"Traceability is a big challenge for us since we deal with milk, which is a liquid commodity, and we need to be able to follow that milk from the farm all the way to the consumer," says Susan Zucker, supply chain director at Agri-Mark. She explains that Agri-Mark, a dairy cooperative owned by about 1,300 dairy farmers in the Northeast, processes its members' milk into various products, including cheese, yogurt and whey powder.
Agri-Mark assembled a cross-functional team more than a year ago to begin looking at this issue and how to ensure compliance with the new law, Zucker says. "We took our HASSOP (hygiene and standard sanitation operating procedures) flow charts to each of our facilities and went through the flow charts to identify any weaknesses," she says. "We recognized that we were still collecting a lot of data on paper, which increases the risk for errors, so we recommended to senior management that we bring some automation in to improve our processes."
As Agri-Mark began working toward that goal, however, it had a surprising realization. "What we thought would mostly be an IT solution turned out to be more about our business processes," says Zucker. "There certainly are some IT solutions we needed to consider, but we also needed to change how we manage some things."
One long-term project that has tremendous potential for improving traceability is data synchronization, she says. "We see end-to-end traceability as the next level of data synchronization because it really is just adding location attributes to other attributes that an item collects from the time it is produced." Industry as a whole is still trying to figure out what all those attributes should be, how to store them and, most importantly, how to share them with partners, she says.
"It is a very challenging problem, because you want to do more than be able to recall products from a particular plant. You need to be able to identify everywhere this material has been within the supply chain."
The technology is available "and might be the easier part of this challenge," says Zucker. "The question is how do we apply the technology. We need to really think through the key pieces of data we want to collect, where we will collect them and how we will report off that data. Reporting is big challenge because it has to be quick, accurate and across all plants."
"We don't need to wait for a holistic system that gives us soup to nuts," she says. "We just need to pick a place to start and build on that."
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Keywords: Aberdeen Group, Food and Beverage, Supply Chain Visibility, Legal, Govt. & Regulatory Issues, Quality & Metrics, Supply Chain Security & Risk Mgmt, Collaboration & Integration, Business Intelligence & Analytics, Business Process Management, Business Strategy Alignment, Global Supply Chain Management, Logistics, HASSOP flow charts, food purity, FSMA compliance
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