Despite being one of the oldest industries, the food and beverage industry is constantly changing and innovating. To stay competitive, leaders need to find ways to scale rapidly, meet changes in demand, and adapt quickly to consumer behavior while producing the safest, highest quality products at an affordable market price.

One of the greatest challenges food and beverage manufacturers face is recalls. From 2017-2020, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has reported a total of 1,010 recall press releases. Beyond being a public health concern, food and beverage recalls can cause irreparable damage to a company. The FDA emphasizes the importance of adopting digital tools in the New Era of Smarter Food Safety: FDA’s Blueprint for the Future for food and beverage manufacturers to survive a recall.

The COVID-19 pandemic proved that digital transformation was either a win for early adopters or a reality check for manufacturers relying on legacy systems. Manufacturers that embrace Industry 4.0 technologies gain the agility to respond to crises. A global pandemic was impossible to predict, but food and beverage recalls can be avoided and minimized with the right systems in place.

In this blog post, we will break down the causes of common recalls and how new technology can help food and beverage manufacturers not only identify the source within their production line, but prevent future recalls.

Causes of Common Food and Beverage Recalls

Undeclared Ingredients

Undeclared allergens are the leading cause of food recalls in the United States. Inaccurate labels are a serious concern for the estimated 32 million Americans impacted by food allergies, Ensuring all ingredients in products are listed accurately is also a regulatory requirement for all food and beverage manufacturers under the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004 (FALCPA).

One of the main causes of recalls due to undeclared ingredients is a disconnect between master data and the production line. Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems are often out of sync with the processes actually happening on the shop floor. There can be discrepancies between a recipe and the actual weighing and dispensing of ingredients, and lack of automatic validation can lead to the mislabeling and mis-packaging of products.

In operations with paper-based work instructions, there is a large margin for human error and cross-contamination that compromises the accuracy of labeling and manual data entry. More innovation drives recipe changes and opens up the possibility of making more mistakes, especially with workforce transformation happening at the same time.

Compromised Products

Compromised products refer to products that contain contaminants, which can include non-food items like metal or plastics, or harmful bacteria, most commonly Listeria, E. Coli, and Salmonella. From a production perspective, maintaining process and environmental parameters (temperature, humidity) to tight tolerances is critical to preventing bacterial growth. Producing the same product over time allows manufacturers to iron this out, but when new recipes need to be scaled, monitoring, collecting, and analyzing these variables is necessary.

The other source of contamination can be chemicals; caused by cleaning and sanitization products that leave a residue that promotes biological contamination. Paper-based SOPs for line clearance and changeovers create inconsistencies in this key process and lack of traceability back to the point of contamination in the production line.

Taza Chocolate Packaging
Taza Chocolate factory operators using the Tulip Frontline Operations Platform.

Industry 4.0 for Food and Beverage Manufacturers

What is Industry 4.0?

Industry 4.0 is the fusion of manufacturing technologies (AI, big data, IoT, bioinformatics) and their interaction across the physical, digital, and biological domains that make the fourth industrial revolution fundamentally different from previous revolutions - diffusing faster and more broadly than any of the previous revolutions. Industry 4.0 focuses on interconnection (people, systems, machines) and information transparency.

Taza Chocolate Machine Monitoring Dashboard
Critical Applications in the Production Line

How can Industry 4.0 technologies help manage and prevent recalls?

Error-Proof Workflows — Augmentative solutions like dynamic work instructions provide visual, paperless guidance to help operators perform daily tasks and complex processes. This not only ensures operators complete processes accurately and efficiently, but real-time data is collected at every step. Using simple cameras, break beams, and device sensor feedback (from weighing scales, for example) can completely error-proof weigh/dispense, data collection from quality inspections, and drive audits, etc. Dynamic work instructions can be configured and updated easily to keep up with recipe changes and new product introductions.

Mockup of a weigh and dispense application in Tulip
Tulip Weigh and Dispense App

Traceability — With the help of a system of connected apps that supplement manual-data entry with automated data collection, raw ingredients and products can easily be tracked at every stage of production. Where traditional manufacturing solutions create data silos and cast a wide net in terms of process visibility, platforms that fully integrate ERP and other systems make it possible to isolate defective products with easily accessible electronic batch records. In the event of contamination, traceability means knowing where the raw ingredients were sourced, volume of affected products, the batch or lot identification numbers, and where each batch was delivered for corrective action.

Continuous Improvement — Real-time data uncovers the root cause of recalls to identify areas for improvement within the production line. Understanding where and when problems occur means any high-risk processes can be corrected ahead of time to prevent quality or safety issues. This includes making sure all the personnel are well trained, environmental changes are monitored closely, line clearance is routinely run, and raw materials are stored and used properly.

For more information about how Tulip can transform your operations, watch our on-demand webinar Implementing Industry 4.0 for the Food & Beverage Industry.

Improve process visibility with Tulip's Frontline Operations Platform

See how a system of apps can collect real-time production data and reduce human error with a free trial of Tulip.

Day in the life CTA illustration