Cantaloupe

Adapted QRA Model with Epidemic Curve Enhances Root Cause Analysis

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Cantaloupe

A new Quantitative Risk Analysis (QRA) model using epidemic curve (EC) prediction (QRA-EC) could become a valuable new tool in root cause analyses of foodborne illness outbreaks. Researchers with the FDA Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition developed a QRA-EC model and evaluated it in a case study of a 2019 multistate Salmonella outbreak linked to melons. The study was published in Risk Analysis.

Amir Mokhtari, et al, modified the traditional QRA model to track illness timing (epidemic curves). They then compared the predicted number of illnesses and timing of illnesses identified by their model—the FDA-Melon QRA-EC—with the 2019 Salmonella melon outbreak epidemic curve.

The authors explain that QRA models are traditionally used to predict the number of illnesses associated with given food-pathogen pairs and to simulate previous foodborne illness outbreaks by comparing model estimates with observed outbreak size. The QRA-EC model extends that framework to include prediction on the timeline of illnesses associated with consumption of contaminated food products.

“This additional feature yields two-dimensional risk predictions that provide investigators with a more nuanced quantitative evaluation of potential/hypothesized illness outbreak root cause, as the shape and/or span of epidemic curves can give clues about potential sources and/or patterns of spread for an outbreak,” the authors wrote.

They found that contamination niches on the equipment were the most likely cause of the 2019 outbreak, as illnesses were linked to one processor of fresh-cut melons, while the contaminated melons (linked back to one supplier) had been sent to several processing facilities.

“Compared to the efficiency of whole melon washing, proper sanitation of contamination niches had a more pronounced impact on the predicted epidemic curves,” the authors wrote. Furthermore, the model and case study found that risk was greater when food was exposed to contamination niches on the assembly line versus in scrubbers and bins, likely due to the larger surface area of the assembly line and the potential for several contamination niches along the line.

“Using an Agent-Based Modeling approach, FDA Melon QRA-EC explicitly tracked the temporal and spatial movement of contaminated melons throughout the supply chain, which allowed us to predict both the total number and timeline of illnesses for various scenarios, which enabled us to identify conditions that can lead to an outbreak of certain magnitude and with a certain span of the epidemic curve,” the authors concluded.

While this particular model was developed specifically for Salmonella outbreaks linked to melons, the authors note that their model can be adapted for other food-pathogen pairings.

 

 

Listeria

Listeria Outbreak Response: Actions To Take Now

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Listeria

The CDC is currently investigating two Listeria monocytogenes outbreaks. An outbreak linked to deli meats and cheeses has led to 16 illnesses, 13 hospitalizations and one death. A multistate outbreak related to Brie and Camembert soft cheese products announced in September had led to six illnesses and five hospitalizations to date and a widespread product recall.

The CDC notes that it is difficult for investigators to identify a single food as the source of outbreaks linked to deli meats and cheeses, because Listeria spreads easily between food and the deli environment and can persist for a long time in deli display cases and on equipment.

We spoke with Chip Manuel, Ph.D., Food Safety Science Advisor at GOJO about steps retail food establishments should be taking now to reduce the risk of Listeria contamination in their facilities.

With the multi-state Listeria outbreak happening in delis, what should retail delis and deli departments be doing to reduce the potential spread of Listeria until a specific food is identified?

Manuel: Since Listeria is a hardy bacteria that thrives in many food products and conditions, it’s vital that food retailers and operators not only understand the conditions in which Listeria can persist but also ensure that conditions are kept which help to minimize its growth. These best practices include ensuring that proper hot/cold temperatures for holding food are maintained; cleaning and sanitizing refrigerators, display cases and frequently used kitchen equipment (especially deli slicers!); and maintaining the sanitary conditions of your establishment.

Listeria can be found in various nooks and crannies throughout a facility, including those hard-to-reach equipment parts, such as blades, cart wheels, and even grease catches and drains. Lack of frequent sanitation of these locations can increase the risk of Listeria cross-contaminating food contact surfaces in these settings. Therefore, it is vital to:

  • Evaluate the conditions of your facility, equipment and tools. Are there issues with standing water or cracked tiles? These are notorious for harboring Listeria biofilms and need to be replaced and repaired. Similarly, are your cleaning tools in good condition without cracks? If not, consider replacing these. Research has shown that cleaning tools in poor condition, especially squeegees, can become a source of contamination.
  • Ensure your sanitation program is up to speed. First, ensure you are choosing products that are effective against Listeria. Make sure you give your employees the time needed to clean and sanitize equipment effectively, especially larger pieces of equipment such as deli slicers. Make sure they have the tools and knowledge required to clean and sanitize these pieces of equipment, including specifically in nooks and crannies where Listeria can hide.
  • Ensure that deli slicers are maintained properly. Repair and/or replace any components of slicers that are in disrepair, as these can become harborage sites for Listeria. Ensure deli slicers are completely broken down for cleaning and sanitization as required by the local regulatory authority (usually every four hours for deli slicers operating at room temperature).
  • Minimize the use of high-pressure hoses within a deli environment. Research has shown these tools can spread Listeria throughout a facility (for example, if sprayed directly into a contaminated drain).
  • Check that display, storage and refrigerator or cooler cases are set to an internal temperature of 41˚F or lower while ensuring adequate airflow.
  • Ensure raw and ready-to-eat products are stored in separate areas. RTE products can become contaminated if stored under raw products (due to dripping, etc.)

Looking at the soft cheese outbreak, what can retail food environments do to reduce the risk of distributing contaminated product to consumers and identify and respond to potential Listeria contamination in these higher-risk cheese products?

Having a supplier verification program and managing incoming ingredients with approved suppliers and approved sources is critical—particularly for soft cheeses which are at higher risk for contamination. Purchase solely from approved sources with food safety programs in place. Ensure that food safety is always part of your supplier specifications and requirements, and work with your suppliers to understand their pathogen prevention and environmental programs. If possible, visit their facilities to get a sense for how well their food safety program is operating.

Additional resources:

Women in Food Safety

Highlights from the 2022 Food Safety Consortium

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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The 10th Annual Food Safety Consortium took place in Parsippany, New Jersey, on October 19-21. The event attracted food safety and quality assurance professionals from around the globe to discuss some of the biggest challenges in food safety.

Keynote speaker Denise Eblen, PhD, of the USDA FSIS opened the Consortium on October 19 to share the science and data behind the agency’s recently proposed Salmonella framework.

Denise Eblen
Keynote speaker Denise Eblen, Ph.D., of the USDA FSIS, presents “Leading with Science at FSIS.”

Day one of the conference focused on the future of food safety and food safety culture with panel discussions moderated by Dr. Darin Detwiler of Northeastern University and Deb Coviello, founder of The Drop In CEO.
Day two included panel sessions covering technology, food defense, reformulation challenges and more, followed by a networking cocktail reception with Women in Food Safety and The Foundation FSSC.

Session Highlights

Digital Transformation of Food Safety & Quality 4.0: Data Analytics and Continuous Improvement, moderated by Jill Hoffman, Senior Director, Food Safety and Quality, B&G Foods

Shawn Stevens, Attorney with the Food Industry Counsel, Jorge Hernandez, VP, Quality Assurance, The Wendy’s Company, and Elise Forward, Founder & Principal Consultant, Forward Food Solutions, discussed the Biggest FSQA Challenges, including the evolution of microorganisms, food fraud and adulterated products, workforce shortages and supply chain disruptions.

Shawn, Jorge, Elise
Shawn Stevens, Jorge Hernandez and Elise Forward discuss the Biggest FSQA Challenges at the 2022 Food Safety Consortium.

April Bishop, Senior Director of Food Safety at TreeHouse Foods, Peter Begg, VP of Quality and Food Safety, Hearthside Food Solutions and Melanie Neumann of Matrix Sciences tackled Product Reformulation Challenges and offered a five-step protocol to prepare in advance for potential reformulation:

  1. Write down your top five-selling SKUs
  2. List all ingredients
  3. Identify any single source suppliers
  4. Identify any potential risks, including geopolitical and weather-related to those suppliers
  5. Develop alternates
  6. Ask, “Do I need this ingredient?”

Jason Bashura, Senior Manager, Global Defense Pepsi Co. moderated a panel discussion on CybersecurOTy, Food Defense and Infrastructure Protection, followed by Audits: Blending in-person with Remote, led by Laurel Stoltzner, Corporate QA Manager OSI Industries, and a discussion on FSQA Technology: How Far is Too Far? How to Properly Analyze new FSQA Technology.

The final day of the Consortium brought attendees together to discuss Environmental, Social Governance (ESG), Diversification of the Supply Chain and How to Blend Employee Culture with Food Safety Culture.

Tia Glave and Jill Stuber of Catalyst were the final speakers of the event with a presentation and breakout group discussions designed to help attendees identify their personal, professional and organizational goals and provide the tools to help make those visions a reality.

What People Are Saying

“It was wonderful to reconnect and see so many industry friends in person!”

“I got to listen to some great speakers during the Consortium. Jason Bashura’s spirit and passion were infectious, Let’s make food safer for the world!.”

“So interesting to hear insights from across the food industry and related suppliers, as the landscape continues to evolve post-COVID. The panel discussion on communicating with the C-suite was so on point.”

Scenes from the Food Safety Consortium

     

Melody Ge FSC 2022     

Steve Mandernach    Jill Hoffman

Exhibit Hall FSC 22

About the Food Safety Consortium: ​Organized by Food Safety Tech, the Food Safety Consortium Conference, launched in 2012, is an educational and networking event that has food safety, food integrity and food defense as the foundation of its educational content. With a unique focus on science, technology, best practices and compliance, the “Consortium” features critical thinking topics that have been developed for both industry veterans and knowledgeable newcomers.

 

FSC C-Suite Panel 2022

Communicating to the C-Suite

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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FSC C-Suite Panel 2022

Food safety and quality assurance leaders are competing for a finite number of dollars within their respective organizations. Securing support or funding for new equipment, training or personnel can be challenging. Understanding the competing pressures and needs of corporate leaders can help FSQA professionals get their message across and ensure a commitment to food safety.

At the 2022 Food Safety Consortium in October, Deb Coviello, CEO, founder and business advisor at The Drop In CEO, moderated a panel discussion “Communicating to the C-Suite.” Panelists Peter Begg, senior vice president of quality and food safety at Hearthside Food Solutions, Melanie Neumann, JD, executive vice president and general counsel of Matrix Sciences International, and Ann Marie McNamara, vice president of food safety and quality for supply chain, manufacturing and commercialization at U.S. Foods, shared their tips and best practices for getting your message across in the board room.

When approaching the C-suite with updates and asks for financial support, you want to be both confident and concise. “If you can’t explain in five to seven slides what you need and why, you will lose them,” said Begg. “And it is very likely that you yourself do not understand the issue or are unclear of the implications and what the C-suite needs to know.”

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McNamara tries to keep it to one slide and encourages FSQA professionals to: know your audience, stick to the facts, and communicate like an executive by using their terms and focusing on goals and metrics.

“You have to take off your FSQA hat and put on your business hat,” she said. “You can’t just be a technical expert, you need to be a translator and communicate the technical into business terms.”

Equate Risk to Dollar Amounts

If your consumers are at risk due to poor training, difficult-to-clean equipment or other concerns, you need to quickly equate the risk to a dollar amount when communicating with the C-suite. “You can use baseline data to quantify your risks,” said Neumann. For example, if you have a problematic piece equipment, look at the frequency and likelihood of inspection and the potential findings, and share this information as part of your presentation.

She follows a “go back to kindergarten” strategy to help develop a compelling presentation: learn and share the basic math, follow your ABCs by using clear, concise language and “do some show and tell,” said Neumann. In one instance, she brought a joint with multiple weld points from the floor to the board room to illustrate why this particular piece of equipment was so difficult to sanitize and had become a site of contamination. The leadership agreed to replace it.

“You need to be specific, and pick your battles,” said Neumann. “For example, if you need more ‘help,’ what does that look like—do you need more people, more training, a new system?”

Building Your Confidence

Standing in front of a group of executives to fight for your department can be intimidating. If public speaking is not your forte, practice speaking in front of a group. “Share your presentation with your team and ask what questions they would have to get feedback and input,” said McNamara.

Doing regular check-ins with the CFO regarding future resource needs, rather than waiting for a quarterly or annual presentation opportunity, can help you get a headstart on coming asks. In fact, developing relationships with all C-suite leaders is key to keeping food safety needs top of mind. “Introduce yourself to new leaders and understand how they want to be communicated with (i.e., text, email, phone),” said Begg. “Do regular check-ins with leadership and recommend quarterly presentations to keep them up to date.”

While all three panelists encouraged FSQA professionals to avoid getting emotional and focus on the facts as well as dollars and cents, you do want to remind executives of the impact of failure to act on food safety concerns. “Explain the financial risks and speak in terms of the impact to them, ‘What we want everyone in the company to understand is your loved ones are eating this food,’” said Begg.

 

 

 

 

 

Sara Bratager

Traceability and the Need for Global Standards

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Sara Bratager

The FDA will officially implement a new food traceability rule on November 7, 2022. While the new rule requires a detailed account of food’s origin and movements throughout production, processing and shipping, the food industry still lacks international standardized guidelines that factor in countries’ varying health and agricultural priorities. As this continues to be one of the global food system’s biggest challenges, we spoke with Sara Bratager, Food Traceability & Food Safety Scientist at the Institute of Food Technologists, to discuss where the food industry stands currently, and opportunities to establish a global standard that is mutually beneficial (and achievable) for all. 

The FDA is scheduled to finalize new FSMA traceability rule on November 7. What are some of the key changes that food manufacturers and suppliers will need to address with the new rule?

Bratager: The finalized rule will be published in November. Based on the proposed rule, it will go into effect in January 2023 (60 days after publication) and companies will have two years after that to make any adjustments needed to achieve compliance. Entities that produce, process, ship or receive any of the products on the Food Traceability List will need to capture and store the established Key Data Elements (KDEs) at each of the Critical Tracking Events (CTEs) relevant to their operation. The rule will also require companies to provide electronic traceability information to the FDA no more than 24 hours after a request is made, necessitating a significant transition from traditional paper-based traceability systems.

How prepared is the food industry to implement these changes?

Bratager: Preparedness differs throughout the food industry; some industry actors have been preparing since the release of the proposed rule, while others have chosen to forgo significant effort pending finalization of the rule. Some entities may have even engaged in unintentional preparation; companies or commodities that have been the subject of repeated recalls and subsequent traceability initiatives will likely find themselves better prepared than traceability newcomers. The food tech industry is prepared to deliver digital traceability solutions that facilitate compliance among supply chain actors, but implementation is likely to be a challenge for many. Some operations will achieve compliance with minimal disruption, whereas others will face a more burdensome effort.

How will this affect companies working with global suppliers?

Bratager: The proposed rule covers any ingredients or foods on the Food Traceability List that may be sourced from global suppliers. One of the biggest challenges for companies working with global suppliers will be coordination and communication between supply chain partners. Some companies may find themselves responsible for educating their international trading partners on FSMA requirements. However, understanding will not guarantee compliance. Some global suppliers are already reporting traceability data for domestic or other export requirements and will be hesitant to take on the burden of yet another traceability scheme. The increasingly globalized nature of our food system highlights the need for traceability standards that streamline data collection and reporting efforts through the supply chain.

Are there any efforts underway to develop global standards related to food traceability?

Bratager: Several standards exist currently. The International Organization for Standardization’s ISO 22005:2007 details basic requirements for the design and implementation of food/feed traceability systems at an organizational level. GS1, the organization best known for barcodes, provides several foundational standards for the identification, capture and sharing of data; their EPCIS standard that allows disparate applications to create and share traceability event data is particularly relevant.

Food operations are incredibly unique, and widespread standards uptake will likely require a degree of customization, which is why sector or commodity-specific efforts that build upon existing foundational standards are so important. The Global Dialogue on Seafood Traceability (GDST) provides a great example with their GDST 1.1 Standard for interoperable seafood traceability that is built upon GS1 foundations. A second example is the Produce Traceability Initiative (PTI).

How can the industry and regulators move toward developing a global standard for traceability in the food industry?

Bratager: A necessary first step is alignment around the definition of traceability. Regulatory agencies and industry actors across the globe adhere to different definitions but cohesive, global progress will require alignment around a common definition for traceability.

Industry can support the creation and uptake of pre-competitive, commodity-based traceability initiatives that drive adopters toward common practices and data standardization. Interoperability must also be prioritized. Demand for interoperable data sharing will necessitate and incentivize widespread adoption of data standards.

Joseph Carson

Strategies To Identify and Prevent Cyber Attacks

By Joseph Carson
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Joseph Carson

Managing and combating cybercrime is no small feat; it can take over 200 days for companies to detect a cyber breach. The reason being cyber criminals often stay hidden even after gaining access to systems. They lie in wait for the best moment to access the information they want. Once they have it, they may use it to steal money or proprietary information or to collect a ransom. They also may sell access and information to other criminals who will take more aggressive means to exploit the organization.

Preventing cybercrime requires education and cooperation throughout an organization. Following are seven key components of cybersecurity food businesses should embrace to protect their businesses and products.

1.   Education and Awareness

One of the most effective countermeasures to cybercrime is building a culture of cyber defense and awareness that empowers all employees to ask for guidance and speak up when they see a suspicious situation. Educate employees on how they can prevent nefarious activity on their computers by:

  • Identifying suspicious applications with warnings and popups
  • Flagging suspicious emails with hyperlinks, attachments or unknown senders
  • Not clicking on links or ads from unfamiliar sources
  • Verifying the trustworthiness of a site before inputting credentials
  • Limiting activities on unsecured public Wi-Fi networks

This helps employees not only avoid breaches, but identify and report suspicious activity to help prevent cyber attacks.

Training should be top-down, beginning with the executive suite and department heads. This ensures that there is always someone accountable for implementing and maintaining security measures. From there, the rest of the team can be trained to assess and prevent cybersecurity threats and risks.

2.   Implement and Enforce Mobile App Security

Mobile apps on smartphones and tablets are at risk of security breaches that can expose large amounts of user data. All mobile apps have security controls to help developers design secure applications, but it’s up to the developer to choose the right security options.

Common problems with mobile apps may include:

  • Storing or unintentionally leaking data that could be read by other applications
  • Using poor authentication and authorization checks that could be circumvented by bad actors
  • Using data encryption methods that are vulnerable or easy to break
  • Transmitting sensitive data without proper encryption online

A simple app may not seem like a big deal, but they can allow a hacker to gain access to employee computers and networks. The following measures help improve mobile app security:

Guard sensitive information. Confidential data stored in an app without security measures in place are a target for hackers using reverse-engineering codes. The volume of data on the device should be reduced to minimize the risk.

Consider certificate pinning. Certificate pinning is an operating process that helps with app defense against intermediary attacks that occur on unsecured networks. There are limitations to this process, however, such as lack of support for network detection and response tools. Certain browsers make certificate pinning difficult, making it more difficult for hybrid applications to run.

Minimize application permissions. Permissions allow applications to operate more effectively, but they also open vulnerabilities to cyber attacks. Apps should only be given permission for their key functions, and nothing more, to reduce this risk.

Enhance data security. Data security policies and guidelines should be implemented. Measures such as having well-implemented data encryption, security tools and firewalls can protect information that’s being transferred, for example.

Do not “save” passwords. Some applications allow users to save their passwords for convenience, but if a theft occurs, these passwords offer access to a lot of personal information. If the password is unencrypted, it has a better chance of being stolen. Ultimately, users should never save passwords on mobile apps.

Log out after sessions. Users often forget to log out of an app or website, which can increase the risk of a breach. Apps with sensitive information, such as payment or banking apps, often enforce session logouts after a certain period of time, but it’s important for users to also get in the habit of logging out of all apps when they’re finished using them.

Add multi-factor authentication. Multi-factor authentication adds another layer of security for users on an app. This method can also shore up security for users with weak or old passwords that are easy to breach. With multi-factor authentication, the user receives a code that needs to be entered with the password to log in. The code may be sent through email, the Google Authenticator app, SMS or biometric methods.

3.   Analyze Logs for Suspicious Activity

Companies should continuously analyze security logs to identify unusual or suspicious activities, such as logins or application executions that occur outside of usual business hours. These measures not only help identify criminal activities, they can help companies determine the root cause of a breach and how it can be prevented in the future.

4.   Keep Systems Patched and Current

Patches identify and correct vulnerabilities in software and applications that may make them susceptible to cyber attacks. All systems and applications should be kept up to date with the latest security patches to prevent hackers and cyber criminals from accessing systems through existing vulnerabilities. Patching and updates may also fix bugs, add new features or increase stability to help the app or software perform better and reduce access points for hackers.

5.   Use Strong Passwords and Protect Privileged Accounts

Any password used in your organization should be strong and unique to the account. It’s also important for employees to change their passwords often. Most applications do not alert users to older or weak passwords. Accountability for password protection falls on the user.

If employees have multiple accounts and passwords, companies can create an enterprise password and account vault to manage and secure credentials. Encourage employees to avoid using the same password multiple times.

If employees have local administrator accounts or privileged access, that has a huge impact on organizational security. If a single system or user account is compromised, it can put the entire organization at risk. Your company should continuously audit and identify privileged accounts and applications that require privileged access and remove administrator rights when they’re not needed. You should also adopt two-factor authentication to prevent accounts from being hacked.

6.   Do Not Allow Installation of Unapproved or Untrusted Applications

Organizations that allow users to have privileged access also allow these users to install and execute applications as needed, no matter where they source the installation. As a result, ransomware and malware are able to infect your system easily, and the cyber criminal can install tools to permit future access at any time.

Privileged users may read emails, browse sites, click on links or open documents that install malicious tools onto their devices. The criminal now has access and may be able to launch attacks throughout the organization’s system or demand ransom for unlocking proprietary data.

There are security controls that can prevent applications and tools from being installed. They include: Application Allowlisting, Dynamic Listing, Real-Time Privilege Elevation and Application Reputation and Intelligence.

7.   Be Deceptive

Whether online or in person, predictability is a boon for criminals. Burglars stake out houses and look for residents with predictable routines, and the same is true of cyber criminals. Automation makes this even easier with scans that are run on a routine, and patches that are implemented on the same day every month, for example.

A predictable company is a vulnerable one, so it is vital to be deceptive. Use random activities and an ad-hoc approach for updates and assessments. With this method, hackers have a more difficult time staying hidden and it’s easier to detect cyber attacks as soon as they occur to mitigate their effects.

Cybercrime is a risk facing all businesses, and the food industry is no exception. Companies that take a proactive approach are in a much stronger position to protect against cyber threats and shore up security. No method is foolproof, but if a breach does occur, identifying it early and mitigating its effects can make a world of difference for your company’s financial health and reputation.

Margaret Vieth

Optimizing Environmental Monitoring Programs

By Margaret Vieth
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Margaret Vieth

The food manufacturing industry has seen a shift toward increased environmental monitoring testing to help mitigate risks in food processing. But it can be difficult for producers to build out environmental monitoring programs due to the lack of detailed regulatory guidance, particularly when looking at how many samples to collect and from which locations or surfaces they should be collected.

Below are five tips to help food manufacturers build more efficient and effective environmental monitoring programs.

1. There Is No “One Size Fits All” Approach to Environmental Monitoring

A successful environmental monitoring program is one that’s customized for each facility. When creating a program or evaluating an existing program, it is important to organize a cross-functional team that includes those who are most familiar with your products and processes. This cross-functional team can help determine critical program details such as determining from which areas samples will be collected and the frequency of sample collection.

One approach is to establish a comprehensive list of every site that will be tested over time, then evaluate how often those areas should be swabbed using a risk-based approach. A risk-based approach involves determining which sites within a manufacturing plant are the highest risk and which are the lowest risk, and then testing the highest risk sites more often and the lower risk sites less often.

Risk level is based on: the proximity of the test point to the food contact surface; how difficult the area or surface is to clean or sanitize; and/or historical data and knowledge of the facility and products. The goal is to collect data from all relevant areas in the plant over time, while spending the most time on those that are highest risk.

2. You Can’t Detect What You Don’t Collect

While it seems counterintuitive, food manufacturers should be seeking positive results when conducting environmental monitoring testing. It’s important to remember that all environments can and most likely will become contaminated with a pathogen at some point in time. If an environmental monitoring program does not detect a positive result for a common environmental contaminate throughout the course of a year, it may indicate that the right areas are not being swabbed or that they are not being swabbed well enough.

When environmental monitoring programs uncover contaminated areas through positive results, it offers the opportunity for producers to implement corrective and preventative actions to improve their programs long term. A food processor’s food safety program can be seen as stronger and more reliable when the goal is to find and address the positive.

3. Use the Right Tools

A major factor in the success of environmental monitoring testing lies in the types of tools being used to collect the samples and the techniques used to collect them. When investigating tools for an environmental monitoring program, there are two key traits to keep in mind. First, it is important to ensure a collection device uses a neutralizing buffer that is effective against the sanitizers in the environment. The collection buffer should keep organisms alive long enough to run an accurate test, while also having a wide enough capacity to neutralize the sanitizer on the surface being sampled. This is an especially important consideration in processing environments that are continuously experiencing sanitizer changeovers.

Second, collection tools need to effectively access and collect organisms from the surface of the sample area. Biofilms—protective barriers of bacteria where pathogens or other organisms can thrive—are a big challenge when collecting samples. If the collection devices are not well suited to collecting or penetrating biofilms, there is a risk that the biofilm as well as all the living organisms and potential pathogens within the biofilm are not collected. Using devices that have scrub dot technology allows producers to collect the biofilm itself, creating a better sample for an even stronger environmental monitoring program.

4. Don’t Forget to Re-evaluate

To ensure you are getting the most out of your environmental monitoring program, conduct regular re-evaluations of the program. Periodic reviews are important as environmental factors are always changing. In a single year, food manufacturers may introduce new employees, new equipment, new processes, new products and new vendors. All these factors can have an impact on the quality and hygiene of the environment and the products you produce. Therefore, environmental monitoring programs should be viewed as a continuous improvement program rather than something that’s set up once and left alone.

5. Take Advantage of Education and Training Resources

Providing proper training and education for the entire environmental monitoring program team can make a significant difference in the effectiveness of the program. There are numerous educational resources available for environmental monitoring program teams. These should be utilized as you build and assess your protocols and provided to new team members. Involve the sample collection team in the process of creating the program and ensure the program protocols are readily available and understood by all team members.

Creating robust programs to help mitigate food safety risks, such as those found within a manufacturing facility’s environment, is critical to protecting consumers and your company. Despite a lack of detailed regulations around environmental monitoring program development, food manufacturers can create successful programs by customizing their protocols to their facilities, conducting routine evaluations, searching for positives, utilizing proper collection tools and providing proper training and education. Sources of potential contamination are numerous, but a strong environmental monitoring program can help find them.

Food in compost pile

Strategies to Reduce Food Loss and Waste

By Food Safety Tech Staff, Nicolle Portilla
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Food in compost pile

Food waste is a major problem that negatively impacts the environment. While the world wastes about 1.4 billion tons of food every year, the U.S. discards more food than any other country in the world: nearly 40 million tons every year. That’s estimated to be 30% to 40% of the entire U.S. food supply. And that excess food often ends up in landfills where it contributes significantly to CO2 emissions.

A 2021 report from the EPA on the environmental impacts of food waste estimated that each year, U.S. food loss and waste embodies 170 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (million MTCO2e) GHG emissions (excluding landfill emissions)—equal to the annual CO2 emissions of 42 coal-fired power plants. EPA data also show that food waste is the single most common material landfilled and incinerated in the U.S., comprising 24% and 22% of landfilled and combusted municipal solid waste, respectively.

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Restaurants and food manufacturing companies all over the country are making it a priority to reduce their food waste and loss. Below, we outline the most effective strategies—as well as resources available—to help food manufacturers and restaurant staff cut food loss and waste in their facilities.

Train Cooking Staff to Make Waste Reduction Priority

Make waste reduction part of your business culture. Start with the leadership and have them employ waste reduction throughout the entire organization.

Food prep is an area that can contribute to food waste; your suppliers may be able to help. “We work with a company that includes black beans in their burritos and burrito bowls,” says Kari Hensien, president of Rizepoint. “Because the supplier was providing those beans in a size that was greater than the recipes called for restaurant employees were just dumping the whole bag in because it was ‘close enough.’”

Not only did this affect the quality of the end product, it resulted in increased costs and food loss. In similar cases, employees may throw out the excess in a can or package if it contains more than a recipe requires. “Working with your supply chain to optimize packaging to correspond with the formulation of your recipes can drive significant cost savings and reduce food waste for the business,” says Hensien. “You can also raise awareness with your staff of the importance of following that recipe and what to do with the nonstandard size materials. For example, saving it for the next batch rather than throwing it away.”

Improve Food Storage Standards and Follow Regulations

Ensure that the cooking staff and waiters know how to properly store food and use items promptly to prevent produce from spoiling. “So often food waste at retail occurs because employees are not following simple quality control techniques,” says Hensien. “Whether it’s the holding temp for food you’ve prepared or maintaining the temps for food you are storing, you want to make sure that you are reinforcing the basics of having a solid quality control HACCP program in place for doing those temp checks.”

Use Every Part of Food Products

You can use your food more efficiently and cut costs by utilizing every part of meat products, fruits, vegetables, dairy and grains. Have the cooks use every food scrap. For example, bits of tomatoes left over after making burgers can get used up in sauces or salsas.

You can use bones and vegetable leftovers to make chicken broth for a tasty noodle soup. Do you have bread that’s no longer super fresh? Then make some breadcrumbs to sprinkle on top of a fish filet or croutons for a salad.

Restaurants and food manufacturers are also finding creative ways to partner with other businesses to repurpose and make use of their leftover food products. “Are there other facilities that would take food scraps off your hands for a cost to put it into something else?” asks Hensien. “For example, a company may be willing to take your lemon peels and make them into disinfectants. Through creative collaborations you can reduce your food waste and help another company produce their product or service.”

Compost to Cut Food Waste

Composting is a great sustainability strategy for your organization. Add old bread, vegetable and fruit peels, egg shells and coffee grounds to a compost pile or work with a local composting company to take your leftovers. You can also forge partnerships with local farms and gardeners who will take you compostable materials to develop and use your nutrient-rich compost.

Legislation is making it both necessary—and easier—for food businesses to take part in composting programs. California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont have passed laws that restrict the amount of food waste going to landfills. Vermont’s “Universal Recycling Law,” which went into effect in July 2020, bans food scrap waste entirely.

Pending legislation in California, Colorado and Massachusetts would establish programs to fund private-sector composting and organic collection programs. In addition, several states including Tennessee and Washington, and cities like Los Angeles and Madison, Wisconsin, have created food waste task forces to reduce waste by creating composting education and infrastructure.

“You can often partner with a set of local nonprofits and/or local state agencies that will help you with a solution where they will come and get your food scraps or you can drop them off at a certain location. This does require some logistics and coordination but oftentimes we’re finding that there are simple solutions with local nonprofits available that are already in place,” says Hensien.

Inspect Your Food Deliveries and Work with Local Suppliers

You will need to check every food delivery sent to your place of business. Only accept food deliveries with fresh ingredients and nothing that looks like it’s about to spoil. Work with high-quality delivery services and certified suppliers, who follow all appropriate food safety protocols.

Also, focus on seasonal produce and ingredients from the local area, when possible. “Businesses can optimize their supply chain geographically, especially for the fresher items such as tomatoes and lettuce,” says Hensien. “The closer that supplier is to its retail destination, the lower the transportation costs and the greater the likelihood that the product will arrive in a good quality state.”

Donate Food to the Hungry

Donate excess food that is still edible to local food banks, soup kitchens and homeless shelters to feed the hungry or partner with “food rescue” initiatives that bring excess food from retailers and restaurants to people in need. Oftentimes, these organization will pick up the unused food from your business.

“A lot of those nonprofits are actively searching for partners because food insecurity in the U.S. is at an all-time high and donations to those food pantries and soup kitchens are at an all-time low,” says Hensien.

Start by connecting with your local nonprofits. You can also find U.S.-based food rescue organizations in your region here.

Use Tech Tools to Predict Ordering Quantities

A key step in reducing food loss and waste is ensuring you are ordering only the ingredients you will need and can use. “The simplest thing an organization can do to reduce loss and waste is to marry their operational data—what they are using—with their transactional data—what they are selling” says Hensien.

There are technologies and tools that will help you track historical trends and predict your sales, but tracking this data can be done manually or in spreadsheets as well.

Identify Areas of Waste or Loss

One of the best ways to reduce food waste at food manufacturing plants is to utilize a tracking system. Pay attention to the data with the help of software, such as an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) tool.

You will have the information you need regarding packaging, shipping and production. The data found via a tracking system can help you define areas of waste and inefficiency. You can then target those areas to decrease food waste.

There are also self-assessment tools available to help both you and your suppliers identify areas of food loss and waste. “Our industry is notorious for saying you should do an LCA assessment and then implement an FLW protocol into your auditing program, and everyone just sees: ‘Oh gosh, I’ve got to send another auditor into all these locations and do an bunch of work to get this up and going,’” says Hensien. “But you can start with simple self-assessments that you can easily assign as a task with very little overhead.”

You can download self-assessment resources through the FLW as well as the EPA, which offers a Food Assessment Guidebook and Toolkit for Reducing Wasted Food & Packaging.

By involving your entire team in the goal of reducing food waste and loss, the industry can have a significant impact in reducing food insecurity, improving profitability and protecting the environment.

 

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Addressing Today’s Food Safety Challenges: Food Safety Consortium Brings Networking, Discussion and Education to New Jersey

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The 10th Annual Food Safety Consortium will take place in person October 19-21 in Parsippany, New Jersey. The 2022 program features panel discussions and breakout sessions that address key issues, challenges and opportunities for food safety and quality professionals.

Keynote “Leading with Science at FSIS” – Dr. Denise Eblen, Assistant Administrator, Office of Public Health Science, USDA, Food Safety & Inspection Service

The three-day consortium will open at 1:00pm on October 19. The keynote address and Q&A with Dr. Eblen of the USDA FSIS will be followed by panel discussions on the State of the Food Safety Industry, moderated by Dr. Darin Detwiler, Director of the Master of Science in the Regulatory Affairs of Food and Food Industries, Northeastern University, and Food Safety Culture: Communicating to the C-Suite, moderated by Deb Coviello, founder of Illumination Partners, followed by an opening night networking reception.

Days two and three feature panel discussions covering food safety culture, technology, supply chain and reformulation challenges and compliance concerns, as well as a presentation by Frank Yiannas, FDA Deputy Commissioner for Food Policy and Response. Attendees can join the faculty of more than 25 top-level food safety and quality professionals to discuss:

Food Safety & Quality 4.0: Data Analytics and Continuous Improvement: Jill Hoffman, Senior Director, Food Safety and Quality, B&G Foods, Gina Kramer, Director Partnerships & Learning, Center for Foodborne Illness & Prevention, OSU, and Steven Mandernach, Executive Director, AFDO

Quality & Manufacturing Efficiency: How Does Quality Show Value to the Organization? Gary Smith, Vice President of Quality Systems, Gourmet Foods and Gift Baskets, 1800FLOWERS.COM and John Butts, Founder & Principal, Food Safety By Design

Food Defense & Cybersecurity: Jason Bashura, Senior Manager, Global Defense Pepsi Co.

Diversification of Supply Chain Capacity: Trish Wester, President, Association for Food Safety Auditing Professionals, and Allison Milewski, Sr. Director, US Brand Quality, Mondelēz International

COVID-19 & Food Supply (Research Presentation): Presented by Dr. Donald Schaffner, Rutgers University and Dr. Ben Chapman, North Carolina State University

Product Reformulation Challenges: April Bishop, Senior Director Food Safety TreeHouse Foods, Peter Begg, Vice President Quality and Food Safety, Hearthside Food Solutions and Ann Marie McNamara, Vice-President Food Safety and Quality for Supply Chain, US Foods

Blending Employee Culture with Food Safety Culture: Melody Ge, FSQA Director, StarKist, Co., Mitzi Baum, CEO, STOP Foodborne Illness and Elise Forward

The Crossroads of Strategic, Tactical and Operational Planning in Food Safety Culture: Jill Stuber and Tia Glave, Co-Founders Catalyst

Biggest FSQA Challenges: Shawn Stevens, Attorney, Food Industry Counsel, Jorge Hernandez, VP, Quality Assurance, The Wendy’s Company, and Elise Forward, Founder & Principal Consultant, Forward Food Solutions

FSQA Technology: How Far is Too Far? How to properly analyze new FSQA technology before you sign the purchase order. Gary Smith, 1800FLOWERS.COM, Jorge Hernandez, The Wendy’s Company, and Peter Begg, Hearthside Food Solutions

Risk Assessment: Peter Begg, Hearthside Food Solutions, and Melanie Neumann, EVP & General Counsel, Matrix Sciences International

Audits: Blending in-person with Remote: Laurel Stoltzner, Corporate QA Manager OSI Industries, and Trish Wester, Association for Food Safety Auditing Professionals

Preparing the Next Generation of FSQA Leaders: Dr. Darin Detwiler, Northeastern University, Ann Marie McNamara, US Foods, and Dr. Don Schaffner, Rutgers University

View the full agenda.

Don’t miss out on opportunities to network with other food safety and quality professionals during the opening night reception, networking lunches and coffee breaks, and the Women in Food Safety cocktail reception on October 20.

Registration options are available for in-person and hybrid team attendance.

Event Hours

  • Wednesday, October 19: 1:00 pm – 6:30 pm (ET)
  • Thursday, October 20: 8:00 am – 7:00 pm (ET)
  • Friday, October 21: 8:00 am – 12:30 pm (ET)

Register today at foodsafetyconsortium.org.

 

Robin Kix

Food Logistics: 7 Ways to Support Food Safety and Control Expenses

By Robin Kix
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Robin Kix

How food products are transported has a significant effect on both food safety and shrink. By understanding transportation options and leveraging new technologies, food logistics business can reduce these risks and better control expenses. Following are seven strategies to help you reduce your costs, minimize food shrink and support food safety.

1. Exercise Flexibility When Choosing Modes of Transportation

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, an estimated 31% of U.S. food product is lost to waste.[1] When handling shipments of raw or cold foods, ensuring the deliveries happen on time is critical for avoiding loss due to spoilage.

Being smart about your transportation choices can help combat this issue. For example, while shipping food freight by sea is much cheaper than transporting it by air, sea transportation takes significantly longer and may result in more food shrink caused by spoilage, resulting in substantial losses. Alternative options include rail transportation with refrigerated cars or refrigerated food trucks. You can also expedite specific portions of shipments when a buyer only needs part of the shipment urgently, while shipping the remaining product using a less expensive mode of transportation with a longer delivery time.

2. Consolidate Shipments When Possible

Choosing a provider that offers less than truckload (LTL) shipping is one way that you can ship lower weights at a more affordable cost.[2] Another option to consider is consolidating shipments from multiple buyers when possible in full truckload (FTL) shipping, which can further reduce your transportation costs. Review the locations of your buyers to determine whether you can consolidate several shipments into one load to cut down your total transportation costs.

3. Engage in Smart Truck Route Planning

Empty trucks can quickly drain your resources and result in reduced profits. When possible, plan truck routes to handle collections and deliveries in the same route. You want to plan your truck routes so that you don’t have empty containers along large portions of trips. Smart truck route planning helps maximize both your driver and vehicle utilization by reducing the time vehicles spend empty while in transit.

4. Ensure Foods Being Transported Are Compatible

As a freight broker, you are required to comply with all applicable laws and regulations as a condition of your license and your freight broker bond.[3] One of the regulations you need to understand is the new sanitary food transportation rule under the FDA Food Modernization Safety Act.[4]

Under this rule, freight brokers are treated the same as shippers and have multiple duties, including ensuring that the carriers you use meet all regulatory requirements. One of these requirements is to ensure that raw foods are separated from other food products during transit. Make sure you understand which foods are compatible and that the trucks your carriers use have the required equipment. Using tech tools for truck route planning can help you prevent incompatible foods from being mixed while they are in transit, which could result in penalties and potential license and bond violations.

5. Implement Item Location Forecasting

Item location forecasting helps ensure that the right foods are being shipped to their correct destinations. When you include brands, categories and families of products, it can assist with your tactical and strategic planning. When products are delivered to the wrong place, money can be lost through spoilage, fines or additional transportation costs.

Item location forecasting tools also help ensure that the off-loading sequence of the shipments you manage are conducted by compartment. This helps businesses plan how the goods should be subdivided into trailer compartments. Ensuring carriers are following the correct loading and unloading of food products can also help ensure that they are complying with their duties under the food safety rule. When you synchronize how foods flow across the supply chain, you can realize reduced transportation costs.

6. Take Advantage of Big Data

Food products flow across the globe, generating vast stores of data. Logistics companies must track origin and destination information, shipment sizes, locations, weights, traffic, driving patterns and more to ensure shipments get to where they need to be quickly and at the lowest cost. When you employ big data in logistics, it can help you predict or avoid potential bottlenecks.

Many 3PLs and shippers already rely on data to drive decision-making. A 2021 Third-Party Logistics Study found that most use data-driven approach technology to plan for demand (83%), operations (78%) and capacity (61%).[5] Using big data in your logistics operations can help improve transparency while maximizing your resources. Automated management systems can help by automating routine tasks while controlling fleets and scheduling shipments.

7. Harness Automation

Robotics and automation can offer end-to-end tracking of products as they travel through the supply chain. In addition, they can lower labor expenses and enhance productivity. Consider using automation-guided vehicles and automated container loading and unloading. These tools can increase productivity, strengthen the safety of the environment with attached warning sensors and reduce both labor and operating expenses.[6]

In an increasingly competitive environment, food logistics companies must take proactive steps to reduce and control costs while ensuring food safety. By implementing these strategies, you can streamline your processes and realize increased profits without sacrificing safety.

References:

[1] Buzby, Jean C., Hodan F. Wells, and Jeffrey Hyman. The Estimated Amount, Value, and Calories of Postharvest Food Losses at the Retail and Consumer Levels in the United States, EIB-121, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service, February 2014.

[2] Segal, Troy. Less-Than-Truckload (LTL). Investopedia.

[3] Lance Surety & Associates. The BMC-84 Bond: Complete Guide to Bonding for Freight Brokers. Accessed on August 22, 2022.

[4] U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Summary: Sanitary Transportation of Human and Animal Food (Final Rule), March 26, 2018.

[5] Infosys Consulting. 2021 Third-Party Logistics Study: The State of Logistics Outsourcing.

[6] Jagtap, S., Bader, F., Garcia-Garcia, G., Trollman, H., Fadiji, T., & Salonitis, K. (2020). Food logistics 4.0: Opportunities and challenges. Logistics, 5(1), 2.