It seems like there are more product recalls now than ever before. Some recalls are for actual contaminated products and some are for precautionary measures. Regardless of the issue, every aspect of the product from the finished product, work in process, raw materials (including packaging), ingredients and the people, equipment, vessels and locations that the product has been in contact with needs to be analyzed. The best way to begin this process is by analyzing the components of the supply chain. The supply chain can be the roadmap to follow to determine the how, the what, the why, the when and the where’s the source of the problem as the supply chain covers the entire cycle of the process from ingredient to finished product.
One critical step needs to happen for this process to work well. Information needs to be accessible from all points on the supply chain. If the supply chain processes are not connected from the beginning to the end of the entire procurement, manufacturing and distribution processes, or “field to fork”, you will have a bumpy road. Product integrity issues can be caused by many, many factors that are all part of the process and in some way can be monitored in the connected supply chain. The critical factors are listed here:
- Ingredients – Any meat, vegetable, spice, water, liquid or agriculture product that goes into making the work-in-process or finished product
- Materials – Packaging materials such as boxes, wrappers, films, cartons, cases
- Physical Environment – Storage locations for all ingredients and materials, WIP storage, finished product storage, work centers and production equipment, physical plant and warehouse facilities
- Storage Containers – Totes, bins, boxes, vats, etc.
- Transportation Vessels – Trucks, ships, rail cars, tankers, etc.
- People – Any human that can have physical contact with ingredients, packaging materials, work-in-process products and finished goods
These are just the major factors or touch points and they all can be found in all the parts of the value (supply) chain.
Food and Beverage manufacturers have been putting lot numbers on products for years. It has been required by government food regulation agencies in most developed countries for some time. However, a serial number on a finished product is just the beginning and it does not ensure that if a recall is warranted that the process will be able to ascertain where the actual problem occurred. The food industry is beginning to embrace Industry 4.0, advanced technologies and digitalization, but traditionally, it has been slow to adopt new technologies. The good news is that technology exists today that can assist in not only connecting the supply chain but in making it possible for the recall process to be effective, accurate and in compliance with regulations. Technology is a huge factor however; it needs to be combined with the correct processes. The processes go hand in hand with the right systems to complete the process. There are a number of critical supply chain processes that need to be in place and synchronized to achieve the goal of connecting the supply chain to effectively manage the recall process. These include:
- Process and Value Chain Mapping
- Inventory Traceability and Tracking
- Customer Communication
- Distribution Communication
- Operational and Manufacturing Communication
- Supplier Communication
- Quality and Safety Documentation
- Material Storage Process
These factors all fall within the realm of a connected supply chain and give manufacturers the ability to find where a compromise in the chain might have occurred. There are in essence two supply chains that have to operate succinctly together. The physical supply chain consists of all levels of materials and the information supply chain that includes all data about products, movement and quality specifics as well as inventory tracking information.
Recalls will happen. It is a fact. Even with the best quality and safety practices in place, there will be times when a recall will be necessary either as a result of a contamination or as a precaution. The companies that can respond to a recall quickly, efficiently and thoroughly and minimize the negative impact on the consumer and the business will be the ones that will avoid long term issues.
A quick response starts and ends with traceability and communication through the supply chain. Traceability manages all areas of responsibility from social, environmental, quality and regulatory compliance. It is the only way to accurately know where inventory is located at all times and to determine if that inventory is being stored and moved within the proper guidelines to minimize compromises of any kind.
The connected supply chain that provides complete traceability and serialization from the point of receiving of the materials along with their origins through the manufacturing and distribution processes is critical in minimizing the effects of recalls when they are occur. An effective and agile enterprise is one that can solve problems before they happen or has the ability to implement the necessary means to quell or mitigate them quickly when they do. A connected physical and information supply chain is the place to start.