Steven Burton, Icicle Technologies
FST Soapbox

Food Recall Strategies: What You’re Missing (And What You’re Risking)

By Steven Burton
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Steven Burton, Icicle Technologies

You’ve heard the horror stories of product recalls: The Peanut Corporation of America in 2009, Blue Bell ice cream in 2015, and Darwin’s Raw Pet Foods this year. Beyond the nightmare scenario, the truth is that food recalls are common—even for companies that take food safety seriously, train effectively and keep excellent records. Yet all of these things, when done properly and efficiently, go a long way to reduce the impact and severity of a recall.

Unfortunately, many food manufacturers, although required to have a written recall plan, aren’t ready for the challenge. Without the proper systems in place, businesses needlessly risk their customers, reputation, revenue and future.

Risks Of Inadequate Recall Strategies

Resolving a recall can take years and potentially millions of dollars in fines, product shipping and disposal cost, production line downtime, lawsuits, and lost market share as consumers lose trust in the company. But there are two strategic errors that can amplify these consequences—and they both have to deal with traceability.

The first problem we frequently see is lot codes not being specific enough. Rather than breaking up production into discrete lot codes so the scope of recalls can be as limited as possible, some facilities just run the same lot code for many production runs. The record we have seen so far is three years! When a recall occurs,this results in a recall of massive scope that can easily bankrupt a company.

The second problem that is even more common is a lack of dynamic documentation. Assembling transactions using disconnected records from different departments can be time-consuming and error-prone. When you’re under pressure from regulators or auditors to connect the dots between an ingredient and customers through complex, multi-stage production processes using such a record system, it can cause stress and potential audit failures.

These two missing pieces make recalls larger, more time-consuming, and more expensive than necessary due to a lack of precise traceability. Let’s take a look at the two ways you can fill these gaps in your system and mitigate the consequences of recalls.

Get Specific with Ingredients, Suppliers and Lot Codes

Streamlining your product lines and packaging options lists is a straightforward way to reduce potential headaches in the event of a recall. The more products and packaging options with which you work, the more complex it will be to pinpoint and resolve food safety failures. Anyway, this type of housekeeping is beneficial as far too many companies have large lines where only a small subset of their products sell well at decent margins. Larger, more mature organizations tend to thin down their lines to optimize for profitability, and smaller companies can often benefit from doing the same.

The next strategy you can employ to mitigate the consequences of a recall is by being ultra-precise when it comes to your records and lot codes. The more narrowly you refine your lot coding system, the fewer items you’ll have to recall. Let’s look at a specific example of how this could have saved two companies millions of dollars.

In 2010, Hillandale Farms and Wright County Egg recalled about 550,000,000 eggs, one of the largest recalls in the history of the United States. Although the company was able to resolve the specific dates and facilities where the contaminated product originated, they had 53 million hens laying, so this level of resolution may not have been adequate enough. Had they implement traceability lot codes down to the hen house level, they may have been able to contain the recall.

Automate Your Traceability To Be Audit Ready, All The Time

The challenge of maintaining an overly broad product line or providing customized packages is that you create hundreds or thousands of variants in your products. When records are maintained manually, it becomes extremely difficult to manage recalls effectively. An Excel spreadsheet may keep a record of everything, but it’s certainly not dynamic or time-efficient when undertaking mass balance calculations.

The key here is to adopt software that you can incorporate into every department. Shipping, receiving, accounting, production—when all the records are kept in a central database, checking and updating those records becomes much easier. But the best systems don’t just centralize your collected data; they automate your data collection.

Dynamic documents automatically update each other. When a supplier changes, an ingredient lot gets swapped out, or products are shipped out, all the connected records for every department are automatically updated. No user mistakes, no failure to update the notes—just seamless, streamlined, auto-updating records.

There’s no better way to track complex production processes, control hazards, and collect all the necessary information necessary to breeze through audits than by using an automated system. With all your documentation interconnected, you don’t have to piece together the puzzle or play connect the dots—it’s all done for you, and that means you won’t waste millions on recalling products unnecessarily because you couldn’t pinpoint the exact path every ingredient took on the way to the customer.

Recalls are detrimental in every way, but they happen, so don’t get caught off guard. A little bit of proactive technology will go a long way in keeping your business afloat if you ever do face the nightmare of a recall.

Ibidun Layi-Ojo, Prometric
FST Soapbox

Effective Testing: Developing Rigorous, Reliable and Relatable Questions

By Ibidun Layi-Ojo
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Ibidun Layi-Ojo, Prometric

Success Factor 2: Develop rigorous, reliable and relatable exam questions (items) that are developed, tested and continuously evaluated to correlate with market needs and trends.

My previous column in Food Safety Tech outlined the single most important factor in ensuring that all employees have the proven ability to keep the public safe from foodborne illness: Education. Only rigorous, continually evaluated exams, designed for a company’s particular industry segment, can give employers the assurance that employees have the skills they need to make food safe.

Constructing and administering those exams starts with partnering with the right food safety assessment provider. Once that provider has been chosen, the next step is to develop questions—and ultimately an exam that exemplifies the three R’s: Rigorous, reliable and relatable.

Rigorousness begins with the process by which questions are created. This process must be a step-by-step effort to ensure that the final exam asks the right questions, based on the industry segment and the skills needed to be measured, and that the questions meet or exceed current industry standards. The ultimate aim is to give employees the opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge, which results in a sense of empowerment that makes them effective stewards of food safety every day.

To meet these goals, a company must work closely with its food safety assessment provider throughout the test development process, which begins with an analysis of the job (or jobs) for which the exam is being created (i.e., what are employees’ important tasks for which performance must be measured?). This analysis informs the development of precise specifications for the exam, and with those specifications established, the food safety assessment provider can begin collaborations with subject matter experts to formulate questions for the exam. Every question on the exam should dovetail with needs and trends in the marketplace, with emphasis on the client’s position in the marketplace.

The next step in the process—item review (question validation) —is key to making sure the exam is comprehensive. In effect, this is a ‘test of the test’ and should address the following:

  • Does the exam ask all the right questions?
  • Are the questions free of ambiguity that could lead to an inaccurate measurement of knowledge?
  • Are the questions in line with current industry standards?

Once every question has been subjected to validation, a passing score for the exam is set concurrent with best practice guidelines for making scoring decisions. Next the food safety assessment provider and the client collaborate on the best way to administer the examination (e.g., whether on paper or online, taken at work or home).
Only then is the test ready to be given, scored and analyzed.

It might seem, at this point, that the exam-creation cycle has been completed. On the contrary, the cycle must be a continuous process, with results from the initial test administration serving as a baseline for ongoing test maintenance and fine-tuning.

This continuity is critical, because standards and practices for food safety are always evolving. FSMA gave the FDA broad authority to prevent contamination of food in every step of the supply chain. In the seven years since then, regulations at the federal, state and local levels have been constantly amended and updated across the entire spectrum of the food industry, from growers, manufacturers and processors to grocers, retailers and even culinary schools. Only ongoing test maintenance—including the development and validation of new test items—can ensure that exams stay in lockstep with the FDA food code and safety guidelines.

Exam questions also must be aligned with the accreditation guidelines of the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), the private, nonprofit organization that, since 1918, has been the overseer of U.S. standards for consumer protection.

Developing and maintaining accurate, reliable food-safety exam content is complex and challenging, requiring a commitment to continuous validation and “testing of the test” to meet the needs of the marketplace and the requirements of federal, state and local regulators. Partnering with the right food safety assessment provider is crucial in meeting those needs and requirements, protecting the public, and ensuring a company’s reputation for providing safe, wholesome food.

Look for Part 3 of this series to learn more about how to create food safety exams that factor in a best-practices approach to properly assess the workforce.

Joy Dell'Aringa, bioMerieux
FST Soapbox

The Value of Industry Engagement in Professional Organizations

By Joy Dell’Aringa
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Joy Dell'Aringa, bioMerieux

We moved to Chicago five years ago. A massive city, and an epicenter of the food industry. I was at once excited and overwhelmed—afloat in a great lake of network overload. Removed from my comfort zone, I searched for ways to meet people and integrate into this new community. Upon suggestion of a trusted friend and experienced networker, I decided to try my hand at volunteering at an event hosted by the Chicago Section of the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT). That singular decision launched one of the most fulfilling journeys in both my professional and personal life. Now, five years later, I have made countless meaningful and personal connections, developed long-term relationships, and made an impact in my professional community. What started out as a way to navigate the complex circuitry of the Chicago food landscape has turned into a personal voyage for industry advocacy, leadership and contribution.

I am not alone. I have the pleasure to work and serve with colleagues around the globe that have experienced similar fulfillment by engaging with various professional organizations. Similarly, the companies that we work for reap the benefits of our involvement. Here, we will explore the value of industry engagement through the lens of the individual and the employer.

Employee Value: Top 5 Reasons to Engage

1. Professional Development – Safe Ways to Stretch Into New Roles & Skill Sets

When Pam Coleman, vice president of research services at Merieux Nutrisciences and incoming president-elect for IFT first started volunteering early in her career as a bench chemist, she found opportunities to lead groups and committees. “I developed new skills in a really safe way. As a volunteer, you can try new things, test the waters, and get relatively diverse experiences to see what you enjoy, what you don’t, and where you want to develop and explore.” The wide range of opportunities in industry organizations can offer a glimpse into future career development, or offer a learning experience that rounds out your professional repertoire. For example, joining a finance committee can stretch you outside of your comfort zone, but prepare you with skills and perspectives for future management roles. Participating on a fundraising committee can sharpen your influencing and organizational skills. Leading a technical group can offer opportunities to deep dive into a technology or discipline that can spark a passion to develop expertise in a new area. These cross-functional opportunities may not be readily available in your company, but industry organizations are always looking for professionals to volunteer.

2. Develop Your Network & Identify Mentors

Industry organizations are wrought with peers and potential mentors. Networking at events and symposiums will bring you in contact with people doing the same things as you are, facing the same challenges. You also have the opportunity to interact with the regulatory sector to learn from them. “Early in my career, my former manager built relationships with regulatory technical leaders at the USDA through industry organization involvement, and it was a great advantage for us when we ran into analytical challenges in the lab—she was able to personally call them and get suggestions and insights. They developed a rapport. This was a big lesson for me as a young volunteer. Your network can be an analytical asset.” Mentor opportunities abound as well. I have personally found that the more I engage with my organizations, the more trust I built within my network, the more mentorship opportunities naturally develop. I’ve honed valuable professional and life skills through these relationships: Conflict resolution, contract negotiations, and 501(c)3 organization creation to name just a few of the arduous tasks my organizational mentors have helped and supported me with. Building relationships across technical disciplines also holds advantage. As a microbiologist, it is fascinating to work with product developers and learn where our challenges and opportunities intersect. Not only can you network with technical peers, but also industry partners, vendors, suppliers and competitors to bring a well rounded perspective to see the industry through a truly holistic lens.

3. Gain Industry Insights

What’s new in your industry? What emerging trends are on the horizon? Engaging within industry organizations can bring keen insights well before they are published in our industry magazines and keynote presentations. Educational learning opportunities through technical committees, short courses, and symposiums can bring key advantages to giving you and your company a jump on implementing new technologies and trends. Understanding regulatory changes, implications, and perhaps most important, insights on how regulators will interpret and enact changes can also be gleaned from organization engagement. You can also gain exposure and experience with new business models such as zero-based budgeting and account-based marketing, which can lead to additional opportunities and advantage for you and your company.

4. Create Your Personal Brand

Who are you in the Industry? What do you want to be known for? Through industry engagement you can develop your personal brand and carry that image into your career. Do you strive to be a facilitator and connector? Run for a leadership position. Do you want to be known as a technical leader and subject matter expert? Lead a technical committee or task force. Do you want to be seen as a reliable contributor? Offer to develop content for a technical newsletter, or volunteer for a marketing committee. Not sure what you want your personal brand to look like? Try multiple roles and opportunities to see what inspires and fulfills you, and then pursue that with gusto. “When I look back and think, ‘How did I go from a bench chemist to this?'”, reflects Coleman, “I am certain I wouldn’t be where I am in my career today if it weren’t for my experiences and opportunities in organizations like IFT.”

5. Personal Fulfillment – Increased Health & Happiness

Industry advocacy and engagement can bring an immense sense of personal fulfillment, especially when you are able to make a contribution and an impact to the organization. Not only that, it can make you feel better, too: A 2010 United healthcare/VolunteerMatch (UHVM) study found that volunteering has a positive influence on physical and emotional health. One of the common objections to engaged volunteering is time, or lack of it. However, the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School recently found that those who volunteer not only feel more accomplished, but they also found they could do even more, as “giving your time to others can make you feel more ‘time affluent’ and less time-constrained”. In the words of my trusted networker friend that set me off on my volunteering journey five years ago: “The more you do, the more you can do.”

Quick TIPS:

  • Be Clear on Your Time: No matter how many or few hours you can devote, be upfront with the organization about how much time you can commit and what your goals are.
  • Think Local: Don’t forget your regional sections and chapters. Your organization(s) of choice also may have specialty groups and divisions that match your expertise or an area you may want to explore.
  • Get Out of the Booth: For those of us accustomed to working the trade show floor, challenge yourself to one meeting a year where you are there to learn. Get out of the booth. Absorb technical insights and trends. Bring back your learnings to your team and help connect the dots.

Employer Value: Top 5 Reasons to Support Engagement

1. Gain Company Influence & Visibility

Paid sponsorship opportunities are always available (and appreciated) but are often limited to financial contribution, and the benefit of company logo and online web banner opportunities. Real value is in visibility of your brand through your people. Supporting your employees to lead and engage puts your brands’ voice in a position of influence and contribution. Imagine if your company could influence industry guidance on topics that matter most to your brand? Encouraging your employees to lead in trade and technical organizations puts them in a position to do just that.

2. Customer & Industry Insights

Engagement in industry organizations also brings ‘boot- on-the-ground’ insights on the voice and needs of your customers. This is where you will find what the real emerging needs and challenges are in our B2B world. Dave Goins, COO of Q Laboratories and a leading proponent of employee contribution to technical organizations agrees. “A key benefit Q Laboratories enjoys [of our scientists involvement]I s they get to ‘complete the picture’ when it comes to the importance to our clients on the testing we do for them, and the reasons why we approach our analytical business the way we do.” Instead of only relying on analytics, market trend reports, and legacy industry assumptions—encouraging your people to get out from behind their desks, or off the bench, and engaging with the customers and market directly will not only provide insight on their present needs, but can also give a peek into the proverbial crystal ball of needs to come and give your company a competitive edge.

3. Leadership Creation & Development

“Our employees gain valuable confirmation at these meetings” reflects Goins, “and as a result of their engagement and contributions we see careers, development and advancement accelerate for these individuals within Q Laboratories.” Putting forth employees to engage in industry organizations in leadership roles can help them develop from good to great. Not only does this provide leadership cultivation, but also opportunities to develop technical competencies at a more rapid pace with shared resources. Employees can hone soft skills too, such as emotional intelligence, conflict resolution, negotiation and collaborative skills that they will bring back to work.

4. Learn from the Industry & Contribute to Problem Solving

Industry engagement, especially from a technical perspective, allows your company and your people to collaborate and learn from others successes and mistakes. “Our people have the added benefit of having the opportunity to share experience and ideas with other highly qualified individuals who often face the same challenges our teams face every day,” says Goins. Your team can build on those insights to ensure your company’s continued success. Engagement also provides opportunity for your company to present itself as a market leader in setting policy and launching innovative solutions. With the right idea, the right platform, and the right audience, your company could be poised to be the champion and realize the success of the next “blockchain-like” revolution.

5. Your Competitors are Doing It

It goes without saying that we are all looking for that competitive edge, the premium exposure, and the increased market share for our brand and solutions. As industry organizations are recruiting members, volunteers and leaders, they are seeking engaged individuals who want to contribute and champion the organizations mission and vision. If it isn’t your people filling those roles, it will be your competition’s people. Your competitors will learn and connect in deep, meaningful ways and build relationships with your current and prospective customers. Research also shows that companies that encourage volunteering enjoy increased employee loyalty and increased employee retention. Bottom line: Supporting Industry organizations through employee engagement is good for your people, and good for business.

Quick TIPS:

  • Invest & Incentivize Engagement: Pay for memberships and meetings, and reward employee leadership and participation on committees, working groups and elected positions.
  • Formalize a Program: Partner with key industry organizations to create an ambassador program within your company to share happenings and opportunities. In the end, you will have a powerful group of engaged employees in various organizations making an impact and championing your brand.
  • Think Outside of the Lab: While encouraging technical employees to engage, also consider the less obvious team members to get involved: Sales, marketing, human resources, finance and executive-level teams. Often, industry organizations suffer from monoculture challenges and can use expertise from other professional backgrounds to improve. As a result, your team will gain exponential insights, influence and opportunities.
Jordan Anderson, PAR Technology Corp.
Retail Food Safety Forum

The Future of Food Service

By Jordan Anderson
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Jordan Anderson, PAR Technology Corp.

The food service industry has rapidly changed since Boulanger disputably opened up his doors to the first modern restaurant in Paris over 200 years ago. While soups, sandwiches and pasta dishes continue to be served, the ever-changing landscape of this industry continues to evolve and not only provide new dishes, but innovative practices to cultivate products and introduce technological advances that ultimately enhance the consumer experience.

Localization

In attempts to reduce waste and increase visibility, grocers are looking to localize their product assortments. Whether they garner these products from within their market or a predetermined radius, they can increase traceability best practices while appealing to local shoppers. An example of this would be regional grocery chains selling beer only from local breweries or vegetables from local farms.

In executing this strategy, grocers increase sales by appealing to local shoppers while reducing produce shrink due to shorter delivery times from farm to fork. While some may argue focusing on local offerings takes away focus from more profitable national brand names, keeping your local consumers’ best interests in mind ensures their happiness and strengthens their brand loyalty.

Healthier Foods

Healthy food and beverage options continue to drive demand in grocery stores. As clean eating and heart healthy diets become the responsible practice, grocers must increase their offerings surrounding this category. Companies such as H-E-B have introduced clear labeling to signify certain products were produced without high-fructose corn syrup, while others are removing junk food offerings from checkout lines.

One way grocers are making healthy foods more appealing is by reducing the price of fresh produce by implementing shorter delivery cycles. This strategy ensures food safety, the freshness of the products, and their aesthetic value on display shelves, too. While this makes them more appealing, it also reduces the risk of product spoilage and profit loss due to the perpetual freshness of the product coming in.

Digital Coupons

While paper coupons have been the industry norm for decades, more grocers are turning to digital offerings. Wegman’s recently introduced a mobile app that allows consumers to digitally clip coupons, look up recipes, and find where products are within their stores. With the popularity of mobile devices, this trend will continue to burgeon.

The switch to digital also helps grocers strategically place products and offerings to their customer base. They can optimize sales and marketing approaches this way while discovering patterns and trends in the buying cycle. This allows them to understand their customer base while simultaneously increasing sales.

The Future of Grocery

Like most people, I enjoy eating. However, unlike most people, I actually enjoy the grocery shopping process. Typically, I go hungry while envisioning the endless possibilities of what I could make for dinner. Of course, due to my hunger, I end up purchasing copious amounts of unnecessary items while overspending in an impressive and irresponsible manner.

Due to my rare affinity for grocery shopping, the current and future landscape of the grocery market is interesting to me. I know, pathetic, but we all must have our odd interests.

Walmart Scan & Go

Walmart has developed an app that allows buyers to skip the lines and enjoy a seamless shopping experience. The app allows buyers to scan their desired goods, while keeping a running total of the goods in their cart. Once done shopping, you simply click ‘pay’ and you can check out wherever you are standing. A Walmart employee must verify your receipt before leaving the store but that only takes a moment.

You may be asking yourself, “How do they know I scanned everything?” Well, the honor system comes into play here so just because you hate grocery shopping, don’t rip off the nice people of Walmart, no matter how rich you think they are.

The app is only available at three stores currently – but keep an eye out for a location near you!

Cart MRI

Scan & Go is great for convenience, but if you’re in even more of a rush then this technology is great. The product debuted at Euroshop this past year. This technology allows for buyers to simply push their cart through a device that scans everything within the cart. This technology adds up everything, allows you to pay, and you’re out the door. No more dealing with 10-minute waits or lane closures.

Additionally, the technology provides a touchscreen on the cart that informs you about your selected items, where other products are, and gives you suggestions that compliment your shopping experience.

Sip and Stroll

While the above technologies make the buying experience more convenient—how about something that allows customers to chill out?

As I stated before, most individuals hate grocery shopping. Nevertheless, what if you could have a beer or two while shopping?

Whole Foods first adopted this burgeoning trend. The company sought out on-premise liquor licenses so their patrons could enjoy a few drinks while they shop. This allows for a more relaxed shopping experience while also giving customers insight on different or new brands they may not be familiar with.

Plus, if we’re being honest, if the drinks are good enough… the customers may be more willing to splurge.

The Future of Convenience Stores

Ah, convenience stores, pleasantly reeking of greasy hotdogs, gasoline, and cigarette fumes from the miserable 17-year old cashier outside neglecting the line. That’s generally the perception, right?

Well, not anymore! Convenience stores are now becoming a popular destination for consumers everywhere.

C-stores are beginning to seek alternatives from the slimmer margins of gas and cigarettes. In 2016, the industry saw a 9.2% drop in fuel sales, however, in-store sales increased by 3.2%.

While electric cars and public transportation can explain the precipitous drop in fuel sales—the industry took note of the increased in-store sales. Discovering potential reasons why and how to sustain them.

As the general population becomes increasingly more health conscious, convenience stores are beginning to adapt. Trending now are plant-based protein bars, dried fruits and nuts, and upscale jerky.

“Protein is the new energy,” says Jeff Lenard, vice president of strategic industry initiatives for the National Association of Convenience Stores. The demand for grass-fed and cage-free offerings are increasing in demand. Leaving the industry to either adapt, or fall behind.

After protein inspired snacks, convenience stores are beginning to incorporate their own restaurant concepts within their stores. The Pride Stores, a small c-store chain in the greater Chicago area, hired a corporate chef and introduced two different concepts, one being taco themed. This allows for consumers to eat-in, spending more time in their stores, or carry out for their convenience.

If you haven’t noticed lately, more convenience stores are beginning to expand their offerings of beer. Craft beer and wine selections are becoming bountiful options within the aisles. The copious amount of microbreweries opening up nationwide has spiced up the masses taste buds and demand for these crafted beers has continued to steadily increase.

National and local brands allow consumers to enjoy their local favorites, or to discover a new personal favorite.

Vineyards have begun to spring up more than ever, too. While the west coast has long been notorious for their wine, the fad has begun to spread nationwide. Whether you want to try something from the west, or upstate, NY, convenience stores are now becoming a go-to for the moderate connoisseur.

Francine Shaw, Savvy Food Safety, Inc.
FST Soapbox

Foodborne Illnesses and Recalls on the Rise

By Francine L. Shaw
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Francine Shaw, Savvy Food Safety, Inc.

The last word a manufacturer wants to hear is “recall”. During 2017, recalls involved everything from salad mix contaminated with a dead bat to hash browns infused with shredded golf balls.

Not all recalls are created equal. Both the USDA and the FDA have three classifications of recalls to indicate the relative degree of health hazard presented by the product being recalled:

  • Class I: A Class I recall is the most serious classification, involving a health hazard situation in which there is a reasonable probability that eating the food will cause health problems or death.
  • Class II: A Class II recall involves a potential health hazard situation in which there is a remote probability of adverse health consequences from eating the food.
  • Class III: A Class III recall involves a situation in which eating the food will not cause adverse health consequences.

During 2017, there were 456 recalls recorded in the United States. The number one reason for those recalls was undeclared allergens.

Identify the weak links in your supply chain: Attend the Food Safety Supply Chain Conference | June 12–13, 2018 | Rockville, MD | Learn moreFoodborne illnesses continue to be widespread, as well. In 2017, we saw Robin Hood flour contaminated with E.coli, Soygo yogurt with Listeria, tomatoes, cantaloupe, and ground turkey tainted with Salmonella, and even shredded coconut was responsible for causing a Salmonella outbreak in the United States and Canada. Foodborne illness outbreaks can happen at restaurants, corporate events, private parties, schools and cruise ships—anywhere and everywhere food is served.

Recalls and foodborne illnesses are 100% preventable. Incidents occur because of human error, and all it takes is one weak link to cause serious—and potentially fatal—problems. That’s it. One weak link can cause the traumatic deaths and/or illnesses of customers, and cost your company billions of dollars, loss of sales, plummeting stocks, negative media coverage and a severely damaged reputation.

When there’s a recall or a foodborne illness, products must be destroyed, which is lost revenue for manufacturers, retailers, restaurants, etc. Finding the source of the contamination can be a massive undertaking. The manufacturer may need to close all of their plants for cleaning until the source is identified, which adds up to a tremendous financial burden, and also requires significant time and effort. Class 1 recalls can cost hundreds of millions of dollars or more, to identify the source of contamination, recall products, sanitize facilities, and keep consumers safe.

It takes years for companies to establish a solid reputation, and food recalls and foodborne illness outbreaks can obliterate a brand’s reputation overnight. Consumers lose confidence much faster than they gain it, and bad news travels fast (especially in this time of social media where news spreads instantly and widely). And on top of that, there may be litigation as a result of the recall, incident or outbreak, which will result in attorney fees and potential settlements that could be very significant. If the risk of massive expense and bankruptcy isn’t enough, for the past few years, the U.S. District of Justice has been issuing fines and prison terms to company leaders involved in foodborne illnesses outbreaks and food recalls.

The government, media and general public are holding companies (and their leadership) accountable now, so you’d think that recalls and foodborne illness incidents would be on the decline but, unfortunately, that’s not the case. And with advancements in technology, why are we still having so many issues surrounding the safety of our food?

Many media outlets report that foodborne illnesses have been rising considerably in the past few years. However, according to the CDC, a study showed that the six most common foodborne illnesses have actually declined in frequency by 25% over the last two decades. Having said that, though, the severity of foodborne illness outbreaks seems to be increasing, and the number of outbreaks connected to produce has risen, as well. Some experts believe the increases may be due to better reporting processes rather than an actual increase in the number of foodborne illnesses.

There are various theories as to why foodborne illnesses may be getting worse. Some government agencies indicate it has to do with farming policies. The CDC disagrees. More widely accepted beliefs are the increase in popularity of organic produce—grown with manure rather than chemical fertilizer—which can transfer bacteria to the produce. Additionally, there’s debate that the use of antibiotics can cause bacteria that causes foodborne illnesses to become resistant.

Recalls may occur for a variety of reasons. Products may be pushed beyond their shelf life by the manufacturer, or maybe the design and development around the product was insufficient (equipment, building, etc.). Is the manufacturing facility designed in a manner that can prevent contamination—structurally and hygienically? Maybe the production quality control checks failed. Did the manufacturer conduct an adequate food safety risk assessment prior to launching the new product? Profit margins are often thin—did financial incentives prevent the company from implementing a thorough food safety program?

Getting back to the basics of food safety would reduce recalls and foodborne illnesses significantly. Manufacturers must be certain about food safety as well as the integrity of the ingredients they use. They need to be honest with themselves and understand the risks of the ingredients, processes and finished products that they are handling.

Human error is a given. It’s the corporation’s responsibility to minimize the risk. Implement ongoing food safety education and training for all employees, explaining the proper food safety protocols and processes. Develop internal auditing systems, using innovative digital tools. Get rid of the pen and paper forms, where it’s more likely for errors to occur and for pencil whipping to happen. Digital solutions provide more effective internal auditing, meticulousness in corrective action systems including root cause analysis, allergen management, and controls relating to packing product into the correct packaging format—all fundamental to keeping foods, consumers and businesses healthy and safe.

Mahni Ghorashi, Clear Labs
FST Soapbox

The Future of Food Safety: A Q&A with Mars, Inc.

By Mahni Ghorashi
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Mahni Ghorashi, Clear Labs

Food safety professionals often work behind-the-scenes, developing the systems and processes that keep our food supply free of harm. While a vital job, it’s often thankless work—recognition only comes when there’s a recall or an outbreak.

And yet, the food safety industry is evolving rapidly. New threats are emerging, new technologies are being deployed, and new regulations are causing changes in our fundamental infrastructure. “Good enough” pathogen detection is no longer good enough. As a result of new pressures, the food safety lab is emerging as one of the most promising centers of innovation in the entire supply chain. It’s time that the people who are driving this wave of innovation and change receive the positive recognition for their work that they deserve.

That’s why we’re starting this Q&A series—to hear the success stories, the best practices, the hurdles and the achievements from the best in the industry. We will dive deep with the experts into some of the biggest challenges and opportunities our industry faces, focused particularly on new technology that is advancing the industry by leaps and bounds—from blockchain to NGS to machine learning. As this series evolves, we hope that readers will be informed and inspired by what the future holds.

For our first interview, I had the pleasure of interviewing Bob Baker, corporate food safety science and capability director at Mars, Inc.. Bob leads the corporate food safety science strategy for Mars, Incorporated and provides leadership and consultation on food safety capability development and current and future challenges impacting global food security. Prior to his current role, Bob was responsible for the design, construction and leadership of the Mars Global Food Safety Center in Beijing, China.

Mahni Ghorashi: What are the biggest risks to our food safety infrastructure in 2018? What’s keeping you up at night?

Bob Baker: Food safety risks are increasing at an unprecedented rate, with new threats and hazards constantly emerging, changes in agricultural practices and food production, and the environment. The globalization of trade means that an issue in one part of the world often impacts the global supply chain.

To ensure safer food for all, the identification and isolation of potential and developing issues needs to happen at a much faster pace. At Mars, we believe industry has a crucial role to play in helping all stakeholders in the food supply chain identify risks and solutions, but no entity can do this alone. That’s why we have advocated for a new approach to food safety, one rooted in knowledge sharing and collaboration. That’s why we launched our Global Food Safety Center (GFSC) in 2015.

GFSC is conducting original research and collaborating in a number of areas that we see as critical—mycotoxin management, rapid detection and identification of pathogens, raw material and product authenticity, operational food safety optimization and transforming food safety through data integration.

Although we see improvements in some areas, some of them are becoming more complex. Mycotoxins are a prime example of that. Food fraud is another area of growing concern, and addressing that is going to take a focus on technology, regulation and enforcement and a number of other areas to deliver transparency, to verify sourcing, and ultimately ensure that customers and consumers are purchasing and consuming safe food.

Ghorashi: What are you most excited about? What’s changing in a good way in the food safety sector?

Baker: What’s encouraging is we’re seeing is a willingness to share information. At Mars we often bring together world experts from across the globe to focus on food safety challenges. We continue to see great levels of knowledge sharing and collaboration.

There are also new tools and new technologies being developed and applied. Something we’re excited about is a trial of portable ‘in-field’ DNA sequencing technology on one of our production lines in China. This is an approach that could, with automated sampling, reduce test times.

We’re also excited about the IBM-Mars Consortium for Sequencing the Food Supply Chain—early signs have been very encouraging. This is an approach that could change the nature of food safety management, taking us from testing for a specific pathogen, to a situation where we could map the entire makeup of an environment and predict food safety issues based on changes within that environment.

Ghorashi: If you take a look at the homepage of any of the food safety trade publications, all you see is recall after recall. Are transparency and technological advancement bringing more risks to light, and are things generally trending towards improvement?

Baker: At Mars, quality is our first principle and we take it seriously—if we believe that a recall needs to be made in order to ensure the safety of our consumers then we will do it. We also share lessons from recalls across our business to ensure that we learn from every experience.

Unfortunately, there does not seem to be a safe place for businesses to share such insights with each other. So although we are seeing more collaboration in the field of food safety generally, critical knowledge and experience from recalls is not being shared more broadly which may be having an impact.

Regarding the role of technological advancement, the hope is that as better tools and more advanced technology become available, it will be easier to pinpoint issues in the food supply chain much more effectively and much earlier than before which can only be a good thing.

Ghorashi: Do you see 2018 as the year when NGS technologies will find widespread adoption for food-safety testing applications? What can government and industry do to help accelerate adoption?

Baker: Next-generation sequencing has a lot of potential, but it may take time to be adopted fully.

We are very pleased to see the U.S. government continue to view food safety as a priority. The FDA and the CDC are already moving from single-cell cultures and single genes to mixed genomics and metagenomics. At Mars, we see metagenomics as the future of food safety because it may help identify sentinels of food safety and predict potential issues through microbiome shifts.

The key to the development and adoption of any successful technology is sharing knowledge so that all parties from the government, industry and NGOs can build on it. Early results from the IBM-Mars Consortium for Sequencing the Food Supply Chain have been encouraging and we are actively sharing these initial insights via publications and scientific forums.

Ghorashi: What are some new technology processes on the horizon for 2018, and where should industry and government be investing its time and resources?

Baker: Food safety challenges are increasing, and we need to collaborate and share insights if we are to ensure safe food.

One major area is informatics and how we can enable better application of data mining, more applied bioinformatics and statistics. How can key players –regulators, industry, NGOs—get together and share data? How do you better mine data to move to a predictive model? This is an area that could benefit from a more focused approach between government and industry.

Ghorashi: What is your #1 goal for the industry in 2018? Fewer recalls? New tech implementation? Better regulatory oversight?

Baker: We’d like to see progress in all of the above, and we will continue to work with a range of stakeholders to move the needle on food safety.

That said, the food safety challenges facing us all are complex and evolving. Water and environmental contaminants are areas that industry and regulators are also looking at, but all of these challenges will take time to address. It’s about capturing and ensuring visibility to the right insights and prioritizing key challenges that we can tackle together through collaboration and knowledge sharing.

Megan Nichols
FST Soapbox

Quick Guide to Keeping Your Food Processing Facility Clean

By Megan Ray Nichols
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Megan Nichols

Keeping your food processing facility clean is actually even more important than the food itself. What steps can you take to help keep your food processing facility clean?

1. Cultivate a Clean Culture

Keeping your facility clean is more than just your job. It’s the job of everyone who walks through your doors, whether they work on the factory floor or in the offices. Your first step should be to cultivate a clean culture. Get everyone involved, from the newest hire all the way up to the CEO. Everyone should have their assigned job, but they should also feel comfortable speaking to their supervisors or upper management to report spills, possible contamination and other cleanliness problems.

It’s not just better for your overall workplace cleanliness—keeping a clean workspace helps to improve employee safety, productivity and morale as well.

2. Reinforce the Necessity for Personal Hygiene

When you have human employees involved in the production process, there is always a chance the product can become contaminated. Personal hygiene can help to reduce the chances of contamination by keeping your employees clean and safe as well.

Hand washing, for example, is a step that is often neglected but can mean the difference between a clean batch of food and a contaminated one. Good hand washing procedures can also help reduce the spread of cold and flu germs inside the workplace.
Personal protective equipment also falls into this category—gloves, hair and beard nets, shoe booties and other coverings should all be worn to lessen the possibility of contamination.

3. Keep Up With Your Equipment

The exact equipment you need to complete your work will vary depending on the type of food you’re processing, but for most foods that start with raw ingredients, you will need some sort of sifting equipment. These are designed to remove under- and oddly-sized food items or to remove dirt, leaves or other debris that might have come in contact with the food from the field where it was harvested.

Most sifting equipment relies on vibrating or moving sifters that can throw small particles into the air. While necessary, this also creates a new potential source of contamination for your food items. Investing in sifting equipment with a dust hood can help solve this problem. Not only do dust hoods keep your product and facility cleaner, machines with dust hoods reduce air pollution too.

4. Food Storage and Temperature

Food production facilities are at the mercy of temperature. Food that is allowed to get too warm can grow bacteria, making it dangerous to consume. Food that is left for extended periods of time at temperatures between 41 and 135 degrees Fahrenheit are also at risk for bacterial and microorganism growth.

Be vigilant about the temperature at which your food is stored. Food that needs to stay hot is required to be kept at 140 degrees or above, and cold food needs to be kept below 41 degrees.

5. Clean, Clean and Clean Again

Keeping all of your equipment clean and sanitized is an essential step in the maintenance of your food processing facility, but many pieces of equipment are not designed to be disassembled and sanitized separately. This may be tricky when there are cracks and crevices where food particles can get stuck, encouraging bacteria growth. You have two options for cleaning your equipment—clean in place and clean out of place.

Cleaning in place, as its name suggests, involves cleaning your equipment without taking it apart. This includes running sanitizing chemicals through the equipment and cleaning all accessible surfaces.

Cleaning out of place requires shutting down the equipment and disassembling it, allowing you to clean and sanitize all of those hard-to-reach corners. Depending on the piece of equipment, this may require shutting down your entire production line, so be sure that cleaning out of place won’t impact your production deadlines.

6. Cut the Clutter

Clutter in a workspace, even if it’s just boxes of product waiting to be palletized, can contribute to an unclean and unsafe work environment. Clutter allows the collection of dust, which can make its way into both food and equipment.

Take the time to dedicate specific areas to storage, preferably away from the primary production line. Keep your main traffic routes clear to prevent on-the-job accidents and ensure that anything kept in overhead storage is stable with no risk of falling.

7. Keep Covers and Guardrails In Place and Maintained

Open tanks or containers that process food are prone to contamination and are difficult to keep clean. Any tanks or containers that have covers on them should be covered at all times to ensure the product is kept clean.

For places where guardrails are necessary, such as above production lines or other elevated walkways, confirm that the rails provide coverage on all exposed sides. Make sure that there is also no risk of any dirt or other contaminants from shoes or the walkways falling into food or onto the production line.

A dirty production line can cost you thousands of dollars to correct, costing even more if the contaminated product has to be discarded. Take the time to maintain your cleanliness and keep your facility running smoothly.

Ibidun Layi-Ojo, Prometric
FST Soapbox

Five Questions You Should Ask a Food Safety Assessment Provider

By Ibidun Layi-Ojo
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Ibidun Layi-Ojo, Prometric

It’s a given that the entire continuum of businesses providing food to the public must have an unwavering commitment to making certain that food is safe and wholesome. The linchpin of ensuring food safety is front-line employees, whether they work for a corner grocery store, restaurant or multi-state food wholesaler. Making sure these employees have the knowledge and credentials they need to keep the public safe is the responsibility of the employer, and that responsibility is too critical to be taken lightly, as incidences of foodborne illness can have a significant impact on a company’s reputation and profitability.

How can an employer ensure that its workers have the food safety skills they need? They can provide rigorous and continual skills assessments. Rigor is needed because food safety is a complex issue, and continual testing is important because local, state and federal regulations are modified and updated on a consistent basis.

The first step in making sure employees are equipped for their jobs is to partner with a food safety assessment provider devoted to quality and integrity throughout the examination development and delivery process.

To be certain exams are of the highest quality, a company should begin by asking a prospective assessment provider this question: Do you work with subject matter experts (SMEs) from the food safety industry to develop your exams? Discussions should continue only when it is confirmed that SMEs are heavily involved in the test development process.

There are several reasons why subject matter experts (SMEs) are critical to this process. Their real-world experience in food safety provides a wealth of knowledge from a variety of viewpoints. And applying that knowledge to developing exams means those exams will accurately assess employees’ ability to conscientiously use good food safety practices on the job. By working with SMEs on a continuing basis, the assessment provider also can make sure that the content of exams can be promptly and effectively updated as regulations and best practices evolve.

The right food safety assessment provider, however, does more than just solicit input from SMEs; it works side by side with them throughout the test creation process: Design, development, construction and analysis. As noted earlier, this collaboration also must be ongoing to make certain that exam questions stay current with advancements and amendments in the food safety regulatory landscape. By continually updating exam questions, exams don’t need to be recreated from “square one,” saving companies time and money, while also protecting the public.

The best food safety testing and assessment providers don’t rely solely on SMEs for expertise. Rather, they develop and refine their own knowledge and insights, and continually monitor and react to both developments in the food industry and changing requirements of the workforce in each industry sector. That way, exams for personnel in any industry segment can be thoroughly based on questions and challenges found on the job each day.

Another critical question for a prospective food safety assessment provider is whether the company’s work is in-line with accepted standards for designing, delivering and evaluating exams. The two most widely-accepted standards are those of the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and Educational Testing Service (ETS). These organizations’ standards are designed to make sure exams meet precise criteria for measuring a test taker’s performance accurately and fairly.

Like any member of the food service industry, a food safety assessment provider also must maintain sufficient stock to serve the needs of its clients. That is, it must maintain a large inventory of exam questions for each exam it offers. Should questions become fixed, exam integrity could be compromised as test takers would then have the opportunity to share question content. A large inventory of exam questions enables the assessment provider to more precisely tailor questions to specific workplace scenarios.

In addition, just as employers must continuously evaluate on-the-job performance of their workforce, food safety assessment providers also must continually evaluate the performance of the questions on their exams. This evaluation should be performed both as exams are developed and after they are deployed. Such a before-and-after analysis is the only way to verify that an exam will provide an accurate measure of employee knowledge and their ability to apply that knowledge.

So, if you are actively looking for a food safety assessment provider, be sure to ask them the right questions:

  1. Do you work with SMEs from the food safety industry to develop your exams?
  2. Are the SMEs involved throughout exam development?
  3. Do your tests meet widely accepted standards for accuracy and fairness?
  4. Do you maintain a broad and deep inventory of exam items?
  5. Are your test items continuously evaluated?

Then, be sure you get the right answers.

Visit www.prometric.com/foodsafety to view a panel discussion from the 2017 Food Safety Consortium on creating the right food safety assessment. Part 2 of this series will include information on developing rigorous, reliable, and relatable items that are tested and continuous.

Scott Kiernan
Retail Food Safety Forum

The Color Code to Food Safety

By Scott Kiernan
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Scott Kiernan

Over my 30-year career in the food industry, I have worked for small, corporate and private businesses. Food safety and the prevention of foodborne illness has always been a priority in all kitchens I have worked in and I have seen the challenges facing the industry. I have experienced difficulties in getting all food handlers to adhere to food safety policies, whether it is due to employing a large staff, lack of training, inefficient systems, miscommunication between front of house and back of house, or an inability to find qualified staff.

Awareness of Food Safety Today and Social Media

Industry professionals know that a culture of food safety is critical to preventing foodborne illness; in fact, 95% of chefs cite customers getting sick as their top concern according to a recent study that surveyed nearly 1,000 American Culinary Federation member chefs.1 In a time when more Americans are aware of and educated about food allergies than ever before, it is important for food professionals to pay close attention to recent developments regarding food allergens and sensitivities, and their implications. Customer demands have increased and nearly three-in-five chefs say staying on top of food safety issues and regulations is critically important.

Rubbermaid Commercial Products, color coding
Rubbermaid Commercial Products (RCP) conducted a survey to better understand the attitudes and behaviors of chefs toward food prep and storage. Infographic courtesy of RCP.

This heightened awareness, coupled with social media, can have a lasting impact on a business. More consumers are relying on online reviews as much as personal recommendations, making it vital that all staff are trained and proficient in food safety practices to protect professional reputations and maintain safe and healthy environments. A bad review can damage a restaurant’s reputation and cause both customers and sales to decline. Beyond that, a foodborne illness can have a dramatic impact on insurance premiums, create negative media exposure and potentially lead to lawsuits and legal fees.

Food safety takes a large portion of chefs’ time on the job. Actually, 96% of chefs say they spend a fair amount of their day making sure food is being handled and stored correctly in their kitchen, while nearly half find food safety practices to be very time consuming.1 When you’re working in a commercial kitchen environment, you need products that are not only compliant with food safety regulations but also save time on the job.

Tackling Food Safety with Color Coding

A few months ago, I trialed a color-coded food storage and prep tools system. It delivers a way to tackle cross-contamination and potential foodborne illness in my kitchen, while providing my staff with a tool that is simple and saves time. The system comes in seven colors, each for use with a specific food type. Each utensil or storage container is matched to the appropriate food for a safer, more sanitary kitchen.

Color coded food service system
A color-coded food service system can help facilitate compliance.

My tips for a safer kitchen:

  • Color-coding is an easy visual tool on the job. A color-coded system makes it easier for staff to organize and identify stored items. All products in the line are made of quality, food-safe materials that are durable for a commercial setting. When you’re looking for a system, make sure the quality can withstand the daily demands of a commercial kitchen.
  • Taking the time for training is key. A color-coded system helps prevent cross-contamination and the spread of foodborne illness as long as it is used as intended. The system is easy to learn, but only effective if all staff members are properly trained. Take time to train your team on how to use and adhere to the designated color codes.
  • Make sure you have enough storage containers to meet your operation’s needs. You don’t want to run out of storage and cause staff to mix and match with other containers when they’re in a pinch. Incorporating containers that aren’t part of the system and not as easy to identify can lead to simple mistakes. Keeping your containers and cutting boards neatly organized on designated shelf space for each item will make it easier for staff to find and utilize the proper container. While containers are being used for storage, you may want to follow the “first in, first out” rotation when you have multiples of the same item.
  • Don’t forget to consider storage. I like the idea of removing ingredients from their original boxes and storing them in their assigned, color-coded containers because there is no telling what contaminants may be on the outside of the boxes from leakage, dust and/or other elements during warehousing and shipping. Staff should take the same care with storage as they are with the product when it’s in use.

Make Your Food Safety Solution Work for You

Overall, I found the color-coded food storage system easy to use and helpful in keeping things organized. When implementing a system, make sure to consider what works best for the size of your operation, whether you need larger or smaller containers based on the amount of production, and storage of product used in your operation. I feel the system I used would be most effective in a small- to mid-sized operation. It could be a challenge to get everyone in larger facilities on board, but with proper training and good communication it could be beneficial to any operation in the reduction and prevention of foodborne illness.

The system is use is designed to be an added benefit and safeguard to a company’s existing food safety program, so make sure you’re equipping staff with the training and knowledge they need to be successful. The color-coded food storage system can make food storage safe and easy, and it’s important to remember that all food handling and safety regulations need to be followed in accordance with your local health department and state guidelines.

All food service industries face the ongoing task of preventing cross contamination and it is our responsibility to train and manage our staff, and hold them accountable to adhering to all local health code and company policies regarding food safety. A single error on the job can jeopardize any safeguards that may be in place putting yourself, other employees and the public at risk. Proper hygiene, labeling, storage and having an HACCP system will not work if all food handling staff from receiving to delivery of the product to customer do not have the proper training and supervision.

References

  1. Coloring in the Lines of Food Safety Product Survey. Rubbermaid Commercial Products and Cohn & Wolfe Branding & Insights Group.
Chelle Hartzer, Orkin
Bug Bytes

Minimize the Risk of Pests by Maximizing Your Staff

By Chelle Hartzer
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Chelle Hartzer, Orkin

If you were given the option to run a long-distance relay race, would you select four runners to split up the distance or would you choose to run it alone? That’s a no-brainer—you’d pick four runners to give yourself the best chance of success every time!

Apply the same mentality to your food safety program, and (by extension) your pest management program. The only way you’re going to be able to effectively monitor an entire facility is by establishing a team to help. Otherwise, that’s a lot of ground for just one person to cover.

As a food processing facility, you probably already have an integrated pest management (IPM) program in place. But does your staff know the telltale signs of rodents or stored product pests? Would they be able to spot cockroaches crawling around in your facility’s storage area? The earlier you can spot a pest problem, the quicker it can be resolved before it turns into a major issue that could prove costly.

Staff training is the best way to get everybody on the same page when it comes to pest management, because pests are great at hiding and living in hard-to-reach locations. It takes a trained eye to spot certain pests, and informed employees can be a great help to this.

Before you begin staff training, you will want to identify all of the areas both inside and outside of your building that are at high risk for pest issues. Schedule a meeting with your pest management provider and make note of the high-risk areas and the most common pests your facility may be prone to. Once you’ve determined these high-risk areas and the best tactics to protect against them, employee training is a logical next step.

The bigger your facility, the tougher it is to manage all of the different potential hot spots. Everybody knows this, but few consider what this means for their pest management programs. Creating an educational pest program for employees is critical to protecting your facility. The employees are on the ground level and are often the most likely spot the early signs of a pest problem.

Step 1: Start with the Basics

When beginning staff training, make sure employees understand the IPM program in place and how it works in your facility. Many pest control providers offer complimentary employee training, so reach out to your provider about on-site training sessions. As employees learn more about what each tactic does to prevent pest issues, they’ll get a better understanding of why pests get into the facility in the first place. Once informed, they can use this knowledge to help reduce potential risk factors such as standing water from a leak, food waste in processing areas and waste removal.

Here are a few telltale signs of some common pests:

  • Stored product pests: Though generally tough to spot, there are some common telltale signs you can spot on products like webbing, larvae, live adults—some of which can look like grain products—and, of course, damaged packaging.
  • Flies: If you see larvae (maggots), especially around drains and in other damp or wet areas, it’s time to act fast. Flies reproduce quickly, so small problems can escalate rapidly.
  • Cockroaches: They can be found behind or under equipment, wall voids, or any other protected area. Cockroaches will take advantage of nearly any food source!
  • Rodents: These pests leave droppings constantly, so watch out for tiny pellets. Rodents are constantly gnawing, so if you see any products with gnaw marks, that’s a good indication that rodents may be present.

A pest management provider can identify what challenges are unique to your facility and which areas are most likely to experience pest activity. Employees are going to be a crucial part of this process, so they will need to know where to look.

Step 2: Designate Roles

Employees are the eyes and ears of your business. Whether it’s pest problems or any other issues at your facility, your staff is probably going to notice issues before management does. Once they know the pests to look out for, they can also keep an eye on:

• Cracks and openings: Any opening that leads from the inside to the outside may allow pests in.
• Sanitation issues: From large bins of food waste, to break room trash cans, let them know to report when these are overflowing or need to be cleaned.

The key is once employees know what to look for, they need to know how and who to report it to. Make sure there is a pest sighting log and employees know where it is and what information to record.

Step 3: Emphasize Communication

Communication is key. We all know that. Which is why it’s so important to encourage the age-old adage when it comes to potential pest problems: “If you see something, say something!” The longer a pest issue persists, the more likely it is to turn into a costly, potentially hazardous infestation.

Consistent communication between employees, management and pest control providers benefits all parties. It ensures employees are in-the-know about important information and new initiatives while making it easier for managers and pest control professionals to stay a step ahead of invading pests. Designate a point person that employees should go to if they have something they want to talk about and make sure to utilize that pest sighting log!

Open dialogue makes it clear to employees that they are a contributing part of your IPM program. Your employees serve as the first line of defense against pests, so if they see pest activity, it’s incredibly important they feel comfortable escalating it immediately. Tell employees you want and need their input in order for your pest management efforts to be most effective. And don’t forget to solicit feedback—they might even have ideas on how to make the program better!

Step 4: Establish a Pest-Sighting Protocol

There needs to be a clear course of action for any employee who notices a pest or evidence of pests within your facility. You’re in the business of protecting your products, and many pests spread dangerous pathogens everywhere they go.

Establishing a protocol for reporting pests will keep things simple for both employee and manager, as it ensures pest problems are documented and action steps are clear. Should a pest be spotted, make sure employees know to do the following:

  • Capture pest(s) for identification if possible. Take pictures if you can’t. The better a pest management professional can see a pest, the more accurately they’ll be able to prescribe a solution.
  • Fill out a pest-sighting log and note when, where and how many pests were seen. Imagine this as a crime scene, and your pest management professional is the crime scene investigator.
  • Contact management if the issue is severe and needs immediate attention, at which point management should contact their pest management professional. The sooner everyone is on the same page, the quicker you can implement a solution to help prevent pests from compromising your products.

Even the best IPM program can’t keep out every pest trying to get into your facility, which is why it’s so important to establish a pest-sighting protocol. It might also be worth forming an IPM committee to meet on a monthly basis. It’s best if this committee includes members from each department and, if possible, the pest management professional in order to promote ongoing improvements.

Step 5: Ongoing Education

Once you’ve taught your employees the basics of how to spot pests, pest evidence, and how to proceed once they see any, training should not stop there.

Although pests stay relatively the same year to year, your facility won’t. Staying up to date with the latest information can help you proactively prevent pests before they become a threat to your operations. Review monitoring reports with your pest management professional to determine if changes need to occur to focus on new areas, or redouble efforts at a hot spot that hasn’t been resolved yet. Remember: Many pest issues take time to completely manage.

Ask your pest management partner for tip sheets, checklists and other educational materials to stay current, and share them with your employees. Also, keep in mind that different pests thrive in different weather conditions, so adjust your tips for employees seasonally so they know what to look for.

With all staff members consistently armed with the necessary information to help identify hot spots and minimize the risk of pests, you’ll be in great shape for your next audit. Just make sure to document everything being done to help proactively protect products. You’ve got to have proof of your efforts!