In the 1990s, food-poisoning outbreaks hammered chains such as Jack-in-the-Box, which sold burgers contaminated with bacteria that killed four children. And of course, the September 11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, plus the dramatic increase in global terrorism ever since, have raised fears that the food supply could be a fat target for biological or chemical attacks.

What’s a food company to do? In mid-2002, the Hawkins brothers signed up Atlanta software company Ross Systems (ROSS ) to install a so-called enterprise resource planning (ERP) system that would help the family business better track its manufacturing processes. At every point of production, a Litehouse employee enters information into the system that helps create a richly detailed view of what’s happening.



For example, if a load of garlic granules comes in, the employee receiving the shipment enters the purchase order into the ERP system. When the time comes to use those granules to flavor a batch of dressing, the ERP system tracks their origin and notes which batches of salad dressing they’re mixed into. That information is then printed on each container of dressing.



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