Editor’s note: This is the fourth installment of a four-part series on electronic record keeping enhancing companies’ food safety efforts. The series is sponsored by PAR Technologies.  

It’s not a matter of “if” but “when” digital platforms will be required for food safety records, says Matthew Botos, CEO of food safety software company ConnectFood.Com. While the industry still primarily operates with paper-based records, there is a lot to be gained by being ahead of the curve in adapting more efficient and accurate practices.

“Companies must keep records of their daily processes for up to two years according to State and Federal regulations. Given the requirement to maintain records, it is time the food industry embraces that change with digital records due to several advantages,” he explains.

“Such as: real time access to product and facility information and the ability to detect problems prior to their occurrence, automated corrective action workflows, accurate electronic signatures and stamps, and a searchable database of record history. Knowing in the moment what is happening in your facility through a digital record alert system will save money and make a company more efficient.”

Premal Bhatt, QA and Food Safety SME, agrees, adding it is imperative food companies make food safety part of their mission statements, investing in the best systems to achieve this. 

“Due to recent public health scares resulted primarily from broken supply chain system In the Food industry, there is urgency to go digital to maintain corporation brand name and avoid damage to company’s bottom line,” he adds. 

Finding the right platform
While there are multiple food safety data management software programs on the market, when it comes to selecting which one is best, accessibility, accuracy and efficiency should be top priorities, says Botos. 

“First and foremost, food safety is about a company embracing a culture of best practices. I frequently tell companies that they need a system that provides appropriate data and that works for their facility and processes,” explains Botos.

“A company should spend time analyzing what services they need: which logs are required, which records need to be managed, a way to tell the company’s story. You must be comfortable accessing the data you will collect. In the case of an inspection, audit, or product recall, the records you keep could make or break the future of the company.” 

According to him, it’s also essential for digital record keeping software to be fully adopted and supported by all team members responsible for using it in order to be effective. 

“Software is part art, and value is sometimes based on perception. If your team finds a solution they all see as valuable, then everyone has to get behind it and make the transition in the organization’s culture,” Botos adds. 

Invest in infrastructure and training
Before companies break up with paper and go digital, they must take a step back and make any necessary structural investments and have a plan to adequately train employees. 

“The transition from paper to digital record keeping will be a culture change more than anything,” explains Botos. “Before companies focus on button clicks to enter log data, they have to step back and make all the structural investments first.” 

At the bare minimum, these investments include good internet access in and around critical facility areas, cohesive hardware such as tablets, an in-house or out-sourced technology support team and personnel training.

“Any time an organization switches to a new platform or installs a new piece of equipment, training is paramount. It is no different than installing a new retort system, a new oven, or moving from pasteurization to aseptics – training is the key to success,” adds Botos. “Proper investment in gaining technological efficiencies does take up-front investment, but the switch to digital record keeping will eventually save time and money on the factory floor, not to mention easily analyzing data will help make manufacturing run smoother and provide a safer food supply.”

Start simple and start now
According to both Bhatt and Botos, the industry’s transition from paper-based records to digital will be gradual. 

“The transition will initially happen gradually since research and innovations in are constantly happening to achieve the most efficient digital system. Additionally, stakeholder’s participation and government policy making is slowly catching up on this aspect of doing business,” explains Bhatt. “Later on, the transition will happen rapidly.”

For companies looking to stay ahead of the curve and take advantage of digital benefits, Botos recommends to start simple and to start now.  For those who are hesitant to make the transition, he suggests using pilot trials for different technology systems to fully see the potential advantages that can be accomplished. 

“Change is always a little awkward, but if you take it slowly and investigate what works for your team and your facility, you will find a day-to-day process that works for everyone. You’ll never know what works for your company if you don’t make the effort to try. Remember, this is the future, and being ahead of the curve will be in your best interest,” concludes Botos. “Paperless record keeping is coming. It is a brave new world and from large companies to small companies there are solutions that exist. Food safety is so important and the better records we have and the more data associated with these records will only make for a safer food supply.”  

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