Food safety has been an ever-growing concern for suppliers, distributors, and consumers alike. With recent issues regarding health and safety in the food industry, both the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the European Union Commission (EUC) have enacted stricter regulations regarding the traceability of food product testing as well as handling and packaging of food products to reduce contamination.
The increase in food safety procedures has occurred in response to more incidents of contaminated food products either by harmful bacteria or common allergens. With the help of improved laboratory management technologies, food testing companies can ensure a higher level of confidence in their products as they are sent to distribution for consumer purchase.
Food recalls have skyrocketed in recent years due to lax management of food testing and poor traceability of contamination origins. Only 22% of companies see quality as an integrated function of their supply chains. It is imperative to identify quality issues as early in the supply chain as possible, as the cost to resolve potential issues increases exponentially when discovered later in the supply chain. The presence of harmful bacteria such as listeria has forced the recall of various food products like fresh and frozen produce and various dairy products. Some of the recalls occurred too late, and as a result, consumers became sick or even died. In 2021, Tyson Foods recalled 8.5 million pounds of frozen chicken over Listeria concerns. According to the CDC, the outbreak was connected to three hospitalizations and one death. A study from the Food Marketing Institute and the Grocery Manufacturers Association found that a recall can cost $10 million, and that’s just in direct costs. Companies may also face indirect costs and lasting reputational damage.
Bacteria isn’t the only concern. Common food allergens such as milk, soy, wheat, and nuts have been found in products labeled as allergen-free. Whether through accidental cross-contamination during production or packaging or intentional acts of food fraud, more than 52% of U.S. food recalls within 2020 were caused by a variety of errors associated with allergens. Many of these recalls are due to labeling errors, such as the omission of allergens on product packages and using incorrect labels on product packages. These problems are only becoming more frequent as the list of product suppliers grows smaller; thus, the impact of one contamination outbreak affects more distributors.
Not only do contamination issues affect consumer health, but they also have a significant financial impact on the food and beverage industry. Collectively, companies have spent billions of dollars in reparation funds, fines for food safety law violations, and lost products that have been pulled from the shelves. This number doesn’t even begin to reflect the cost of managing the Public Relationship fallout, loss in sales, and stock declines. So, what is being done about it?
In response to these contamination issues, government agencies such as the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the European Union Commission (EUC) have implemented new regulations concerning the traceability and integrity of food safety data.
In March of 2021, the EUC implemented its new policy to require food business operators to provide proof of food safety testing and have a documented procedure for doing so. This includes providing necessary training for employees, maintaining up-to-date documentation, and guaranteeing compliance with food safety regulations already in place.
The FDA is following in its footsteps by pushing for a transition from paper-based documentation to a digital system. Paper-based documentation can introduce a host of traceability issues, including data silos, human error, and cumbersome organization (or complete lack of organization), which leads to time wasted in pinpointing the source of potential contamination.
Changing over from manual and paper processes to digital solutions can save money, lives, and time – all of which are vital to ensure the efficiency and success of the food and beverage industry. Making that transition from manual paper systems to digital can be intimidating, however, STARLIMS offers data management solutions that support the food safety culture and digital transformation.
Digital solutions provide peace of mind and help align with government regulations for compliance with food safety laws. STARLIMS provides a comprehensive laboratory information management system (LIMS) that covers all the basic needs of a food safety testing facility, including data management, analysis, traceability, audit trails, and procedural documentation. STARLIMS is flexible enough to meet the needs of the lab and can include the entire holistic system or specific parts tailored to the laboratory’s needs.
Samples can be tracked throughout testing and analysis history, with abnormal results flagged immediately for verification. On-the-spot analysis with charts and graphs saves time without manually crunching numbers and incorporates visual aids. The data is archived and quickly accessible in the event of a questionable result so that decisions can be made quickly before products reach the hands of consumers.
Our solution also allows for visibility of product testing results and compliance with the specifications in real-time. NWA trending integration allows for the spotting of undesirable process changes so that staff can respond accordingly. STARLIMS supports interfacing with ERP systems and Quality Management Systems (QMS), eliminating data redundancy and keeping one source of information. The STARLIMS S/4HANA ERP integration allows organizations to exchange bidirectional data between systems ensuring data accuracy and integrity. Additionally, with the STARLIMS SAP S/4HANA integration, laboratories have real-time visibility of product batches (lots) coming in for quality testing and changes in planning schedules allowing laboratories to prepare for the changing operational planning demands.
Audit trails and employee training modules for method execution training certification tracking are available to ensure compliance with the FDA. STARLIMS has LIMS set up to support customers with meeting the specifications of 21 CFR Part 11, which addresses the requirements for electronic records and electronic signatures. Security of information, protection of data with electronic signature requirements, and time-stamped records of any creation, change, or deletion of data are all available and critical features for any food safety laboratory to possess.
In addition to the features required for compliance with FDA food safety laws, STARLIMS also offers many tools that facilitate the recording, recalling, and sharing of data by any lab user. Electronic laboratory notebooks provide a comprehensive method for recording data and observations without disrupting the flow of testing. The convenience of mobile applications compatible with any smartphone or tablet enabled with an Android or iOS system allows for even more flexibility in data collection and management.
One of the most valuable assets of the LIMS is its cloud-driven capabilities to support organizations that do not want to deal with the nuances associated with on-premise installations. Instead of databases and documentation being managed through a local server, the STARLIMS system lives in the cloud, allowing organizations to scale as needed. Access to the cloud can be achieved from anywhere so that workflow does not need to be hindered by the inability to retrieve data.
The food and beverage industry is experiencing an unprecedented amount of pressure to ensure the safety of its products and preserve the consumers’ trust. By working with a powerful solution that supports digital transformation such as STARLIMS, food safety laboratories can have peace of mind in their effort to comply with evolving government regulations and provide a more efficient method of guaranteeing the safety of their products, helping to ensure quality from farm to fork.
 Gartner, S Jacobson, “Quality: The Missing Link in Your Supply Chain Strategy”, January 2015.
 Ibid (ref 1).
 Ibid (ref 1).