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Food production: Still lacking entry level quality assurance technology

12 November 2017

In the wake of the 2 Sisters Food Group scandal, more robust processes are needed to prevent data falsification, especially in relation to potential food safety issues, argues Jason Chester

The 2 Sisters Food Group chicken factory in West Bromwich has recently been given the go ahead to resume production after ‘significant changes’ at the plant and the introduction of full-time Food Standards Agency (FSA) officials to oversee its procedures following an undercover report which filmed workers altering the slaughter date of poultry processed and returning chicken that had fallen on to the floor to the production line.
The findings from the investigation into 2 Sisters highlights a much wider concern as to why industries, with potentially high goods-safety issues, such as food manufacturing and particularly poultry, are at risk of tampering, with staff easily able to change records of fact?
The reality is that most supermarkets have stringent processes in place for their own food traceability and auditing processes, but this needs to be extended further to ensure that the same levels of quality assurance are achievable during the production. As an example, when it comes to data capture methods, a lot of food manufacturers still rely on antiquated methods to record and store information, such as pen and paper resulting in a manufacturing system that is open to deception and criminal activity.  
“Incidents of this nature will raise serious questions of trust between supermarkets, supplier and the consumer. In practice, this might cause supermarkets to no longer accept word-of-mouth assurances on the quality of produce and taking a much more front-footed approach to visiting first-hand the sites they procure their food from – to meet the farmers, the manufacturers and their staff, and to see how produce is handled, stored and processed.  
Additionally, manufacturers will also need to demonstrate their commitment to better manufacturing technology. Those antiquated methods, such as pen and paper for recording information will be no longer acceptable, with new solutions needing to be put in place that enable full auditing capabilities of checks and processes so that if operators do change or tamper with records, alerts can be raised before a food safety issue becomes possible.
Clearly, technology has a big role to play in supporting food safety and traceability, and arguably if the suppliers themselves cannot afford this investment, support should come from the supermarkets themselves or even escalating this further to lobby for potential government subsidies that can make food safety practice affordable for everyone.
Jason Chester is global strategic account manager at InfinityQS. 

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