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The Ring Binder is Not Dead (But it Should Be)

Ian Duffield
Feb 27, 2020 9:43:55 AM

Food safety in the grower-shipper community is a critical business success factor. Get it wrong and members of the public can get sick or worse. Plus, you can wipe out revenue on a crop for a season or more and likely impact revenue for the entire industry. Case in point: recent food-borne illness scares on Romaine lettuce. 

ring-binder-pileIf you visit any grower-shipper office you will see shelves of white ring binders – usually 4 inches wide for maximum storage. These ring binders hold the records of every food safety check, sanitation log, daily crew lists, pre-harvest checklist, chemical use logs, chemical storage logs, temperature logs, quality inspections, pest control reports and so on. The list is almost endless. Then drive from those offices out to the fields when harvest crews are working and you will see the white trucks of field supervisors parked randomly. Open the passenger doors of their trucks and what will you seeEither on the seat or under it, or sometimes thrown casually behind it – yes, more white ring binders, holding more logs, inspections and checklists. 

I think we can agree that this is not an ideal way to collect or to store critical information – information which periodically an auditor, a government inspector or a customer representative has a right to review. 

Most grower-shippers and handlers are extremely diligent about the maintenance and accuracy of all such documents, but sometimes checklists are mis-filed or lost, or they get dropped in the mud, or they’re filled out later, after an event, or they’re illegible. Some organizations take paper checklists and re-key them into Excel, but they still keep the paper forms. And we are grateful that they do, as this is our only evidence that good agricultural practices are being followed and the files provide a starting point when trying to determine the origins of an outbreak. 

When I think about the resources required to deal with all the data that grower-shippers must collect regarding food safety and Standard Operating Procedures, I wonder there is anyone left making any money from growing the crops. This practice has been going for decades, and in the early days it was manageable as there were not too many factors that had to be recorded and logged. Now there are dozens – every day! 

A few companies, including Procurant, have developed a better way to collect and retain this type of data. Every one of these checklists, logs, inspections and audits can be completed on a mobile device, a tablet, or even on your phone. They can be completed on the same device you’re using to collect labor details or to print your PTI labels. These new food safety software tools enable you to collect your critical data in real-time, at the point of origin, alert you to remedial action if necessary, and keep the information safe without the need for masses of paper in white ring binders. Auditors can easily access details and the information is never mis-filed or lost. 

After all, wouldn’t those empty shelves look better with a few plants? 

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