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Hygiene and Efficiency in Food Processing: Goodway Technologies’ Advanced Solutions

By Evan Reyes
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Q&A with Evan Reyes, Global Director of Sales, Sanitation Division, Goodway Technologies

Goodway Technologies provides cleaning and sanitation equipment for the food and beverage processing industry. They offer a range of products including dry steam cleaners, conveyor belt cleaning systems, industrial vacuums, and surface sanitizing equipment. They also specialize in innovative solutions such as CIP technologies and industrial vacuums. Their goal is to help improve hygiene and food safety, and increase production efficiency in food production plants.


QUESTION: Is steam safe to use around water sensitive equipment?

ANSWER: Thanks to the low moisture content of dry steam, we are able to use it to safely clean motors, conduit, control panels, and other areas where water use is typically not welcome. Some highly sensitive components like touch screen, power receptacles, and photo eyes should still not be directly steam cleaned, although you can steam clean in close proximity to these sensitive components without worrying about them getting wet.

Goodway Technologies

Link to case study


QUESTION: How can you get to a passing ATP level without introducing cleaning chemicals to aid in the process?

ANSWER: In the right applications, our belt cleaning systems will do the job of a cleaning chemical to break down the soils using dry steam, and then we follow up with vacuum extraction to physically remove the soil from the belt. This is a powerful cleaning combination that leads to a very clean and completely dry belt surface. 

Goodway Technologies PureBelt

We frequently see 0 ATP readings after the belt cleaning is completed, and are always within a passing ATP level after cleaning. One other benefit is that we provide a consistent cleaning across the entire belt surface, every time, eliminating the possibility of an operator missing a spot on the belt, failing a swab, and needing to re-clean.

Link to case study

 


Learn more from Goodway Technologies


Visit Goodway Technologies’ booth at the Food Safety Consortium Conference, Oct. 20-22, Washington DC

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The Importance of Food Safety Auditing

By Jennifer Lott
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Checklist

To begin to understand the importance of food safety auditing, it is essential to know what a food safety standard comprises in terms of auditing.

Food safety standards are a set of rules and regulations established by regulatory agencies, such as FDA (21CFR117), international organizations, i.e., World Health Organization (WHO) or Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI), and industry bodies, such as SQF, to ensure the safety and quality of the food supply chain.

These standards aim to reduce the risk of contamination, reduce the chances of foodborne illnesses, and protect the workers and customers who consume or use the product.

Food Safety standards contain requirements for food production, from sourcing ingredients and materials to production processes to packing and distribution.  Food safety standards add transparency, traceability, and accountability to your organization’s operations.

So why are food safety audits necessary?

Food safety audits are organized activities that aim to evaluate the extent of a food business’s food safety management system in the pursuit of protecting public health.

Public health can be at stake, and audits on food safety practices aim to evaluate how a food business management system can effectively protect against contaminated food getting released into the marketplace.

Food safety audits focus on critical areas of food manufacturing operations, such as the food safety management system, food storage, food preparation, sanitation, facility design, and employee hygiene.

How does the audit help?

Well, auditors examine a combination of intended practices and methods with the actual facility and design to gather how effective are the food safety management protocols, how the product is stored, how employees handle food preparation—as well as machinery and building safety, including facility design, sanitation, and employee’ personal hygiene practices.

Food safety audits come in three basic designs: first-party (internal), second-party (audit of your supplier), or third-party or accredited third-party (independent or certification). The type of audit chosen can be based on your needs and the auditing firm.

Audits provide a real-time assessment of the status of the operation and quality management system. More than looking at safety records and historical statistics, food safety audits look at problems that may be fermenting now – they can be proactive rather than reactive—reviewing areas where implementation of preventative strategies and reporting findings can bring value with improved efficiency and avoidance of future problems.

Food safety audits are also an excellent time to foster organizational communication.

Engaging with employees in interviews provides many points of view and is an opportunity to promote a sense of ownership and buy-in within the organization – this can go a long way in developing a strong food safety culture.

The unintentional contamination of food is one of the most significant risks associated with not complying with food safety regulations. If the source of contamination can be traced to the company, the organization may face hefty fines and consequences.

On top of that, with noncompliance with food safety standards, an organization risks sowing distrust from internal employees through to their customers. When companies don’t follow safety standards, customers will be hesitant to buy and consume their products, negatively impacting sales and overall company performance.


The author, Jennifer Lott is presenting Assessing Food Fraud using PAS 96 to Meet GFSI and FSMA Requirements at the Food Safety Consortium Conference, October 20-22, Washington DC. This presentation will use information from PAS 96, Guide to Protecting and Defending Food and Drink from Deliberate Attack, and real-life examples to provide insights and guidance when completing/reviewing your VACCP and TACCP programs. For more information visit FoodSafetyConsortium.org

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Jennifer Allen
Food Safety Attorney

Not a magic bullet: The dos and don’ts of dietary-supplement labeling

By Jennifer Allen
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Jennifer Allen

Dietary supplements are commonplace in the American diet. Indeed, so many Americans expect supplements to do most of the heavy nutritional lifting in their diets that “substitute” might be a more accurate name. But while many consumers view supplements as a magic bullet or cure-all, and supplement manufacturers happily reinforce that viewpoint through their labeling, the FDA does in fact set limits on the types of statements that supplement manufacturers may make. To ignore those limits is to run the significant risk of receiving a warning letter from FDA. Warning letters are made public, and being on the receiving end of one can damage a manufacturer’s brand. In February 2021, FDA announced that it had recently sent warning letters to ten supplement manufacturers who were claiming that their products could treat or cure depression and other mental health disorders.

No dietary supplement, no matter how effective it is, may contain labeling that claims to “diagnose, mitigate, treat, cure, or prevent” disease. Labeling is a broad term. It doesn’t just apply to the physical label affixed to the container. It also applies to marketing materials accompanying the supplement, or to statements made on the website selling the supplement. FDA explains what types of statements will be considered improper drug claims in 21 CFR 101.93(g). A statement will be considered an improper drug claim if it claims, explicitly or implicitly, that the product has an effect on a specific disease or class of diseases, or on their characteristic signs or symptoms, or on an abnormal condition associated with a natural state or process, if that abnormal condition is uncommon or can cause significant or permanent harm.

A statement will also constitute an improper drug claim if it claims that the product: belongs to a class of products intended to “diagnose, mitigate, treat, cure, or prevent” disease; is a substitute for a product that is a therapy for a disease; augments a particular therapy or drug; has a role in a body’s response to disease; treats, prevents or mitigates adverse events associated with a particular drug or therapy, if that adverse event is in itself a disease; or otherwise suggests an effect on a disease.

So how can a dietary supplement manufacturer promote the health benefits of its products if it can’t make any of these types of claims? Broadly speaking there are three types of claims that will not violate the regulations: 1) classical nutrient deficiency claims; 2) structure-function claims; and 3) FDA-approved health claims. Let’s look at each of these in turn.

A classical nutrient deficiency is a disease or condition caused by a deficiency in a particular nutrient. Diseases such as pellagra and scurvy fall into this category. Dietary supplement labeling may inform consumers that use of the product can cure or prevent classical nutrient deficiencies if the manufacturer provides notice to the FDA that complies with the requirements in 21 CFR 101.93(a) within 30 days of first marketing the product, and if the product bears the following disclaimer: “This statement has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.” Section 101.93(b)-(e) contains specific requirements about the placement and prominence of the disclaimer.

Structure-function claims are also permissible. These types of claims suggest an effect of the product on the body’s normal structure or function. Emphasis here is on the use of the word normal. So, rather than saying, for example, “this product prevents heart disease,” which is an obvious example of an improper drug claim, the labeling could state, “this product helps promote healthy heart function.” Like classical nutrient deficiency claims, however, the manufacturer must provide the required written notice to FDA within 30 days, and also include the disclaimer language.

The third type of permissible claim is an FDA-approved health claim. Manufacturers can find such approved claims at 21 CFR 101.72-83. An example of the type of health claim that is permissible would be a claim linking vitamin D or calcium to reduced risk of osteoporosis. But if the FDA hasn’t approved a claim, manufacturers may not make that claim, even if the science shows it is true. If a manufacturer believes that the science supports the use of ginger root for reducing symptoms of Crohn’s Disease, for example, it may not make any such claim, even if it is true, without petitioning FDA to approve such a claim.

While it is true that dietary supplements are regulated with more leniency than regular foods, this is not a license to sell unapproved drugs. Supplement manufacturers would be well advised to have their marketing folks work closely with legal counsel to craft labeling language that promotes the benefits of the product while staying within the FDA’s guardrails.

 

 

 

Predictive Analytics for Proactive Food Safety

By Emily Newton
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Many of the most popular predictive analytics use cases revolve around risk assessments and optimization. While businesses largely use them to drive efficiency and financial gains, the same tech can help make the food and beverage industry safer.

Predictive analytics could benefit virtually any industry that applies it. While that means monetary improvements in most sectors, this technology could impact people’s health and well-being in others. Applying predictive analytics in food safety in one such use case.

The Importance of Proactive Food Safety

Foodborne illnesses affect 48 million people each year in the U.S. alone. These diseases are easily treatable in many instances, but as hospitals become more crowded and the population grows, more could result in worse outcomes. Already, 128,000 of these cases hospitalize their victims and 3,000 end in death.

These outbreaks may become a more prominent threat over time, too. Climate change can make certain foodborne pathogens more common and affect food’s nutritional value. The global population is also growing, so available resources must spread further to cover everyone. That could result in more people being unable to access the care they need if they contract a foodborne disease.

Given these concerns, food safety must be proactive. Organizations need to stop outbreaks before they occur to reduce the burden on the health care system and ensure a healthier world. Predictive analytics can support that goal by optimizing several aspects of food safety.

Emily Newton,

Preventing On-Farm Contamination

Food safety starts with food’s farm origins. Some diseases can spread through pest contamination, and predictive analytics may provide more reliable proactive anti-pest measures than conventional alternatives.

Pest outbreak modeling begins by collecting data on weather patterns, past outbreaks, and known interactions between certain pests and other chemicals or plants. Machine learning models can then predict when rising pest populations are likely and what could stop them. Farmers can then respond as necessary, whether that means spraying the optimal amount of pesticide or companion planting to repel animals before they arrive.

Early experimental models under this umbrella have accurately predicted outbreaks up to seven years in the future — more than enough time for farms to adapt. Even if these warnings spur little more than increased attention to contamination risks, they could significantly impact food safety.

Protecting Food Products in Transit

Predictive analytics can guard crops or animal products in transit once they leave the farm. Unlike pest prevention, this application is less concerned with long-term trends, instead centering around real-time data.

Internet of Things (IoT) sensors can track metrics like shipment temperatures and humidity in real time. With this data, predictive models can identify when current conditions may lead to food safety concerns, such as temperatures rising above safe levels. Once they identify these trends, they alert drivers and other stakeholders to take action before spoilage occurs.

Some available solutions today can monitor core temperatures up to 1 meter away, while others can detect bacteria and gas associated with spoilage. Whatever the specifics, real-time data and machine learning enable fast responses to prevent contamination or stop spoiled products from reaching consumers if prevention is impossible.

Refining Manufacturing Processes

Predictive analytics can also promote proactive food safety in the manufacturing stage. Many manufacturers today are already investing in AI to optimize their production workflows, and the same technology can yield safety improvements.

Take the production of dry pet food — which accounts for 60% of all pet food sold today — for example. These products are prone to cross-contamination from additives or surface contact during extrusion, but these hazards are difficult to identify in a large facility. Predictive analytics can analyze digital twins of these facilities to pinpoint where this kind of contamination is most likely, informing workflow changes to remove or mitigate the risk.

Just as predictive analytics can highlight production bottlenecks, it can alert manufacturers to processes prone to bacterial infection or other health hazards. Advanced models can even suggest alternative workflows to make it easier to ensure the safest possible production process.

Pinpointing Supply Chain Vulnerabilities

Similarly, food and beverage companies can use predictive analytics to identify hazards in their supply chains. Third-party health and safety risks are hard to pinpoint manually, but AI can monitor real-time conditions and analyze past trends to predict vulnerabilities.

Businesses can apply predictive analytics to food supply chains in a few ways. One effective option is to analyze past health department reports to identify suppliers with a history of health and safety violations. Some solutions today can even highlight common themes between reports to reveal what kinds of hazards a company struggles with.

Other supply chain analytics engines can analyze real-time data to predict potential outbreaks in a region’s food supply or growing cross-contamination threats in an area. Food companies can then adjust their supply strategy to avoid sourcing from these problem areas and prevent outbreaks.

Learning From Past Outbreaks

Many supply chains have also embraced predictive analytics for scenario modeling. Applying this practice to food safety can help experts learn where past outbreaks came from to inform preventive measures in the future.

With enough data on past foodborne disease outbreaks, machine learning models could identify trends in their early warning signs. Alternatively, they could highlight how some logistics or manufacturing practices contributed to the disease’s spread. Predictive models can then apply these insights to real-time farm, production facility and health report data to predict incoming cases.

Food processors already use hyperspectral sensors that could help detect early warning signs of undesired microbes, like the release of some gasses. Feeding this data to predictive models alongside information on how past foodborne illnesses emerged and evolved could let them predict new diseases before they affect anyone. Global health agencies and food and beverage companies could enact much more effective mitigation measures as a result.

Predictive Analytics Takes Food Safety Further

Many of the most popular predictive analytics use cases revolve around risk assessments and optimization. While businesses largely use these applications to drive efficiency and financial gains, the same technology can help make the food and beverage industry safer. That will become increasingly crucial as the population grows and climate change worsens the threat of foodborne illnesses.

The use of predictive analytics in proactive food safety is still in its infancy, but early signs are promising. As this technology evolves and more brands capitalize on it, it could make the world a safer, healthier place.

Food Safety Technology Can Protect Businesses from Recalls and Other Risks

By Colin Rose, Patricia Baxter
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Recalls represent one of the largest threats to a food company’s profitability and reputation. In recent years, technology solutions such as cloud-based software have been introduced to better prepare and safeguard businesses.

According to the US Department of Agriculture, more than 300 food products were recalled last year, representing a significant 31% increase compared with 2022. The reasons behind recalls vary and include food containing contaminated items such as metal or plastic, exposure to pathogens and undeclared allergens on product labels. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that each year, roughly one in six Americans (or 48 million people) gets sick from foodborne diseases. Recalls represent one of the largest threats to a food company’s profitability and reputation. In recent years, technology solutions such as cloud-based software have been introduced to better prepare and safeguard businesses.

Supply Chain Connectivity

Despite advances in technology, many food manufacturers and processors still rely on manual tools and management across their supply chains. Manual systems can result in major issues during a crisis, including errors in inputting or updating data and miscommunication, such as being unable to quickly reach multiple vendors and suppliers at a given time.

Proper and comprehensive supply chain management is critical to food safety. In the instance of a recall, businesses must be able to quickly activate their recall management plan, disseminating important information both up and down the supply chain while documenting to meet certification and regulatory requirements. It’s key that all suppliers – local, national and international – demonstrate that they are compliant with all relevant food and market regulations. Product source information must also be tracked and searchable in records.

Robust and proactive document control can help an organization avoid recalls by quickly identifying risky suppliers or non-compliant ingredients.

Innovative Solutions Support Recalls

Several new technologies are being employed to support greater traceability and transparency across the food supply chain. With cybersecurity attacks now being a risk that can result in product recalls, more companies are investing in information security solutions to further protect their data. Certifications to standards such as ISO/IEC 27001, which has requirements for establishing, managing and maintaining an information security management system help businesses to demonstrate that they follow an international standard for managing security controls. This can provide an added level of assurance that cybersecurity risks have been identified and safeguarded.

Some companies are now using RFID to tag and track food items. QR codes and bar codes can be scanned on easily accessible devices such as smartphones and tablets, providing instant access to records to ensure traceability.

Cloud-based software also allows companies to manage complex and critical data more confidently. NSF TraQtion® is a new software solution that directs suppliers to an online portal to upload documents, complete questionnaires and communicate. Beyond supplier data, cloud-based software can also be used for recipe management and storage, tracking complaints, label compliance and setting company-wide standards. By simplifying and digitizing data, documents and records collection, leaders can instantly access information during audits and assessments, allowing for quick delivery when program documentation is requested or required.

If not properly and swiftly handled, a recall or outbreak can cost a business tens of thousands of dollars or more. By using cloud-based technology to put an easily accessible and implementable risk management plan in place, businesses can be better prepared for a food safety incident. Overall, software can minimize back-and-forth messaging, urgent data requests, meetings and calls by digitizing and streamlining both communication and documentation.

How to Select the Right Tech Solutions

When preparing for a potential recall, it’s important to be proactive. Start with identifying the pain points in the organization’s risk management plan and then see if there are tools that can be used to strengthen the plan and address its weaknesses. While some tools may require greater investment, this can pay off in the long run when you consider how detrimental recalls can be.

As we look at recalls and technology solutions, we must acknowledge that the requirement for full compliance to the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) 204 rule is January 20, 2026. For those applicable, technology will play a major role in the FDA’s recordkeeping requirements and 24-hour turnaround of an electronic, sortable spreadsheet for traceability of products. In most cases, with larger-scale operations, this can only happen with the utilization of new and emerging software.

The goal of technology implementation is to create a more sustainable food system. With earlier identification and traceability of adulterated products, the removal and retrieval process from commerce will be faster and, in turn, should result in a decrease of incidents reducing illness and potential deaths.

Digital solutions will also help to fill the gaps for root cause investigations, thus more efficiently allowing for enhanced preventative actions and training to avoid recurrence. While onboarding of new technology can sometimes be costly, over time, the ROI of reduced recalls and product losses can increase revenue gains and negate the initial investment.

Food is a global commodity, and advancing technology and innovations in system processes can help move the supply chain forward in delivering safe, quality consumable products around the world. Now is the time to lead the industry forward for a safer, more sustainable future for both companies and consumers. We must invest in technology solutions within our food supply chain to continue advancing human and planet health.

Food Traceability and Authentication in the AI Era

By Maria-Eleni Dimitrakopoulou
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Food traceability provides comprehensive information about a product’s history and origin, facilitating efficient recalls and supply chain management. However, distinct types of food fraud, such as concealment, counterfeit, and mislabelling, pose significant challenges. The integration of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and new regulatory measures, like the FDA’s traceability rule, enhance food safety and authenticity, fostering a more transparent and reliable food supply chain.

In the intricate web of the global food supply chain, ensuring the safety and authenticity of consumables stands as a paramount concern. Food traceability, defined as the ability to provide comprehensive information about the history and origin of a product throughout its journey, emerges as a cornerstone in this endeavour. This meticulous documentation not only facilitates supply chain management but also empowers swift actions such as recalls in the event of safety or quality breaches.

Beyond its logistical benefits, food traceability assumes a pivotal role in safeguarding consumer interests. By serving as a fundamental component of food safety and quality assurance, traceability ensures transparency and accountability at every stage of production and distribution. However, the efficacy of a traceability system is inherently tied to the credibility of its origins, paving the way for the convergence of food traceability and authentication.

Unveiling the Shadows: The Challenge of Food Adulteration

In an era plagued by instances of food adulteration and mislabelling, the imperative for robust authentication mechanisms becomes increasingly apparent. Reports from international and national research bodies shed light on a myriad of cases spanning various food categories, from wine and spirits to olive oil, fish, meat, and beyond. This pervasive challenge underscores the need for stringent standards and regulatory frameworks to combat fraudulence and uphold consumer trust.

Food fraud manifests in several forms, each presenting unique challenges for detection and prevention. For example:

  • Concealment involves hiding inferior or harmful ingredients within a product to avoid detection. An example of this is the addition of melamine in milk to falsely increase protein content readings, which led to a major scandal in China.
  • Counterfeit products replicate and sell a product under the guise of a well-known brand, often with substandard quality. These fake products can range from everyday items like bottled water to high-end goods like wines and spirits. Counterfeiting not only deceives consumers but also damages brand reputations and violates intellectual property rights.
  • Botanical Authentication ensures that plant-based products are derived from the claimed species and not substituted with cheaper alternatives. This is particularly important for products like herbal supplements, teas, and spices. For instance, saffron, one of the most expensive spices in the world, is often adulterated with less expensive substances such as dyed corn stigmas or safflower.
  • Geographical Origin fraud involves misrepresenting the region from which a product originates. Certain regions are known for producing specific high-quality foods and beverages, such as Champagne from France or Parmigiano Reggiano cheese from Italy. Mislabelling products to benefit from these reputations deceives consumers and undermines genuine producers.
  • Substitution entails replacing a high-value ingredient with a lower-cost one. This is common in products like olive oil, honey, and seafood. For example, extra virgin olive oil might be diluted with cheaper oils, or expensive fish species like tuna might be replaced with less costly ones like escolar. This not only cheats consumers but can also pose health risks.
  • Mislabelling involves incorrectly listing ingredients or nutritional information on labels. An example is claiming a product is organic when it is not.
  • Dilution involves adding water or other substances to increase the volume of a product. For instance, diluting fruit juices with water and not declaring it.
  • Unapproved Enhancements involve using unauthorized substances to enhance the appearance or quality of a product. An example is adding unauthorized dyes to make a product look fresher or more appealing.
  • Theft and Resale refers to stealing products and reintroducing them into the market through unauthorized channels. For example, reselling stolen goods without proper storage conditions.
  • Artificial Additives involves using artificial ingredients to mimic the qualities of a natural product. For example, adding synthetic vanilla flavor instead of natural vanilla extraction

The New Traceability Rule of FDA

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has introduced a new traceability rule aimed at enhancing the ability to trace the origin of foods throughout the supply chain more efficiently. This rule mandates that companies maintain more rigorous records of their supply chains, focusing on high-risk foods. The implementation of this rule is expected to significantly improve the speed and accuracy of traceability in the event of a foodborne illness outbreak or contamination incident, thus ensuring faster recalls and reducing the risk to public health.

The Dawn of a New Era: Advancements in Food Fraud

As the spectre of food fraud looms large, there arises an urgent demand for sophisticated analytical techniques to authenticate foodstuffs with precision and reliability. Here, the advent of Artificial Intelligence (AI) heralds a new era of innovation. AI-driven algorithms can sift through vast datasets, identifying patterns and anomalies that elude traditional methods. Machine learning models can analyse complex chemical compositions, flagging deviations indicative of adulteration or mislabelling. By harnessing the power of AI, authorities can fortify their efforts in safeguarding consumer interests and preserving the integrity of the global food market.

Charting the Course Ahead: Toward a Safer, More Authentic Future

In the pursuit of food safety and quality, the symbiotic relationship between traceability and fraud, bolstered by AI technologies, emerges as a beacon of hope. By fortifying supply chain transparency and deploying cutting-edge analytical methods, stakeholders can navigate the complexities of the modern food landscape with confidence and integrity. The integration of the FDA’s new traceability rule further strengthens this endeavour, ensuring a safer and more reliable food supply chain for all.

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Ask The Expert

Digitizing Your Food Safety Program

Neogen Diagnostic Email Alert

Many food suppliers are investigating and making early investments in the adoption of digital technology to aid and automate their food safety programs. One area of intense interest has been the increasing application of digital automation within food safety testing programs. As a data and technology leader and practitioner across multiple industries for the past 30 years, I have had the privilege of working with organizations as they seek to build the appropriate plans and business justification for taking on digital transformation initiatives.

The following are the top three questions I am continually asked and the answers that, over time, have provided the information and support needed to help companies through this important transition. Perhaps these are similar to the questions that your leadership is asking you?


David Hatch
Featured Expert: David Hatch, VP Digital Solutions Marketing, Neogen Analytics

What are the actual benefits that digitizing our food safety testing program will yield?

David: During the past six years, I have witnessed the implementation and deployment of approximately 500 digital food safety testing programs across the globe. This is always one of the first questions I am asked, and there is inevitably a challenge in the question… namely – “Our program is solid, we pass our certification and customer audits, so tell me how this will be better than what we are doing today.”

The most tangible benefit, of which there are many, boils down to two metrics of success that I have witnessed consistently, over time and across three decades of work, deliver real, measurable change: Time and Trending.

Time, metrics within food safety scenarios, is characterized as having three components:

  1. “Time-to-information” – reducing the time between an event occurring, and information about that event being communicated to those in need of this knowledge.
  2. “Time-to-decision” – reducing the time from when information is known to the moment when a decision can be made to affect the outcome of whatever the information indicates as needing to be addressed.
  3. “Time-to-Action” – reducing the time from when a decision is made to when the enactment of that decision is carried out.

In the world of food safety, the diagnostic information, policy- and compliance-driven decisions, and the corrective and preventative actions (CAPA) that are mandated by regulation and driven by policy compliance standards, define the effectiveness of a food safety testing program.

Therefore, the ability to decrease these timeframes immediately produces a risk reduction result. When the time between an occurrence of a food safety issue and the completion of a corrective action is reduced, so too is risk reduced. Especially when the issue is deemed to be impacting public safety, brand value, and operational continuity… all of which can yield very costly results if not addressed quickly and accurately.

If information is collected and recorded manually, and is stored in individual paper and spreadsheet files, it is, by definition, made ineffective. The time it takes to manually record the data, or retrieve it when needed, works against the requirement that information be on-tap in real time as issues arise. Digitizing a food safety testing program means, beyond merely putting data into spreadsheets, that information be collected and stored in a data base, whether that is data coming from on-premises testing, or a 3rd-party lab. And that database must be connected to a system that enables immediate access, auto-alerts, and data-driven triggers to enact corrective actions without having to wait for a human to think where to look, or how to combine data from various manual storage files.

Trending is equally important. While speed, as highlighted above, is critical, so too is the continuous collection and analysis of data. The ability to trend your diagnostic results goes further than merely seeing a time series report of testing results. If constructed properly, a trending analysis can provide your team with the ability to become far more preventative than ever before.

Trends allow you to see reoccurrences of issues, and as these grow, an alert engine can offer recommended actions that can prevent the future need for full CAPA scenarios, or worse, response to a regulatory inquiry. As illustrated below, when combined together, Time and Trending can yield significant benefit that, as a result, reduce a significant portion of the risk and costs associated with slow response to manually managed food safety testing data. Further, a digitized system can put your data to work for you, creating a scenario that enables the data itself to find the right person at the right time when thresholds and triggers deem this action to be necessary (see figure below).


Neogen Email Alert


How can we measure Return-on-Investment (ROI) on the cost of moving to a digitally managed program?

David: If the question and answer above are not yet enough to justify the move to a digitally managed testing program, there are three more factors to consider when assessing the return on a digital investment:

Reduction of production downtime: The occurrence and frequency of food safety issues increases the risk of system downtime. If a pathogen detection occurs, a machine, conveyor system or other equipment may need to be temporarily shut down for unplanned cleaning, or in extreme cases, torn down altogether for deep cleaning. Our interactions with over 500 implementations have shown that:

  • Downtime can reach an astounding 500 hours annually, leading to overall costs that some studies put in the range of $20,000 to $30,000 per hour, on average.
  • The financial impact of reducing production downtime by just 90 minutes per week can be dramatic once you’ve added up the week-after-week results. For example, a company operating two facilities with a $30,000/hour downtime cost can gain back $90,000 per week with just 90 minutes regained at each location weekly.

Reduction of Waste/Scrap and Rework: A pathogen positive diagnostic result in a Zone 1 or food contact surface location, or worse yet, within a finished product test, will result in the need to scrap and rework production lots. Each pound of finished product that is scrapped will require rework to make up for lost order fulfillment for customers. It is therefore imperative that when issues are detected, the associated corrective actions quickly and accurately address the situation. In my experience, we show that digital trending and time-to-action improvements can drive business impact – specifically, gaining back just 10% of scrapped food per week can yield significant results. For example:

  • An organization operates two facilities where 500 lbs. of finished product are scrapped each week.
  • The value per pound of finished product, when factoring in all the labor, energy costs and materials, is valued at a conservative cost of $1 per pound.
  • Annually, by reducing time-to-information by just 4 hours per sanitation cycle, the organization was able to realize $400,000 reduction in waste-related costs.

Improve Overall Efficiency: Over the course of several months, we partnered with a large dairy producer to explore how automating a manual EMP process could help drive increased efficiencies, reduce pathogen positives, and ultimately, improve the bottom line (see figure below).


Neogen Test Results Chart


Over time, the analysis gained from automated data gathering enabled new sanitation procedures to implemented, leading to significant efficiency gains:

  • A new baseline of testing volume, test types and correlated sanitation procedures were refined and implemented.
  • A revamped remediation program yielded new corrective action steps that have been proven through the study’s data to be more effective.
  • The FSQA team gained back 25% of their time by eliminating the need for manual reporting, analysis, and spreadsheet-based data preparation.
  • The organization improved corrective action completion time by 50%.

What are the resources and time required for the transition to a digitally automated program?

David: There can be a high degree of ‘fear of change’ involved in any digital transformation initiative. This is not unfounded fear, as horror stories abound regarding large enterprise system implementations and the havoc they can cause. The main consideration in avoiding these outcomes is to ensure the initiative has leadership buy-in and support. This is why the answers to the first two questions above are so important. The path to gaining leadership buy-in is through the ability to connect food safety digitization and automation to tangible business results. If a successful business case can be made utilizing the concepts described above, then the battle for assigning resources and the appropriate implementation timeframes can be achieved.

I started working with food safety teams in 2018, when the existence of food safety testing automation was still at a relatively low adoption rate. In the intervening six years, as adoption has increased, the complexity and timeframes of implementation have decreased significantly. This remains a key area of concern, however, as organizations are struggling to keep up with ongoing staffing shortages and resulting resource constraints. There are two key areas where a digital solution provider must be challenged to prove their ability to support your digital transformation:

  1. Proof of delivery: Due to the relatively recent emergence of digital food safety testing platforms, we have not yet reached a state of maturity where tens of thousands of implementations have defined a standard of known implementation and adoption processes to exist. Therefore, it is critical that you find and work with a provider who will deliver a fully functioning trial of their system, preferably free of charge, for a significant amount of time. This will enable you and your team to experience the full range of capabilities offered, including the onboarding and training program, the length of time it takes, the level of technical acumen your team will be expected to have, and the overall delivery of the benefits described above.
  2. Focus on requirements: Commonly, digital solutions are designed to work within fairly rigid processes and workflows as designed into the system. If you’re lucky, you may find a solution that aligns to your own existing workflows, but all too often, the largest stumbling block is the realization that your new system is not just a digital transformation but also requires a full business process reengineering project in order to conform to the way the software works. Challenge your providers to demonstrate how their solution is flexible enough to enable your team to reduce any process changes to the lowest degree possible. While some new processes will always be inevitable (and potentially helpful!), it should be the hallmark of any provider’s customer support/success team to understand your requirements and configure their solution to enable them without too much drastic change.

To learn more about how digitizing food safety programs can impact business ROI, download our EMP ROI white paper today.

Neogen Analytics

Visit Neogen to learn about digitized food safety

 

 

Produce Traceability: 4 Steps to Get Started

By Samantha Humphrey
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With the effective date for updated traceability recordkeeping approaching in January 2026, traceability is a top priority for most organizations working in the food industry. Produce companies are especially impacted by traceability requirements as the first step in the food supply chain.

On November 21, 2022, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) published the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) Final Rule: Requirements for Additional Traceability Records for Certain Foods (Food Traceability Rule). With the effective date for updated recordkeeping approaching in January 2026, traceability is a top priority for most organizations working in the food industry. Produce companies are especially impacted by traceability requirements as the first step in the food supply chain.

Most produce companies are no strangers to the importance of traceability. In fact, the Produce Traceability Initiative (PTI) was created over 15 years ago as a voluntary, industry-wide effort designed to help the industry maximize the effectiveness of current track and trace procedures, while developing a standardized industry approach to enhance the speed and efficiency of traceability systems for the future. The PTI has set dozens of companies throughout North America—ranging from small farms to international retailers—on the path to enhanced traceability and compliance with the FDA’s Food Traceability Rule.[i]

The following steps can help any produce company, whether it currently follows the PTI or not, prepare to meet FDA’s traceability requirements:

  1. Understand the Food Traceability Rule.

While the FDA has had traceability requirements in the past, the FSMA Food Traceability Rule is intended to enhance traceability recordkeeping for certain identified foods beyond a limited “one step forward, one step back” traceback approach. The objective of the Rule is to help the FDA rapidly and effectively identify recipients of those foods to prevent or mitigate foodborne illness outbreaks and address credible threats of serious adverse health consequences or death.[ii]

In comparing the FSMA Rule to the PTI, a recent PTI press release states that the requirements of the PTI for case-level traceability are aligned with the Final Rule and cover approximately 90-95% of the requirements, with major differences stemming from the Traceability Lot Code Source and Traceability Lot Code Source Reference.[iii]

The key elements of the FDA Rule are built into several acronyms:

  • FTL (Food Traceability List): This list identifies the categories of high-risk foods that require additional traceability records under the Food Traceability Rule. The FTL currently comprises the following produce commodities: cucumbers, fresh herbs, leafy greens, melons, peppers, sprouts, tomatoes, tropical tree fruits, and fresh cut fruits and vegetables. Other non-produce foods on the FTL include cheeses, shell eggs, nut butter, finfish, crustaceans, mollusks/bivalves, and ready-to-eat (RTE) deli salads.
  • TLC (Traceability Lot Code): This descriptor, often containing a combination of letters and numbers, is used as a unique identifier for product as it moves through the supply chain. The TLC is to be established by entities that originate, transform, or create food on the FTL. Once a food has been assigned a TLC, the TLC must be included in traceability program records collected at each Critical Tracking Event (CTE) and as a part of all Key Data Elements (KDEs) (see below). The TLC remains the same throughout the supply chain unless a transformation of the food occurs. The objective is to create linkages throughout the supply chain to help the FDA address key points in the supply chain more quickly in the event of an outbreak.
  • CTE (Critical Tracking Event): CTEs are the events in the food supply chain that require additional recordkeeping. These include harvesting, cooling before initial packing, packing, transforming, shipping, and receiving. At each CTE, the responsible entity must record the TLC.
  • KDE (Key Data Element): KDEs comprise the information associated with a CTE for which a record, including a TLC, must be maintained. Examples of KDEs include location description of the food being harvested; name of the field or growing area where the produce was harvested; date of harvest; quantity and unit of measure of the produce; date when the produce went from harvest, to cooling, to packing, to shipping, etc.
  1. Interpret the Rule and Determine its Applicability.

To determine the Rule’s applicability, it is important to first take an inventory of your operations and products:

  • Do you grow cucumbers, herbs, leafy greens, melons, peppers, sprouts, tomatoes, or tropical tree fruits?
  • Do you process fresh cut fruits, leafy greens, or vegetables other than leafy greens?
  • Do you manufacture a product that contains any of the foods listed above?

If the Rule applies (i.e., you answered yes to any of the three questions above), you must:

  • Maintain specific data records (i.e., KDEs) for at least two years.
  • Keep records of all CTEs.
  • Maintain an approved, updated Traceability Plan.
  • Ensure all data is easily accessible so it can be provided to the FDA within 24 hours of a request.

Note that there are a few nuanced exemptions that apply to farms, as noted on this FDA flow chart.[iv]

  1. Perform a Gap Assessment.

Most produce companies are likely capturing at least some of the information needed to comply with the Food Traceability Rule, particularly if they already implement the PTI requirements. Conducting a gap assessment will help identify missing elements that may be required for compliance with FDA’s Rule. The following questions can help guide this assessment:

  • Does your organization already capture data that may be considered a KDE? For example, do you apply lot codes to your products? Do you collect location information about where your product is harvested (e.g., farm site A, field 7)? Determine if there is any specific information or data points you are missing and how you can gather that data.
  • Do you have a sufficient Traceability Plan? Does it cover all the elements required in the Food Traceability Rule?
  • Are there upgrades you need to make to your recordkeeping system to solve your data collection pain points? Having a good document/records management system is essential for maintaining and sharing the data required by the Food Traceability Rule.
  • What collaborative activities can you and your suppliers/buyers perform to ensure that data is shared efficiently and encourage compliance?
  1. Create a Plan of Implementation.

The gap assessment will identify elements that you need to implement to help ensure compliance. Use that information to create a game plan, working backwards from the Rule’s January 20, 2026 effective date. Doing so now affords time to test solutions, see how they work in practice, problem solve, and find the right solutions for your organization.

At a minimum the implementation plan must include two key elements that will be vital for compliance:

  • Traceability Plan. Every organization must develop a new (or update an existing) Traceability Plan for collecting the KDEs that are required by the Rule, as outlined in the CFR[v] (see also the FDA example of a Traceability Plan for Farms[vi]). The Traceability Plan must be updated annually, and old plans must be maintained for at least two years. The Traceability Plan must include:
    • Description of the procedures used to maintain required records, as well as how to format and where to store those records.
    • Description of how TLCs are assigned.
    • Assignment of and contact information for a point person who can answer questions about the Traceability Plan and/or traceability records.
    • Map identifying the farms where FTL produce is grown.
  • Document/Records Management System. Produce companies who manufacture, process, pack, or hold foods on the FTL will need to implement a document/records management system to fulfill the Food Traceability Rule’s recordkeeping requirements. While hard copies in binders can work, an electronic document management system can create efficiencies and standardization, reduce human error, and improve accessibility when managing vast amounts of data.

As produce companies work through this process, it is important to remember the objective of the Food Traceability Rule. Ultimately, the Rule will allow the food industry to quickly remove potentially harmful foods from the supply chain and make the entire recall process more efficient. Even if the FTL list does not apply to all your products, your customers may still require that all produce they purchase meet the same requirements as foods listed on the FTL. Creating this end-to-end traceability will save time, money, and most importantly, human lives.

[i] Produce Traceability Initiative. The Produce Traceability Initiative: Working to achieve standardized, electronic (computerized) traceability across the supply chain. September 2011. https://producetraceability.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/PTI-Flyer_FNL_v2-2011-10-20.pdf.

[ii] Food and Drug Administration. What you need to know about the Food Traceability Rule: Recordkeeping Information for Produce Farms. June 2023. https://www.fda.gov/media/169510/download.

[iii] The Produce Traceability Initiative. Produce Traceability Initiative (PTI) Releases FSMA 204 Implementation Guidance. February 13, 2024. https://producetraceability.org/produce-traceability-initiative-pti-releases-fsma-204-implementation-guidance/.

[iv] Food and Drug Administration. Exemptions to the Food Traceability Rule. https://collaboration.fda.gov/tefcv13/.

[v] National Archives and Records Administration. CFR Title 21, Chapter I, Subchapter A, Part 1, Subpart S, Traceability Plan. May 21, 2024. https://www.ecfr.gov/current/title-21/chapter-I/subchapter-A/part-1/subpart-S/subject-group-ECFRe6c9096adb572d4.

[vi] Food and Drug Administration. Traceability Plan Example for Farms (§1.1315). November 2023. https://www.fda.gov/media/174057/download?attachment.

Ainsley Lawrence
Allergen Alley

Food Allergen Management in Manufacturing: Best Practices and Regulatory Compliance

By Ainsley Lawrence
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Ainsley Lawrence

Minimizing the risk of contamination is a must if you work in food manufacturing. Accidentally including allergens in your products can cause harm to consumers, undermine your brand image, and lead to hefty lawsuits.

Even major food industry brands like McDonald’s fall foul of food safety laws from time to time. Recently, a man with a dairy allergy was allegedly served cheese in his Big Mac1, resulting in anaphylactic shock. This caused a large lawsuit and could damage the global food giant’s reputation.

You can take steps to stay in line with regulations and best practices by training your staff and implementing proper procedures. This will reduce the risk of human error and help you produce food that is both tasty and safe for consumers.

Food Safety Modernization Act

Most people think of food contamination as a thing of the past. However, 1 in 6 Americans2 fell ill due to foodborne diseases last year. This led to 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths. The FDA’s Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) seeks to end this issue by bringing food manufacturing standards into the modern age. This means you may need to revise your approach to manufacturing to stay on the right side of changing guidelines. At its core, the FSMA includes:

  • Preventive Controls for Human Foods: Since 2015, food manufacturers have been required to produce a food safety plan. This plan should include key details like potential hazards and risk-mitigation strategies that are currently in place.
  • Third-Party Accreditation: Receiving a third-party authentication can keep you up to date with changing guidelines. Similarly, only working with suppliers who have been verified via third parties who work to ISO/IEC standards ensures that allergens don’t enter your facility from suppliers.
  • Preventing Intentional Adulteration: No employer wants to believe that their employees would intentionally harm consumers — but it does happen. The FSMA ruling against intentional adulteration means that you can seek support from the intelligence community if you suspect that a stakeholder is intentionally contaminating your supply.

These FSMA regulations aren’t exhaustive and should be seen as the bare minimum. You’ll still need to take proactive steps to improve communication on the food plant floor3 and should implement policies like proper labeling to keep contaminants and allergens separated.

Proper Labeling

If you’re producing food for public consumption, you must properly label your food. Failing to declare that allergens may enter a certain product will land you in legal trouble and will put consumers at risk. Rather than risking an allergic reaction, follow FDA labeling guidelines4 which include:

  • Clearly labeling the eight major allergens (milk, eggs, fish, Crustacean shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat, and soybeans).
  • Including the source name of foods (for example, the source name of whey is milk, meaning your label should include “whey (milk)”).
  • Provide advisory statements like “may contain [allergen]” and “produced in a facility that also uses [allergen].”
  • Conduct regular testing and monitoring of products and processes to ensure that allergens have not entered the batch.

Taking these steps minimizes the risk of labeling errors and protects consumers. This is particularly important if you want to produce a product that is specifically allergen-free (for example, gluten-free or dairy-free). Failing to declare ingredients properly puts consumers at risk and will land you in hot legal water.

Segregating Allergens

Managing potential allergens is crucial if you work in a food manufacturing plant that produces multiple products. Failing to properly segregate allergens undermines your labeling system and increases the risk of cross-contamination between workstations.

You can minimize the risk of allergens entering the system by using simulations to improve business processes5. Virtual simulations are capable of generating scenarios that you may not have thought of but are likely to occur. You can also use constructive simulations to visualize what might happen should an allergen make its way into the supply. This is particularly important when onboarding new employees who may not understand the risk that allergens present to the food production process.

You can also use emerging technology to improve production6 and reduce the risk of contamination. For example, as your firm grows, you may want to invest in AI and advanced robotics. Robotics can react quickly to changing demand and are less likely to inadvertently spread allergens throughout your supply. This is particularly important when carrying out repetitive tasks, like filling pre-packaged sandwiches or seasoning foods. Automated robots can take care of these mundane tasks, leaving human workers to focus on more creative tasks.

Some food manufacturers, like Walmart, are also using blockchain technology to trace and track contamination. This can improve your crisis management plan7 and bolster operational resilience. Your crisis management team leader can tap into tech to improve communications and simulate potential breaches. This will help you practice your crisis management plan and will ensure that you’re able to pinpoint errors to learn from in the future.

Sanitary food handling

Sanitation Procedures

Regularly sanitizing your workspace is crucial if you want to produce clean, allergen-free goods. This applies to your people, too, who may inadvertently bring allergens in with them when they arrive at work or move between stations.

However, you can’t expect regular handwashing to be enough. Instead, embrace the digital revolution and use data8 to clean up your production line. This will improve reporting and ensure that compliance guidelines are followed at all times. For example, if you suspect that your employees are not washing their hands thoroughly enough, you can use digital products to track employee handwashing and time folks while they apply hot, soapy water.

Digital tracking can also alert you to potentially unclean workstations. For example, if you work in a bakery and typically produce most of your dough before dawn, a digital program can track the contaminants that have entered the workspace in order to produce your bread or baked goods. This will alert you to potential allergen risks and ensure that any workstation that has used an ingredient like gluten is properly sanitized in a timely fashion.

Staff Training

Properly training your employees is key to minimizing contamination risk and staying on the right side of regulatory compliance laws. A proper approach to training will empower employees and help them understand the potential risks involved with food manufacturing.

However, proper training doesn’t mean that you should force your workers to sit through hours of PowerPoint. Instead, train smarter, not harder9 by conducting training that is:

  • Legitimate. Before asking folks to engage in further training, ask yourself whether or not you are qualified to speak on the subject. If not, consider bringing in a speaker who is well-respected in the food safety industry.
  • Authentic. Build a culture of trust and engagement at your workplace by working with speakers and programs that are accredited and up to date with compliance law. This will convince folks that your speakers are worth listening to and that your training programs are worth completing.
  • Engaging. Don’t force your employees to sit through lengthy seminars without an opportunity to engage. Instead, encourage participation by creating engaging training programs that help folks learn skills as they go.
  • Simplistic. Food safety can be complex. Cut through this complexity by giving folks simple, actionable steps to take. This will minimize the risk of folks forgetting your policies and will empower employees who want to improve safety at work.

These training principles are well-established in the food production and safety world. Even simple changes, like including a quiz or mock preparation test, will pique people’s interest and ensure that employees are engaged when receiving training. If you fail to run engaging, intelligent training, you put yourself at greater risk of contamination during production.

Conclusion

Following FDA guidelines should keep your consumers safe by minimizing the risk of an allergen entering your workspace. However, you’ll need to go above and beyond minimum requirements if you want to completely eliminate the risk of contamination. Get the ball rolling by embracing the digital revolution and using automation or robotics to handle more mundane tasks. This empowers employees and reduces the risk of human errors during production.

References:

  1. https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/man-dairy-allergy-sues-mcdonalds-alleging-cheese-big-mac-caused-anaphy-rcna137252
  2. https://www.fda.gov/food/guidance-regulation-food-and-dietary-supplements/food-safety-modernization-act-fsma
  3. https://foodsafetytech.com/column/improving-communication-on-the-food-plant-floor/
  4. https://www.fda.gov/food/food-labeling-nutrition/food-allergies
  5. https://www.lucidchart.com/blog/business-process-simulation
  6. https://foodsafetytech.com/column/four-influential-technologies-changing-food-manufacturing/
  7. https://riskonnect.com/business-continuity-resilience/crisis-management-plan-create/
  8. https://foodsafetytech.com/column/managing-food-safety-testing-and-sanitation-data-should-be-easier/
  9. https://foodsafetytech.com/feature_article/train-smarter-not-harder-utilizing-effective-training-to-empower-employees/
Sayed M Naim Khalid

Understanding the Costs of Unsafe Food

By Sayed M Naim Khalid
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Sayed M Naim Khalid

Food is essential for human life, but ironically, it can also be a source of harm. Unsafe food, contaminated with pathogens or chemical hazards, is estimated to cause millions of illnesses and thousands of deaths globally each year. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 1 in 10 people get sick because of contaminated food and 420,000 people die due to foodborne illnesses every year around the world (WHO, Food Safety, 2022). However, the impact of unsafe food extends far beyond individual health, creating a significant financial burden on individuals, healthcare systems, and national economies.

Food safety is a critical issue that impacts both public health and the economy, especially in areas where there is not enough food, no clean water, open defecation, poor hygiene, lack of electricity and lack of cooling system, weak food safety education and loose regulatory systems. In addition to its impact on public health, food safety also affects economies, resulting in the cost of recalls, lost businesses, damaged reputations, lost lives, and lost working hours. Here, we explore the challenges that countries face in ensuring safe food and its economic impacts and the potential solutions to these challenges.

Financial Impact of Unsafe Food

The financial cost of unsafe food encompasses various direct and indirect expenses. These costs arise from both the immediate impacts of foodborne illnesses and the long-term consequences on public health, productivity, and economic well-being. Here are some key components of the financial cost of unsafe food:

Healthcare Costs:

    • Treatment Expenses: Individuals affected by foodborne illnesses often require medical attention, leading to costs associated with hospitalization, medication, doctor visits, and diagnostic tests.
    • Emergency Response: Public health agencies and emergency services may incur significant expenses in responding to outbreaks, conducting investigations, and implementing control measures.

Product Recalls and Market Loss:

    • Recall Costs: When contaminated or unsafe food products are identified, manufacturers may have to recall the products from the market. The costs associated with the retrieval, disposal, and destruction of the affected products can be substantial.
    • Market Loss: Companies may suffer financial losses due to the damage to their reputation and the decline in consumer trust, leading to reduced sales and market share.

Workforce Productivity Loss:

    • Absenteeism: Foodborne illnesses can lead to increased absenteeism in the workforce as employees may need time off to recover or seek medical treatment.
    • Reduced Productivity: Even employees who are present at work may experience reduced productivity due to illness-related fatigue and discomfort.

Government and Regulatory Costs:

    • Inspection and Enforcement: Governments invest resources in inspecting food production facilities, enforcing regulations, and monitoring compliance with food safety standards.
    • Legal Proceedings: Legal actions, such as lawsuits against companies responsible for unsafe food, can result in additional costs for both businesses and the legal system.

Insurance Costs:

    • Liability Insurance: Businesses in the food industry may face increased premiums for liability insurance to cover potential legal claims resulting from foodborne illnesses.
    • Product Recall Insurance: Companies may also invest in product recall insurance to mitigate the financial impact of recalling unsafe products.

Loss of Trade and Tourism:

    • International Trade: Countries exporting food products may face trade restrictions and bans if their products are associated with safety concerns, resulting in economic losses.
    • Tourism: Foodborne illness outbreaks can negatively impact the tourism industry if destinations are perceived as unsafe.

Long-term Health Costs:

    • Chronic Health Conditions: Some foodborne illnesses can lead to chronic health conditions, imposing ongoing healthcare costs and reducing individuals’ long-term productivity.

Nurse with syringe

The most immediate financial impact of unsafe food is incurred through direct medical expenses associated with treating foodborne illnesses. These costs encompass doctor visits, hospital stays, medications, and laboratory tests. A 2018 World Bank study estimated that foodborne illnesses cost low- and middle-income countries around $110 billion annually in medical expenses alone. In the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates the annual cost of foodborne illnesses at $78 billion, with hospitalizations accounting for a significant portion.

Recalls can result in significant financial losses for food producers and retailers. For example, in 2006, a spinach contaminated with E. coli recall cost the industry $350 million (Kudashkina, Corradini, Thirunathan, Yada, & Fraser, 2022). In developing countries, where food safety regulations may be weak or nonexistent, the cost of recalls can be even higher, as the risk of contamination and outbreaks is greater.

Indirect costs include lost business and damaged reputations. In 2017, a listeria outbreak in South Africa linked to processed meat products resulted in the closure of several food processing plants, leading to job losses and economic damage to the industry and the deaths of 216 people (Tchatchouang, et al., 2020). Similarly, in 2011, an E. coli outbreak linked to sprouts in Germany led to a significant decline in demand for sprouts across Europe, resulting in lost revenue for farmers and producers (Buchholz, Bernard, Werber, Böhmer, & Remschmidt, 2011).

Beyond direct medical expenses, unsafe food leads to significant indirect costs for the consumer through lost productivity. Individuals suffering from foodborne illnesses miss work or school, leading to lost wages and reduced economic output. Additionally, families may incur childcare costs or lost productivity due to caring for sick individuals. The CDC estimates that lost productivity due to foodborne illnesses costs the U.S. economy around $55 billion annually.

Disproportionate Burden on Vulnerable Populations

It is crucial to recognize that the financial burden of unsafe food is not evenly distributed. Low- and middle-income countries are disproportionately affected due to limited access to clean water, sanitation, and robust food safety regulations. Children, pregnant women, and the elderly are also more vulnerable to foodborne illnesses due to weaker immune systems. This unequal impact exacerbates existing inequalities and hinders economic development in vulnerable communities.

Challenges for Developing Countries

One of the most significant challenges in developing countries is the lack of access to clean water. According to WHO, in 2020 only 74% the global population had safe water (Bhagwat, 2019; WHO, Drinking Water, 2022), which is essential for maintaining proper hygiene and preventing the spread of foodborne illnesses (Marino, 2007). In many countries, access to clean water is limited and this accounts for around 282 million people, and around 368 million people may be forced to rely on contaminated or unprotected water sources, such as rivers or wells (WHO, Drinking Water, 2022). This can lead to the contamination of food products, as people may use contaminated water to irrigate crops, wash fruits and vegetables, or clean utensils.

Water faucets

Another challenge is the lack of access to electricity and cooling systems (Vipham, Chaves, & Trinetta, 2018), which makes it difficult to store and preserve food products. In many developing countries, electricity is not available in rural areas, and people may not have access to refrigeration or other cooling systems. This can lead to the spoilage of food products, which can cause foodborne illnesses (CDC, 2022) and result in economic losses for consumers, farmers and producers because food that requires refrigeration or freezing has to be thrown away after four hours if not kept at the recommended temperature (USDA, 2021).

Poor food safety education and regulatory systems are also significant challenges in various countries (Medeiros, Hillers, Kendall, & Mason, 2001). Many people in these countries may not be aware of the risks associated with consuming contaminated food or how to prevent foodborne illnesses. Additionally, regulatory systems may be weak or nonexistent, and food products may not be adequately monitored or tested for contaminants or pathogens. In addition, regulatory system costs cannot be prioritized over other pressing issues in many countries. The cost of food safety regulation can be between 4% and 20% per half kg of food (Ollinger & Moore, 2009).

In addition to the financial costs, food safety issues in developing countries can also result in lost lives and lost working hours. Based on WHO’s estimate globally there is $110 billion losses due in lost working hours and medical cost. Foodborne illnesses can cause severe illness and death, especially in vulnerable populations such as children and the elderly. Children carry 40% of the death burden from unsafe food (WHO, Food Safety, 2022).

Overcoming The Challenges

To address these challenges, a comprehensive integrated approach is needed that involves government, industry, and consumers. One potential solution is to improve access to clean water in rural areas. Governments can invest in water treatment facilities, establish regulations for the use of water sources in agriculture, and provide education and awareness campaigns on the importance of clean water for food safety.

Another potential solution is to promote the use of alternative cooling systems in areas where electricity is not available. This can include the use of solar-powered refrigerators or evaporative coolers, which can help to preserve food products and prevent spoilage. Governments and NGOs can also provide education and training on proper food storage and preservation techniques, such as canning or drying, to reduce food waste and improve food safety.

Solar panels

Another potential solution is to invest in food safety education and awareness campaigns. Governments, industry, and NGOs can work together to develop and implement educational programs on food safety such as proper handwashing, cooking, and storage techniques, and avoiding cross-contamination. These programs can be targeted at schools, community groups, and the general public to promote safe food practices and raise awareness of the risks associated with consuming contaminated food, and the importance of reporting illnesses to health authorities.

Another potential solution is to strengthen food safety regulations and monitoring systems in developing countries. Governments can establish and enforce regulations for food safety, including requirements for testing and monitoring of food products. They can also establish regulatory bodies responsible for overseeing the safety of the food supply, and provide training and resources to ensure that food producers and retailers comply with safety standards.

Finally, the promotion of sustainable agriculture practices can also contribute to food safety in developing countries. The use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides in agriculture can contaminate food products and harm human health. Governments can promote the use of sustainable agriculture practices, such as organic farming, which reduces the use of harmful chemicals and promotes the use of natural fertilizers and pest control methods.

This review provides a broad overview of the financial cost of unsafe food. Further research is needed to:

  • Refine cost estimates to better understand the true economic burden of unsafe food in different regions and demographics.
  • Evaluate the cost-effectiveness of different prevention and intervention strategies.
  • Develop innovative financing mechanisms to support improved food safety measures in low- and middle-income countries.
  • Investigate the link between unsafe food and malnutrition, considering the broader economic and social costs.

Unsafe food poses a significant and multifaceted financial burden on individuals, healthcare systems, and national economies. While the direct costs associated with medical treatment are substantial, the indirect costs of lost productivity and broader economic consequences create an even greater financial strain. By recognizing the disproportionate impact on vulnerable populations, continuing research and implementing proactive measures, we can build a safer, more sustainable, and economically sound food system for everyone.

References:

Bhagwat, V. (2019). Safety of Water Used in Food Production. doi:10.1016/B978-0-12-816333-7.00009-6

Buchholz, U., Bernard, H., Werber, D., Böhmer, M., & Remschmidt, C. (2011). German Outbreak of Escherichia coli O104:H4 Associated with Sprouts. New England Journal of Medicine, 365, 1763-1770.

CDC. (2022, October 27). Food Safety for Power Outages. Retrieved March 3, 2023, from https://www.cdc.gov/foodsafety/food-safety-during-a-power-outage.html#:~:text=Never%20taste%20food%20to%20determine,odor%2C%20color%2C%20or%20texture.

Kudashkina, K., Corradini, M., Thirunathan, P., Yada, R., & Fraser, E. (2022). Artificial Intelligence technology in food safety: A behavioral approach. Trends in Food Science & Technology, 123, 376-381.

Marino, D. (2007). Water and Food Safety in the Developing World: Global Implications for Health and Nutrition of Infants and Young Children. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietitics, 107(11), 1930-1934.

Medeiros, L., Hillers, V., Kendall, P., & Mason, A. (2001). Food safety education: what should we be teaching to consumers? Journal of Nutrition Education, 33(2), 108-103. doi:10.1016/s1499-4046(06)60174-7

Ollinger, M., & Moore, D. (2009). The Direct and Indirect Costs of Food-Safety Regulation. Review of Agricultural Economics, 31(2), 247-265.

Tchatchouang, C.-D., Fri, J., Santi, M., Brandi, G., Schiavano, G., Amagliani, G., & Ateba, C. (2020). Listeriosis Outbreak in South Africa: A Comparative Analysis with Previously Reported Cases Worldwide. Microorganisms, 8(1), 18.

USDA. (2021, August 18). Avoid Foodborne Illness During Temporary Power Outages. Retrieved March 3, 2023, from https://www.usda.gov/media/blog/2021/08/18/avoid-foodborne-illness-during-temporary-power-outages

Vipham, J., Chaves, B., & Trinetta, V. (2018). Mind the gaps: how can food safety gaps be addressed in developing nations? Animal Frontiers, 8(4), 16–25.

WHO. (2022, March 21). Drinking Water. Retrieved March 3, 2023, from https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/drinking-water

WHO. (2022). Food Safety. Geneva: World Health Organization.