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Blockchain

Promise of Blockchain Could Help Seafood Traceability, Unique Challenges Remain

By Maria Fontanazza
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Blockchain

As our conversation about the potential of blockchain continues at Food Safety Tech, we sat down with Thomas Burke, food traceability and safety scientist, Global Food Traceability Center (GFTC) at the Institute of Food Technologists, to discuss how ready the seafood industry is in the adoption of blockchain, more specifically as it relates to traceability.

Food Safety Tech: What are the current major issues in seafood traceability?
Thomas Burke: Some of the challenges are diversity in product, diversity in regulatory compliance, a hyper-globalized supply chain and variable technology adoption.

I always like to distinguish seafood traceability from other major food commodities for several different reasons. When thinking about traceability and devising traceability systems, you want to think about use cases. For most food commodities, food safety is usually top of mind; there’s also a regulatory compliance component. Seafood still has food safety as a high priority, but there are also issues with illegal and unreported fishing and fraudulent issues in the supply chain. When you’re thinking about devising a traceability system, you also have to consider different key data elements. For instance, in food safety, while location is important, the location is only really important for tracing back in the event of recalling product. In seafood traceability you’re looking at racing back to ascertain if it was caught in the right place with the right method at the right time. With this as context, you also want to think about the technological challenges and food operations wise such as the diversity of commodities in seafood—there’s diversity in species way more so than in poultry or produce. You also have very different geographic locations, different harvest methods (i.e., farmed, wild); because of the diversity of harvesting practices, there are other considerations to think about. There are some traceability service providers that rely on a constant internet connection, and that’s obviously not possible if you’re fishing on the high seas. You might have equipment for data collections that works really well in the field or in the food manufacturing environment, but it may not work under the harsh conditions of a boat or in aquaculture. So we end up seeing a great diversity of technological adoption. Especially further upstream when thinking about other small-scale fishers and smaller processors—they generally only do traceability for regulatory compliance, because they just don’t have the capital to invest in technologically sophisticated data collection management. And sometimes it’s not necessary for what they’re trying to achieve. So, we still see a lot of paper records, basic spreadsheet data management, and then it gets more complicated as you go down the supply chain. Larger processors and retailers will have more dedicated traceability systems.

FST: Where do you see blockchain entering the traceability process and what other technologies should be used in conjunction with blockchain?

Thomas Burke will present, “Blockchain won’t solve the food traceability challenge… but Interoperability and Data Standards will” at the 2019 Food Safety Supply Chain Conference | May 29 –30  Burke: One of the things that we’ve found in our work at the Global Food Traceability Center and with the global dialogue on seafood traceability [regarding] blockchain is that there’s a lot of interest and hype around the application itself, which helps draw in solution providers and developers that are interested in applying a new technology to a new use case.

Blockchain is a data sharing platform. So the technologies that it’s comparing itself to are FTP (file transfer protocol) and transferring data through an EDI (electronic data interchange). This is a new way of sharing data between supply chain partners that has some unique capabilities, some of which are very advantageous for seafood.

When I was talking earlier about how there is variable adoption of technologies (i.e., small harvesters or producers that use paper records or use minimal digital records), blockchain has the advantage that data hosting is shared and decentralized across the notes of the network. What that means is that a small producer doesn’t have to set up a dedicated server infrastructure in order to communicate with their supply chain partners, whereas that’s more of the case with EDI; even with FTP you’ll still have to set up some kind of formal relationship with your servers. What’s nice about blockchain is that in order to host information on that network, you just pay a small amount of the currency that the blockchain runs on. It’s a little bit different if you have a private or consortium blockchain, but the idea is with the open blockchain applications is that you only pay on a per transaction basis (data upload basis). The larger the network is, the cheaper that is to do. So over the month, it’s a lower cost for participants for hosting the shared ledger of updates.

There are also some other advantages: It’s immutable; once it’s on the blockchain it’s very difficult to corrupt that data. There are other components to the problem of data collection and the transportation of data, along with the product along the supply chain. You still need certain legs of that stool such as a global identifier that identifies the product as it goes through the supply chain and gets incorporated into other products; you also need to collect the related data that’s necessary to make your use case. There’s a balance between the data collection and the identification [i.e., fishermen might not want to reveal their best location]. Those all need to be part of the picture, in addition to novel data-sharing platforms such as blockchain. A big part of what GFTC is trying to do in the seafood space is gather industry and work with them to develop standards and best practices to ensure the same data is being collected at each point and that data is able to be transported with the product in an interoperable way that takes into account the diversity of technological adoption along the supply chain.

FST: What level of blockchain adoption do you see in the seafood industry? How prepared is the industry, including retailers?

Burke: As far as adoption: It depends. There are a few different aspects that depend on whether companies will invest in a blockchain solution or not. It depends on what their current adoption is and their market. Where we’re seeing a lot of interest in blockchain being used as a component of data sharing for traceability is in more niche products that have more straightforward supply chains, and they’re using traceability as a market differentiator for their product. Right now, in order to invest in blockchain, you need to devote a significant amount of staff time or invest in a service provider to devise the blockchain scheme that you’re going for. There are a lot of unanswered questions about the implementation of blockchain. There are major players using blockchain in other types of food supply chains, but those are generally very vertically integrated companies that have a lot of resources—both IT resources and monetary resources to devote to this early experimental stage. And that’s where I would see it start first. If there’s success in those more limited trials, then maybe larger multinational companies might have interest in using it as a linkage between some of the information systems.

The biggest challenge with large multinational seafood companies is they have a lot of subsidiaries. And when they have subsidiaries, they might use different ERP systems; they’re looking at ways to transport the data into those disparate systems. And with seafood, as with most food commodities, it’s a fairly low margin industry. So most companies are going to be fairly conservative in investing in a new technology until it’s really being seen as a proven and achievably implementable software solution. Larger companies are still seeing more traditional cloud hosting such as EDI as a viable option for data sharing in food traceability. But blockchain is being seen in those niche areas and as the technology becomes more proven, we’ll probably see greater adoption. There’s just still a lot of skepticism in the industry, and that’s with any new technology.

I will say with other technologies in seafood traceability, I am seeing quite a bit of promise in AI [artificial intelligence] data analytics and image processing technologies just because it’s very difficult to identify products, especially early up in the supply chain. Some of these new technologies in data processing are going to help streamline data collection and be able to process it into those key data elements that you’re looking for to achieve those traceability use cases. There’s been so much development of facial recognition technology in humans that similar algorithms could be used in labeling fish. Those are some of the other promising technologies. There are some [uses of] IoT devices and RFID but those still remain to be seen—they have implementation issues, because there are quite a few environmental interferences on water or in humidity-rich environments, especially when you’re thinking about radio frequency resistance/interference.

In seafood right now, most of the blockchain-oriented applications are in line with NGOs that are experimenting with the use of blockchain as a traceability tool—and those tend to be high-end products like tuna or crab using blockchain in limited use cases. It’s still very much in the piloting and early implementation.

FST: What are the top three advantages to using blockchain for seafood traceability?

Burke: 1. Immutability. Once you put transactions onto the blockchain, because of the way the architecture is set up, it’s really difficult to alter that record. Other data sharing platforms don’t have the advantage of a singular record.
2. Decentralization. Everyone has access to the same leger that can be shared in real time across a global supply chain. Most of the other data sharing platforms are emphasized in one-to-one communication, whereas blockchain is many-to-many.
3. Flexibility and interest from the development community. There’s a lot of creativity associated with blockchain applications right now. There are a lot of developers coming up with interesting ideas of how to maximize the architecture to work for food traceability applications. Because it has an economic structure where you are using tokens that are powering the data processing, you can potentially do interesting things with incentivizing inputting data into a traceability system and monetizing it. We’re exploring that in the global dialogue—looking to see how you can tie the value of traceability data upstream, because that will help incentivize the entire ecosystem. There have been limited trials with startups that have been looking at incentivizing data collection through blockchain.

FST: Where do you see blockchain headed in five years?
Burke: I don’t see the actual architectural idea of blockchain idea going away. It’s a fairly brilliant way of ensuring that valuable data isn’t double counted or deleted. It helps reduce some risk.

The next five years will depend on what the end retailers end up adopting. In western markets, more specifically North America, the retailers have a lot of leverage in what standards and best practices are kept and carried through. So it will depend a lot on those large end retailers and how comfortable they are in adopting blockchain, and the decisions that they make behind blockchain providers.

The largest seafood markets are China and Japan, so [adoption] more depends on what those retailers/customer bases are demanding versus what happens in North America just because the demand is so much stronger there. That will also drive the development of blockchain interfaces and will influence the adoption among smaller scale fishers, which is more of the tendency in East Asia. It’s a very open question. I think it will be influenced by decisions that governments make in East Asia regarding blockchain.

I would emphasize that the success of seafood traceability and food traceability in general will be very dependent on standards, and the development of commonly understood and accepted practices, and the way those data standards are collected. So you can have a robust blockchain platform, but if every supply chain partner doesn’t agree to collect the same data and identify it in a similar way that is interoperable, it still won’t work—even if you have the most advanced technology. There’s a human process of agreeing upon the same way that traceability data is gathered. Interoperability and standards are key, in addition to the new technologies.

Julie McGill, FoodLogiQ

Traceability from Within Starts with Assessing Capabilities

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Julie McGill, FoodLogiQ

Consumers and industry alike want more transparency in the supply chain. In a Q&A with Food Safety Tech, Julie McGill, director of implementation and strategic accounts at FoodLogiQ explains how companies can prepare to meet the increased demands and how technology can help.

Food Safety Tech: In light of the recent outbreaks and recalls, there an increased focus on traceability. What should companies do to get ready?

Julie McGill, FoodLogiQ
With the increased focus on traceability, companies should start assessing their internal capabilities, says Julie McGill of FoodLogiQ.

Julie McGill: There is so much that companies can do today to prepare, and they can start by assessing their current capabilities. What problems are you trying to solve? Have you identified all of your products and locations with GS1 identifiers? Are you using GS1 identifiers in your systems?

Do you have a data quality program in place? Are you able to mark all of your cases with a GS1-128 barcodes? Can you scan barcodes at receiving? At delivery? Are you sending EDI messages to your trading partners?

Those with successful programs will tell you this is a marathon, not a sprint. Securing executive support, aligning internal teams and setting expectations with trading partners is key.

Having the ability to act swiftly and with precision and accuracy is a differentiator during a recall. Trading partners who have made the investment are able to understand where these affected items are in their supply chains in seconds. These programs require a solid program, disciplined approach to implementation, and ongoing monitoring and management of the data. Companies that have committed to implementing these standards are gaining a competitive advantage today, as they are ready to meet the mandates and requirements set by their trading partners.

Register to attend the complimentary web seminar, “Supply Chain Traceability: Using Technology to Address Challenges and Compliance” | May 14, 2019 | 1–4 pm ETFST: Is it actually possible to trace products to the source? Can we trace produce back to the field or fish back to the oceans?

McGill: Yes, it is possible to trace products back to the source. Growing consumer demands and regulatory requirements, such as FSMA and SIMP, have led to the need for more detailed information about food and its origins. To achieve this, it’s imperative that companies standardize business practices, product identification and item data to enable interoperability across solutions and systems.

There has been tremendous work done by industry stakeholders to address traceability. They’ve mapped their entire supply chains, identified the key data elements and critical tracking events to be captured to enable full chain traceability. GS1 US hosts initiatives in foodservice and retail grocery, plus there are a number of industry-run initiatives, including the Produce Traceability Initiative (PTI), Supply Chain Optimization (SCO2), and Global Dialogue for Seafood Traceability. Food industry partners agree that full chain traceability will be achieved through education, industry input, and the use of standards.

Track and Trace, traceability, supply chain
The Track + Trace platform allows trading partners to capture and share the movement of products across the supply chain. When there’s the need to run an investigation, data is stitched together to provide visualization so trading partners can effectively and efficiently take action. Screenshot courtesy of FoodLogiQ

FST: When talking about traceability, blockchain is part of many conversations today. How does it differ from existing solutions?

McGill: Blockchain is an emerging technology that offers a way for companies to transact with each other and share information in a secure manner. What makes blockchain unique is that it is a shared, immutable ledger that records all the transactions in chronological order that cannot be altered or deleted. While this approach holds promise on raising transparency in the food industry, there is much yet to be tested and validated on its real-world application within the food chain.

The most common use case for blockchain in the food industry has been traceability. As blockchain technology, solutions and use cases are evolving, industry partners have come together to discuss it’s capabilities and use. We host a Blockchain Consortium, bringing our members together to explore blockchain. Industry groups are coming together as well, such as GS1 US, who is hosting a cross-industry discussion group to help companies better understand the transformative qualities of blockchain, including the use of GS1 Standards.

Blockchain has also made clear the need for companies to automate their record keeping and traceability systems and to eliminate the manual, paper-based processes that often slow down the resolution of a food safety outbreak or issue.

Blockchain is not a “light switch” solution. What’s widely misunderstood is that in order to achieve full chain traceability, all partners across the supply chain will need to implement processes to capture and share this critical tracking event data.

FST: Additional comments are welcome.

McGill: Foodservice companies share common drivers and common goals which improve the reliability of product information, lower costs and reduce risk. There are numerous benefits that can be realized once you have access to accurate and complete traceability data, including:

  • Limiting the scope and costs of recalls
  • Quicker and more accurate product withdrawals
  • Full visibility across the supply chain
  • Speed to market
  • Improved business intelligence
  • Creates operational efficiencies
  • Enhanced inventory management
Kevin Payne, Zest Labs
FST Soapbox

2019 Food Safety and Transparency Trends

By Kevin Payne
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Kevin Payne, Zest Labs

When it comes to addressing food safety, did the industry really make any progress in 2018? In 2019, what new approaches or technologies can be successfully applied to prevent problems before they occur and minimize the consumer risk, minimize the market impact, and speed up the identification, isolation and recall of contaminated products?

Field-packed produce offers a unique challenge to the fresh food supply chain, as it is not processed and is not required to adhere to an FDA mandated HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points) process. It has been a challenge for field-packed produce suppliers to proactively identify or prevent contaminated produce from entering the supply chain. As a result, during serious contamination incidents, the reaction is to pull and destroy all suspect product from store shelves and supply chain. Due to the lack of data isolating the source of the contamination, this is the safest approach, but it’s costing the industry millions of dollars. Ultimately, our inability to prevent or quickly isolate these events causes confusion among consumers who don’t know who to trust or what is safe to eat, resulting in a prolonged market impact.

In response to the latest E. coli outbreak involving romaine lettuce, the industry has proposed a voluntary item-level label that reflects the harvest location and date, to help identify safe product to the consumer. At best, this is a stop-gap solution, as it burdens the consumer to identify safe product.

I work in the fresh produce supply chain industry. When I go to the grocery store, I examine the produce, noting the brand and various other factors. I was aware of the romaine problem and the voluntary labeling program, so I knew what to look for. But I’m an exception. Most consumers don’t know romaine lettuce is grown during the summer and fall in northern California and further south during the winter in regions that include Arizona and Mexico. Most consumers don’t know what the “safe date” for harvest really means—nor should they be required to know this information. They look to the industry to manage this. If we buy a car or microwave oven that is found to be unsafe, the manufacturer and the government are responsible for identifying the problem and recalling the product. Yet, in the produce industry, that responsibility seems to be moving to the retailer and consumer.

It’s an unfair burden, as the retailer and consumer do not have the necessary information to make a definitive judgement regarding food safety. The responsibility needs to be shared across the entire fresh food supply chain. Records about the produce need to be shared and maintained from harvest to retail.

Will 2019 be the year that we realize we can address this challenge proactively to improve the safety of our fresh food?

We need a new approach that leverages innovative technology to provide a more reliable solution. For example, irrigation water is often identified as a culprit in spreading bacteria. Yet even with regular testing of irrigation water, the results do not currently guarantee food safety. We see emerging technology that will make regular testing more reliable, accurate and affordable to facilitate more proactive management of the water supply. This will be a critical part of an overall solution for proactive produce food safety.

Blockchain technology has been hailed as a savior of food safety and traceability. Early in 2018, it was all the rage, as various sources claimed that, by using blockchain, recall times could be cut from days or weeks to seconds. But was this an oversimplification? Perhaps so, as this early hype faded by the middle of the year amidst the various food safety outbreaks that went unresolved. Then last August, Gartner, a  market analyst firm, declared that blockchain had moved into the “trough of disillusionment” on its 2018 Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies as a result of over-hyped expectations. The firm predicts that the technology may reach the “plateau of productivity” within the next decade. Can we wait another 10 years before being able to benefit from it? Should we?

We expect that blockchain trials will continue in 2019. But, while blockchain has shown promise in terms of being a secure and immutable data exchange, questions remain. What data about the produce will be entered into the blockchain? How is that data collected? Is the data validated? Bad, inaccurate or incomplete data makes blockchain relatively useless, or worse, as it undermines a trusted platform. Further, without broad agreement and adoption of data collection, blockchain can’t be successful.

For proactive management of food safety, we will also need to address both forward and backward supply chain traceability. One of the challenges realized from recent outbreaks is that it takes time to figure out what is happening. Identifying the source of the illness/outbreak isn’t easy. Once we identify a source (or multiple sources) of the contamination, blockchain—assuming that all of the necessary data has been collected—only helps to more quickly trace back produce to its origin. But, for growers, quickly understanding where all product shipped from a specific location or date is just as critical in understanding and minimizing consumer impact. Tracing product forward enables a grower to proactively inform retailers and restaurants that their product should be recalled.

Blockchain currently does not directly support this forward tracing, but can be augmented to do so. But blockchain can maintain a food safety data item, or items, that could quickly and reliably communicate product status at the pallet-level, providing instant food safety status to the current product owner, even if they didn’t have direct contact with the grower. As such, a hybrid blockchain approach, as espoused by ChainLink Research, is optimal for forward and backward traceability.

Equally important, we need to fully digitize the supply chain to enable blockchain. To make comprehensive data collection feasible, we need to automate data collection by utilizing IoT sensors at the pallet level, to properly reflect how distribution takes place through the supply chain. We need reliable data collection to properly reflect the location and condition of product distributed through a multi-tier distribution network. That level of product data visibility enables proactive management for food safety as well as quality and freshness— well beyond the current trailer-level monitoring that only monitors transit temperatures with no benefit to managing food safety. Effective data capture will define the next generation of fresh food management, as it embraces proactive food safety, quality and freshness management.

Goals for This Year

For 2019, our goals should be to embrace new approaches and technology that:

  1. Identify food contamination at its source and prevent contaminated food from ever entering the supply chain. We need to focus on developing new technologies that make this feasible and cost effective.
  2. Accurately and consistently track product condition and authenticity of fresh produce from the time it is harvested until it is delivered. IoT sensors and proactive fresh food supply chain management solutions provide this capability.
  3.  Make it cost-effective and practical for growers, suppliers and grocers to use solutions to improve the entire fresh food supply chain. If we make the process burdensome or without a reasonable ROI, implementation will lag, and the problems will persist. But if we demonstrate that these solutions offer value across the fresh food supply chain—through reduced waste and improved operational efficiency—growers, suppliers, shippers and grocers will embrace them.

Food Safety Vs. Blockchain: Who Wins?

By Maria Fontanazza
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The jury is still out on how (and if) blockchain can contribute to a safer food supply. Whether or not there is a clear understanding of the technology, and its potential and pitfalls, is up for debate as well. “What is blockchain? This is the number one question that people have,” said Darin Detwiler, director, regulatory affairs of food and food industry at Northeastern University, who led a panel of experts as they deliberated over this hot topic during the 2018 Food Safety Consortium.

“Blockchain levels the playing field where we can connect people, resources and organizations in ways we’ve never done before to harness new ways of extracting value,” said Nigel Gopie, global marketing leader, IBM Food Trust at IBM.

What Is Blockchain?

Gopie provided an introductory definition of blockchain: Simply put, it is a series of blocks of information attached together. Each block is a box of information that stores data elements, and this data could be almost anything. Each block has a digital fingerprint associated with it; this fingerprint allows you to know that the block is unique and can attach to other blocks. When new blocks come into the chain, each block has a new fingerprint—one that is unique to that block and of the block before it. This allows the connection to happen, and enables visibility into the origin of each block.

Blockchain enables one book of business and provides three important benefits, said Gopie:

  1. Digital transactions
  2. Distributed ledger with one version of truth throughout the network
  3. Data is immutable
Blockchain, IBM, Food Safety Consortium
IBM’s Nigel Gopie breaks down the basic meaning of blockchain for attendees at the 2018 Food Safety Consortium.

Although blockchain can help to start the process of solving food issues surrounding safety, freshness, reduced waste and sustainability, the technology is only the foundation. A series of other components are important as well, said Gopie, and the following are some insights that the expert panel shared during their discussion.

2018 Food Safety Supply Chain Conference, Blockchain
Is the Food Industry Ready for Blockchain? Check out a dynamic panel about the technology from the 2018 Food Safety Supply Chain Conference.

Can Blockchain Actually Impact Food Safety?

Jorge Hernandez, chief food safety officer at Wholesome International: “To me, it’s a fantastic new technology that would allow the food industry to do a much better job of finding, from seed to fork, all of the processes and things that happen to that product. And in the future, [it] allows us to identify problems first and solve [them]. My problem is it being sold to companies…and not able to deliver on the promise… It bothers me that we are looking at a future that may or may not be there.”

Angela Fernandez, vice president, retail grocery & foodservice at GS1 US: “We’ve been working on traceability and transparency for over a decade—you have to be capturing the data needed, [and] we’re still working on getting it right. We’re just not there yet. I think it’s a great place for us to strive to go towards, but we’re still early in the stages of accepting it as a community.”

David Howard, vice president of corporate strategy at Pavocoin: “Blockchain itself is simply a technology. We’re all here because we’re just trying figure out what application we can use in business. Blockchain is a technology that can help all of you improve operational efficiencies for your bottom line.”

Is Blockchain a Barrier or a Fast Lane to Heightened Liability Concerns?

Shawn Stevens, food industry lawyer and founder of Food Industry Counsel, LLC: “I think the starting point is to ask ourselves what makes food unsafe. It’s a lack of transparency…What blockchain can do is illuminate entire segments of the industry…From a reactive standpoint, blockchain can help us identify a problem [and] solve it. From a preventive standpoint, if I have access to all this information regarding attributes and quality of supplier, I can make better decisions that protect my company.”

“We want to know more and be better informed. Once you know more, you better react and do something. If you’re getting this line of sight and you don’t react to it, that’s what exposes you to liability.”

Darin Detwiler, director, regulatory affairs of food and food industry at Northeastern University: “We need to look at the balance between the reactive use of blockchain and the proactive use.”

2018 Food Safety Consortium on Blockchain. (left to right) David Howard, Pavocoin; Jorge Hernandez, Wholesome International; Nigel Gopie, IBM; Angela Fernandez GS1 US; and Shawn Stevens, Food Industry Counsel, LLC. Not pictured: Darin Detwiler, Northeastern University.

What Barriers Does Industry Need to Anticipate?

Fernandez: “The barrier of the standards and interoperability piece—that’s a big question our community is asking us. Scalability… standards are vital…I think that opens up a different discussion when talking about private versus public blockchain.”

Hernandez: “What is my ROI? The issue I have with blockchain is not only the investment in my organization, but I have to bring my entire supply chain with me if I want to get any benefit. There’s a good value proposition, but it requires you to get everyone on board. When you’re a large organization, it’s probably not that hard to do. But a small organization like mine where my suppliers are an Amish community that sells us cheese, that’s a huge mountain to climb. They don’t have the background [or] the technology, and even if they wanted to do it, it’s a big change for them. You’re asking me to make a change in my relationship with my suppliers.”

“Take a look at it from the business continuity [perspective]. What are the changes you’re going to have to make? And that changes that have to be made by everyone who works with you? We should not stay static. We should continue to look for things. If this is the technology that is going to move us forward, let’s start getting prepared.”

2018

The Future of Food Safety: A Year in Review

By Mahni Ghorashi
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2018

We started this Q&A series earlier this year with a clear vision—to gather the success stories, best practices, hurdles and achievements from the best in our industry. Our hope is that as the series expands and evolves, food safety professionals everywhere will be informed and inspired by what the future holds.

Over the course of the year, I had the pleasure of interviewing three such experts: Bob Baker, corporate food safety science and capability director at Mars, Inc, Frank Yiannas, vice president of food safety at Walmart, and Mike Robach, vice president, corporate food safety, quality & regulatory for Cargill.

I encourage you to read the interviews for their unique perspectives, but here are a few of the biggest insights that we can all take with us into 2019.

The Continued Rise of New Technologies

Mike Robach: I am very excited about the application of new technology to our food safety programs. In-line, real-time testing gives an opportunity to manage our processes and make immediate adjustments to assure process control. This allows us to prevent product that is out of control from reaching the marketplace.

Frank Yiannas: The emergence of blockchain technology has also enabled food system stakeholders to imagine being able to have full end-to-end traceability at the speed of thought. The ongoing U.S.-wide romaine lettuce E.coli outbreak showed us, once again, that our traditional paper-based food tracking system is no longer adequate for the 21st century. An ability to deliver accurate, real-time information about food, how it’s produced, and how it flows from farm to table is a game-changer for food safety.

Blockchain has the potential to shine a light on all actors in the food system. This enhanced transparency will result in greater accountability, and greater accountability will cause the food system to self-regulate and comply with the safe and sustainable practices that we all desire.

The Most Exciting Shifts

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

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

Yiannas: While there is no doubt that there are numerous new and emerging challenges in food safety, the many advancements being made should give us hope that we can create a safer, more efficient and sustainable food system.

There is progress being made on many fronts: Whole genome sequencing is becoming more accessible; new tools are being developed for fraud detection; and FSMA is introducing stringent public-health surveillance measures that have dramatic implications for U.S. retailers and suppliers and our import partners.

Most importantly, consumers are now overwhelmingly interested in transparency. People today are further removed from how food is grown, produced and transported than at any other time in human history. Plus, they increasingly mistrust food and food companies due to the food outbreaks and scares we have faced in recent years.

Recalls and the Role of Regulation

Robach: I think FSMA implementation is going okay right now. There’s still a long way to go, and I am always concerned about making sure investigators are applying the rules and regulations in a consistent manner. I see the intentional adulteration rule as an upcoming challenge. It is one thing to conduct a vulnerability assessment and adjust your programs based on the results. It’s another to develop and implement a program that will prevent intentional adulteration as you would to reduce or prevent microbiological contamination.

I believe that food safety management programs are constantly improving and that our food is as safe as it has ever been. However, we still have a lot of work to do. At GFSI, we are continually improving our benchmarking requirements and increasing transparency in the process. We have better public health reporting and our ever-improving analytical technology allows us to detect contaminants at lower and lower levels. The industry is working collaboratively to share best practices and promote harmonized food safety management systems throughout the supply chain.

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

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

Looking Ahead

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

We’re looking forward to continuing our quest in the new year and already have a few exciting experts lined up. Stay tuned!

Food Safety Tech

Call for Abstracts: Be a Part of the 2019 Food Safety Supply Chain Conference

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Food Safety Tech

The supply chain is a potentially weak and vulnerable part of a company’s food safety plan. The annual Food Safety Supply Chain Conference is months away and we are accepting abstracts for presentations. The conference takes place May 29–30, 2019 in Rockville, MD.

If you have expertise in the following areas, we invite you to submit an abstract to present at the conference:

  • Food Safety Supply Chain Vulnerabilities & Solutions
  • Audits & Inspections
  • How to Write Supplier Specifications
  • Blockchain Technology
  • FSMA’s Sanitary Transportation Compliance Tools & Techniques
  • Supply Chain Traceability
  • FSMA’s FSVP Compliance Tools & Best Practices
  • Data, Predictive Analysis
  • Recalls: barcode labeling, case histories and lessons learned
  • Testing Strategies of the Supply Chain
  • Supplier Verification Best Practices
  • Supply Chain Risk Management
  • Food Safety Transportation, Distribution and Logistics
  • Food Authenticity
  • Food Safety/Quality Culture measurement in supplier management
  • Supplier Management Case Histories

Each abstract will be judged based on educational merit. The submission deadline is February 8, 2019.

Mike Robach

The Future of Food Safety: A Q&A with Cargill’s Mike Robach

By Mahni Ghorashi
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Mike Robach

Continuing on our journey to bring you the successes, best practices, challenges and accomplishments from the very best in this industry, this month I had the pleasure of interviewing Mike Robach, vice president, corporate food safety, quality & regulatory for Cargill. Mike joined Cargill in January 2004 to lead the company’s corporate food safety and regulatory affairs programs. In this role, he helps partners innovate and manage risk so they can feel empowered to nourish the world

Mike Robach
Mike Robach, vice president, corporate food safety, quality & regulatory for Cargill

Mike has also worked closely with the USDA and FDA regarding food safety policy, HACCP, and regulatory reform based on science. He serves as chairman of the board of directors of the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) and is a member of the Institute of Food Technologists and the International Association of Food Protection, among many other organizations dedicated to ensuring safe food and bringing innovative technology into the agricultural industry. He has worked with the World Organization of Animal Health (OIE) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) on harmonized animal health and food safety standards.

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

Mike Robach: The biggest risks I see have to do with supply chain integrity and how companies implement their systems. Too often we do not have line-of-sight to the origin of the commodities and ingredients that make up our products. With global supply networks it’s important to understand where and from whom you are getting your inputs. There is also a need for food safety capacity building throughout the global food system. Many small and medium companies, along with some large companies, do not have the proper training for their employees to manage a food safety program. We also have an issue with constantly changing regulations that are not uniform from country to country, adding risk to our business.

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

Robach: I am very excited about the application of new technology to our food safety programs. In-line, real-time testing gives an opportunity to manage our processes and make immediate adjustments to assure process control. This allows us to prevent product that is out of control from reaching the marketplace. Blockchain technology gives us the chance to drive greater transparency throughout the supply chain.

Ghorashi: Let’s talk about regulation. How is the implementation of FSMA going? Do you foresee any challenges with the next phase of implementation?

Check out last month’s Q&A with Frank Yiannas of WalmartRobach: I think FSMA implementation is going okay right now. There’s still a long way to go, and I am always concerned about making sure investigators are applying the rules and regulations in a consistent manner. I see the intentional adulteration rule as an upcoming challenge. It is one thing to conduct a vulnerability assessment and adjust your programs based on the results. It’s another to develop and implement a program that will prevent intentional adulteration as you would to reduce or prevent microbiological contamination.

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

Robach: I believe that food safety management programs are constantly improving and that our food is as safe as it has ever been. However, we still have a lot of work to do. At GFSI, we are continually improving our benchmarking requirements and increasing transparency in the process. We have better public health reporting and our ever-improving analytical technology allows us to detect contaminants at lower and lower levels. The industry is working collaboratively to share best practices and promote harmonized food safety management systems throughout the supply chain.

Ghorashi: What is the number one challenge of securing global supply chains for 2018?

Robach: Knowing and understanding the integrated supply chain. Having knowledge and control of the process from origination to consumption would be ideal. We need the implementation of risk-based, harmonized food safety management systems based on the principles of Codex. Assuring the application of these systems along with properly trained employees to implement these programs would be the first step towards a secure, safe global food system.

Ghorashi: How do international trade deals and the stance of the current administration affect the future of food safety policy?

Robach: International trade deals such as the Trans Pacific Partnership and NAFTA can do a lot for the assurance of safe food around the world and within regions. Making sure that food safety provisions are included in these trade deals can drive the implementation of food safety management systems that will ensure safe food for consumers everywhere. These types of deals should allow us to remove technical barriers to trade by basing the requirements on Codex principles and adhering to the WTO SPS agreement.

Ghorashi: What role is blockchain technology playing in food safety? What are the prospects for the future?

Robach: Blockchain has a role to play in driving more transparency across the integrated supply chain. It can allow companies to show consumers where their food comes from. It can also be used to quickly trace back product in the event of a food safety problem. Still, it’s an enabling technology, not a solution.

Ghorashi: What about CRISPR? How is the food industry starting to respond to this technology from both a policy and GMO screening?

Robach: Gene editing holds great promise and many companies are looking at its potential benefits. However, there is always the policy question on whether or not the use of this type of technology should be labeled. I think the food industry has not done enough to promote the use of technology and how food production has improved over the years. We should let consumers know how we apply science to making food safer, more nutritious and more sustainable. At Cargill we have the vision of being the leader in nourishing the world in a safe, responsible and sustainable way.

Ghorashi: What trends are you seeing in food safety processes within food companies? Are they becoming more decentralized? Less? How are they balancing innovation with decades-old food safety practices?

Robach: Through the Global Food Safety Initiative, we have promoted harmonized, risk-based food safety management systems. The GFSI-benchmarked certification programs provide an opportunity for companies to implement consistent food safety programs regardless of where they are in the world. Through the GFSI Global Market Program there’s a tool kit that less sophisticated companies can use as a pathway towards full certification. We are constantly updating the benchmarking requirements to assure they are keeping up with changing science and technology.

Blockchain, Food Safety Supply Chain Conference

Is the Food Industry Ready for Blockchain?

By Maria Fontanazza
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Blockchain, Food Safety Supply Chain Conference

Darin Detwiler will lead a plenary session titled, “Practical Use of Blockchain in Food Safety” at the 2018 Food Safety Consortium | Learn moreOn the heels of the deadly, widespread outbreak of E.coli O157:H7 illnesses linked to romaine lettuce—and 12 years after the infamous spinach outbreak of 2006—the food industry is struggling to find the solution to prevent these outbreaks. “I think it’s indicative that we need to do something different,” said Melanie Nuce, senior vice president, corporate development & innovation at GS1 US, during a panel discussion about blockchain at the 2018 Food Safety Supply Chain conference earlier this month. The panel, led by Darin Detwiler, assistant dean and director, regulatory affairs of food and food industry at Northeastern University, delved into the strengths and weaknesses of blockchain, along with industry readiness and acceptance.

In its most basic form, the technology would allow for the addition of information from every step of the supply chain, from manufacturing to packaging to distribution to retail, and would incorporate elements such as auditing, inspection, batch information, certification of auditors, preventive control plans, HACCP information, and allergen identification.

“Blockchain could be the death of the document.” Simon Batters, Lloyd’s Register

Strengths

The increased demand for transparency and traceability could be one of the biggest drivers for the adoption of blockchain. “[Blockchain] offers us the technology for traceability,” said Simon Batters, vice president of technology solutions at Lloyd’s Register. “It allows us to have an immutable record of a transaction; it won’t solve the food safety conundrum overnight—it’s part of the tool kit that we need.”

The fact that the food supply chain consists of millions of transactions, which could not be tampered with under blockchain, while the data could be used as reference points and for verification—those are strengths. However, Batters pointed out, there should be restrictions on who has permission to write the code and who has access to putting the information into a chain.

The technology would also enable smart contracts whereby shipments wouldn’t be finalized if they didn’t meet the conditions of a supplier, for example. “All parties to a transaction have a view to the entire chain at the same time,” said Nuce. “You have real time visibility. This democratizes that.”

Kathleen Wybourn, director, food safety solutions at DNV GL, calls blockchain “the birth certificate for food.” From a consumer standpoint, it would provide information on a product’s origin—and these days, consumers—especially millennials—are very interested in the story of food from farm to fork.

2018 Food Safety Supply Chain Conference, Blockchain
The blockchain panel, led by Darin Detwiler, Director: Regulatory Affairs of Food and Food Industry, Northeastern University featured (left to right) Kathy Wybourn, Director, Food Safety Solutions, DNV GL; Simon Batters,
Vice President of Technology Solutions, Lloyd’s Register and Melanie Nuce, Senior Vice President, Corporate Development & Innovation, GS1 US.

Weaknesses and Threats

The panel pointed out several areas of improvement (and unknowns that must be answered) before blockchain can be taken to the next level in the food industry.

  • Although the technology could aid in faster transaction times, as the size of the ledger gets larger, and it will become more difficult to manage.
  • Industry involvement: “If you don’t get 100% participation, it’s not going to be successful,” Nuce said. “To have true trace back, everyone has to participate.”
  • Blockchain platforms: Will they be able to interact and share data? What type of blockchain architecture is necessary for this?
  • Poor architecture
  • Need a better grasp on the type of data being used and how it delivers value
  • What impact will it have on the role of certification bodies?
  • Politics and the competitive element: Will certain parties seek to control this space?
  • Will the culture shift be a roadblock?
Melanie Nuce, GS1 US
Read Melanie Nuce’s column, Blockchain: Separating Fact from Fiction

Final Thoughts from the Panel

“Nobody can really tell where this is going to go in the future. I think it’s going to be part of food safety in their roles in one shape or form…I think we’ll see more of where this is headed within the next 12–18 months.” – Kathy Wybourn

“I think it’s going to be a fast-moving dynamic area.”– Simon Batters, who suggested that the organizations that embrace blockchain early may be the ones who show the way

“From an information/standards perspective, you have to have foundational business processes to support any type of technology. That’s what we’ve learned through the pilots.” – Melanie Nuce

“It’s not going to make a company any more ethical… a lot of what we need already exists out there; blockchain is just a tool out there. I keep warning people that this is not the only solution.” – Darin Detwiler

2018 Food Safety Supply Chain Conference, Blockchain

Beyond Supply Chain Trends: Blockchain, FSMA, Food Fraud, Audits and More

By Maria Fontanazza
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2018 Food Safety Supply Chain Conference, Blockchain
Rick Biros, Priya Rathnam, and Andrew Seaborn, 2018 Food Safety Supply Chain Conference
Priya Rathnam (middle) pictured with Rick Biros, president of Innovative Publishing (left) and Andrew Seaborn Supervisory Consumer Safety Officer, Division of Import Operations, ORA, FDA

How well do you know your suppliers? Can you trust your supplier’s suppliers? What kind of technology are you using to assess and ensure your suppliers are in compliance with regulatory requirements? These are common questions food companies must ask themselves on a regular basis. These and more were addressed at the 2018 Food Safety Supply Chain Conference, held last week at USP in Rockville, MD. Stay tuned for coverage of the event in upcoming articles. In the meantime, here are some top insights shared by FDA and others in industry.

“We’ve issued a limited number of warning letters (two), and they were due to really egregious issues. Where there were previously warning letters issued, we’re seeing a lot more ‘regulatory meetings’.” – Priya Rathnam, Supervisory Consumer Safety Officer, CFSAN, on FDA’s enforcement this fiscal year.

Criteria for FSMA auditors also includes the “soft skills”, aka ISO 19011, auditor personal attributes. –Josh Grauso, Senior Manager, Food Safety & Quality System Audits, UL

Fabien Robert, Nestle 2018 Food Safety Supply Chain Conference
Food fraud costs the industry up to $15 billion annually. – Fabien Robert, Ph.D., Director, Nestle Zone America

It’s concerning that so many QA managers (and other pros) today don’t know extent of risk assessment they need to carry out. – Chris Domenico, Safefood360, Territory Manager for North America

“Blockchain is more than a buzzword at the moment.”- Simon Batters, Vice President of Technology Solutions, Lloyd’s Register

2018 Food Safety Supply Chain Conference, Blockchain
A dynamic panel about blockchain, led by Darin Detwiler, Director: Regulatory Affairs of Food and Food Industry, Northeastern University featured (left to right) Kathy Wybourn, Director, Food Safety Solutions, DNV Business Assurance; Simon Batters,Vice President of Technology Solutions, Lloyd’s Register and Melanie Nuce, Senior Vice President, Corporate Development & Innovation, GS1 US.

Sometimes food safety doesn’t win; sometimes you need the business acumen to show that implementing supply chain efficiencies will create the win. – Gina Kramer, Executive Director, Savour Food Safety International

Bryan Cohn, 2018 Food Safety Supply Chain Conference
Building a robust & smart supply chain = reduce food miles, shrink carbon footprint, and save food waste to increase revenue/acre. – Bryan Cohn, Vice President of Operations, Seal the Seasons

The FSMA Sanitary transportation rule is not as straightforward as you think. We need more training. – Cathy Crawford, President, HACCP Consulting Group

Frank Yiannas, Walmart

The Future of Food Safety: A Q&A with Walmart’s Frank Yiannas

By Mahni Ghorashi
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Frank Yiannas, Walmart

Continuing on our journey to bring you the successes, best practices, challenges and accomplishments from the very best in this industry, this month I had the pleasure of interviewing Frank Yiannas, vice president of food safety at Walmart. In his role, Frank oversees all food safety, as well as other public health functions, for the world’s largest food retailer, serving more than 200 million customers around the world on a weekly basis.

Frank is a past president of the International Association for Food Protection (IAFP) and a past vice-chair of GFSI. He is also an adjunct professor in the Food Safety Program at Michigan State University, and in 2017 was awarded the MSU Outstanding Faculty Award. He’s also the author of two books, Food Safety Culture, Creating a Behavior-based Food Safety Management System, and Food Safety = Behavior, 30 Proven Techniques to Enhance Employee Compliance.

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

Frank Yiannas, Walmart
Frank Yiannas, vice president of food safety, Walmart

Frank Yiannas: While there is no doubt that there are numerous new and emerging challenges in food safety, the many advancements being made should give us hope that we can create a safer, more efficient, and sustainable food system.

There is progress being made on many fronts: Whole genome sequencing is becoming more accessible; new tools are being developed for fraud detection; and FSMA is introducing stringent public-health surveillance measures that have dramatic implications for U.S. retailers and suppliers and our import partners.

Most importantly, consumers are now overwhelmingly interested in transparency. People today are further removed from how food is grown, produced and transported than at any other time in human history. Plus, they increasingly mistrust food and food companies due to the food outbreaks and scares we have faced in recent years.

Over the near-term, as we get better at detecting foodborne outbreaks, consumer mistrust will likely intensify; however, it’s clear to me that heightened consumer interest is hugely positive because it adds weight to our industry’s call for more accurate food labeling, more wholesome ingredients and enhanced food traceability. Ultimately, these are the kinds of measures that will improve the food system and enhance consumer trust.

Ghorashi: As you know, food shopping is moving online. It’s happening across the world, and at breakneck speed. What are retailers like Walmart doing to keep up?

Yiannas: That’s a great question. Walmart and other retailers are now developing new packaging materials and temperature control approaches, as well as new ordering methods, high-tech stocking systems and delivery modes.

Food shopping is moving online so quickly that regulatory requirements have not been able to keep up. That means it’s up to us, the retailers and food companies, to work with regulators to create and promote the necessary industry standards, best practices and logistical solutions.

I firmly believe that it is our responsibility as food retailers to advocate for consumers and strive to create a safer and more affordable and sustainable food system. With many more players across the global food chain now shouldering this duty of care, I am very optimistic that our industry is truly improving the lives of people around the world.

Ghorashi: What role is blockchain technology playing in food safety? What are the prospects for the future?

Yiannas: The emergence of blockchain technology and the successful completion of several pilots using it to enhance food traceability has resulted in a larger conversation about the importance of creating a more transparent digital food system.

It has also enabled food system stakeholders to imagine being able to have full end-to-end traceability at the speed of thought. The ongoing U.S.-wide romaine lettuce E.coli outbreak showed us, once again, that our traditional paper-based food tracking system is no longer adequate for the 21st century. An ability to deliver accurate, real-time information about food, how it’s produced, and how it flows from farm to table is a game-changer for food safety.

Blockchain has the potential to shine a light on all actors in the food system. This enhanced transparency will result in greater accountability, and greater accountability will cause the food system to self-regulate and comply with the safe and sustainable practices that we all desire.