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2021-07-13

Automation puts food safety first

‘Food safety’ has taken on a new, broader meaning since the increased focus on hygiene brought about by Covid-19. Pre-pandemic, food safety was more about avoiding contamination and foodborne illness. But this definition has expanded to emphasize the safety of workers and consumers, resulting in trends such as expanding the definition of cleanliness, incorporating more visible cleaning procedures, and an increased interest in the applications of automation.


| Bizerba

“Especially in the on-site production of meat products, manufacturers face numerous challenges related to the manual handling of meat. Automating as much of the production line as possible helps to prevent many food safety risks,” explains Wendell Trican, Technical Solutions Expert (Retail) for Bizerba South Africa. Bizerba is a specialist solutions provider of hardware and software related to slicing, processing, weighing, cashing, checking, and labelling for large multinationals, retailers, bakeries, and butcheries, with a global footprint and an in-depth understanding of the South African market.

While automation is becoming more commonplace in different industries, some in the food sector remain sceptical because of the hands-on approach that they are familiar with and have used to build their brands. Yet, automating your production life cycle holds more benefits than can be ignored. Automation enhances traceability, standardizes quality control, improves workplace safety, increases efficiency, protects your company or brand’s good name, and provides flexibility.

“Retailers that implement equipment such as tray sealers with ‘gas-flushing map’ or ‘skinning’ technologies have an opportunity to increase the product’s shelf life and offer a better presentation. These processes also see an increase in productivity, improved hygiene – as there is no constant handling of the product – and use much less electricity than traditional sealing machines,” explains Trican.

Ease of operation, along with a strategy for simplified training and onboarding, also needs to be considered as key factors to success in this new era of food safety. Trican explains why: “The industry suffers from a lack of skilled workers due to high staff turnover, further complicating food safety compliance and the management and maintenance of a cold chain.” On-demand eLearning solutions and training videos such as the ones Bizerba offers can assist with this and provide opportunities for new employees to be easily onboarded and existing employees to be upskilled.

Simplicity in terms of equipment and operating system is also key. For example, the software and applications used to manage food production runs on Bizerba’s Windows-powered XC Pro Scale, which integrates seamlessly with the rest of your production line technology. “The whole process from order to production and delivery can be managed on the XC Scale. No additional hardware or server is needed, which results in less cost,” says Trican. The less devices / equipment you have to learn, the easier it is to operate.

Another common problem retailers face when buying international production equipment is a lack of local service providers to do maintenance on their machines. Trican advises: “When buying equipment, consider whether your service provider offers the support of a full technical team as part of the deal, and if they have plans for not only reactive, but preventative maintenance in place to ensure longevity. You don’t want to be left high and dry with equipment that doesn’t work or works out too expensive to repair.” Having equipment that can automatically pick up when its production capabilities are out and send an email to notify the technical team of the error makes maintenance even easier.

Lack of a thorough food safety strategy, or a breach in food safety protocol, has far-reaching consequences and impacts directly on the profit margin of any retailer, independent manufacturer, or wholesaler. Trican adds, “Advances in equipment and automation through custom software have allowed retailers and manufacturers to optimise food safety strategies and production output, while reducing wastage. But, when considering instore food production solutions to keep up with the times, make sure that you partner with a service provider who can offer a solution that fits your business and customers.”


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