Using Digital Food Safety Data to Improve Operational Efficiency for Growers
By Ana Laura Alonso
July 13, 2020
As growers and harvesters bring technology into the fields to implement digital food safety programs they have discovered that the data collected can be also be used to optimize farm operations and provide deeper levels of operational insight and control. This first part of this blog series will focus on metrics that can be used as indicators of your operation’s efficiency and actionable data that can improve processes and enhance the decision making for field operations, whether you are a grower or a harvester. The second installment of this blog series will center on metrics for packing/processing facilities.
Quality management and food safety compliance are two of the main drivers of the food supply chain. Whether a small or big operation, there are unique processes and standards that need to be followed and met. As part of daily routines dozens of forms may need to be completed and in order to review this information you would need to be on site and dive into piles of paper records.
Collecting and managing data from growing and harvesting operations can be overwhelming as the number of requirements increase. These pressures have been driving increased adoption of digital safety records systems including in-field data capture on tablets or smartphones. A food safety software and quality management solution allows you to have access to your information as soon as it is entered. This process has the additional benefit, beyond safety recordkeeping, of tracking of metrics that can take your operations one step ahead. Some of these opportunities are:
- Immediate visibility of growing and harvesting tasks – Having digital records of your forms available at all times enables to oversight of employees’ activities in real-time, whether you are on-site or remote. Every form submitted is date and time stamped, as well as linked to the person who entered the information. You can see the pace of work being performed and be sure procedures are being followed across your organization.
- Operational excellence and continuous improvement – Use of digital devices in the field allows you to generate corrective action alerts when problems are identified and provide immediate corrective action training to the workers. Being notified the moment they occur prevents problems becoming bigger and resulting in more waste. As the data of corrective actions on the field is collected, you will be able to identify if workers understand fully what has to be done and if they are following your processes correctly. Understanding why corrective actions are happening will give you the knowledge to make changes to your processes or retrain employees as needed. The immediate analysis of your corrective actions provides insights on whether they occur because of internal or external factors.
- Knowledge from your harvesting practices – Make certain that the amount of fertilizers, pesticides or chemicals being used on the field are the proper ones, not only for safe products, but to have the best quality. Digital real time records of your food safety and quality program, turn information into actionable data as it becomes intertwined with all areas of your operations. Analysis of the percentage of defects on your raw products in relation to the amount of fertilizers used on the field, according to your real time data, helps you make the proper changes on field inputs to decrease the number of defects on the product. You can act as the season happens, not until it’s over. This also impacts your budget for crop protection or soil enhancements.
- Insights from your historic data – Look back into risks and issues from previous seasons you have gathered information for and find the trends of the red flags you need to keep an eye on and make decision of improvements before the growing or harvesting season begins. For example, once you know the correct combination of water management and plant protective products from experiencing with your data to improve the quality of your products, you take that into consideration and start planning for upcoming seasons; how much fertilizers do you need to buy and how do you need to apply them, do you need to retrain employees on certain areas before and during the season? It all comes full circle when you analyze and use your field data.
These are just some examples of what becomes possible as you obtain real-time visibility into field operations from the deployment of food safety programs on mobile devices.
The second installment of this blog series will discuss how safety data can provide operational insights for packing/processing facilities.