When news such as this most recent E. coli outbreak striking romaine lettuce hits the industry and the food chain, it is cause for concern and action. Safeguards get challenged, systems audited, processes analyzed, and conventional wisdom is questioned. There can be no areas off-limits, no “sacred cows” that avoid scrutiny. Everything must be assessed to ensure we protect the security of the consumers and all the elements of the world’s most complex and efficient system feeding Americans and people worldwide.
Upon detecting the presence of E. coli or salmonella or some other bacterial or other pathogen in food products, the CDC, public health and regulatory officials in US states and Canada, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration investigate to determine the source, scope, nature, and scale of the issue. Recalls and advisories are issued, and inventories of suspected contaminated produce and product may be ordered destroyed, impounded, quarantined, and / or analyzed further. Authorities will advise consumers, retailers, and restaurants, in addition to producers and processors, on how to handle existing stores of the tainted items. The means by which every step in the entire food chain from farm to table will be examined.
Food safety, process efficacy and integrity, operator safety, cost-efficiency: all these factors and more come together when a systems integrator such as us takes up the challenge to automate a custom food-handling process.
Managing the proper balance of these factors, with the constant risk of contamination and illnesses, is of paramount importance. As the engineering firm of record for a piece or line of food-handling equipment we are obligated to provide stringent adherence to industry guidance and regulations governing methods and technologies. Compliance with a multitude of cleaning, design, fabrication, and other rules of producing state-of-the-art equipment is our domain.
Any systems integration team delivering such equipment needs to know these regulations, have experience implementing these successfully, and “own” the outcome that demonstrates not only achieving the operational objectives, but also meeting or exceeding the food safety parameters assuring proper attainment of generally accepted processes for the same.
Traceability is the comprehensive, high-confidence, and well-established methodology for auditability and documentation of not only the genealogy of any produce or product suspected of contamination. It is also the same kind of rigor applied to the engineering, design, and production of the equipment itself. Together these parallel paths of product and equipment histories yield an unvarnished view of the universe of the food and what it came into contact with. That then reveals patterns, “DNA fingerprints” and other telltale clues and data that can pinpoint the causes, sources, and issues of an outbreak and its constituent parts.
System integrators such as Optimation stay current on the regulations, best practices, and certifications in order to deliver the best outcomes for our clients in the food industry. We employ the latest in safety and safe food-handling technologies. Safety reviews that we conduct or participate in provide the oversight and critical thinking necessary to test for optimal safe performance. Whether a system features electrical, chemical, mechanical, or multiple elements, coupled with complex software algorithms and recipes, it must be analyzed multiple ways and times before it can be considered truly safe and ready to process the food that comes to our tables, restaurants, and retailers.
If you are seeking a partner to co-design or partner with you to design and manufacture equipment in this critically-important industry be sure you are assessing safety-consciousness, experience, and documentation support. Price certainly matters, but pales in comparison to the cost of field failures down the road when there is a contamination leading to illnesses, product destruction, brand reputation damage, and more. Err on the side of safety and work with partners that can deliver that proper balance of food safety knowledge, process efficacy and integrity, operator safety, and cost-efficiency management and you will not look back.