Technology that tracks ingredients cuts recall time for bakers.
La Tortilla Factory, Santa Rosa, Calif., halved recall time after installing technology to trace ingredients and track finished products out the bakery door and into the store.
Let us hasten to add: the tortilla maker does not anticipate a recall. And of course, no one in the baking industry wants to see another recall like those in recent years. Peanut butter, spinach, pet food–recalls make the news and make for public relation headaches and lost revenue.
To make any potential recall as painless as possible—and to demonstrate to potential clients nimbleness in the event of a recall–bakers like La Tortilla Factory are increasingly putting down their Excel spreadsheets and turning to specialized technology that lets them follow raw ingredients from the bin or the batch through the production process and into retailer locations, says Jay Deakins, president of Deacom Inc., Wayne, Pa. His company makes the Deacom ERP Software System used by La Tortilla Factory.
The enterprise resource planning technology, in place for three years at La Tortilla Factory, ties the company’s production, planning, accounting, inventory, and processing systems, says Stan Mead, the tortilla maker’s chief executive officer. The bar coding technology integrated with the system brings the lot numbers into the software.
Many recall problems stem from the use of multiple software systems or manual processes for managing a food manufacturing business, Deakins says.
“When you have one program that handles formulas, one for sales, another for accounting, and paper-based systems for inventory and production, you have no way to establish and maintain the process controls essential to product safety and traceability,” he says.
For La Tortilla Factory, an integrated system with bar-coding capability makes for a streamlined recall process.
“In a matter of hours, we we’re able to trace back sources of ingredients,” Mead says.
In today’s technology speak, that’s called traceabilty, and many ERP vendors are touting their software’s capability to do just that.
One Becomes Many
In an ERP system, each time the product—say a batch of flour–is moved or incorporated into baked goods, employees scan the lot number into the system again. When the flour becomes part of a finished product, the original flour lot number still follows.
Goods will again be scanned on their way out the door. Because the ERP system is also tied to the inventory control and the production software, that item can be followed into the retail space, Deakins says. In this way, the original flour lot can be quickly traced in event of recall.
Should the flour be recalled, bakers consult the ERP system to determine exactly where products made with that particular lot of flour have ended up, Deakins says.
“Let’s say the sugar hits the fan and that one lot of flour was no good,” he says. “I can say, ‘here’s the lot that was no good and here’s all the batches it went into and here’s all the people that got products made with that stuff.’”
Typically, many lines in a wholesale bakery process different types and brands of baked goods at the same time, though they all contain flour, says Jack Payne director of consulting at CDC Software, Atlanta. The company makes the Ross ERP system. Bakers might draw for hours from the large lot of flour and the final products could make their way to varied stores across the nation.
Yet, in event of recall, the tainted flour can be traced back to its original raw-ingredient lot and its attendant information, right down to the mill that ground the flour, Payne says.
These ERP systems also tracks ingredients with soon-to-be expired shelf life dates so they can be pulled at the retailer, Deakins says.
Of course, wholesale bakers have always tracked ingredients through the production process, but many still do this by hand, he adds.
“But they can getting transposition errors, where the batch ticket numbers are transposed, or they can ruin the tickets by getting something like water on it,” he says. “Then, those numbers often can’t be tied to the store the product was sold to.”
Ironically, however, bakers will need to have a well-working manual system in place before they can take full advantage of a bar-coding system, says Kerry Glynn, president of ERP maker GlobalBake, Richmond, Va.
“We always tell people, if they don’t have a manual capability—if they can’t actually follow procedures manually—they’ll always have problems,” Glynn says. “They have to already have a structure and layout in place that supports lot tracking and recall.”
For instance, one GlobalBake customer continually replenished the salt supply at a mixing station by simply pouring in more salt when the supply ran low. This, of course, offered no way to track salt supplies to individual lots, Glynn says.
At some wholesale bakeries, early-morning employees punch the clock at two a.m. and grab the ingredients they need to get started–without recording what they use.
Glynn calls these types of mistakes–often done in good faith but with no thought to tracking–business organizational problems.
“These are the types of things you have to have all sorted out before you bring in automation,” Glynn says. “You need to think about all the angles when you think about lot recall, and that requires organization. Bakers have to have control over their stock. People can’t be wandering in and grabbing stuff and chucking it into the mixer. That sort of thing has to be worked out in advance because bakers will have to have a record every step of the way.”
When excellent business procedures are in place, employees are already disciplined in manual recording.
“Then the scanning process certifies it and makes it less prone to error than manual entry,” Glynn says.
So you have an ERP system in place that allows for traceabiliy.
Do you want proof that your ERP system will trace ingredients back to supplier level in some set amount of time; say two hours? Consider running a mock recall to prove just such a capability, says Payne, of CDC Software.
A mock recall is just as the name implies—an executive designates a “contaminated” ingredient lot, by number, and employees demonstrate their prowess—and the ERP system’s prowess—by showing they can recall contaminated products, from retailers and from the production plant, within that set period of time.
Mock recalls can even help bakers win new customers, Payne says.
“It shows customers you have capability to contain the recall; a lot of our customers see that as a strategic selling advantage in that they can do something their competitors can’t do,” Payne says. “If they’re selling their own brands, they’re getting brand protection.”
And sometimes a potential customer will demand the wholesale bakers show it can quickly recall products. When wholesale bakers produce products for a third-party, the need to prove recall speed is particularly high, Payne says. It may mean the difference between winning the contract and getting passed over.
“We have a number of bakery customers doing contract manufacturing and private labeling manufacturing and those manufacturers wants to know the brand is protected,” he says. “If I’m making a product for Acme Co. and I have to recall everything, that’s a huge cost. And then are people going to buy that product in the future?”
While it’s not a baker, Payne points to CDC customer Berner Foods Inc., Roscoe, Ill., to demonstrate how mock-recall capability can boost business.
Retailers looking to stock food manufacturer Berner Foods Inc. line of meats and cheeses often ask the food maker to demonstrate how nimbly it could respond to a food recall.
When bidding for business, the food manufacturer can show potential supermarket and big-box retail customers it can trace the individual ingredients in each of its products to supplier level within two hours, Payne says.
During these tests, Berner Foods (which has never actually faced a recall) routinely shows it can trace each ingredient within its product to the supplier level in about 15 minutes. It spends another 30 minutes compiling supplier contact information, Payne says.
All wholesale bakers balk at the word recall. All fervently hope they never face such a thing. But for all of them, it pays to be ready.