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Integrated Informatics: The Secret Ingredient for Robust Supply Chain Traceability

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Not so long ago, the food we ate – and when we ate it – were heavily influenced by the seasons and local climate. But thanks to modern food supply chains, we take it for granted that our supermarket shelves are stocked with a wide range of exotic goods all year round.

In some cases, this food will have travelled thousands of miles before reaching our shopping baskets – via a number of different international growers, manufacturers, and distributers.

While the integrity of yesterday’s supply chains were largely based on the principle of trust between the farmer, the grocer and the customer, the challenge of protecting food safety in today’s increasingly global and complex networks is much greater.

Because of the added risks associated with these distributed supply chains, the food industry has come under increased regulatory scrutiny in recent years, with measures such as the Food Safety Modernization Act and EU Regulation No. 178/2002 putting increased focus on supply chain security and traceability. Food produced or imported in Europe, for example, is subject to some of the world’s most robust traceability requirements, where manufacturers and distributers must be able to trace and follow food, feed, and ingredients through all stages of the production, processing and distribution process.

Accountability from farm to fork

Regular monitoring forms one of the most important lines of defense against failure: our fresh fruit and vegetables are analyzed for pesticides and other residues, levels of microbes are monitored in our meat, and packaged products are sampled to ensure remain safe to consume within their shelf-life.

But ensuring the records from all of these tests are accurate, complete and accessible is a significant undertaking that is vital for monitoring to be effective. After all, what good is this data if it isn’t well organized and easily retrievable?

Across the industry, the most efficient and secure food chain workflows are adopting laboratory information management systems (LIMS) to securely store, manage and access the vast amounts of data associated with food safety testing.

Consider a food testing laboratory’s pesticide workflow, for instance, analyzing potentially hundreds of samples per day. Not only must the laboratory compare each sample against the most up-to-date maximum residue levels, the producer, manufacturer or supplier must also be able to track the foodstuff through the production line to prevent affected products reaching consumers.

Integrated informatics solutions cut through this complexity in a way that isolated or paper-based systems cannot. Integrating the LIMS with the LC-MS instrumentation required for pesticide workflows via a chromatography data system allows analytical data to be automatically collected, archived and associated with a particular product batch. Advanced LIMS platforms such as Thermo Scientific SampleManager can even be used to schedule measurements from non-chromatographic instrumentation, apply control limits, and set alerts that notify users when safe levels have been exceeded.

Stored centrally in a LIMS, this information can be combined with data for other raw materials, and continually updated throughout the value chain. In this way, key stakeholders are able to trace end-products right back to their constituent ingredients.

A comprehensive solution

Of course, traceability isn’t simply a case of knowing where ingredients are sourced from. The European Food Safety Agency requires that data used as part of any traceability record must be accredited under ISO/IEC Standard 17025. From batch information, through to staff training records, instrument calibration checks and data associated with reagents and standards, all data must be securely stored and recalled on request.

Comprehensive informatics solutions, based on a LIMS integrated with electronic laboratory notebooks, chromatography data systems and scientific data management systems, provide food and drink producers with all relevant information in a single location. For example, with operator training records stored in a LIMS and integrated with a CDS, only staff with the appropriate training are able to perform specific tasks. And by trending and analyzing data right up to the minute, these integrated platforms can improve the speed and quality of decisions, wherever they’re made in the value chain.

From the warehouse loading bay, right through to packaging cleanrooms, integrated informatics solutions are able to monitor the entire production line and make demonstrating regulatory compliance significantly easier.