Emily Newton, Revolutionized Magazine
FST Soapbox

As Demand for Frozen Food Surges, Cold Storage Facilities Must Continue to Prioritize Safety

By Emily Newton
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Emily Newton, Revolutionized Magazine

Frozen food demand has skyrocketed. Although COVID-19 was a catalyst, there are many reasons why the trend will likely continue going forward. The pandemic forced people to eat at home more, which was largely responsible for the hike in food sales, especially frozen goods. Higher availability and food quality enhancements have also contributed to the spike, prompting suppliers to upgrade and expand cold storage warehouse solutions—whether that means creating extra space or utilizing existing space more effectively.

One of the more important changes, prioritized across the industry, is food preservation and safety. It has always been crucial that frozen food reaches its destination clean, healthy and still frozen — just as it went in. However, preliminary data from the CDC’s Foodborne Diseases Active Surveillance Network reveals that foodborne illnesses are up 15%. The primary or most common form is Salmonella, but COVID-19 has consumers and food safety professionals thinking more closely about cleanliness and proper sanitation.

It has pushed a tight focus on safety overall, with new innovations looking to enhance sector controls.

Necessity Breeds Creativity

Recent events have played a role in the industry’s continued focus on safety, but so have consumer demands, as more and more people look to frozen meals, foods and items as part of their normal routines.

People love convenience. But as the pandemic hit, and people were forced to isolate and remain home more, and restaurants and stores closed as a safety precaution. What was once about convenience became even more about safety. People still wanted freedom and ease of use, but it wasn’t a necessity nor was it a priority. Safety became even more important, which is why curbside pickup, deliveries and online transactions became so popular.

What does this have to do with frozen foods? Everything. Because of the pandemic, we’ve all had to eat at home more often, which means preparing meals, snacks and other items, with minimal exposure to the outside world or even local grocery stores. Naturally, consumers turned to easily cooked and pre-prepared frozen foods and meals.

Safety is the Priority

It makes sense that more frozen foods being purchased and consumed would shift priorities in the market. In a 2021 report released by Acosta, 14% of respondents say they consume frozen food nearly all the time. About 46% say they consume frozen foods often.

During the pandemic, the share of U.S. core frozen food consumers rose to 39% in 2020, up from 35% in 2018. “Core” consumers are defined as those who either eat frozen food daily or every few days.

What’s more, 42% of households that buy frozen foods did so online, up from 23% in 2018. And online frozen food sales jumped 75% last year, with the top purchases including frozen dinners and entrees, meat, poultry and even seafood.

Instead of restricting eating habits, consumers have turned to frozen foods to spruce up their meals, create new at-home dishes, and so on. It has boosted the demand for all kinds of frozen foods. It also necessitates the need for improved quality and safety. Implementing and maintaining strict controls as to how the food is transported, handled and preserved, can prevent contamination on all fronts.

With that rise in dependence, on frozen foods specifically, it is imperative that supply chain operators are delivering goods in a safe, healthy condition. Allowing foods to thaw during the transport process can introduce more problems than just contamination, especially with COVID remaining a major influence.

Imagine how bad it would be if the world experienced a major foodborne outbreak, right now. Most scenarios can be prevented through smarter food handling and better, data-driven controls.

New methods are being implemented to chill and prepare foods earlier on in the supply process. Many cold chain providers are adopting low-temperature chillers, like a food processing chiller, for example. They can freeze prepared foods quickly to ensure they are safe, disinfected and stored appropriately. From there, it’s just a matter of keeping them cold-locked during transport, storage, delivery, and beyond. That’s precisely where some of the latest innovations come into the picture.

Cold Storage Warehouse Innovations

To keep up with the demand and ensure frozen foods and other goods stay fresh in the cold chain, the industry is seeing rampant innovation, thanks to modern technologies. Think IoT-equipped fleets and storage systems to facilitate faster time to market and better transparency. Or, machine learning and AI-driven tools that help discern bottlenecks, locate faster and more effective solutions, and so on.

At the heart of it all is data, or rather digital content and information. The smarter and more contextually driven operations are, the better efficiency is all around. The following are some of the technologies making this happen:

  • IioT. The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) involves connected devices that continually collect, transmit and sometimes process performance and contextual data. In the cold chain, it can be used to track goods, prevent theft or fraud, monitor processes, discover bottlenecks and more.
  • Machine Learning. An offset of artificial intelligence, machine learning and neural networks can be used to ingest and analyze massive swarms of data in ways, and at speeds, that humans never could. What’s more, the technology can empower highly advanced automation systems to take action, respond, or act based on algorithmic rulesets.
  • Electric and autonomous vehicles. Revolutionizing logistics and conventional transport, electric and fully autonomous vehicles will significantly improve fleets with better safety, stop-free trips and more.
  • Smart shelving. Imagine Amazon’s Kivo bots, or something similar, implemented within cold storage warehouses. The entire system is designed to improve inventory management, order picking, and general logistics.
  • Co-bots. Beyond delivery, ground-based drones or advanced robots can be used to transport and move heavy goods, large or bulk orders, and organize the warehouse. When outfitted with the appropriate hardware, they can reach high shelves and storage areas or move through hazardous locations, improving safety for manual workers.

Innovation Brings New Challenges

Of course, there are the general challenges facing the cold storage industry, such as how to keep foods fresh throughout the journey, proper packaging solutions, and maintaining more sanitary conditions, but there are new challenges presented by the adopted technologies.

For example, IIoT devices aren’t typically designed to be exposed to extremely frigid temperatures, which may sometimes affect the measurements and data collected. A malfunctioning device can lead to serious problems, especially when it’s the sole method for maintaining temperatures and ensuring food is properly stored.

Bringing these devices up to a sufficiently resistant level is a challenge, as is keeping them running optimally. Failing to do so could increase food contamination, the spread of foodborne illness, or worse.

Another challenge involves the expansion or development of new cold storage facilities. As warehouses and locations grow to accommodate larger inventories, the cold storage systems must become more sophisticated and powerful. What’s more, even the slightest temperature drop because of a system failure can have sweeping repercussions in such a large facility. A single refrigeration unit going down can drop temperatures across the entire warehouse.

Designing smarter spaces to keep the cold temperatures contained is one solution. Installing the supporting systems is another, which keeps things operational even when a negative scenario plays out. Automation and smart, data-driven technologies can be incredibly helpful in this area.

Finally, the bigger the cold storage solution, the higher the power draw and the more resources needed to keep things running. In turn, it’s necessary to install and implement smart technologies to reduce the carbon footprint. Cutting energy usage wherever possible becomes vital to sustainability. It can call for solutions like smart or timed lighting, smart thermostats for the refrigeration units, or upgraded systems that reduce emissions — think electric fleets and renewable energy platforms.

Backup solutions are even a part of the mix, when power outages can bring an entire operation down in seconds, and expose food to long-term risk.

Frozen Food Demand: A Steady Climb

Things may change, and there are never any guarantees, but right now it looks as though high demand for frozen food will continue, and may even grow steadily. Market conditions are partly responsible, but consumers are now more focused on quality and healthy foods, above eating out or ordering in. As the economy continues to open, people will want to get back out there and explore. But that doesn’t necessarily mean frozen food demand will decline.

Cold chain and cold storage warehouse providers must be prepared for the continued growth, which includes finding new and innovative ways to preserve, package and safely store frozen foods.

Derek Stangle, Squadle
Retail Food Safety Forum

How the Pandemic Raised Stakes for Food Safety

By Derek Stangle
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Derek Stangle, Squadle

Food safety concerns are constant across the food industry. From grocery stores to restaurants to meatpacking plants, the industry has doubled down on creating greater transparency into how food is stored, handled, cooked and delivered to the end customer. At the same time, new technology is helping food executives execute everything from contactless transactions to track, record, and promote their safety policies as never before.

Both independent restaurants and large chains see food safety as an issue that grew in importance during the pandemic. Diners have come to rely on restaurant policies for staff hygiene, such as washing hands, wearing gloves, and tracking personnel temperatures at the beginning of every shift. Their patrons expect that each restaurant will demonstrate how they are adhering to safety protocols. Restaurants are publishing their policies via signage, flyers added to take-out orders, social media posts, updated website language, or even safety protocols published to Yelp.

What’s more, their customers can easily access guidelines published by the CDC such as “Avoid Food Poisoning: Tips for Eating at Restaurants”, which explain how to check a restaurant’s safety score at the local health department website or find information, such as certificates that show kitchen managers have completed food safety training and posted it in the physical restaurant.

For restaurants, a transparent safety policy can become a competitive advantage, used to win new customers and attract the very best job candidates.

Grocery stores face similar challenges. From the checkout line to deli employees and the inventory clerks stocking the shelves, grocery employees are essential workers who also experience an unusually high level of public contact. According to the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW), which represents 1.3 million workers in food and retail, since the pandemic began, there have been more than 100,000 frontline and grocery union workers infected or exposed to COVID-19.

The UFCW has called for better safety precautions for grocery workers, including free PPE, paid sick leave, and vaccination prioritization that reflects their role as essential workers. As the national vaccination program picks up steam, more states are recognizing the need to vaccinate these essential workers, and they’ve been moved up in the prioritization line.

Until vaccines become more prevalent, however, grocery stores have adopted measures, much like those in restaurants, that are designed to protect both workers and shoppers. Mask mandates, one-way aisles, six-foot distancing, and Plexiglas shields at checkout are now commonplace.

Expanding Takeout and Delivery

Both restaurants and grocery stores have seen a huge shift to delivery ordering or curbside takeout over the course of the pandemic. Customers expect their favorite brands to give them the option of a frictionless, contactless experience where they have minimal contact with employees.

In order to offer a contactless takeout experience, both grocery stores and restaurants have invested heavily in technology. Curbside pickup and home delivery require an up-to-date website synched to inventory and menus. In addition, mobile apps enable guests to order remotely regardless of their location. The ability to pay via the app or a mobile wallet is the next step in a seamless contactless experience. Guests can pick up groceries or restaurant orders curbside, or pay a little more to have them delivered to their doorsteps.

The big advantage for shoppers is that they never come into contact with store employees, thus reducing the possibility of virus transmission. However, shoppers are finding that they also like the speed and convenience of the contactless experience. For this reason, many restaurants, such as McDonald’s and Chipotle, are expanding their drive-through capabilities.

Big brands like Amazon are doing the same with grocery. The Amazon Go concept store provides a “Just Walk Out Shopping” experience. There are no lines and no checkout. Customers download an Amazon Go app, and their items are automatically scanned and billed to their account. Other innovators include Wegman’s, which has partnered with Instacart to facilitate free delivery for its online shoppers, and brands like Safeway and Albertson’s, which also have curbside pickup facilitated via their mobile apps.

Back-of-House Technology

Back-of-house technology completes the food safety paradigm for restaurants and grocery stores. New systems that combine wireless networks with temperature monitors and data analysis make it simple and compulsory to track food temperatures throughout a facility. Remote sensors automatically record temperatures in coolers, the kitchen, and as orders move on to the customer.

Workflow automation in the back-of-house has become equally indispensable as food compliance has become increasingly more complex. Whether it’s a multi-unit restaurant or grocery brand, operators crave the data and visibility that only a digital solution can provide. Automation reduces the amount of time spent on tasks otherwise done manually, cuts down on the chance of errors, increases customer satisfaction and improves overall efficiency.

Technology helps the foodservice industry to stay on track, ensure compliance and encourages employees to stick with these practices. With a digital solution that keeps an electronic record of all the protocols that need to be completed, restaurants and groceries can record each inspection, such as taking photos of clean equipment and walk-in coolers at proper temperatures, as well as reminding them of their most important tasks and cleaning schedules.

Susanne Kuehne, Decernis
Food Fraud Quick Bites

The Sun Does Not Shine on This Food Staple

By Susanne Kuehne
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Susanne Kuehne, Decernis
Rice fraud, Australia
Find records of fraud such as those discussed in this column and more in the Food Fraud Database, owned and operated by Decernis, a Food Safety Tech advertiser. Image credit: Susanne Kuehne

Organized crime in Eastern Europe has targeted a well-known top-level brand in Australia, shipping counterfeit rice to countries around the world under their brand. Rice grown and processed under uncontrolled conditions can bode a risk to human health due to unsanitary processing conditions and contamination from heavy metals. The affected company has initiated thorough investigations into this matter and indeed seized some counterfeit product in Saudi Arabia.

Resource

  1. Taylor, P. (July 7, 2021). “Criminal gang counterfeits Aussie rice brand SunRice”. Securing Industry.
Melody Ge, Corvium
Women in Food Safety

The Breadcrumbs that Lead to Success

By Melody Ge
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Melody Ge, Corvium

It was a great pleasure to sit down with Jennifer Crandall, CEO, founder and owner of the Safe Food En Route, LLC. She has more than 20 years’ experience in food safety, and tremendous experience as a business entrepreneur.

Jennifer Crandall
Jennifer Crandall, CEO, founder and owner of the Safe Food En Route, LLC, has more than 20 years’ experience in food safety, and tremendous experience as a business entrepreneur.

Jennifer started her career in production for a variety of products after she graduated from Purdue University as a Food Science major. When she looks back at her career path, Jennifer says all the dots are connected together in getting her to where she is now—as though she was leaving her own “breadcrumbs” in each stage, and now everything has come back together. For example, after she spent eight years on the production line, she took a position at Kroger Manufacturing for the next 12 years, where she had opportunities to work at positions in corporate food technology, regulatory compliance and global sourcing roles. Jennifer said, “it was a detour at the time when I took the sourcing position, however, it was these last two positions that set the foundation and knowledge when starting Safe Food En Route“…“I went the path of least resistance, what felt right at that time, and that natural interest just linked to the next opportunity. Each time I moved around, I either learned something new or developed another skill—that’s what motivated me. I left myself breadcrumbs along the way, so when I looked back, I knew where I had been,” she said. “I don’t regret any of the decisions that I made in getting me into the position where I am today.” Jennifer shared one quote she learned from Kathy Beechem, a retired EVP of US Bank: “When you are facing two choices, always take the path with the most opportunities!” “Her words still have an impact on me. Every time I make a choice, I choose the one that gave me more opportunities to grow,” Jennifer said.

We ended our conversation with some tips Jennifer would have given to her younger self, back 20 years ago. First: Use your network more, and do not be afraid to ask more questions. Second: Do not be afraid. You have unlimited potential and are destined for great things. Decide what you want with all your heart and focus on it.

“All in all, it is crucial to understand what you want, and understand who you are!” Jennifer said.

Melody Ge: Every time I speak with you, you are very confident and comfortable in the conversation. What tips can you share on being confident?

Jennifer Crandall: Thank you, and I think it still comes with practice. There are three things I think I would like to share.

  1. Be prepared. The more prepared you are, the more confident you will be.
  2. Be on time and enforce your own boundaries. Be realistic with the time you need for preparation; you can’t prepare for everything, especially if it’s a discussion. But give yourself the space and grace to have that preparation time within the boundaries.
  3. Recognize and understand your own needs, simply as knowing yourself. It’s probably a good tip to reemphasize and work in a lot of other situations. It’s surprising how many people that do not self-reflect. I see many people living their life like a pinball machine, not knowing where they are going. That will show that they lack confidence, because they are waiting for someone to tell them where to go. Women especially will wait on other people to tell them what they are good at. If you are waiting on someone to tell you your strengths, then you are going to be waiting your whole life, because you are never going to believe what other people tell you. So know yourself, your strengths and your weaknesses.

Ge: Why and what persuaded you to start your own business? Do you have any advice for females out there who are interested in starting their own business?

Crandall: I wrote down several version of answers for this [question] and they all kind of fall into four buckets: Professional, Inspiration, Timing, and Trusting myself.

To start from personal experience in my professional life, I was feeling really burned out at one stage with corporate, and I knew I needed to change my career. I also recognized a pattern in corporate life; and in reality, people need to live their life beyond their career. At the same time, my family member was having a heart problem, and a colleague passed away from an illness soon after he retired. In addition, I had a friend’s husband pass away from cancer. All these combined circumstances caused me to reflect, as I already had some thoughts about the meaning of life. Life isn’t about just moving up in the corporate ladder.

Moving on to Inspiration: An inspiring moment happened around that time, as one of my female colleagues who was a counterpart left the company. She left a couple years before I did, and had no plan—she just wanted to take a pause in her career. I was like, “How is that even happening, what are you talking about?” She told me she did this after reading the book, The Escape Manifesto Book: Quit Your Corporate Job. Do Something Different! The book is about how people use the skills they learned from corporate careers and implement them outside the corporate environment. That day, I downloaded the audio book, and started listening to it. I listened to it 13 times during the year of 2017 (it’s a short book), and it really gave me some things to think about. I was inspired, and I am still using some of the tools the book recommended today to run my own business.

Timing: FSMA was perfectly timed with the opportunity for me to launch a business around FSVP consultation because implementation of the regulation was beginning, and Kroger had just trained me on it; I was having so many conversations with suppliers in my final Kroger position as a supplier verification program manager. In addition, I picked up about 2500 connections from my global sourcing role, and everything was really coming together. Again, like the breadcrumbs, the dots are finally connected.

On Trusting Myself: I was inspired by an interview between Oprah and Maya Angelou to write down all the people that influenced me to the point I was at in my career. I ended up with a list of hundreds of people that supported me to the point I was in life. I realized I did not fully believe in myself, but all these people on the list did. And I thought, “If they believe in me, why can’t I believe in myself?” So trusting myself is like the last kick to give me the courage to take the leap. Once I knew what I was going to do, those four factors kicked in at the same time to push me forward with my own business with confidence.

Ge: Based on what you have learned from your own career, what advice would you give to female professionals?

Crandall: Three things come to mind:

  1. Believe in yourself that you are worthy and deserving of anything you want in your personal and professional life. It is allowed, you are allowed, and as long as they do not negatively impact people, you are allowed to have them. As women, I think we always put ourselves last and never believe we are allowed to have those things. We are.
  2. Nothing beats a good friend, mentor or a coach. They will take you far. We need friends that can help give us unbiased judgment and coaching to help lead our lives. I was an athlete growing up; 25 years after being on the diving board, I still learn things from diving and from my coach. I am fascinated how the physics side of sports and the coaching can continue to help me in my real life. Coaching has guided me to where I am today. Right now, I hired a coach to guide me on how to be a better CEO and entrepreneur; how to streamline my business. And in thinking about mentors, they can be anyone, for example, listening to audio books, watching an interview, who is influencing you… those all can be mentors.
  3. Don’t limit yourself. It happens either through allowing others to limit you, or you may do it through limiting your own beliefs around other people. There are no limits on you or what you can do except how you allow other people to put them on you; or you may allow systems or structures to limit yourself. I learned that I am limitless—and there was a time when I didn’t know I was. It can still be scary now to say that I am limitless. But I do believe it. I went through a lot of what coaches call “limiting beliefs” before I got to this point.

Ge: Do you have any final tips for female students and those professionals who are working towards being on an executive team?

Crandall: For students I would say, be patient and spend time in the field. For example, spend five to 10 years to master your skills on the production floor, take time learning quality assurance and food safety systems. Learn the basics and master it. I know it is hard, but it is worth it.

For those who are working towards being in an executive position, I would say think in a business manner. In some form or fashion, add business to your knowledge and thoughts. It doesn’t have to be earning an MBA degree, but at least learn some skills to know what it is involved in being a business person—i.e., things like sales, networks, marketing, finances, and accounting. You don’t want to start an executive position without having some basic knowledge of how a business runs. Make risky choices as often as possible and make the uncomfortable comfortable. My coaches often repeat this, and I want to share it with the group. Take those risks and learn to speak the language that professionals at the executive table often speak.

Greg Staley, SynergySuite
Retail Food Safety Forum

Pathway to Progress: How to Invest in Food Safety Technology when Future Is Uncertain

By Greg Staley
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Greg Staley, SynergySuite

The last 18 months have been tremendously difficult for the restaurant industry. Six years of growth were undone by a global pandemic, and industry sales were $240 billion dollars lower than pre-COVID-19 projections, according to the National Restaurant Association.

While the pandemic accelerated the adoption of trends like online ordering, off-premise dining and delivery, it also brought others to a halt. Revenue loss from the pandemic meant many restaurants had to put other technology upgrades on hold.

Now, despite diners eagerly returning to dine in, other costs have not returned to pre-pandemic levels. Supply chain and labor disruptions, rent, and other operational costs are still making margins razor thin. This likely means the technology teams at many brands will be looking to do more with less for several years as the industry normalizes again. And oftentimes that means food safety will take a back seat.

Traditional ways of trimming budgets are no longer feasible, so operators looking to restore profitability will need to find new ways to boost operational efficiencies. These challenges do not mean you can’t make strategic investments, but they do mean you will have to be thoughtful about how and where you put those tech budgets.

Operators are facing a number of challenges while trying to regain their footing as COVID restrictions wind down. However, there are ways you can still invest in food safety technology, even while profits are recovering. Let’s look at what roadblocks are potentially introducing risk into your food safety program and how you can still create an effective food safety culture to protect employees and guests.

The Challenges

The following are just a few of the issues introducing risk into your food safety processes.

Challenge 1: Staffing shortages have employees spread thin.
Many people left the restaurant industry during the pandemic, exacerbating an already tight labor market. This has led to closing for some days or specific times, slower service, drive thru or take out only, and routine tasks falling behind.

While safe food handling should be routine, time crunches put pressure on even the best staff. Your employees may be fudging line checks, not throwing out food that reached unsafe temperatures, or forgetting specific tasks at the busiest times.

Challenge 2: Supply chain and transportation disruptions threaten safe food supplies.
Global supply chains are still fluctuating, and transportation has been disrupted as well. This means many restaurants are not getting the entire inventory they need when they need it. Trucks may take longer to transport food and high temperatures across North America could mean food is going out of temp when it normally wouldn’t. This is particularly troubling if employees aren’t checking deliveries, as you won’t know if food has been delivered outside safe temperatures.

Challenge 3: Dropping revenue leads to more manual processes and temp checks.
According to the National Restaurant Association’s annual report, 86% of restaurants say profitability is lower than it was prior to the pandemic. This is not an unexpected statistic in a year that saw unprecedented challenges to the industry, but it has had a number of domino effects.
One of those effects is restaurants that may previously have been using operational software to monitor and report on safe food practices returned to spreadsheets or clipboards to save on tech costs. Or those that had smart devices such as Bluetooth temperature probes or fridge and freezer monitors replaced them with non-smart devices if they broke or became out of date.

Challenge 4: Employee turnover threatens food safety culture and institutional knowledge.
It’s no secret that a food handler’s permit is not the end-all-be-all of food safety in a restaurant. The longer employees work in foodservice, the more experience they have with safe food handling practices, and they are able to pass this down to new employees to reinforce best practices.

However, the loss of many longtime foodservice employees leaving the industry has left huge gaps in institutional knowledge that affect everything from how smoothly a restaurant runs to how well employees follow safe food handling.

The Solutions

There is no one-size-fits-all solution for every restaurant. However, here are a few things operators can focus on to help bolster food safety practices and bring in modern food safety technology even while profitability is lower than it was prior to the pandemic.

Solution 1: Look for improvements in existing processes or technology.
You don’t have to immediately look to new technology. There is a lot to be gained from optimizing what you already have that’s working well. This can mean looking for new ways to take advantage of technology you already have in place or making small adjustments to processes that work well but could be tweaked to be more efficient.

For example, if you are using some sort of digital checklist tool, think about ways you can integrate a previously manual food safety process into it. You may not think it’s a big change, but even skipping the step of having to transcribe data from checklists or spreadsheets means you will get faster, more accurate reporting. Or you can use existing temperature probes and add the step of checking deliveries as they arrive to ensure they are within a safe temperature range.

Then talk to the customer success manager at any company you already use. There may be features you are paying for and don’t even realize you aren’t using. One example is that many inventory systems also carry food safety capabilities as a side offering, and their customers aren’t using it because they originally signed up for inventory help.

You can begin with seemingly small changes that will ultimately add up to a big reduction in risk as you snowball strategies and build safer processes.

Solution 2: Look for places where you can consolidate technology.
In today’s restaurant technology ecosystem, you can find virtually anything you want. If you’ve been building a piecemeal tech stack, it’s time to take another look at what’s out there. Many restaurants are paying for separate software for things like operations checklists, inventory, food safety, scheduling and training.

If you’re using separate systems because you feel like that’s giving you the best technology, then carry on. But if it’s just because that’s how you added them, and you never took a look at where you could consolidate multiple systems into one platform, then get acquainted with your options. Many back-of-house platforms can help you cover multiple areas of your operations more efficiently and you’ll be able to bundle pricing rather than paying for disparate systems.

Solution 3: Focus on systems that pay for themselves.
The idea that software is only a cost center has been around for a long time. Some systems may not tie back directly to revenue, but there are more places than you realize that cover their own subscription costs with the money saved.

First, look for any areas you can consolidate technology and piggyback food safety tools into that. If you are gaining a new restaurant management system, odds are you will find food safety technology as part of that package, and you can justify the overall upgrade on food and labor savings.

Second, food safety is so reliant on employee buy-in and consistency that technology that improves retention and training will also have a positive effect on your food safety risk reduction. Labor management and scheduling systems will bring down one of the two major costs of running a restaurant, with a secondary benefit of making food safety practices stronger.

The longer you retain employees, the better they are at teaching correct practices to others as well as adhering to brand food safety practices. Plus, training systems that come with labor tools allow you to provide micro learning moments that reinforce proper practices for even the most experienced employees.

Life during the pandemic has taken a toll on all areas of restaurant operations, including food safety. Now that guests are dining out more, you don’t want to take a chance that a foodborne illness will destroy business just as it is being rebuilt. Times are tight to pay for new technology, but there are things operators can do to make food safety programs stronger without breaking the bank.

Susanne Kuehne, Decernis
Food Fraud Quick Bites

Arrest These Truffatori Di Bevande!

By Susanne Kuehne
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Susanne Kuehne, Decernis
Wine fraud
Find records of fraud such as those discussed in this column and more in the Food Fraud Database, owned and operated by Decernis, a Food Safety Tech advertiser. Image credit: Susanne Kuehne

Italian law enforcement keeps cracking down on fraudulent and illegal activities, like in this latest case of fake alcoholic beverage distribution and sales. About 5,500 bottles were seized and samples were investigated in the lab, revealing substances unfit for human consumption, and endangering human health. The fraudulent products displayed labels of well-known alcoholic beverage brands.

Resource

  1. Redazione. (June 25, 2021). “Bevande alcoliche con sostanze pericolose: sequestrate 5500 bottiglie a Cerignola, a rischio l’incolumità delle personeFoggia Today.

 

Sanjay Sharma, Roambee
FST Soapbox

The Need for Improved Visibility in the Fresh Produce Supply Chain

By Sanjay Sharma
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Sanjay Sharma, Roambee

The Ever Given eventually broke free, but the Suez Canal blockage was just one dramatic incident in a year full of “black swan” events exposing weaknesses in the global supply chain, including daily mini disruptions. Among the lessons to be learned is the need for verifiably better supply chain visibility that goes beyond crowdsourced carrier or telematics data. This article hones in on the significant challenges faced in the fresh produce supply chain, and strategies suppliers can implement in situations to help improve supply chain visibility and prepare for an unpredictable future.

The Reality of Today’s Food Supply Chains

As the global supply chain continues to expand, the distance fresh produce travels to reach the consumer is extended. According to the International Institute of Refrigeration, the lack of a functioning cold chain causes significant food loss; the Global Cold Chain Alliance (GCCA) reports that “one-third of food produced globally is lost or wasted between farm and fork.”

Multimodal shipping, as well as the change in hands before the harvested produce reaches the consumer, makes it hard for food to retain its freshness. Moreover, multiple parties involved in the supply chain create plenty of room for coordination issues, contributing to delays, damaged products, and increased costs. Potential challenges faced while transporting fresh produce include the following.

Reusability and Circular Economy of Plastic Containers

The best way to preserve quality and freshness from source to consumer, retail-ready transport packaging solutions are needed to optimize space, improve temperature control and protect quality into the retail distribution center. While it is an environmentally sustainable choice, renting returnable plastic containers (RPC) instead of corrugated boxes comes with its own challenges. These RPCs get lost or misplaced from the time they are rented, during use to ship products from consumer locations and during the return of the empty RPCs back to the renter.

Temperature Excursions During Transport & Transshipment

Transport losses in a fresh food cold chain are primarily related to temperature and humidity excursions, caused by delayed/improper cooling or refrigeration equipment failure. The biggest problem is not always the lack of data, but rather the lack of timely data that can be used to correct anomalies in time to prevent spoilage.Temperature excursions can occur both while in transit and at transshipment points. During the former, it can happen due to failure of cooling equipment, while for the latter, it can occur if active cooling containers or reefers are not plugged into power sockets for extended periods of time during handling or when on a ship. In air transport, the goods can face temperature excursions during loading, unloading and storage, such as on the tarmac on a hot day.

Damaged Packages

Early spoilage in fresh produce can be attributed to both handling as well as changes in external environment. An example is the impact of atmospheric pressure on bags of potato chips traveling through a mountainous region or by air. The financial impact of damaged packages—one of the leading reasons for increased cost of food logistics management—goes beyond the visible replacement and re-shipping costs; in the case of fresh food spoilage, not only can your brand be impacted, legal issues could result if consumer health is affected.

Safety/Security Issues

Fresh produce is easily contaminable and thus requires extra care in the chain of custody. Today, customers are not just demanding visibility into the authenticity of how their food was farmed, but also how safely it was transported. The right temperature and humidity play a vital role in maintain the quality of the fresh produce reaching the grocery store. Whether it is a Black Swan event like a widespread E. coli contamination of tomatoes that can endanger human lives, or just a daily product freshness issue, there’s considerable impact on the food brand and retail store.

High Maintenance Costs

Maintaining the right conditions, ensuring quality packaging, and facilitating quick transportation increases the cost of a fresh produce supply chain significantly compared to other products.

Lack of Information Accuracy in Data Sharing

Every actor in the supply chain is working toward maintaining the freshness of a product, such as avocadoes imported from Mexico. But tying this data into a common thread is difficult due to disparate systems and processes in monitoring condition, handling and chain of custody. For example, the warehousing company may only measure temperature in a few corners of the warehouse where the fresh product wasn’t technically stored and the trucking company will only have the reefer’s temperature, but the product may have never traveled on that reefer owing to a missed connection. This makes data aggregation inaccurate and unactionable.

The Need for Improved Visibility

Whether it be food losses, increased costs, or food safety regulations, improving the verifiability of supply chain visibility from end to end can ultimately help eliminate these challenges. The following are some measures that can help contribute to food supply chain success.

Enhancing Information Transparency

A clear string of communication from end-to-end is critical to manage the supply chain. Increased information transparency and a clear chain of data can reduce food damages and losses.

Optimizing Maintenance

Maintenance costs can arise out of substandard packaging, lack of adherence to quality standards, and mishandling during transportation. Additional measures can be taken in order to reduce the overall maintenance costs, as well as time and effort spent tackling late or damaged product delivery. Such measures include adding more service locations, improving on time delivery, monitoring in real time, improving reusable packaging (if applicable), and performing thorough quality checks.

Building Faster, Flexible and Precise Supply Chains

Running a lean supply chain is vital to successfully delivering fresh food products. Many items such as yogurts or fresh produce have a short shelf life. Hence, the slightest reduction in transit time has significant benefits. Predictive analytics, image recognition and process automation offer timely alerts to improve actionability.

Where to Begin

You need to take a top-down, end-to-end approach to visibility because a supply chain involves several stakeholders and modes of transport from farm to fork.

Sensor-driven visibility helps implement a top-down, end-to-end approach because it is firsthand and not reliant for data from the actors in the chain of custody. Sensor-driven location and condition in real time offers transparency, collaboration and ultimately, reliable logistics automation.

End-to-end real-time data on inventory location and package conditions can result more transparency and control across the supply chain. The best, and often the only way to wade through both the visible and hidden business costs of in-transit damage is to keep track of your shipments from door to door with the help of an on-demand food and beverage monitoring solution.

When working with low shelf life products like food, reliable supply chain visibility is vital to prevent incidents that can contribute to financial loss. The loss of customer relationships, dealer loyalty, and cascading delays can have a ripple effect and result in further monetary losses as well as long-term business impacts that might take very long to resolve. Implementing the above recommendations can help supply chains recover from accidents and prepare for the inevitable future of “black swan” events and daily mini disruptions alike.

Mike Holcomb, ActiveSense
Bug Bytes

Electronic Remote Pest Technology: The Next Big Thing in Pest Control, Or Is It?

By Mike Holcomb
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Mike Holcomb, ActiveSense

The immediate benefit for pest management professionals is clear: An electronic remote monitoring (ERM) system can increase service efficiency and save technicians time checking traps because they know exactly which traps have activity. But, how exactly does that benefit you?

The short answer: These technologies enable your service technician to receive real-time notifications of pest activity that is recorded with a time stamp. That means you receive a quicker response to resolve an active pest issue, allowing for more prompt corrective and preventive action. But, that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Shifting From Trap Checking to Always-on Pest Control

No one wants a service technician who simply checks traps. When tasked with checking 100 traps week after week, a technician tends to go into “checknician” mode – simply going through the motion of checking traps. It’s human nature; they have a road map to follow, and they’ll follow that road map, missing those trouble spots, such as new evidence of pest activity, along the way. It also means they are only reacting to what they find versus proactively looking for opportunities to prevent pests.

By using ERM technology to essentially enable the traps to check themselves, the technician can do the job they were hired and trained to do. By freeing up their time from trap checking, technicians can proactively seek out issues that leave you vulnerable to pest problems.

In addition to checking traps with activity alerts, service technicians can spend their time reviewing pest sighting logs, looking for signs of pest activity and seeking out its source, as well as identifying conditions favorable for pests. This proactive and strategic inspection ultimately results in more detailed documentation and reporting of their findings for further root cause analysis, corrective action and overall prevention.

Audit-Ready Elevated Documentation

Another benefit is the documentation that ERM systems can provide. For instance, pinpointed, time-stamped data some of these systems deliver fits right in with the trending and active hot spot data most auditors are looking for when they visit a plant.

Auditors understand that you’re going to have a mouse from time to time, but what they truly want to know is: What did you do about it, how did you protect your product and how will you prevent the problem from happening again. ERM systems make that data readily available.

Data Is Meaningless Without Expertise

There’s no point in collecting data if you aren’t going to put it to use and to do so, you need a strong partner in your pest control service provider. Your service provider’s expertise stretches far beyond killing pests. ERM systems allow your technician the time to apply that expertise while on-site, while also supplying the pinpointed data they need to get ahead of pest issues.

Without that strong partnership, it’s like hiring a heart doctor because you had a heart attack, but you do nothing else to help your heart condition. It’s no different when a food processor suffers a rodent infestation and an auditor finds a problem with their program or there’s a customer complaint. Often, the first reaction is to blame the pest control company. In actuality, pest management success is rooted in a strong partnership between the pest control provider and the facility management.

A pest management program with ERM technology is just one piece of the larger pest prevention puzzle. Knowing where pest activity is happening and identifying the root cause only goes so far in resolving the problem. The preventive steps, such as fixing a damaged door sweep or improving sanitation, is a shared responsibility with facility management.

Investing in Data-driven Pest Control

Everyone likes to save a little money, but your pest prevention program isn’t the place for penny-pinching. Like all new technologies, adopting an ERM system may mean additional costs, but it’s important to realize that no amount of cost cutting is worth it if there’s a recall or a disgruntled customer.

When you hire a pest control company, it’s an insurance policy for pests and an investment in your food protection program. By using ERM technology, you enable your service technician to monitor rodent activity in real time so they can provide a quicker response for corrective and preventive action. That data-driven approach to prevention aligns directly with FSMA and GFSI standards, ensuring not only your compliance, but also that your facility and your product is better-protected in the long-term.

Willem Ryan, AlertEnterprise
FST Soapbox

Cybersecurity: Risk Moves Squarely to Operational Technology

By Willem Ryan
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Willem Ryan, AlertEnterprise

Data breaches, ransomware attacks and now, operational shutdowns. Recent events bear out that cyber strikes are not reserved solely to data breaches and IT systems but now include Operational Technology (OT) and industrial controls to disrupt operations, distribution and the entire food supply chain.

JBS Foods, the one of the world’s largest meat producers, was leveled by a cyberattack in early June, affecting U.S. and Australia operations. In a public statement, the organization revealed that it paid the equivalent of $11 million in ransom in response to the criminal hack against its operations. “At the time of payment, the vast majority of the company’s facilities were operational. In consultation with internal IT professionals and third-party cybersecurity experts, the company made the decision to mitigate any unforeseen issues related to the attack and ensure no data was exfiltrated,” according to company documents.

There’s a security divide that shouldn’t be there—distinct lines between Cyber, OT and physical security teams that has resulted in disjointed and ineffective detection, mitigation and response to risk—forged by years of siloed departments.

It’s not a new problem—in fact the vulnerability of the critical infrastructure has been a discussion for decades. Moving to a converged approach across all departments, including HR, IT/cyber and OT/SCADA can effectively secure our most critical food production and distribution resources while actively enforcing compliance and company policies. Identity and Access is at the center of it all and the best way to holistically protect the enterprise.

In the example of high-profile enterprise Molson-Coors, a cyberattack in March centered on ransomware. In its SEC filing after the event, the beverage giant stated that the attack “has caused and may continue to cause a delay or disruption to parts of the company’s business,” which includes brewery operations, production and shipping.

The February attack on a Florida Water Treatment plant, hacked by compromise to a remote access software program on a facility computer, is still another stark reminder of the growing dangers of cyber-physical threats and that even employees can be part of the problem.

You can see just how fragile and vulnerable our supply chains and critical business processes have become. Cybercriminals now realize how disruptive and lucrative attacks targeting these systems can be so they will continue unabated without immediate stop-gaps.

Because these attacks have become blended and omni-present on every part of the critical infrastructure, executives need to move beyond IT-centric cybersecurity to minimize supply threats. This emergence of new attack vectors has other implications. It highlights the dire need to transition from siloed IT, OT, HR and physical security to a converged approach, yet executives remain at odds with how to execute this while working in their own bubbles.

The threat has become even greater than the organization itself. According to predictions by Gartner liability for cyber-physical security incidents will “pierce the corporate veil to personal liability,” for 75% of CEOs by 2024.

Security Convergence Key Ingredient to Digital Transformation

As the food industry continues to digitally transform, systems and processes move to rapidly connect. Security convergence, centered around identity and access governance, links all these separate departments and operations, so communications and processes actively and collectively address and shore up risk preemptively. Events, exceptions, alerts, alarms and targeted attacks on all points, including the network, control systems and physical security can be integrated for a coordinated and cohesive response.

Securing our most important critical resource—the food supply chain—means correlating threats across underlying HR, IT, physical security and OT used in production and processing. Physical access control and identity now links to specialized plant applications like manufacturing execution systems (MES), plant historians and demand management from ERP that can deliver information directly to production. Monitoring insider and contractor access to modifying batch recipes provides alerts and detection when the addition of a preservative has been suppressed, causing a contaminated batch to be produced, for example.

Integrating seamlessly with HR applications, converged software further prevents insider threat by automating background checks and risk analysis during the on-boarding and off-boarding process for employees and contractors.

The threat landscape today demands a single solution to manage operational risk and security. The following just one example of how this converged approach works.

A fictitious company named Big Food was dealing with disgruntled production foreman Tom. Tom not only had physical access to the production floor, but was intimately familiar with the control system settings to configure recipes for the MES.

Security software’s real-time link to SAP SuccessFactors HCM provided critical real-time data that identified Tom’s history of workplace issues. When Tom accessed the plant area after his normal shift hours, the security platform detected that he was making unusual changes to the production settings to eliminate the addition of preservatives. An alert was immediately sent to security operations staff as well as the plant manager. Incident prevented, with huge savings from avoided downtime and protection from loss of reputation to the company brand.

The food and beverage industry must meet high quality standards and adhere to rapid production cycles to preserve nutrition value and freshness. Convergence and automation are the keys to achieving these goals. As OT and IT networks become increasingly interconnected, OT environments become more exposed to cyber-physical attacks, which can result in tainted products, downtime and revenue losses. Security solutions secure enterprise IT applications and plant applications deliver continuous monitoring that prevents sabotage, acts of terrorism and other malicious acts. There’s also the ability to manage other supply chain risks, including changes to master data and transactions as well as the movement of goods and arrival notifications requirements by the FDA.

Today’s malicious actors don’t think in silos but most companies still do. As security and technology leaders we are compelled to rise and meet the challenge. It’s clear that only a converged approach, beyond IT-centric cybersecurity, is the way forward.

Susanne Kuehne, Decernis
Food Fraud Quick Bites

A Sad Event With A Devastating Ending

By Susanne Kuehne
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Susanne Kuehne, Decernis
Rice field, Cambodia
Find records of fraud such as those discussed in this column and more in the Food Fraud Database, owned and operated by Decernis, a Food Safety Tech advertiser. Image credit: Susanne Kuehne

Adulterated rice wine served at a funeral is suspected to have caused the hospitalization of 76 and the death of eight people in the Pursat Province of Cambodia. The cause of the poisoning is still under investigation by local authorities. Samples of the suspected rice wine and other beverages are being analyzed in a lab. This year, adulterated rice wine was responsible for a multitude of deaths in several Cambodian provinces.

Resource

  1. Chanvireak, M. (June 3, 2021). “8 dead and 76 in hospital for suspected rice wine poisoning”. Khmer Times.