Food industry QA managers influence technology selection

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More than half of all quality assurance (QA) managers in food manufacturing do not currently interface with their company's enterprise resource planning (ERP) system. The Bioterrorism Act, in the USA passed in 2002 is being replicated throughout Europe to ensure the safety of the food supply from a terrorist attack; these regulations are quickly changing the role that food quality professionals play in the selection and utilization of ERP software.

ERP selection was often left to a small committee that included the CEO, CFO, operations and purchasing managers. ERP packages were designed to integrate all departments and functions across a company onto a single computer system that can serve all department needs. ERP software, at its best, combines the enterprise into a single, integrated solution that runs off a single database so various departments can easily share information and communicate. When running at an optimum, this integrated approach has a tremendous payback. Until regulations were mandated by the various governments, QA and quality control (QC) managers were rarely considered in the ERP selection process.

Most of the bioterrorism security regulations required food manufacturers, distributors, and logistics companies to establish and maintain records that would allow inspectors to conduct a trace investigation to protect the food and animal feed supply. Increasingly QA managers are looking to technology resources (existing in-house or acquirable) that will assist in meeting these compliance requirements.

ERP vendors have responded to these regulatory requirements in a myriad of different ways. Some vendors have simply added a lot traceability feature and suggest that now their clients are able to address the bioterrorism regulations. Other ERP vendors have been proactive since the passage of these laws and developed tools which provide the reporting mechanisms required beyond simple lot traceability; other vendors are simply adding a new tab to their websites called "food and beverage" in hopes that a generic ERP system will suffice.


Lot traceability: A good place to start

The bioterrorism security laws and regulations increase the relevance and importance of the quality functions in these food manufacturing operations. Lot traceability documentation, the province of QA professions, now becomes a requirement by law, not merely an option or desirable ERP feature.

According to Rebecca Gill, vice president of Technology Group International: Complete reporting on lot genealogy, showing all usage of lots from vendor to manufacturing to end-user is a must. The system should provide the ability to query end-user sales orders and see all raw material and finished good lots used for specific shipment; evaluate lots from vendors or manufacturing to see all the end-users who received shipments; and track lot properties with allowable 'criteria' for each lot.

There are other functionalities that support food manufacturing audits and quality assurance concerns without being a direct response to bioterrorism regulation compliance. Those functionalities include automatic quality assurance of incoming products; various product grades with or without usage/holds; tracking of original country for raw materials; and complete data warehouse for 24/7 ad hoc reporting.


QA managerintegral decision influencers

As varied as the ERP vendors are in responding to the compliance requirements of the bioterrorism regulations, so is the role of the QA manager in technology selection.

"If we were selecting a new ERP system today, I am confident that I would be much more involved in the decision-making process due to the bioterrorism requirements. Less than ten per cent of QA managers were significantly involved in the selection of the current ERP system," said Lucia Falek, QA manager for Butterball Farms, Inc.

After food manufacturers have invested heavily in ERP systems there is an expectation that the ERP vendor must be part of the solution in bioterrorism regulatory compliance. Striking a balance between effective ERP integration and tools for these regulatory requirements is not easy. Finding a balance between food manufacturing sector idiosyncrasies and a solid ERP system is also challenging.

The biggest impact of the bioterrorism regulations may be the recognition of the decision-influencing role of the QA Manager in technology selection; likewise ERP vendors may start to market to this audience because regulatory requirements mandate the QA Managers' role in compliance, data collection, and reporting.

Thomas R. Cutler is the president and CEO of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA-based TR Cutler, Inc., the largest manufacturing marketing firm worldwide. Cutler is the founder of the Manufacturing Media Consortium of 2700 journalists and editors writing about trends in manufacturing. Cutler is a frequently published author within the manufacturing sector with more than 300 feature articles authored annually.

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