Tag Archives: collaboration

Rick Farrell, Plant-Tours
FST Soapbox

Communication Tools Food Manufacturers Should Use

By Rick Farrell
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Rick Farrell, Plant-Tours

As the world continues to work toward economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, food manufacturers have been investing in products and equipment that can enhance their growth. The following are some communication tools that companies should consider adding to their arsenal to improve collaboration between workers, prevent costly mistakes and save money in the long run.

1. Cloud-Hosted Technology

With remote work becoming common in companies across the world, cloud-based technology is turning out to be an invaluable asset. In 2021, we saw a rise in labeling software providers that offer ways for local labeling software to get access to data stored in the cloud. That made it easier to obtain variable data that needed to be put on label templates at print time.

Cloud-hosted technology allows food manufacturers to print the correct labels with the right data at the proper time, and in a simple and secure manner. As a result, they can avoid risky and potentially dangerous mistakes in labeling.

2. Smart Manufacturing

Smart manufacturing is a method for companies to use data to optimize every part of the production process. Radio frequency identification (RFID) and barcode technologies are two of the most popular data carriers used by IoT devices. Such device-to-software communication helps efficiently deliver data while avoiding time-consuming manual procedures that might result in more time loss or costs.

3. New On-Spot Communication Equipment

Many factories still use cheap and outdated headsets to communicate inside loud spaces and next to machinery. That often results in unclear messages. Failing to give and receive a clear message can have dire consequences, especially in terms of food safety. For this reason, food manufacturers should regularly update headsets and other devices they use to convey messages inside factories.

Enhance Communication in Loud Facilities

There are companies that offer a modern solution to the communication problems inside factories. The following are some quality options to offer to enhance communication in loud places.

1. Two-Way Communication Headsets

Originally intended for tour guides and their groups, two-way communication headsets can have various purposes inside food factories. For instance, you can use them to make effective communication easier among your workers in the noisy parts of your plant. Or perhaps, you can use them when you bring in visitors, business partners and potential investors for a quick and interactive look around. In any case, a wireless two-way headsets system makes talking and listening quick and simple, despite ambient sounds.

Furthermore, most headsets for factories and tours are often heavy and bulky, which is why they quickly start irritating those wearing them. On the other hand, these two-way headsets are designed to be comfortable, attractive and lightweight, making them ideal for wearing for a longer period of time. And they are aesthetically appealing for any audience, including top VIPs. Therefore, your team and your guests will be able to focus on the information and their tasks with complete comfort and without any distractions. As a result, you will notice increased comprehension of your message with outside visitors and a higher level of efficiency and safety in your production areas as well as food safety levels.

2. Staff Communication Systems

A multi-channel staff communication system is another good way to ensure food safety in your factory. One example is a system that has fifteen channels, making it great for multiple employees, workgroups, and team communications, and has a transmission range of up to half a mile. It also has a two-way radio technology with privacy and long talk settings that allow you to speak without being interrupted. These types of headsets are sometimes outfitted with non-porous vinyl, which means you can disinfect them after each use.

Such a communication system also comes in handy in factories that follow COVID-19 social distancing guidelines. Not only can your employees stay safe by putting more space between each other, but their communication will remain clear and easy. That way, they will be able to focus on production and other safety guidelines.

3. Wireless Systems

Clarity of message is crucial to maintaining the necessary level of food safety in your plant. Good quality wireless systems provide clear, crisp sound, effective transmitting range, and great battery time. Furthermore, they are easy to use, maintain and store. Wireless systems also feature audio guide systems that make sure you don’t have to be worried about machinery being too loud and interrupting important information.

Conclusion

The past two years have taught us that food manufacturers who want to thrive despite both predictable and unexpected challenges need to respond and adapt quickly. A huge part of that flexibility comes from the willingness to accept changes and new tools that modern technology brings. So, from cloud computing to barcodes and better headsets, any step you take to improve communication in your factory will undoubtedly pay off in the long run.

Eric Weisbrod, InfinityQS
FST Soapbox

Quality in the Cloud: 5 Tools to Remedy Food Safety Fears

By Eric Weisbrod
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Eric Weisbrod, InfinityQS

The food and beverage industry has seen a big push for digital transformation over the past several years. Consumers and regulators alike are demanding increasingly high levels of safety and traceability across the global supply chain—driving food manufacturers to modernize their approach to quality control.

Now, many are looking to retire outdated software or inefficient paper-based systems that limit visibility across their production lines, plants and supply chains. They are exploring modern tools that enable proactive quality and safety monitoring. And fortunately, cloud technology is making this shift easier than ever.

Cloud-based quality management solutions offer simple deployment, rapid scalability and low up-front costs—breaking down many of the barriers to digital transformation. Food manufacturers gain anytime, anywhere access to critical resources needed to maintain product quality, ensure compliance and drive continuous improvement across their organizations.

To make it all possible, food manufacturers should select a cloud-based solution that offers the following features and tools.

1. A centralized data repository for improved visibility, compliance and collaboration

In a traditional manufacturing environment, quality and process data are locked away in paper files, Excel spreadsheets, or on-premises software. These data silos prevent manufacturers from monitoring enterprise-wide quality performance, and inhibit data sharing with external parties across the supply chain.

But the cloud can break down those silos. Cloud solutions provide a single, unified data repository where food manufacturers can standardize and centralize quality data—from all processes, production lines, and sites in their enterprise, as well as from suppliers, co-packers and third-party producers.

The resulting “big picture” view of quality enables food companies to:

  • Perform enterprise-wide analyses to pinpoint problem areas, identify best practices, and prioritize resources—ultimately improving quality and compliance across the entire organization.
  • Verify ongoing regulatory compliance and enforce accountability for all required checks and tests.
  • View supplier data in real time to prevent food safety issues and ensure incoming ingredients meet quality standards before they are ever shipped. Only the highest-quality ingredients get accepted and incorporated into products.
  • Monitor supplier performance to better manage suppliers and prevent supply chain disruptions.
  • Collaborate with contract manufacturers and packers to make sure they uphold quality standards and protect the brand.

2. Real-time SPC for proactive response on the plant floor

A preventative approach to quality and safety just isn’t possible when using manual methods for data collection and analysis. Operators spend valuable time recording data with a pencil and paper, then sift through page after page of control charts—on top of all their other daily responsibilities. It’s easy to see how mistakes could be made and production issues could be missed.

Quality teams are also at a disadvantage, reviewing old data about products that have already come off the production line. Overall, everyone operates in “firefighting” mode. They try to fix one issue after another, but it’s often already too late. Some problems may not be spotted until final inspection, if even caught at all. Manufacturers end up dealing with defective products, wasted resources, and damaging recalls.

The cloud transforms how food manufacturers collect and analyze quality data. Cloud-based statistical process control (SPC) software can automatically collect measurement values from a variety of data sources, then monitor processes in real time. When the software detects specification or statistical violations, automated alarms instantly alert key personnel. The appropriate teams can take immediate action to correct any issue before it gets out of hand.

In addition, food manufacturers can put up further safeguards on the plant floor with “workflows.” Essentially, these are prescriptive guides for responding to quality issues, predefined in the cloud-based quality solution. They help all employees respond consistently and effectively to specific problems, and then document the corrective actions taken. These responses can then be analyzed across an entire company, allowing manufacturers to spot trends and prevent reoccurring issues.

Ultimately, operators and quality personnel can stay on top of potential problems and prevent unsafe or defective goods from reaching customers—without having to manually monitor every line, in every plant, around the clock.

3. Timed data collections to keep everyone on the same page

Routine sampling and quality checks are critical for food safety and compliance with regulatory and industry-specific standards. But how can manufacturers ensure required checks are completed according to schedule? After all, the plant floor is a busy place and where it’s easy for operators to get sidetracked tackling other issues.

Here, cloud-based quality systems can help. These solutions enable manufacturers to set up timed data collections, which send automated notifications to remind operators when it’s time to perform HACCP, CCP, and other critical quality and safety checks. Operators can stay focused on production, without having to watch the clock or worry about missing a check. Plant supervisors also get alerts if a data collection is missed—no matter where they are working—so they can keep everyone on top of compliance.

4. Digital reporting to make audits a breeze

Every manufacturer dreads the auditing process. It is time consuming and resource intensive, adding another layer of stress and complexity to the already complex nature of food production. Those that rely on paper records and spreadsheets usually struggle to piece together and produce auditor-requested information. And failed audits can have major consequences.

Instead, quality records and other compliance documentation can be digitized, stored and made quickly accessible via the cloud. This makes it easy for food companies to pull historical data for specific timeframes. Reports can be produced in just minutes to complete regulatory, third-party certification, or internal audits—rather than the days or weeks it would typically take to put together a report from a complicated trail of paper.

5. Lot genealogy for improved traceability and recall response

Recalls are another big source of stress for food manufacturers. After all, food quality or safety incidents that result in a recall not only hurt profits and brand reputation, but also put the health and lives of consumers at risk. Fortunately, recalls can be mitigated or avoided through better traceability.

Cloud-based quality solutions can help food companies trace raw ingredient lot codes through the manufacturing process and supply chain. With all quality data stored in that centralized cloud repository mentioned earlier, manufacturers can generate genealogical “trees” showing the relationship between incoming ingredients and outgoing products.

This information in critical for preventing and responding to product recalls. If a safety issue is found within a specific ingredient lot, for example, manufacturers can quickly identify output lots where those ingredients were used. They can prevent those finished lots from being released, or in the worst-case scenario, remove those lots from store shelves in a swift, targeted recall.

A Tactical Approach to Digital Transformation

Looking at the FDA’s New Era of Smarter Food Safety blueprint, it’s clear to see that the industry at large is heading towards a new digital age. Food manufacturers shouldn’t wait to take the first steps, and cloud-based quality can get them on the right path.

While any big change comes with hesitancy, a tactical approach can help ease any fears. Some food manufacturers have started with small-scale projects, deploying cloud-based quality solution to monitor a single process or production line. Leadership teams and employees alike can see how quality in the cloud benefits everyone at all levels of their organization—and then deploy the solution on a wider scale. It is a great way to successfully introduce new digital technology and lay the foundation for future transformation.

GFSI, The Consumer Goods Forum

Reimagining Food Safety Through Transparency and Open Dialogue

By Maria Fontanazza
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GFSI, The Consumer Goods Forum

Last year’s annual GFSI Conference was held in Seattle just weeks before the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a pandemic. This year’s event looked very different, as it joined the virtual event circuit—with hundreds of attendees gathering from across the globe, but from the comfort of their homes and offices. The 2021 GFSI Conference reflected on lessons learned over the past year, the fundamentals of building a better food system, and the idea that food safety is a collaborative effort that also encompasses training programs, effectively leveraging data and capacity building.

The pandemic provided the opportunity to reimagine safer, more resilient and sustainable food systems, said Dr. Naoki Yamamoto, universal health coverage, assistant director-general, UHC, Healthier populations at WHO. She also offered three clear messages that came out of the pandemic:

  • Food safety is a public health priority and a basic human right. Safe food is not a luxury.
  • Food safety is a shared responsibility. Everyone in the food chain must understand this responsibility and work towards a common goal.
  • Good public private partnership can bring new opportunities and innovative solutions for food safety. We need to seek more collaborative approaches when working across sectors to achieve foods safety.

During the session “Ready for Anything: How Resiliency and Technology Will Build Consumer Trust and Help Us Mitigate Disruption in the 21st Century”, industry leaders discussed how the pandemic reminded us that a crisis can come in many forms, and how applying the right strategy and technology can help us remain resilient and equipped to address the challenges, said Erica Sheward, GFSI director.

“When you think about business resiliency—it’s about our own, but most importantly, it’s about helping our customers become more resilient to those disruptions,” said Christophe Beck, president and CEO of Ecolab. He added that being able to predict disruptions, help customers respond to those disruptions, and provide real-time control to learn and prepare for the next pandemic or serious crisis is critical. Companies need to ensure their technology systems and contingency plans are ready to go, advised David Maclennan, chairman and CEO of Cargill. The key to a resilient food supply chain system is access and the ability to keep food moving across borders. And above all, whether dealing with a health crisis or a food safety crisis, consumers must always be front and center, said Natasa Matyasova, head of quality management at Nestle. “In short term, [it’s] first people, then business contingency, and then help the community as needed,” she said.

Mitzi Baum, Stop Foodborne Illness
Food Safety Culture Club

Partnerships in Promoting Prevention (of Foodborne Illness)

By Mitzi Baum
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Mitzi Baum, Stop Foodborne Illness

At Stop Foodborne Illness, or STOP, we know about collaborative partnerships. For more than 26 years, affiliating with like-minded organizations to prevent foodborne disease is the mainstay of our success and continues to provide beneficial results today.

The mission to prevent illness and death due to contaminated food resonates with our allies and aligns with their goals to coordinate and expand efforts. At any given moment, STOP is working with a diverse spectrum of individuals and industries to move the needle on foodborne illness prevention. Today, STOP’s work is focused on constituent services and food safety policy with the overarching goal of public health. Below are examples of current collaborative projects that are uniquely effective.

Alliance to Stop Foodborne Illness

The Alliance to Stop Foodborne Illness (Alliance) is an initiative of STOP, leading food companies, and other organizations committed to the goal of preventing foodborne illness. For 25 years, Stop Foodborne Illness has communicated the compelling personal stories of people and families who have experienced serious foodborne illness or the death of loved ones. The goals of communicating these personal stories are to make clear why food safety must be a central value of the food system and to help motivate people in both the food industry and government to do their best every day to reduce hazards and prevent illness. Through the Alliance, STOP and leading food companies are collaborating to expand the reach and impact of personal stories to strengthen food safety cultures and prevent foodborne illness.

The Alliance to Stop Foodborne Illness has a mission to:

  • Forge partnerships between STOP and leading food companies to build trust and support strong food safety cultures.
  • Collaboratively design and implement innovative, well-tailored programs that make compelling personal stories an integral motivational element of food safety culture and training programs.
  • Expand the reach and impact of personal stories through outreach to the small- and medium-size companies that are key contributors to modern supply chains.

Current Alliance members: Costco, Cargill, Conagra Brands, Coca-Cola, Yum! Brands, Nestle USA, LGMA, Empirical Foods, Maple Leaf Foods, Mars, Walmart, Wegmans, and Amazon.

Constituent/Advocate Engagement

Working with those who have been impacted by severe foodborne illness is base to our prevention work. We engage our constituent/advocates in many projects and continually seek additional opportunities.

  • STOP’s new website houses a navigational map for anyone who is in crisis, post-crisis or managing the long-term consequences of surviving severe foodborne disease. This structured, informational composition was created by constituent/advocates that are sharing their lived experiences. This incisive work provides incredible insight into the journey that may lie ahead and how to manage the potential labyrinth.
  • With our partner, Center for Science in the Public Interest, we have created a national platform for survivors of salmonellosis and campylobacteriosis to speak about their experiences surviving these diseases.
  • The Alliance has created multiple working partnerships with individual constituent/advocates.
  • STOP’s speaker’s bureau provides opportunities for our constituent/advocates to share their personal stories with large groups in person or virtually.
  • A recent college graduate who is a constituent/advocate is leading the creation of a new program for the organization.

Dave Theno Fellowship

Dave Theno Fellowship is a partnership with Michigan State University (MSU) that provides a recent public health, food science, animal science or political science graduate (undergraduate or graduate degree) the opportunity to conduct two distinct research projects, engage in STOP programming, participate on coalition calls and earn a certificate in food safety from MSU.

STOP is working with MSU to create a new course for its Online Food Safety Program that focuses on food safety failures and the impact of those system breakdowns on consumers.

Early Detection of Foodborne Illness Research

In conjunction with North Carolina State University, Michigan State University, Eastern Carolina University and University of Michigan, STOP is engaging in research to identify gaps in knowledge and application of the 2017 Infectious Disease Society of America Clinical Practice Guidelines of the Diagnosis and Management of Infectious Diarrhea (IDSA) for healthcare workers. Our early findings have identified that most healthcare workers do not know about nor follow the IDSA guidelines, which include reporting of cases of infectious diarrhea and identification of the pathogen for identification and prevention of potential widespread outbreaks.

To support this research, STOP is completing a systematic literature review with the intent to publish.

Recall Modernization Working Group

STOP has been convening a group of experts comprised of individuals from academia, Alliance members, external industry partners, food industry associations, public health organizations, and industry consultants to deep dive into food recalls to define the current landscape, discuss systemic changes necessary for expedient and efficient execution of recalls for both industry and consumers and develop recommendations on how to accomplish those changes.

Everyone is susceptible to foodborne illness; thus, we need a varied, coordinated approach. Each of these partnerships helps our colleagues meet their goals while promoting prevention of foodborne illness by straddling both industry and consumer focused work. Executing our mission takes many forms and that requires diversity in partnerships, a shared vision and tangible, sustainable results.

Kari Hensien, RizePoint
FST Soapbox

How to Enhance Your Food Safety Culture, Now More Important than Ever

By Kari Hensien
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Kari Hensien, RizePoint

I don’t have to tell you that COVID-19 is a crisis, and the consequences have been immediate and difficult. But as I speak to clients and look beyond the immediacy of the problems the food industry is facing, I am seeing positive insights that can help us now and in the future.

Food safety culture hasn’t always been clearly defined, nor has it been a “must” in many food safety systems. But the reality is that food safety culture—and the buy-in that needs to happen in your entire organization—is a direct and important element for staying up to date with new rules and being consistent and compliant at every location.

What Does Food Safety Culture Mean Now?

The definition I have liked most is “food safety culture is what you’re doing when no one is watching.” But with the coronavirus pandemic, everyone is always watching, so the definition must expand.
Customers are carefully watching every employee at every location to gain a feeling of safety and trust at restaurants and eateries. And if employees aren’t up to speed or don’t have buy-in to your food safety culture, or even food safety in general, a single incident can turn away customers for good.

As an example, I recently visited a favorite taco joint. After the cashier rang me up, he put hand sanitizer on his gloves and proceeded to put handfuls of chips into my takeaway bag with those same “sanitized” gloves. I will not be going back.

So, food safety culture is still about what you do when no one is watching and when everyone is watching, making participation from every member of your organization critical.

What Can You Do Now to Enhance Food Safety Culture?

Practices that enhance food safety culture should initiate a shift in perspective before you implement more tangible activities. These shifts will be more challenging because they require your entire organization to be on board.

Perspective Shifts for Food Safety Culture

One or more paradigm shifts may be necessary to make enhancing your food safety culture successful. Sometimes initiatives like food safety culture can feel more like another addition to your to-do list rather than an asset that ultimately makes the job of a quality manager easier. So, consider these suggested shifts as you move forward.

  1. Food safety culture is part of your food safety system and your corporate social responsibility plans. With any crisis, not just the current pandemic, the values and expectations you instill in your employees can give you an immovable base, even if the surface is in constant fluctuation. And whether you’re dealing with an outbreak or a pandemic, showing you put customers and location employees first demonstrates good corporate citizenship.
  2. Location employees can be your biggest asset or your biggest liability. Employees perform better when they know the purpose behind what they’re doing rather than following rules that may seem arbitrary if they don’t have a clear understanding of why.
  3.  Punitive systems encourage hiding problems; supportive systems encourage collaboration and trust. If employees feel safe reporting issues or problems at their location, the more likely they’ll catch small issues before they become huge liabilities.
  4. Food safety culture can be a huge asset. In other words, instead of looking at food safety culture as another chore in your already crowded list, see it as an asset that improves food safety and creates better work environments, which inherently decreases risk and protects your brand.

In-Practice Shifts for Food Safety Culture

The paradigm shifts suggested above help build a support perspective for a strong food safety culture. The following shifts I suggest can help you implement tangible actions that benefit every level of your organization.

  1. Take great care of location employees. These employees are in direct contact with customers the most, and they are truly your first line of defense. Which means they can be an incredible asset or the weakest link.
  2. Consider audit and checklist software over laminated or paper checklists. The right software or app can instantly push new policies or standards to every location and employee at the same time, so everyone is always on the same page. Choose software or other tools that 1) makes it easy for all employees to get the information they need; 2) helps them quickly build behaviors that serve your quality and safety programs; and 3) empowers them to confidently share issues that need to be corrected so you get a true view of the health of any location.
  3. Consider quality management system software. With a platform (there are many that include audit and checklist tools), you can collect data points more quickly and from more sources to create a single source of truth and deepen insights. Software can directly support food safety culture, helping you:
    • Find new insights and continually improve your processes
    • Systematically rollout new policies and procedures
    • Drive adoption of new policies and “build muscle memory” so employees build good habits
    • Validate that your policies and practices are followed in every location
    • Identify locations or policies that need increased focus while you reward areas of successful performance.
  4. Look at your organization from a 30,000-foot perspective. This is not so easy to do if you are using manual processes such as paper, file cabinets or even spreadsheets. With those tools, you can see data points, but it takes a lot of work to build a big-picture view. Again, this is where software is invaluable. Many quality management system software options include built-in analytics and reporting, which means much of the work is done for you, saving you valuable time.

I hope your main takeaway from this article is that surviving a crisis requires a strong food safety culture. It helps unify employees across your organization, so everyone knows what’s expected of them and how their work affects the big picture. I see strong evidence that enhancing your food safety culture is more than the “next thing on your to-do list.” It’s a tool that you can put to work to decrease risk, increase compliance, and find small issues before they become huge problems.

Maria Fontanazza, Food Safety Tech
Women in Food Safety

Help Us Shape Our Future Vision

By Maria Fontanazza, Melody Ge
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Maria Fontanazza, Food Safety Tech

Women in food safety are increasingly playing more critical roles in their organizations because of our objective decision-making, compassion, communication prowess and ability to collaborate. During this year’s Food Safety Consortium Virtual Series, we are pleased to join Food Safety Tech with a Women in Food Safety Day. It’s our day: We will discuss the challenges and opportunities that we encounter as a gender, especially during this uncertain era in the world. We will also address issues surrounding students who are devoting their research to improving food safety and quality. We welcome your contribution, support and ideas.

The 2020 Food Safety Consortium Virtual Series will take place every Thursday during the fall, beginning on September 10. If you are interested in presenting during the Women in Food Safety Day, we invite you to submit an abstract. Please note that the day in which the Women in Food Safety session will be held will be announced after we receive the abstracts.

When the Women in Food Safety group was first founded, the mission was to provide a community and networking platform for women in the industry to share their experiences and to seek advice from peers; more importantly, to help young female professionals and students to grow into future outstanding women leaders in the food safety industry.

To carry this mission, the group founder and committee are pleased to announce a mentorship program with below five focused areas:

  1. Diversity/culture: For women with a diverse background, focusing on their needs in different work culture
  2. Adventure Starts: For women in school, focusing on bridging the gap of moving from academia to industry; focus on starting their career, and create a pipeline for future food safety professionals
  3. The Future Leadership: For women at early career stage, focusing on step up to senior management, pipeline for future women leadership
  4. Working in Manufacturing: For women working in manufacturing sites, focusing on their needs in this specific work environment
  5. Work/Life balance: For women who are facing decision-makings, balancing work and life. The focus is on helping their needs when going through life’s exciting times and long leave from professional areas with minimal impact on work.

We welcome all industry professionals and fellows who are interested. We look forward to seeing you during the 2020 Food Safety Consortium Virtual Series, beginning on September 10. Together, we can make it. Join us to empower women and the food safety industry to leverage our unique leadership strength and skills.

John McPherson, rfxcel
FST Soapbox

Clear Waters Ahead? The Push for a Transparent Seafood Supply Chain

By John McPherson
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John McPherson, rfxcel

The seafood supply chain handles 158 million metric tons of product every year, 50% of which comes from wild sources. Operating in every ocean on the planet, the industry is struggling to figure out how to overcome the numerous obstacles to traceability, which include unregulated fishing, food fraud and unsustainable fishing practices. With these and other problems continuously plaguing the supply chain, distributors and importers cannot consistently guarantee the validity, source or safety of their products. Furthermore, there are limits to what a buyer or retailer can demand of the supply chain. Niche solutions abound, but a panacea has yet to be found.

In this complex environment, there are increasing calls for better supply chain management and “catch to plate” provenance. One problem, however: The industry as a whole still regards traceability as a cost rather than an investment. There are signs this attitude is changing, however, perhaps due to pressure from consumers, governments and watchdog-type organizations to “clean up” the business and address the mounting evidence that unsustainable fishing practices cause significant environmental problems. Today, we’ve arrived at a moment when industry leaders are being proactive about transparency and technologies such as mobile applications and environmental monitoring software can genuinely help reform the seafood supply chain.

A Global Movement for Seafood Traceability

There are several prominent examples of the burgeoning worldwide commitment to traceability (and, by default, the use of new technologies) in the seafood supply chain. These include the Tuna 2020 Traceability Declaration, the Global Tuna Alliance, and the Global Dialogue on Seafood Traceability. Let’s focus on the latter to illustrate the efforts to bring traceability to the industry.

The Global Dialogue on Seafood Traceability. The GDST, or the Dialogue, is “an international, business-to-business platform established to advance a unified framework for interoperable seafood traceability practices.” It comprises industry stakeholders from different parts of the supply chain and civil society experts from around the world, working together to develop industry standards to, among other things, improve the reliability of information, make traceability less expensive, help reduce risk in the supply chain, and facilitate long-term social and environmental sustainability.

On March 16, 2020, the Dialogue launched its GDST 1.0 Standards, which will utilize the power of data to support traceability and the ability to guarantee the legal origin of seafood products. These are guidelines, not regulations; members who sign a pledge commit themselves to bringing these standards to their supply chains.

GDST 1.0 has two objectives. First, it aims to harmonize data standards to facilitate data sharing up and down the supply chain. It calls for all nodes to create Electronic Product Code Information Services (EPCIS) events to make interoperability possible (EPCIS is a GS1 standard that allows trading partners to share information about products as they move through the supply chain.). Second, it defines the key data elements that trading partners must capture and share to ensure the supply chain is free of seafood caught through illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing and to collect relevant data for resource management.

Why Transparency Is Critical

By now it’s probably clear to you that the seafood sector is in dire need of a makeover. Resource depletion, lack of trust along the supply chain, and the work of global initiatives are just a few of the factors forcing thought leaders in the industry to rethink their positions and make traceability the supply chain default.

However, despite more and more willingness among stakeholders to make improvements, the fact is that the seafood supply chain remains opaque and mind-bogglingly complex. There are abundant opportunities for products to be compromised as they change hands over and over again across the globe on their journey to consumers. The upshot is that the status quo rules and efforts to change the supply chain are under constant assault.

You may ask yourself what’s at stake if things don’t change. The answer is actually quite simple: The future of the entire seafood sector. Let’s look at a few of the most pressing problems facing the industry and how transparency can help solve them.

Illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing. IUU fishing includes fishing during off-season breeding periods, catching and selling unmanaged fish stocks, and trading in fish caught by slaves (yes, slaves). It threatens the stability of seafood ecosystems in every ocean.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, IUU fishing accounts for as much as 26 million tons of fish every year, with a value of $10–23 billion. It is “one of the greatest threats to marine ecosystems” and “takes advantage of corrupt administrations and exploits weak management regimes.” It occurs in international waters and within nations’ borders. It can have links to organized crime. It depletes resources available to legitimate operations, which can lead to the collapse of local fisheries. “IUU fishing threatens livelihoods, exacerbates poverty, and augments food insecurity.”

Transparency will help mitigate IUU fishing by giving buyers and wholesalers the ability to guarantee the source of their product and avoid seafood that has come from suspect sources. It will help shrink markets for ill-gotten fish, as downstream players will demand data that proves a product is from a legal, regulated source and has been reported to the appropriate government agencies.

International food fraud. When the supply for a perishable commodity such as seafood fluctuates, the supply chain becomes vulnerable to food fraud, the illegal practice of substituting one food for another. (For seafood, it’s most often replacing one species for another.) To keep an in-demand product flowing to customers, fishermen and restaurateurs can feel pressure to commit seafood fraud.

The problem is widespread. A 2019 report by Oceana, which works to protect and restore the Earth’s oceans, found through DNA analysis that 21% of the 449 fish it tested between March and August 2018 were mislabeled and that one-third of the establishments their researchers visited sold mislabeled seafood. Mislabeling was found at 26% of restaurants, 24% of small markets, and 12% of larger chain grocery stores. Sea bass and snapper were mislabeled the most. These results are similar to earlier Oceana reports.

Consumer health and food safety. It’s difficult to guarantee consumer health and food safety without a transparent supply chain. End-to-end traceability is critical during foodborne illness outbreaks (e.g., E. coli) and recalls, but the complex and global nature of the seafood supply chain presents a particularly daunting challenge. Species substitution (i.e., food fraud) has caused illness and death, and mishandled seafood can carry high histamine levels that pose health risks. Consumers have expectations that they are eating authentic food that is safe; the seafood industry has suffered from a lack of trust, and is starting to realize that the modern consumer landscape demands transparency.

Why Seafood Traceability Supports the Whole Supply Chain

Most seafood supply chain actors are well-intentioned companies. They regard themselves as stakeholders of a well-managed resource whose hardiness and survival are critical to their businesses and the global food supply chain. Many have implemented policies that require their buyers to verify—to the greatest extent possible—that the seafood they procure meets minimum standards for sustainability, safety and quality.

This kind of self-regulation has been an important first step, but enforcing such standards has been hampered by the lack of validated traceability systems in a digital supply chain. Of course, it costs money to implement these systems, which has been a sticking point, but industry leaders are starting to realize the value of the investment.

Suppliers. A key benefit of traceability for suppliers (i.e., processors and manufacturers) is that it allows them to really protect their business investments. Traceability achieves this because it demonstrates to consumers and trading partners that suppliers are doing things the correct way. Traceability also gives them better control over their supply chains and improves the quality of their product—other important “indicators” for consumers and trading partners.

These advantages also create opportunities for suppliers to build their brand reputations. For example, they can engage with consumers directly, using traceability data to explain that they are responsible stewards of fish populations and the environment and that their products are sustainably sourced and legitimate.

The bottom line is that suppliers that don’t modernize and digitize their supply chains probably won’t be able to stay in business. This stark realization should make them embrace traceability, as well as adopt practices that comply with the regulations that govern their operations. And once they “get with the program,” they should also be more inclined to follow initiatives and guidelines such as the GDST 1.0 Standards. This will invariably create more trust with their customers and partners.

Brands (companies) and distributors. These stakeholders also have a lot to gain from traceability. In a nutshell, they can know exactly what they’re purchasing and have peace of mind about the products’ origins, sustainability, and legitimacy. Like suppliers, they can readily comply with regulations, such as the U.S. Seafood Import Monitoring Program (SIMP), a risk-based traceability effort that requires importers to provide and report key data about 13 fish and fish products identified as vulnerable to IUU fishing and/or seafood fraud.

And, of equal importance to their own fortunes, brands and distributors can use traceability to bolster their reputations and build and solidify their relationships with customers. Being able to prove the who, what, when, where, how, and why of the products they’re selling is a powerful branding and communications tool.

The end of the supply chain: Retailers, food service groups/providers, and consumers. High-quality products with traceable provenance mean retailers and food service companies will have better supply chain control and more “ammunition” to protect their brands. As with the stakeholders above, they’ll also garner more customer loyalty. For their part, consumers will know where their seafood comes from, be assured that their food is safe, feel good about being responsible buyers, and be inclined to purchase only products they can verify.

Transparency, Technology, Trust and Collaboration

The seafood industry is at a critical point in its very long history. It’s not a new story in business: Adapt, adopt and improve or face the consequences—in this case, government penalties, sanction from environmental groups, consumer mistrust and abandonment, and decreased revenues or outright failure.

There is one twist to the story, however: What the industry does now will affect more than just its own interests. The health of all fish species, the environment, and the future of the food supply for an ever-growing population hang in the balance.

But as we’ve demonstrated, there is good news. Supply chain transparency, driven by international initiatives and new technologies, is catching on in the industry. Though companies still struggle to see transparency as an investment, not a cost, their stances seem to be softening, their attitudes changing. The writing is on the wall.

The message I want to end with is that supply chain stakeholders should know that transparency is attainable—and it needn’t be painful. Help is available from many quarters, from government and global initiatives like the GDST to consumers themselves. Working with the right solution provider is another broad avenue leading to supply chain transparency. Technology is at the point now that companies have solid options. They can integrate their current systems with new solutions. They can consider replacing outdated and expensive-to-operate systems with less complicated solutions that, in the long run, do more for less. Or they can procure an entirely new supply chain system that closes all the gaps and jumps all the hurdles to transparency.

Whatever path the industry decides follow, the time to act is now.

FDA

FDA Receives Record Turnout As Industry Eager to Discuss New Era of Smarter Food Safety

By Maria Fontanazza
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FDA

Industry from the public and private sector joined for a record turnout during the FDA public meeting yesterday to discuss the agency’s initiative, a new era of smarter food safety. The meeting, which was at maximum capacity for both in-person as well as webcast attendance, began with a call to action from FDA Deputy Commissioner, Office of Food Policy and Response, Frank Yiannas on the importance of all stakeholders in the industry to work together to drive the change. As Yiannas has previously commented, the food industry is in the midst of a revolution. The world is changing faster than ever, and the FDA is challenged with not just creating a safer, more technology-centric and traceable food system, but also getting there faster and more effectively. “I’ve always believed that words we use are important,” he said. As the day’s various discussions would be around the new era of smarter food safety, Yiannas gave the audience a definition to consider: “A new era is a memorable or important date or event, especially one that begins with a new period in our history.”

FDA held breakout sessions centered on areas critical to the initiative:

  • Tech-enabled traceability and outbreak response
  • Smarter tools and approaches for prevention
  • Adapting to new business models and retail modernization
  • Food safety culture

During each session, FDA facilitators asked the audience questions. The following are some key points brought out during the breakouts.

Tech-Enabled Traceability and Outbreak Response

  • FDA should consider all parts of the supply chain when thinking about traceability
  • Take into account considerations for sharing sensitive data along the supply chain
  • Speaking a common language and creating data standards, along with necessary minimum data elements for traceability is critical
  • Better communication related to data sharing as well as more meetings with FDA and stakeholders, especially during outbreaks
  • Show industry the ROI of the data
  • Provide a roadmap or recommendation for companies on where they can begin on their traceability journey
  • Request for unity across government agencies (i.e., FDA, USDA), as it would provide more clarity during an outbreak

Smarter Tools and Approaches for Prevention

  • Trust and transparency are key
  • Safeguards that address privacy concerns and liability
  • Data
    • Data sharing: Concern about retroactive investigations
    • Types of data: With the “treasure trove” of existing data out there, which is the most important and helpful in improving food safety?
  • Environmental assessments and root cause analysis—more dialogue between FDA and industry

Adapting to New Business Models and Retail Food Safety Modernization

  • More need for collaboration
  • Globalization and use of best practices
  • Establishing a common standard to level the playing field
  • Establish best practices for tamper resistance
  • The last mile: Food safety training for food delivery personnel as well as harmonization for last mile delivery
  • More consumer education

Food Safety Culture

  • Emphasis on behavior and humanizing the work: Focusing on what happens within organizations at all levels
  • Clarity and communication are important
  • Leveraging current food safety culture best practices as well as any relevant existing standards (i.e., ISO, Codex)
  • Partnerships are critical, finding the balance between compliance and collaboration

Other Factors FDA Must Consider

The FDA meeting also included panel discussions that drew out the realities FDA must consider in this rapidly changing environment. “These are exciting times and this initiative is recasting our thinking in a whole new light,” said CFSAN Director Susan Mayne, adding, “We need to get ahead of these challenges and not be in reactive mode.”

Consumer awareness and demands for healthy, locally sourced and minimally processed food, for example, are creating increased pressures on food companies and retailers. In addition, the digital savvy and diverse Generation Z (the population born between 1990 and 2010, which will comprise nearly 40% of the U.S. population by 2020) has buying habits and a strong desire for transparency that is shifting how food companies will need to do business, according to Mary Wagner, president of MX Wagner & Associates.

“Trust represents safety, quality and commitment on a much more personal level to our consumers,” said Dirk Herdes, senior vice president at the Nielsen Company, emphasizing the need to communicate with authenticity. “Consumers have never been more informed, but never have been more overwhelmed with information. It’s not data—it’s trust. Trust is the new currency with which we’ll operate.”

FDA and USDA also remain committed to building a stronger relationship between the agencies, said Mindy Brashears, Ph.D., deputy undersecretary for food safety at USDA. “As science moves forward, we have to allow our policies to move forward to keep consumers safe,” she added.

The comments shared during yesterday’s meeting, along with written and electronic comments (with a deadline of November 20), will be considered as FDA puts together its blueprint document for a new era of smarter food safety. More information about providing comments can be found on the Federal Register page.

Food Safety Consortium

Making Your Supply Chain Smarter, Safer and More Sustainable

By Maria Fontanazza
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Food Safety Consortium

How to build a smarter, safer and more sustainable food supply chain: This was a big topic at the 2018 Food Safety Consortium last month. David McCarthy of IBM Food Trust led a panel of experts from the retail side of the industry in a Q&A session about their biggest challenges in the supply chain, the role of digital and how to achieve a higher level of transparency.

What are the main areas in the supply chain where there’s a major need for improvement?

Sean Leighton, vice president of food safety and quality, Cargill: One of the biggest challenges that I see from a supplier perspective is people’s assumptions around what is the supply chain—our mindsets, our ability to talk with each other on “what do you mean by ‘supply chain’”?

Cindy Jiang and Scott Horsfall at the 2018 Food Safety Consortium
Cindy Jiang and Scott Horsfall (all images credit: amybcreative)

What is food safety’s role in the supply chain?

Cindy Jiang, senior director of worldwide food safety, quality and nutrition, McDonald’s Corp.: The supply chain is a supply network; it’s not linear. The most fundamental thing is to ensure there’s no disruption—that the supply chain can provide goods and food product to your customers. When you’re looking at the supply chain, [there’s a] change between the traditional thinking and the digital demand. How do you provide information in an effective way to your customers?

Howard Popoola, vice president, corporate food technology and regulatory compliance, The Kroger Company: Our supply chain means nothing if we aren’t able to deliver safe foods to those consumers in the last mile. Consumers are thinking about the experience that they’re going to have with this product. They’re not thinking about whether it’s safe or not. They’re thinking about the meal they’re going to make at home with the ingredients that they purchased.

The biggest pain point from the retailer’s perspective, when you look at us as being the last in the chain, is in transparency [and] knowing where the products are coming from. Transparency is very big for us. And it takes more than the retailer to open that door of transparency to the consumer.

What are the challenges you’re seeing in providing transparency?

Scott Horsfall, CEO, California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement: I think a big challenge right now and in the future is communication.

Leighton: I think the winners….are going to be the ones that try to achieve consumer trust. The future is no place for the three ring binders…it’s digital. Where does the data sit? How can you provide access to them through customers?

Howard Popoola, Sean Leighton, Food Safety Consortium
Howard Popoola and Sean Leighton

How does the digital transformation play into providing transparency?

Popoola: The consumers have already trusted the food industry. There are millions of people walking into retail stores buying product. If the trust isn’t there, they wouldn’t be doing that. We erode that trust when [a consumer] has a terrible experience with that product.

How are you seeing digital transformation across the supply chain?

Jiang: Digital is one of the top three initiatives of McDonalds; how do we connect with consumers? When serving 70 million customers each day, how can we get to the transparency to understand the supply—digital is one of the answers. From the supply chain standpoint, we’re looking at the analytics. We cannot think about only one solution. We have to have different solutions to get the end results.

Popoola: I think the food industry has to see itself as a big ecosystem. If we don’t see ourselves as an ecosystem that strives for the one thing,… digital is always going to be a mirage. We have to look at what is digital and understand the fact that [we have large and small companies]. It’s not going to be one size fits all.

How long will it take the food industry to get to a completely digital operation?

Jiang: Looking at the total industry digitized—the majority of the work can be done within the next five years, [by] looking at leading companies. But in terms of total digitalization of the ood network in the U.S., I think that will take another 10 to 20 years.

Food Safety Consortium
(left to right) Howard Poopola, Sean Leighton, Cindy Jiang, Scott Horsfall and David McCarthy discuss supply chain challenges during the 2018 Food Safety Consortium

Horsfall: I think there’s a challenge with much of the farm community to get to this point. There’s also this issue with how you transmit the information. [Horsfall predicts] 10-15 years for the industry.

Leighton: Even a 100% digitized food industry has limited value if the players in the industry can’t pull together to deliver meaningful insights from it all.

What are the most promising innovations solving transparency?

Jiang: When looking at innovation, not just technology (technology is an enabler)— the most impactful innovation is human innovation: How can we work together? The GFSI platform started 20 years ago, and now it’s so impactful around the globe. [Now we’re] looking at how to harmonize food safety standards.

How can we standardize and harmonize… for ingredient suppliers?
How [can we] use the GS1 platform, numbering system to track on where the ingredient is coming from and how that product is made for us—what’s in my product?

Think about the human collaboration and how to improve where we’re at.

Poopola: I would like to tackle this from a different perspective: When we built technologies (whether off-the-shelf or customized) 20 years ago, we thought [it would be around for] the next 100 years. It’s clear today that the technology you have in place might be obsolete in five years. We have to look at the technology we’re building and acquiring today: Will it be relevant in five years?

Leighton: It’s hard to wrap my head around…deep learning and AI [artificial intelligence]. The insights we can gain from machine learning and predictive analytics. Could AI be human’s last invention?

Horsfall: In produce industry, which hasn’t always been in the front, I think that’s changing. [We’re] trying to bring AI and new technology to bear.