Big data technology abstract

Coffee Talk: How Has Big Data Affected Food Safety and Quality?

Denis Storey
June 1, 2021

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Big data is not a new term, nor is it a new concept for anyone in the business world. By definition, “big data” refers to “data sets that are too large and complex to manipulate or interrogate with standard methods or tools.” Like many industries, food manufacturing, processing, and distribution companies are flooded with data daily, making manipulation of that data for sound business acumen difficult, if not impossible, without proper tools. 

How has big data affected food safety and quality? To answer this question, we asked TraceGains CEO Gary Nowacki to share his insights.

The term “big data” can be a scary phrase that conjures up images of government surveillance and privacy issues. However, the phrase also can be used as a framework for companies to organize critical information better.

For example, in the food business, it’s common for food manufacturers to have vital information about product quality and safety scattered across various documents. With big data, most people appreciate the value of having reportable, searchable, and actionable data maintained in a central database. 

So, the question for the food industry is: How do you centralize all that data so you can leverage it for quality and safety? 

If companies have this information, but it’s not organized correctly, how are they dealing with quality and safety issues today?

You put your finger on the problem. Companies struggle to sift through all this data and all these documents. Ultimately, with enough time and resources, they can get the answers they’re looking for, but it’s inefficient. And since time is money, it’s also expensive. 

What’s the hope and promise of big data in this context?

It starts with taking all that data and putting it into a centralized database. That’s what we do at TraceGains. We don’t just extract the data from incoming documents; we build a centralized database to report, search, and use the data accurately. A good, clean, centralized database like this leads to enhanced proactive powers and reactive powers.  

Enhanced proactive and reactive powers sound a bit vague. Can you be more specific?

Let me clarify, not from my standpoint, but from what we hear across our customer base. Almost every food company we talk to is interested in proactively scorecarding their suppliers and proactively identifying the hottest points of risk in their supply chain, some of which refer to as risk profiling. So, we have standard reports and dashboards that do both and are a massive hit with our customers because these tools allow them to be highly proactive. On the reactive side, people want to manage by exception and get instant alerts only when there’s a real problem. So, our customers like that TraceGains can instantly notify them, for example, if an incoming raw material lot fails to meet their specifications. 

That all makes sense if you’re a food safety or quality assurance professional, but what advantage would the CEO of a food company see with big data?

Trust me, the typical food company CEO, and other members of the executive team, is already thinking about big data in terms of customers, sales, and marketing. Big data comes up in areas like point of sales (POS) systems, trade promotions, advertising budgets, shelf space, consumer behavior, and more.

The typical food CEO isn’t going to have a problem discussing or embracing big data for another part of the company. It’s merely the job of food quality, safety, and regulatory people to illuminating how big data can help in critical areas. It’s all about profits, and any application of big data that either increases revenue or decreases cost can capture the ear of a CEO. 

Why not make your data actionable? TraceGains supplier management digitizes documents for data mining and trend analysis to drive continuous process improvement. Learn more here.