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informatics in the food and drink industry


for a specific type of bacteria,’ he explains, ‘but they now have to do more exploratory work to look for a variety of bacteria. Tis increases the level of complexity.’


In the field Te complexity of the tests, combined with the traceability demands presents a challenge as many companies have to be able to gather results from tests carried out remotely. Colin Turston, director of product strategy at Termo Fisher Scientific, offers an example in that a number of grain and cereal producers require farmers to run initial tests on the materials before buying the crops. An obvious downside to this is that non-technical people are being expected to carry out lab-type analysis. Another issue arises when considering


infrastructures and ensuring they are robust enough to deal with problems such as the farm not having broadband access. ‘Te question then becomes how to get the test result data up to the food producers’ information network,’ says Turston. To deal with both of these difficulties, Termo Fisher Scientific has been showcasing the ability to collect data via handheld devices, such as smart phones and tablets. In addition to the benefit of data networking capabilities, ‘these devices are becoming more powerful in that they have the ability to not only collect the data, but add value to it such as date and time stamps and location,’ he adds. Controls and verifications of where that information is coming from can also be added. Te company’s Merlin platform runs


on iPhones and iPads and enables users to download information from the Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS), such as a series of samples that need to be collected, or to capture data by scanning barcodes. Te dictation capabilities of those devices can also be used to make notes about the samples being collected. One of the most important considerations – especially in the light of requirements – is emphasised by Turston who states that, ‘there’s a completely closed loop between the information being collected in the field and the lab data that’s generated when those samples are tested in the factory.’ He continues by saying that the way


regulations are unfolding concerns not just the material – i.e. the food and drink products being created – but ensuring that only the right people are able to interact with certain systems. Essentially, the requirements are intended to ensure that anyone who is analysing the data in the lab has been trained in the work they’re doing. ‘Many food and drink companies are audited on a regular basis and so have to be able to demonstrate historical records showing that at a particular time a specific user was entitled to


8 SCIENTIFIC COMPUTING WORLD Informatics can manage the entire metadata that goes alongside the results generated by the lab


carry out a certain test, and that test was passed before the product was approved for shipping,’ Turston explains. ‘Tere’s an entire metadata that goes alongside the results the lab generates.’ According to Turston, the increase of


distributed systems, whereby some information may have originated in the farm that grew the grain, means that the LIMS needs to cope with data being generated both inside and outside the lab. Add this to the volume of the data and many are being pushed towards a cloud-based implementation. Tat trend is, he explains, in part due to the fact that the data itself is also becoming far more distributed – there is no longer one lab that’s providing all the results for a particular box of breakfast cereal, for example. He notes that he expects the private cloud


paradigm to continue to grow despite the fact that the food and drink industry is oſten quite conservative in its use of technology. He attributes this growth to companies seeing the benefits of remote outposts being able to use the same data infrastructure as internal operations. ‘When companies consider the infrastructure costs,’ Turston continues, ‘being able to work on a soſtware-as-a-service model in terms of licensing will also rise in popularity.’ He comments, however, that this is less important to global manufacturers that don’t have cyclical requirements based on harvest times, but instead, such as Coca-Cola, constantly produce products. Turston also warns that while many of Termo’s customers are currently investigating cloud-based solutions, ‘I’m not sure they’re actually doing it whole heartedly.’


Challenging times Te hesitation to embrace new technology is not a new issue, but requirements are creating situations where compliance would not be possible without an appropriate informatics


solution in place. One example, and addressing the overall competence of labs in Europe, is ISO 17025. Tis, Turston explains, outlays a number of different areas that must be covered by the lab, such as ensuring there is a complaints management solution, control of non-conforming tests, record training and authorising validation. As it is a legal requirement for European companies and for any company exporting food to Europe, it has wide-reaching implications given the globalisation occurring within the market. Tis globalisation has ‘fundamentally changed


the requirements and led to micro-segments,’ comments Michael Doyle, director of product marketing and principal scientist at Accelrys. ‘To support that, companies can’t distribute what they’re doing; there has to be some commonality in order to manage diverse goals, sources of material, innovation and production in a more holistic manner.’ Many companies face revaluating both their


infrastructure and ability to adapt to changing requirements as a result of another big trend in recent years: consolidation. Starlims’ Jay Ross comments that as the big food and drink conglomerates buy up smaller producers, they end up with multiple information systems. ‘A typical challenge for any industry in a consolidating phase is that the organisation suddenly has different cultures that have unique ways of doing things and so managing the expectations of end users is tough,’ he says. When accessing the gaps within an


infrastructure, and engaging a vendor to come in and implement a LIMS, many companies believe that a chosen standard can be imposed from the top down. However, as Ross explains: ‘Te impact of a top-down approach is oſten underestimated, especially when looking at global organisations where the differences go


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