For many food and beverage companies, paper documentation, binders, and filing cabinets cause frustration and waste valuable time. Chelan Fruit, the largest fruit packing co-op in the US, felt the challenges of using a paper-based system firsthand and sought a more efficient way of doing things. Here, discover how their company successfully transitioned its entire food safety program to a paperless system using SafetyChain.
Chelan Fruit is a 300-member grower-owned fruit packing cooperative based in north-central Washington. They grow, store, pack, and distribute apples, pears, and stone fruit to all-sized retailers across the US, including Walmart, Safeway, Albertsons, and Sam's Club. Aside from the exceptional taste and quality of their products, Chelan is known for their strong commitment to food safety. They proudly maintain Level 3SQF Certification, the most comprehensive safety and quality program available through SQFI.
Chelan wanted to solve three major problems:
First, an inefficient paper record-keeping process was wasting significant time and labor across multiple departments.
Second, they needed access to thorough, reliable data to meet the growing demands of FSMA compliance and to keep pace with the food industry's rising safety standards.
Finally, they wanted to reduce the amount of time needed for audit prep.
Because Chelan has multiple facilities, paper records were being physically transported from one location to another on a weekly basis. And, record filing wasn't always completed by the same person or in the same, exact way. As a result, when it came time for audit prep, locating and retrieving missing or misfiled records posed a considerable challenge and wasted even more time. Chelan Fruit knew that a digital transformation would solve many of their problems. In addition to moving away from paper record-keeping, they wanted to find a system that would help them adhere to their very high standards for food safety, enhance real-time visibility across all of their facilities, and streamline audit prep.
After careful consideration, Chelan Fruit selected SafetyChain as their new FSQA solution.
With the implementation of SafetyChain, Chelan has been able to eliminate a massive amount of time and effort that had previously been wasted chasing paper records. They have also improved the quality of their data, streamlined their audit-prep processes, surpassed their food safety standards, and freed up managers' time so they can walk their plant floors far more frequently.
For example, prior to SafetyChain, two people might get out for walkthroughs about once a month. Now, each manager has time to walk at least one line per day. Walkthroughs – once a long, painful process – now garner employee engagement. Chelan's teams have embraced their digitization efforts and enjoy using tablets to collect and manage records: after all, they are familiar, everyday tools. Switching to tablets "just made sense" to them.
The record sign-off process has become more reliable and manageable, too. A single person can now sign-off on 200 documents per day. Thanks to SafetyChain's charting, reporting, and analytics, managers have been able to reduce their paperwork from one day per week to one hour per week. Their staff has found huge efficiencies from having a single tablet with immediate access to any document, trend, or report they have been given rights to view.
As a result, Chelan's data quality and record accuracy have improved dramatically. They no longer have to worry about forms missing entries; the system prompts thorough documentation by requiring the completion of all (or some) fields, a feature which is completely configurable, and provides a systematic process for verification. Additionally, it gives managers the time-saving luxury, where appropriate, to sign-off records in bulk.
Moreover, moving away from paper records has provided additional, unexpected benefits. It exposed previously unseen concerns that the company was able to address swiftly, before they became problems.
Keys to Success:
Chelan’s technology implementation was successful for a number of reasons. Robert Peebles, Director of Employee and Food Safety at Chelan knew that changing from a paper- and clipboard-based record-keeping system to electronic documentation using tablets, laptops, and smartphones would require company-wide collaboration. With this in mind, he rallied champions across several departments including Food Safety, Quality Control, and IT. Although Robert was strongly committed to and focused on food safety, he also knew that, given the structure of Chelan’s Board, he would need their chosen technology to be more than just a food safety solution to justify its investment.
Chelan's technology implementation was successful for a number of reasons. Robert Peebles knew that changing from a paper- and clipboard-based record-keeping system to electronic documentation using tablets, laptops, and smartphones would require company-wide collaboration. With this in mind, he rallied champions across multiple departments, including Food Safety, Quality Control, and IT. He chose individuals who were well respected by their peers, and in many cases, bilingual — an asset Robert knew would be helpful during training. A final reason for involving multiple departments was that although Robert was strongly committed to and focused on food safety, he also knew that, given the structure and concerns of their Board, any new technology purchase would need to be more than just a food safety solution to justify its investment.
Chelan's collaborative approach was successful. Robert solicited input from each functional area and all departments played a role: input was gathered and considered from line workers to top management. For example, IT helped with hardware selection and testing. They were in charge of sourcing affordable tablets that would be easy to use for both iOS and Android users. As a whole, Chelan took ownership of employee training and quickly learned to build their own forms. Before they knew it, they were up and running, and enjoying the many benefits of a digitized workplace.
Peebles notes that imposing some standardization across their facilities prior to implementation made for a smooth rollout. For example, the simple act of conforming the look of all forms across all departments made it easier to train staff. Of course, the core implementation team knew that moving its staff off clipboards and paper wasn't going to be as easy as turning spreadsheets into electronic forms. Workflows had to be carefully assessed. In many cases, there was room for improvement, which they were able to achieve by keeping their end goals in mind and inviting input from multiple parties.
Finally, enough cannot be said about the value of careful planning. Robert had the foresight to realize that hours spent in the planning stages would save days during the rollout. This included his software selection process, which he approached thoughtfully and methodically. As he evaluated several systems, it became apparent that he was looking for a technology partner with an in-depth understanding of the unique challenges food companies face – not just a software solution.