IFS Blog

Introducing our latest digital tool, the IFS WordCloud

- by Stephan Tromp -

Risk Monitoring – from faxes to digital solutions

At the end of the nineties, I was General Manager of the Federal Association of German Fish Wholesalers and the Association for Food Wholesale and Retail in the German federal states Berlin and Brandenburg. At that time, we received EU food safety alerts by fax. Today, this feels like an anachronism from a past millennium. It was difficult to place each individual food safety alert in an overall context and see trends for specific product groups or even products, hazards, and countries of origin. Back then, I wondered how a computer could help me analyse all these food safety alerts effectively and put them in an overall picture.

Nowadays, you can receive individual alerts by e-mail, but the challenge practically remains the same. The technical possibilities though, are quite different today. Digitalisation, artificial intelligence (AI), and machine learning offer us endless opportunities and possibilities. In this context, it seemed obvious to me to find a digital solution that would enable us to analyse and use the Food Safety Alerts faster and better.

IFS WordCloud - Your new risk monitoring tool

The IFS WordCloud is designed to help quality assurance managers identify potential risks in their supply chains. It is a machine learning-based tool that collects food safety alerts from the FDA, EU-RASFF, and FSA. It sorts the warnings by ingredient or hazard and visualises them in a word cloud. You can see at a glance which products or hazards are currently trending on the portals of the three food safety institutions mentioned above. The more frequently a particular ingredient or hazard is mentioned in warnings, the darker the colour of the corresponding words in the word cloud appears. For example: if there are problems with sesame seeds, these words would appear darker in the word cloud. When you click on the words in the cloud, you can see the list of related warnings and have the possibility to access the information source directly. 

It may look a bit like a gadget at first glance, but there is a serious incentive behind it. I am convinced that this tool can support quality managers in their daily risk monitoring duties. The IFS WordCloud is a kind of fast track to the relevant messages. It saves time and increases effectiveness of monitoring activities.
The big challenge was to teach the machine to put every single alert in the right tray. Although the Food Safety Alerts are all written in English, different product names are used for the same product. For example, "cookies" and "biscuits" or different levels of detail for the product names "chicken filet" or just "chicken". As always, the devil is in the detail.

Big step in the digital development of the IFS

The launch of the IFS WordCloud is another significant step in the digital development of IFS! Being a "techie" myself, I have pursued a consistent digitalisation strategy at IFS since its foundation. Since day one, we have had a database that can be accessed by our users worldwide via the Internet. In the database we store data of certified companies, auditors and consultants. We use it for our integrity program, creating risk profiles as well as for the further development of standards, development programmes, auditor and industry training, etc. This is why, the database is practically the basis of almost all IFS activities. IFS also has developed its own software, AuditXpress, which ensures that audit reports are prepared according to the same principle. Also, we have created an app, IFS Audit Manager, which runs on tablets and smartphones. It supports quality managers in conducting internal audits and implementing necessary corrective actions. 

Permanent digitalisation has become part of the DNA of IFS. I am proud that with the IFS Trend Risk Monitor and the IFS WordCloud we can offer all IFS certified companies and other users of our database these very unique and supportive features. They are free of charge for everyone who has access to the IFS Database.
It is a special pleasure for me that an idea I have been pursuing for 20 years can now be implemented with the help of machine learning. It is a great feeling that digitalisation makes this possible and that the many users of the IFS database can now integrate this tool into their daily work.

Do you want to know more about our risk monitoring tools? Here you can find a presentation that gives you an introduction to the IFS Trend Risk Monitor and the IFS WordCloud. It is available in English, French, German, Italian and Spanish.

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