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Integrated Lot Traceability: A Critical Ingredient for Today’s Small Business Food Processor

Thursday, May 7th, 2009 by Alex Smith

I received a call recently from a small business owner who made a statement that I found to be quite profound, alarming, and unfortunately, characteristic of far too many small business food manufacturing and distribution companies. He said, “This whole situation with the peanut epidemic has really woken everybody up around here and made us realize it’s time to get a lot tracking software solution that will protect us in case of a recall. Is that something you guys might be able to help us with?”

This small business owner, despite being in the business of processing various nuts and fruits, was fortunate enough to have avoided the existing peanut crisis and was not forced to recall any of the company’s products. Nonetheless, he did say that the current peanut situation had made many of his existing customers call and inquire as to the company’s ability to manage any unforeseen recall. These customer inquiries, then, led the small business owner to call TGI.

My conversation with this particular small business owner only made me more aware of what many of us who develop and sell food manufacturing software have been aware of for some time now – there are a lot (no pun intended) of small food processing companies who do not have an adequate lot tracking software solution to protect themselves in the unlikely possibility of a recall. Smaller food processors frequently resort to entering raw ingredient and finished good lot numbers manually in Excel spreadsheets. Aside from the obvious problem of an employee entering a lot number incorrectly, the task of tracking the specific raw ingredient lot numbers used in specific manufacturing runs to produce multiple products that were eventually shipped to multiple customers is a near impossible feat to accomplish without data entry errors using Excel. Consequently, organizations of all sizes turn to food ERP software solutions with complete forward and backward lot traceability, such as Enterprise 21, to arm the company with the management and tracking tools necessary in the event of a food epidemic and subsequent product recall. While this type of software functionality is a must for any sizeable food processor, more and more food processing companies of all sizes are recognizing the need to migrate to a software solution that can account for the company’s lot tracking needs. As the small business owner I spoke with told me, “If we had been hit by the peanut recall, we would have gone from a small business to out of business.”

In Enterprise 21, lot traceability occurs for both raw ingredients and finished goods. Enterprise 21 tracks the receipt of raw ingredients and their associated lot numbers from suppliers, the use of these raw ingredient lots in manufacturing runs, and the lot numbers of finished goods (and the lot numbers of the raw ingredients used to produce those finished goods) that were shipped to end customers. This software functionality provides food processors complete lot traceability that begins with the supplier and ends with the customer. Enterprise 21 goes one step further to provide complete recall management, tracks the receipt of recalled goods back into inventory, and allows for any necessary accounting entries to be made for expenses incurred to the business as a result of the recall.

With rising levels of competition in the food processing industry and continuously changing compliance regulations in a global economy, complete lot traceability software functionality is becoming increasingly critical to smaller food processors’ sustained business growth and longevity. For the small business owner, lot traceability is worth more than just peanuts.


Establishing the Complete Chain of Custody of Your Products through Lot Tracking

Thursday, March 19th, 2009 by admin

One of the hottest topics in process manufacturing is lot traceability. The definition of lot traceability is the process of tracking given material lots throughout the enterprise and beyond. Lot traceability includes tracking lots forward from ingredients through manufacturing processes into finished goods, which are ultimately shipped to end customers. This also includes tracking lots backwards from finished goods back into the manufacturing processes and then back to the ingredients consumed in the production processes.

In ERP systems with strong process manufacturing support like Enterprise 21, companies who have a need to track lots should be able to do so easily and in an automated manner. This is a key element for establishing good system and procedural controls within one’s business, and should the need arise for a product recall, make the isolation process easy and straightforward while minimizing the amount of product necessary for inclusion in the recall.

Most companies without a modern ERP system that includes sophisticated lot tracking software functionality are managing their lot data in a suboptimal manner. Many of these companies may simply be recording lots on hard copy logs, using a series of spreadsheets to key in this data, or a combination of these methods. Not only does this process create a large amount of manual efforts, it leaves operations vulnerable to a significant amount of data entry errors and potential compliance issues.

What a good ERP software package like Enterprise 21 offers is two-fold. First, one can establish and record lot properties, which is a series of corresponding values for a given product’s physical characteristics. This practice is a key element in the quality control (QC) process. Second, one can record the complete chain of custody or pedigree of lots through the enterprise and beyond. Both of these steps are critical requirements for strong lot traceability and compliance.

Relative to system-enabled lot analysis for ingredients, when ingredients are received, the associated lots are recorded. Those received lots would typically be placed on QC hold and the inspectors alerted as to the need to inspect and analyze these lots. The inspectors would perform their analysis and record the values for the associated ingredient lot properties. Assuming the values observed and recorded were within the acceptable range for the various lot property characteristics, then the given lot of ingredients would be released to available inventory for consumption in manufacturing processes.

A similar process can be performed for system-enabled lot analysis for manufactured goods. When manufacturing occurs, the associated lots are recorded. The produced lots can likewise be placed on QC hold and the inspectors alerted to take action. Once the inspectors perform their analysis, the values of the produced goods’ lot properties would be recorded. Assuming all of the lot properties were within spec, the produced goods would be released to available inventory.

While there can be other complexities to one’s operations with packing and repacking of product into various containers with associated lots recorded, the lots shipped to a given customer would be recorded, thus providing complete visibility as to which finished goods lots were shipped to customers associated with given sales orders. This process establishes a complete chain of custody from ingredient lots received, which are consumed in manufacturing yielding manufactured lots, which are then shipped out to customers.

Once this data is recorded in the system, both forward and backward lot traceability can be performed. Forward lot traceability is the tracing of ingredients from suppliers through production processes out to customers in finished goods lots. Backward lot traceability is tracing finished goods lots back from customers into production to determine which other customers received product from those specific produced lots and back to ingredients received from suppliers, if necessary.