Keys for proper traceability and interpretation of retort data
Traceability is the ability to keep track of a product through all stages of production and distribution. In the case of the food industry, it is an essential factor to guarantee food safety and protect consumer health, as it enables affected batches to be detected quickly and removed from the supply chain in the event of an incident.
Connectivity in industrial processes has transformed traceability management, making it more robust and eliminating error margins. Sterilization is a critical process in food safety, so it is essential to carry out strict control and keep a log of retort data for full traceability. The main aspects to bear in mind are the following:
Incorporation of sterilization data into the plant management systems
Traceability is guaranteed by means of a process that consists of the identification of sterilized products in each cycle and the logging of batches in the databases of the management system. In this way, if an incident occurs, the bar codes for each product will be associated with the production batches and the entire processing cycle can be consulted in the database to check for any anomalies.
The technology used for traceability in the sterilization process consists of collecting data through temperature probes, which are associated with the retort’s control PLC. This data is sent to the SCADA of the series of retorts, which has its own database and is often shared with the MES and ERP system. By doing so, the sterilization data is fully integrated into the set of critical management data throughout the entire production line.
Expert personnel to ensure proper traceability
At each plant, there is a wide range of MES and ERP systems. Therefore, the collaboration between internal IT technicians and the retort suppliers is strongly recommended to integrate data collection, forwarding and analysis technologies into the business management software. It is important to adapt the process to the system and the specific management procedures at each plant to ensure proper integration.
Compilation of variables that enable production to be improved
To ensure traceability, it is essential to, at least, collect data related to the temperature and duration of each sterilization cycle associated with the preparation process used and the batch identifier. However, it is also highly recommended to collect other variables, such as details related to pressure and water flow, as this information will contribute to optimizing production management, improving maintenance, and saving energy.
Audits to evaluate the product quality and processes
Traceability not only guarantees the rapid detection and handling of incidents but also offers important information to improve processes. This information enables us to conduct audits and evaluate improvement possibilities in terms of product quality, optimization of production rates and energy efficiency.
Without traceability records, it would be far more difficult to manage quality in sterilization processes, locate problems and adopt corrective and preventive measures.
Long-term storage of data
The shelf life of food products preserved by heat is extended for several years. Therefore, the food industry is required to retain the production logs for long periods, covering the entire shelf life of the product sold. These traceability records must be kept securely, reliably, and in full, enabling rapid access to them whenever necessary.
Proper traceability of the sterilization process will only be fully guaranteed if our plant’s management system is designed to capture the data throughout the production line, as sterilization is just another step in the process. If the loaded batches are properly identified, including the batch number, product and packaging, in the steps before and after sterilization, the traceability of the sterilization process will be guaranteed in our database.