makers' Shop Floor Data to ERP Remains Difficult

Enterprises relying strictly on ERP may bump into limitations, however. "The challenge comes when the data being collected isn't at the level of granularity that's needed when there's an adverse event," Littlefield says.


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