Susanne Kuehne, Decernis
Food Fraud Quick Bites

Operation Crucifère: Eat Your Greens (But from Where?)

By Susanne Kuehne
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Susanne Kuehne, Decernis
Food fraud, broccoli
Find records of fraud such as those discussed in this column and more in the Food Fraud Database. Image credit: Susanne Kuehne

This week, we are looking at a country-of-origin food fraud where U.S.-produced broccoli was mislabeled as “Produit de Canada” (Product of Canada). Other local producers observed suspicious activities and filed a mislabeling claim with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. In Canada, federal government guidelines clearly regulate country of origin claims. The responsible food processor, who denies any wrongdoing, will face a steep fine and even jail time if convicted.

Resource

  1. Daphné Cameron, “Des brocolis canadiens… cultivés aux États-Unis?” (May 24, 2019). La Presse Canada. Retrieved from https://www.lapresse.ca/actualites/201905/23/01-5227341-des-brocolis-canadiens-cultives-aux-etats-unis.php
Bob Burrows, Chainvu
FST Soapbox

Five Steps To Overcome the Catch-22 Dilemma Of Blockchain Adoption In Your Food Supply Chain

By Bob Burrows
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Bob Burrows, Chainvu

Have you ever heard the saying, “It takes a village to raise a child”? This saying can easily be adapted to blockchain in the food supply chain, only it would say, “It takes a village to do blockchain successfully.”

Blockchain, by definition, requires the collaboration and consensus of all of its participants. If you look at a commonly accepted definition, blockchain is a sequence of consensually verified transaction blocks chained together, with each of the supply chain members as an equal owner of the same transaction data.

In the food supply chain context, this means that all supply chain participants—from the farmer/grower to the retail store and, in some scenarios, even the end consumer—have to be part of the blockchain or it will fail.

But therein lies the problem.

The Blockchain Catch-22 Adoption Dilemma

While blockchain has the potential to revolutionize the food industry (e.g., the way we handle food recalls), it puts innovators in today’s complex food supply chains in an awkward Catch-22 dilemma.

Unless you are Walmart or another equally big force in the food industry with the buying power to demand that your suppliers adopt blockchain, you cannot implement blockchain successfully without your entire supply chain joining you. But oftentimes, your partners (and sometimes your management) require the commitment of all others jumping on the blockchain bandwagon.

While this situation could feel intimidating, those obstacles are usually easily overcome with the right arguments presented in a sound business case. I want to share with you five tried-and-true steps to get even the most reluctant technophobic supply chain member excited about blockchain and ready to sign on.

1. Clearly Outline Risks Across the Entire Supply Chain

One of the biggest (and most expensive) mistakes companies make when adopting blockchain is to adopt a new technology purely for the sake of it. Therefore, the starting point for any negotiations should be to outline the real business problems you are trying to solve. Put yourself in the shoes of your partners’ management and explain the problems from their perspective.

But don’t try to boil the ocean—just focus on two or three main issues that could either have disastrous (as in business operation/reputation-destroying) consequences or become extremely costly issues. Additionally, you could include a short list of secondary issues to preempt questions about other concerns.

For example, facing a food safety incident and the associated food recalls could be your primary issues. Secondary issues might be product integrity and spoilage (due to the long transit times and possible temperature fluctuations along the way), compliance with government regulations regarding cost and resources, and the consumers’ demand for transparency and traceability.

2. Calculate the Cost of Doing Nothing

Once you have identified the biggest risks, it’s time to put some numbers on paper.
Let’s stay with the example of food safety and recalls. According to the Grocery Manufacturers Association, the average food recall in the United States costs businesses $30–99 million, which only includes direct costs from retrieval and disposal of recalled items without taking additional expenses for lawsuits, reputational damages and sales losses into account.

What would a recall scenario look like for your company, and what costs would be associated with it? What does your liability management for this scenario look like across the entire supply chain? Walk through the scenario step-by-step and put down realistic numbers. Be sure you can back it up with real data at any point in time.

3. Explain the Proposed Solution (Without Getting Too Technical)

Now that you have outlined the biggest risks and walked them through the numbers, it is time to present your proposed solution. When doing so, keep in mind that most people who are not very familiar with blockchain think immediately of Bitcoin and cryptocurrency—including the hype, unpredictability and hacks.

Rather than leading with technical explanations, try to first explain your solution from a business perspective without using the word “blockchain.” Frank Yiannas, the former Walmart vice president of food safety and now deputy commissioner, food policy and response for the FDA, once described blockchain as “the equivalent of FedEx tracking for food.” This is the level of technicality you want to hit.

Once you have buy-in for the overall approach, you can lay out the technical details including how blockchain, IoT-enabled sensors and smart contracts fit into this picture.

4. Showcase Lowest Hanging Fruit First, Then Define Long-Term Benefits & Soft Savings

Pat yourself on the back—you have just overcome the biggest hurdle in the process. Now it is time to bring the deal home by laying out the quick wins (low-hanging fruit) and the long-term benefits.

If you implement a blockchain solution paired with smart sensors to constantly monitor your product’s temperature, shock impact, moisture and location, a huge quick win could be the ability to immediately identify any potentially spoiled or compromised items. All members of the supply chain could get an instant notification if an exception occurs.

While listing the immediate benefits and calculating potential savings is crucial for getting buy-in, the long-term benefits are also important. For example, you could point out that consumers (especially millennials) are willing to spend more money on brands that offer more transparency, brands they can trust (e.g., authenticity of extra virgin olive oil), and brands they can trace back to their origins (provenance).

In addition, there are also efficiency gains through blockchain. When speaking to your own management, point out the ability to improve your own operations due to the increased level of automation, as well as the opportunity for improving the overall supply chain efficiencies by collecting data across the supply chain.

Just be sure that your benefits correlate with the problems you had outlined initially.

5. Have a Detailed Adoption Roadmap

Last but not least, be prepared to have a detailed adoption road map. This is crucial, as it allows you to take their enthusiasm to the next level. All the other steps are for nought if this isn’t put into action. Go the extra mile to set your project up for success and map out the key details, including:

  • Proposed project timelines (e.g., onboarding phase, trial start and end dates, decision deadlines),
  • Must-meet milestones and key performance indicators
  • Expected road blocks and how you will address them

While this puts extra responsibility on your team, it allows you to keep driving the project forward and at least bring it to a trial or pilot stage that will give you more tangible benefits.

Conclusion

Whether you follow these tips step-by-step or you pick and choose, I would like you to take one thing away from reading this: While there is tremendous potential in blockchain, don’t implement it purely for the sake of catchy headlines or bragging rights! To get your supply chain partners and executive management on board, you must tie the implementation to relevant business use cases to achieve tangible results.

Susanne Kuehne, Decernis
Food Fraud Quick Bites

The Horse Is Out of the Barn

By Susanne Kuehne
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Susanne Kuehne, Decernis
Horse
Find records of fraud such as those discussed in this column and more in the Food Fraud Database. Image credit: Susanne Kuehne

Every horse owner (and his or her wallet) know that their equine partner will most likely consume an array of medications over the course of their lifetime, such as anti-inflammatory drugs, joint supplements, antibiotics, topical ointments, pesticides and fly repellents, and many more. Many of these horses are not fit for human consumption, but some ended up in the human food supply, starting in Ireland. The Irish Police Force is investigating this quite lucrative horsemeat fraud, including raiding the suspects’ farms and other property and inspecting the horse microchip tracking system.

Resources

  1. Lally, C. (June 6, 2019). “Gardaí raid farms over claims unsafe horse meat entering food chain”. Irish Times. Retrieved from https://www.irishtimes.com/news/crime-and-law/garda%C3%AD-raid-farms-over-claims-unsafe-horse-meat-entering-food-chain-1.3916827
Alec Senese, Bayer Crop Science, Digital Pest Management
Bug Bytes

Top 3 Things to Know About Digital Rodent Monitoring

By Alec Senese
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Alec Senese, Bayer Crop Science, Digital Pest Management

The future of rodent control is here. The traditional, time-consuming method of manually checking traps just got a lot smarter thanks to the science of IoT (Internet of Things).

What does IoT enable when it meets a device like a mousetrap? 24/7 monitoring, real-time capture alerts and up-to-the-minute program verification. This means that instead of getting caught up in the cycle of checking and scanning empty traps, now there is the ability to immediately respond to a capture alert and spend the time needed to identify the root cause of the problem. The result? Improved efficiency, audit readiness and protection for your business, brand and the public health.

If you’ve been considering the idea of going digital, it’s likely you have a few questions. The following are the top three things you should know about going digital with your rodent monitoring system:

  1. Technology matters. Before taking a shot in the dark, you need to understand that many types of technology exist on the market, each with unique features and varying levels of detection sensitivity and accuracy. Understanding the pros and cons of available systems is a vital ingredient for success.
  2. Not all network platforms are created equal. Network connectivity in complex environments is a key feature to look for when considering digital rodent systems in order to ensure your system is working reliably 24/7. Everyone is familiar with cellular and WiFi networks, but did you know that these communication platforms can be challenged in factories, food processing facilities, convention centers and other complex environments? (Other network platforms exist and you can refer to this article on wireless modules that operate in the sub-GHz bands to compare their features and characteristics).
  3. False positives are common in many technologies available today. False capture alerts destroy the value proposition of remote monitoring and cause headaches and unnecessary labor. Be sure you understand this key performance metric and invest in a system that has solved this issue.
Doug White, PSSI
FST Soapbox

The Real-Time Value of Technology in Food Safety

By Doug White
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Doug White, PSSI

We live in a world where information on any subject is at our fingertips and can be accessed instantly. These real-time notifications keep us up to date on whatever topics we choose. This information helps guide our daily decisions and communicate more effectively with each other.

The same is true in business. We can be more efficient and make more informed decisions based on the information we have at various points throughout our day. However, for many companies and industries, the key is figuring out what information is needed and how it can be transmitted in real-time to increase the efficiency or effectiveness of the work.

In an industry not known for being on the leading edge of new technology, it is still not uncommon to have data captured using the good old pad and pencil method. This, unfortunately, limits visibility and the timely application of that information. This is especially critical when it comes to sanitation and food safety data. It is a complex, high-risk industry with tight timelines and lots of moving parts (figuratively and literally), and various teams working together 24/7.

The 2019 Food Safety Consortium Conference & Expo features a dedicated track on Cleaning & Sanitation | Attend the event October 1–3 | Schaumburg, ILAdditionally, new rules and regulations around FSMA require processors to have more detailed documentation of a food safety plan and produce data proving adherence to that plan during plant inspections. Processors must show that best practices are being followed and address any instances where concerns may arise with immediate corrective actions, or face potential fines or temporary shutdown of production.

The bottom line is, technology is no longer a “nice to have”, it is a must have. Data is our friend and, if used appropriately, can significantly help mitigate risk and improve food safety.

Innovation in Sanitation

Specifically in the sanitization process, there is a distinct science-based, data-driven approach that can be used to document and report on the consistency and effectiveness of each cleaning process. However, without the right experience or specific microbiological training, it is hard for a processor to know what to document, how to document it and why it matters.

For instance, as part of standard operating procedures, our team always monitors and documents four key factors that can influence a successful cleaning process: Time, temperature, concentration of cleaning agents and mechanical force (i.e., water pressure). If any one variable as part of the sanitization process is off, it can impact the overall effectiveness of the cleaning.

This is the type of risk-based data that can be applied as part of FSMA reporting and compliance.

However, the real opportunity for improving food safety is about the visibility of that data and how it can be used to adjust the sanitization processes in real-time.

I was fortunate to be part of a team that developed and implemented a new real-time performance metrics platform over the last year. It is a digital system that helps sanitation teams proactively track and respond to critical data that can impact the effectiveness of the sanitation process.

Replacing the pen-and-paper method is a system in which data is logged digitally into an application on a tablet or mobile device in real-time during the sanitation process.

Site managers closely monitor data, which can be shared or accessed by other stakeholders to perform analytics and make real-time adjustments to the sanitation process. The system sends alerts and notifications regarding changes or updates that must be made as well.

From internal communications to coordination with USDA and FDA inspectors, it supports a much more seamless communication structure as well. Employees feel more confident and empowered to manage the sanitation process and partners feel armed with the right information and data to focus on managing the needs of their business.

As an industry, I believe we have a great opportunity ahead of us to continue advancing food safety. The technology and tools are there to support us. It is a matter of taking small steps to innovate and improve efficiencies in our own businesses every day that will have a drastic impact on the industry as a whole.

Susanne Kuehne, Decernis
Food Fraud Quick Bites

You Don’t Want Your Bread Buttered on Both Sides

By Susanne Kuehne
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Susanne Kuehne, Decernis
Red Sunflower
Find records of fraud such as those discussed in this column and more in the Food Fraud Database.

Albania’s National Food Authority NFA discovered food fraud where Ukrainian vegetable fat labeled as margarine was sold as butter and buttermilk, in some cases claiming German origin. The NFA imposed fines and confiscated the fraudulent product. Since the importer did not sufficiently check the trade documents, they are seen as part of the fraud operation. The Albanian government will also increase punishment for those involved in food fraud in the future.

Resources

  1. “Margarine Sold as Butter, NFA Unveils Fraud Scheme” (May 31, 2019). Albanian Daily News. Retrieved from https://albaniandailynews.com/index.php?idm=31993&mod=2
Alec Senese, Bayer Crop Science, Digital Pest Management
Bug Bytes

Did Barcode Scanning Kill IPM Inspections?

By Alec Senese
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Alec Senese, Bayer Crop Science, Digital Pest Management

Barcode placement on rodent traps was introduced as a simple and seemingly obvious way to make sure that the work of an IPM inspection was being performed. Each trap would have to be manually inspected in order to scan the barcode, providing proof that the task was completed.

While this method may be a great way to ensure an important job is being done, the problem with this approach is that it does not ensure the most important jobs are being done. In facilities that are large and complex, the act of checking and scanning traps is a lengthy and laborious process. This leaves little time for thorough investigative inspection and corrective actions, which are a vital part of preventing future rodent problems. Pest control technicians’ time should be spent using their understanding of pest biology and behavior to be pest detectives in your facility, not spending the majority of their time on time-consuming tasks that require little brainpower.

So did barcode scanning kill IPM inspections? Probably not, but it certainly didn’t help.

Jennifer van de Ligt, Food Protection and Defense Institute, University of Minnesota
FST Soapbox

The Changing Face of Leadership in the Food and Beverage Industry

By Jennifer van de Ligt, Ph.D.
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Jennifer van de Ligt, Food Protection and Defense Institute, University of Minnesota

Our food system is facing daunting challenges. We must adapt our food systems to sustainably feed almost 10 billion people by 2050 in a world with shifting climate and environmental pressures. In addition, we need to reduce the rising number of undernourished people (an estimated 821 million people in recent years) and confront the significant issue of more than 30% of food production being lost or wasted. Tackling these challenges will require collaboration across all aspects of the food system to assure that production processes, policies and regulations, food safety practices, and affordability align to assure we live in a food secure future. However, most of the current generation of leaders in the food industry has not approached leadership from the systems-thinking approach that will be required to succeed.

Thus, focusing on developing the right skills in the rising next generation of leaders in the food and beverage industry in order to solve these problems will be critical. We need people who can think broadly and are empowered to navigate the complexities of the global food system. Professionals in the food industry need to think beyond the specialties and silos where they currently work. Approaching food problems in an open-minded and cross-disciplinary way will achieve better results for business growth, population well-being, food production and planet sustainability.

In my decades of working in the food industry, I was acutely aware of the challenges that we would face in the future. Now, as part of the Integrated Food Systems Leadership program at the University of Minnesota, we are addressing these issues by helping to train the future leaders that will transform the food system. The following topics are just a few of the areas that we see as essential to develop the food leaders of tomorrow.

Next-Gen Leaders with a Holistic Approach

One of the key steps for new leaders in food and beverage industry is to adapt to food systems thinking. Most professionals were hired for their knowledge in a specific area. Now, to become next-gen leaders, they will need to think about the whole food production system and how all decisions made in this system, from sourcing and production to supply chain and retail sale, affect people and the environment.

Where we source our food and how we produce it is truly global and interconnected. The ingredient and material supply chains are vast and complex. We can no longer afford not to take into consideration where and how these items are being sourced and supplied. Additionally, we can no longer afford not to be responsible for the products produced and how they are affecting the health and well-being of consumers as well as the planet.

The next generation of leaders, no matter what part of the food system they are working in, will need to understand these relationships and think about how all these little pieces from production to marketing and sales work together. When one change is made to the system, whether the idea is from R&D or the marketing department or is caused by a new regulation, this will produce ripple effects across the food system.

True Leadership vs. Management in the Food System

Often times, the idea of leadership is thought of as just managing people—observing a team and making sure each person is doing their job. This is management and not a true definition of leadership. To be a leader means you have a vision and can paint a clear picture of what you see to others. Leaders build relationships with people who help turn a vision into reality. Leaders aren’t afraid to change the status quo and take risks if those risks will help the long-term plan. Leaders help their team achieve more than any individual on the team thought possible.

Leaders have many qualities. First, they have ideas that should be heard. However, in order for those ideas to see the light of day, professionals must know how to communicate so their opinions and thoughts are considered. Knowing how to package a vision and communicate it more effectively are critical to leadership development.

Second, leaders desire to have a meaningful impact in the world. To be able to effect change, seeing the bigger picture and understanding the interdependencies throughout the food system is paramount. As part of this, they want and need to help other people be heard to move the vision and plan forward. They will need the skills to foster collaboration and innovation within their teams and across disciplines to help everyone succeed in making the changes needed in the food system.

Third, although leaders want to grow their companies, they also want to grow personally. When a vision is created and steps taken to pave the way for that vision to come to fruition, a journey begins. Leaders know that any journey embarked upon is a life-changing experience, and they welcome that new stage.

Finally, it is important to note that leaders can be found in more places than the corner office. Leaders are not just CEOs, but come in varying roles and titles. Developing people’s leadership potential, style and goals for whatever capacity they work in is a critical part of leadership building. Leaders exist within every team, department and work group across a business. Finding them, to grow and foster their potential, is the challenge.

Fostering Professional Development in the Field

Food and beverage companies can do a great deal to address these pressing issues today by instilling a culture of learning in the organization. I have found, more often than not, people who enter this industry are passionate about it. However, when individuals enter a company, especially early in their career, they sometimes face a crisis of faith moment and question that their lifelong training has not prepared them for what they truly want to do.

Many times those in the industry feel like they have ideas or skills that aren’t being leveraged. They may feel like they aren’t being heard or that they’ve been pigeon-holed into one segment of or role in the business. These professionals could be the collateral damage of silo mentality and lack of a culture of learning and growth, especially when they are high-value and have specialized knowledge. Corporations have perfected efficiency by keeping certain departments, and individuals within them, separated in order to optimize their segment’s function. But slotting the business, and individuals, into distinct categories can hinder the ability of these organizations to see and understand the big picture.

By breaking down this silo mentality and promoting systems thinking, businesses can help their talented and dedicated people grow their career, become a better leader, and enable a move across the lattice structure within an organization. Many times these individuals feel a little lost in the mix and frustrated as a cog in the machine and are looking for growth opportunities. This doesn’t necessarily mean they want to move vertically within the organization, but rather learn and grow laterally or diagonally within an organization to both enhance their career and provide a broader benefit to the entire business.

When companies equip professionals with critical-thinking skills, they are developing their professionals who want to make a meaningful impact within their organizations as well as in the entire food system. This is true empowerment to improve the future of food and make companies viable and competitive for the future.

If a company doesn’t have this training ability internally, organizations can support programs that are helping to build these leaders. Programs like the new Integrated Food Systems Leadership are designed to help future leaders bridge the current skills gap in the food system. These future leaders will have the tools to drive the change critical for many companies to succeed while we feed the future.

Laura Lombard, IMEPIK
FST Soapbox

Is Your Facility Properly Prepared to Ensure Preventive Controls are Met?

By Laura Lombard
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Laura Lombard, IMEPIK

Under FSMA, you are required to have at least one Preventive Control Qualified Individual (PCQI) on your staff at all times to build and manage your food safety plan(s) for your manufacturing facilities. Per the regulation, PCQIs “have successfully completed training in the development and application of risk-based preventive controls at least equivalent to that received under a standardized curriculum recognized as adequate by FDA or be otherwise qualified through job experience to develop and apply a food safety system.” (Subpart C Section 117.180 (c) (1))

First and foremost, have you met the basic requirement of having at least one trained PCQI? There are now both online and in-person options to ensure your that food safety or quality assurance manager has had the proper training. Most online options require set times and dates like the in-person version to complete the training. Only one PCQI training currently on the market is completely self-paced and available 24-7. No matter which option you choose, it is a baseline that you ensure you have checked that regulatory box before the FDA comes to inspect your facility.

But what if your PCQI needs to take extended medical leave or moves on to another job? It is a proactive and smart move to have a back-up PCQI trained to both help support your PCQI under regular circumstances and be ready to step in if your quality assurance manager becomes unavailable. For a relatively small investment, you can ensure your company is meeting the regulatory requirement and has the training to provide a safe, quality product.

The FSMA regulation does not require you to have a PCQI for every facility but does require an individual food safety plan per location. Depending on how many facilities your particular company has, you may want to consider more than one PCQI to ensure that food safety plans are regularly updated and properly implemented. Many companies are now training the entire quality assurance department or a facility cross-functional team to be PCQIs and participate on the food safety team. Again, the relatively small investment in properly training personnel can save your company hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars in costly recalls, lost revenue due to negative brand reputation, and FDA fines. The average recall costs $10 million, not including brand damage and lost customers.

It is simply prudent to invest in PCQI training beyond the basic requirement of the FSMA regulation. Companies should train their quality assurance or food safety staff at the PCQI level to protect a company’s product quality, brand and customer base. The fewer food safety-related claims you have, the more that can be saved in costly recalls, loss of current or potential customers, and brand reputation. Lastly, a company with a robust safety culture has a competitive advantage over competitors who are less inclined to invest sufficiently in their food safety training and may suffer financial repercussions and damage to reputation as a result of recalls and customer quality assurance complaints.

Susanne Kuehne, Decernis
Food Fraud Quick Bites

This Bufala Is No Bufala

By Susanne Kuehne
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Susanne Kuehne, Decernis
Bufala
Find examples of these records and more in the Food Fraud Database.

Who doesn’t enjoy a nice Insalata Caprese or pizza Margherita with fresh tomatoes and mozzarella? Based on regulations in the EU and Italy, mozzarella di bufala is supposed to be made with buffalo milk only. “Bufala” in Italian may also mean “media hoax”, however, in this case, science shows that there is indeed “no bufala”. Multiple reaction monitoring mass spectrometry brings wide-spread fraught to light, showing that two-thirds of the tested supermarket and restaurant products are made with much cheaper cow’s milk, according to a study published in Food Control.

Resources

Gunning, Y., et al. (July 2019). “Quantitative authenticity testing of buffalo mozzarella via αs1-Casein using multiple reaction monitoring mass spectrometry”. Food Control. Volume 101, Pages 189-197. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0956713519300775?via%3Dihub