Tag Archives: communication

Food Safety Tech

Recall Consequences: What Consumers Think

By Maria Fontanazza
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Food Safety Tech

Consumer preferences have clearly shifted to a more personal, hands-on experience that requires food companies to maintain trust by being completely forthright about what is in their products. And when a company is involved in a recall, consumers expect a fast response—within days, according to a recent survey. Half of the survey participants expect a company to address a recall within one to two days. In addition, if a brand or restaurant has a recall or contamination that leads to illness, 23% said they would never use the brand or visit the restaurant again and 35% said they would avoid it for a few months and “maybe” come back.

A company’s supply chain can be the weakest link in its food safety program. Learn how to mitigate these risks at the Food Safety Supply Chain conference | June 5-6, 2017

The survey, commissioned by FoodLogiQ and titled, “What Consumers Care About in the Age of Transparency”, polled more than 2000 people. It also found that the same consumers who expect a one- to two-day turnaround in addressing a recall also care a great deal about clarity in food labeling: 57% want to see as much information on a label as possible. This includes country of origin, allergen information and identification of genetically modified ingredients.

With the number of recalls occurring four times as often as they did five years ago, food companies are at an even higher risk of facing a negative financial impact and losing consumer confidence. Maintaining transparency throughout the supply chain is a crucial part of managing consumer expectations and executing effective risk mitigation.

“Open, constant and transparent communication with your suppliers is a must for addressing these issues. After all, you can’t offer consumers the information they crave about your product and processes if you aren’t getting that information from your suppliers and brokers,” state the survey authors. “You cannot expect a supplier to fulfill your requirements around safety and brand promise if you aren’t open about your expectations. It’s a two-way relationship that can make a huge difference in your business.”

The authors offer recommendations on how companies can keep a clear line of communication open with consumers, including:

  • Transparency throughout the supply chain, including from where food is sourced
  • List all product ingredients and include information about allergens and animal products
  • Have open communication concerning mislabeling, and contamination and recalls
product recall sheet

Effective Supplier/Retailer Communication Eases Pain of Food Recalls

By Holly Mockus
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product recall sheet

Food recalls are not 100% avoidable, and they are costly. The hit to an individual food company or retailer, on average, can run to tens of millions of dollars. Annually, millions of consumers become ill as a result of contaminated food products, and the dollar costs in terms of lost productivity, medical treatment and deaths run into the tens of billions.1 More than 20% of consumers have said that they would not purchase any brands from a company suffering a food recall.2 At best, damage to a company’s brand and reputation could take a long time to repair. Clearly, the need to prevent food contamination is obvious and should be the ultimate goal of all food safety professionals.

But despite the best industry efforts, recalls inevitably occur. And since they aren’t 100% avoidable, suppliers and retailers must continue to look for ways to minimize the safety and financial impact of the recall events that do occur. It’s good to begin that process by understanding some statistics surrounding the most common recalls. Globally, 46% of food recalls are for chemical hazards or the introduction of non-food-grade ingredients. 79% of these are due to undeclared allergens. 26% of recalls are for food-borne pathogens, and 8% are due to physical hazards (metal, glass, plastic, paper, wood, etc.). The remaining 20% are generally quality-based recalls and withdrawals.3

Head Off Recalls Before They Occur

Knowing the numbers helps suppliers and retailers home in on their most likely problem areas and get a leg up on potential product contamination problems. Since chemical hazards are the single biggest culprit, and because most of these instances are due to allergens, food companies should closely examine their cleaning and sanitation practices during production line changeovers. Keep in mind the potential role of contract service providers as sources of adulteration. Regarding pathogens, evaluate raw and ready-to-eat segregation procedures, staff access points, and  good manufacturing practices and employee traffic patterns.

Many companies focus their efforts on passing food safety certification audits, but faithful adherence to food safety measures just to pass an audit misses the point. Focus on the development and implementation of comprehensive food safety systems to guard against contamination and food safety incidents, and not just avoid non-conformances to certification codes. Preventing food safety incidents and recalls before they happen must be the priority.

Supplier Best Practice: The Mock Trace

Manufacturers, suppliers and certification bodies have evolved a set of best-practice recommendations that will go a long way toward reducing the number of food safety incidents and recalls. These include conducting regular internal audits of food safety plans and procedures, including approved supplier programs and environmental monitoring programs, both to re-evaluate their effectiveness and discover new or previously overlooked gaps.

Suppliers should consider taking things to the next level. SQFI’s LeAnn Chuboff suggests that suppliers “make their retailers happy” through the use of mock trace exercises.3 These “dry runs” are invaluable for reinforcing the close examination and evaluation of recall plans and to become intimately familiar with the necessary procedures in the event of an actual adulteration event. Mock trace exercises should be intensive: They are particularly effective in identifying gaps when they occur during off shifts. Making the exercise challenging rather than check-the-box easy helps companies reveal and close critical gaps. Conduct the mock trace in both directions, from raw materials to finished goods, and vice versa.

Include every department in the company. For mock trace exercises to be completely effective, review all documentation for errors or omissions. All employees should be interviewed to determine whether they fully understand food safety and documentation procedures. Review training modules and observe manufacturing procedures for evidence of knowledge or operational gaps. Examine bulk material receiving and storage, employee and material traffic patterns, packaging materials and procedures, and cleaning and maintenance chemicals.

Speed as well as accuracy and thoroughness are critical in the event of an actual recall event. Companies should practice rapid response. Take advantage of all the accumulated experiences from the mock exercise to improve every aspect of the company’s food contamination response tools and practices.

FSC 2016

FSMA, Listeria, Fraud and Food Safety Culture Among Top Topics at Food Safety Consortium

By Maria Fontanazza
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FSC 2016

The 2016 Food Safety Consortium was a big success, from the preconference events that included the STOP Foodborne Illness fundraiser honoring heroes in food safety and the education workshops (SQF Information Day and preventive controls courses) to the record-breaking attendance we saw during the main program (with keynotes from FDA Deputy Commissioner for Foods and Veterinary Medicine Stephen Ostroff, M.D., Walmart’s Vice President of Food Safety Frank Yiannas, and FBI’s Special Agent Scott Mahloch).

As the event winded down, the leaders of each session track shared their insights on lessons learned during the Consortium.

Understanding biofilm and how it forms.  If you’re seeing peaks and valleys in the positives and negatives in your environmental swabbing program, you may have resident Listeria that has formed a biofilm, which requires a deep clean. Focus on biofilm, not just mitigation of the Listeria bacteria itself. – Gina Kramer, Savour Food Safety International. Read Gina’s column, Food Safety Think Tank, where she talks about the latest technology and innovations.

This is the first conference I’ve been to you where food fraud is being more widely acknowledged as a serious, important concern that is distinctly separate from food safety. One of the more significant takeaways is the number of tools that are now available for people to mitigate their risk to food fraud in the supply chain. – Steve Sklare, USP

Warren Hojnacki, SGS
Warren Hojnacki, SGS

A while back food safety was a nice-to-have but not a need-to-have. It’s certainly an absolute need-to-have now. There are three groups of individuals out there: The third that has picked up the baton and is proactive, the other third that are in the middle of it right now, and the other third have their heads in the sand. I come across a sizable portion that is in the bottom third, and it’s slightly scary… It’s the documentation that a lot of companies are having the biggest challenge in dealing with—the death by paper. The resources out there are immense. It’s a necessity to have right now in order to be effective and compliant.  – Warren Hojnacki, SGS

FSMA regulations require us to be risk based, scientifically based and systematic in our approach to our concerns and issues. – Barb Hunt, Savour Food Safety International

There’s potential for greater data and actions: i.e., the microbiome study or particulate contamination analysis, PLM, IR spectroscopy, SEM EDS, [and] raman spectroscopy…Lab customers may need to depend more greatly on contract labs as FSMA develops and in return, labs need to work more closely with the customers to get dependable, defensive data results. – Eric Putnam, Wixon, Inc.

Trish Wester, PA Wester Consulting
Trish Wester, PA Wester Consulting

We need to do a better job of messaging upstream to our corporate senior officials so we get the money and resources we need—there’s still a gap there. We need to find ways to communicate to them.  – Trish Wester, PA Wester Consulting

Katy Jones, Foodlogiq
FST Soapbox

Supplier Management: Grow Strategic Partnerships and Drive Value Across the Supply Chain

By Katy Jones
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Katy Jones, Foodlogiq

According to a report by Kroll and The Economist Intelligence Unit, 17% of companies experienced some type of vendor, supplier or procurement fraud in 2015. While fraud is one of the more extreme examples of supplier management complications, the manufacturer-supplier relationship is notoriously fickle and can result in serious issues if attention and care is not reciprocal from the beginning.

With great communication and even better processes in place, your suppliers have the potential to become strategic partners for your brand, helping drive your values across the supply chain while also helping you achieve overarching business goals.

Do Your Homework

In order to foster positive supplier relations, it is important to consider all available options and carefully assess them before engaging. In the research phase, it is critical to get as many references as possible to ensure you align with a potential supplier when it comes to safety practices and brand values. Looking at a supplier’s history is an effective way to gauge how your partnership will pan out and catch any red flags before they become a bigger problem for the brand, whether that be poor communication habits, dishonesty about products or inconsistent record keeping.

FSMA deadlines for compliance with the Foreign Supplier Verification Program (FSVP) are right around the corner. With the changing regulatory landscape, thoroughly investigating potential suppliers is crucial, especially if they are outside of the United States, as the stakes are much higher. Under the FSVP, importers are essentially “guilty” until proven “innocent”—a sharp contrast from how foreign suppliers were previously handled by the FDA. The standards for imported food are stricter than ever, as are the consequences for companies that are found working with foreign suppliers without verification. With the FSVP, the FDA can halt all importations completely as long as they have reason to believe the supplier is not compliant with the program.

Communication Is Key

At the cornerstone of any good relationship is communication; the same goes for relationships within the food industry.

Once a supplier has been thoroughly vetted and is officially on the team, the key to maintaining a successful relationship is transparency. Without full transparency with suppliers, you can’t offer consumers reliable information about their food. At the same time, manufacturers need to be straightforward with their needs to ensure suppliers are able to uphold their expectations. By thoroughly communicating plans and expectations, you and your suppliers can effectively work together to achieve future goals.

At the start of a working relationship with a supplier, it is important to comprehensively onboard and train them in your plans and processes to avoid a lack of understanding down the line. By setting up an all-encompassing onboarding system, inclusive of checklists and background documents on procedures and standards, you can help ease growing pains and empower your new food supplier to become a trusted partner. For instance, if you use a specific supply chain technology, your suppliers should know ahead of time so they can receive adequate training on the solution. This will help streamline communication and minimize any bumps in the road.

Regular Check-Ups

While safety and contamination issues are undesirable, they are inevitable. When faced with an outbreak or contaminant in your supply chain, suppliers become your most crucial resource. A poorly handled recall can wreak havoc on a food manufacturer, with the potential to ruin a trusted brand. Having the correct protocols in place with suppliers to ensure proper procedures are followed quickly and efficiently is critical. In order to make sure suppliers are complying with standards, keeping complete records and maintaining proper safety practices, it is essential to perform regular supplier audits.

With the addition of new technologies in the last few years, monitoring supplier performance and implementing corrective actions has never been easier. There are companies that offer supplier management and food safety management software to enable manufacturers 24/7 end-to-end visibility into their food supply chain and suppliers’ practices, while simplifying communication. Supplier management software offers a single platform that allows a brand to safeguard important supplier documentation, submit proper records to regulators when audited, streamline supplier audits and compliance records, and communicate corrective actions.

Overall, supplier management software with end-to-end supply chain visibility is a great way to keep up with suppliers and rest assured that your company’s food safety guidelines are being followed at all times.

Keeping Consumers Safe and Happy

With the current state of food safety, keeping suppliers in check is absolutely crucial for brands. As the FDA is increasing regulations with the adoption of FSMA, manufacturers must be able to trust their suppliers to uphold these new standards. If there are any slip-ups, your brand is held accountable. At the same time, with the increasing number of high-profile recalls and foodborne illness reports, consumers are on high alert, and winning their trust is harder than ever; today’s conscious consumer expects total transparency from their food brands, something only achieved through a strong supplier management program.

Fortunately, given advancements in technology, manufacturers can now foster more proactive relationships, assess supplier performance and achieve mutual goals across the chain smoothly.

While good supplier management requires time and resources, it is worth the investment. Putting in the effort to foster strategic partnerships with suppliers is key to mitigating safety and contamination issues, meeting the FDA’s regulations, as well as keeping consumers safe and happy.

Gina Kramer
Food Safety Think Tank

Mobile Technology Could Help Your Business in an Outbreak

By Gina R. Nicholson-Kramer
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Gina Kramer

Join Gina Kramer at the Listeria Detection & Control Workshop, May 31–June 1 in St. Paul, MN | LEARN MOREI recently spoke with Wes Billingslea, one of the co-founder’s of Till Mobile Corp., a company founded because its team realized large brands needed to connect all the way down to the smallholder and grower level. There are more than 6 billion mobile devices on earth and only a small percentage of them are smartphones. Till uses voice, text, and SMS-mobile to enable two-way communication with smallholders, and to deliver visibility and traceability. The company is able to collect massive amounts of data from growers because there is no resistance to using mobile phones. It works with your existing systems to identify and fill data gaps that create risk. The big brands access detailed analytics and can communicate directly throughout their supply chain to accelerate supplier onboarding, support local and alternate sourcing, and check inventory, pricing, and food safety standards.

I asked Wes, as a food company, how could this technology save me money? To start, it allows you to check inventory and pricing, and helps you adhere to your food safety standards beyond the packinghouse or distributor. It can also help you get more out of your existing systems to protect your IT infrastructure.

In the following video, we discuss the Salmonella outbreak in cucumbers that occurred last summer. In such a scenario, this new technology could help save food retailers money during an outbreak or recall by giving them greater visibility and real-time data, and help them source alternatives directly.

Frank Yiannas, VP of Food Safety, Walmart

Use Homophily to Deliver Food Safety Message

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Frank Yiannas, VP of Food Safety, Walmart

Watch part I of the video with Frank Yiannas: Apply Behavioral Science Techniques to Food SafetyWho is your company charging with delivering the food safety message? Are they believable? Frank Yiannas, vice president of food safety at Walmart, provides insights about how companies should be spreading their message when implementing a behavior-based food safety program. By applying the principle of homophily, companies (especially global organizations) can communicate more effectively with employees—and in a more believable way.

 

Employee learning, Huddle guide

Trends in Digital Learning

By Holly Mockus
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Employee learning, Huddle guide

The food industry is becoming increasingly fast-paced. Regulations are changing, the supply chain is becoming more transparent, and resources are harder to access. To meet the needs of an ever-changing industry, digital learning is becoming the go-to solution for training managers and frontline food handlers alike, as it can be done quickly and efficiently. Now that most people have smartphones and mobile devices, there are multiple ways to make learning accessible.

Employee learning
Image courtesy of Alchemy Systems

The “Mind of the Food Worker” study conducted by the Center for Research and Public Policy (CRPP) points out that food workers have developed a preference for digital training over traditional classroom or instructor-conducted training. There are many new approaches to learning, including web-based eLearning, kiosk, gamification/competition, social media, digital signage, and coordinated communication programs. Let’s take a closer look at each of these.

eLearning

eLearning is no longer about reading through a PowerPoint presentation or watching a pre-recorded video. The number of companies offering eLearning continues to increase, as do the topics, content and format of the content. In addition, eLearning carries the added benefit of being affordable. For many companies, saving on the cost of travel when an individual attends a workshop provides an attractive incentive.

The ability to learn at one’s own pace at the time and place of one’s choosing has special appeal for today’s learners. The availability of eLearning via mobile devices is meeting that desire. It can be seen everywhere—people glued to their mobile devices while waiting in line, taking a lunch break, or in the evenings on their own time. This is multitasking at its finest.

Kiosks

The ability to take a device to a quiet environment helps with concentration and efficiency in training. Kiosks can be set up in an area that is conducive to learning with no traffic, noise or other distractions and are popping up at workplaces more and more. Learners can come and go at their convenience. A learning lab set up in a manufacturing facility will pay for itself very quickly. Sending workers to the lab one at a time is much more cost effective than shutting down a line or area of the plant for group or classroom training.

Gamification

Gamification, the use of interactive tools in conjunction with learning, is a term being used more often in training industry vocabulary. For example, it can involve the addition of a word and a definition-matching exercise in conjunction with a training module to encourage learners to retain what they have just learned. It also makes the education process more fun—and it seems to be working.

Gone are the days of sitting through hours and hours of dry lectures or reading textbooks that simply do not resonate. This method has always been especially difficult for employees working in a food plant. Sitting in a warm darkened room listening to a droning presentation is an invitation to sleep. Gamification eliminates the droning, and requires attention and participation.

The Association for Psychological Science has confirmed that competition engages learners, drives retention, and leads to higher test scores. Got a boring topic for training?  Get your game on!  A great example of gamified learning that is readily available is Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Day. Sign up for free and receive a daily email with a new word, along with its pronunciation, definition(s), use and history. The email also links to several great games that provide word calisthenics for the brain.

Social Media

Leveraging social media helps to expand and continuously improve training programs. This mode of technology will ensure that every employee in a company has timely, consistent answers to questions. Using private company social media provides a safe environment for posting questions and answers while complementing a training program and filling any knowledge gaps. The CRPP study points out that 80% of workers regularly use public social media platforms such as Facebook and LinkedIn.

Companies can take full advantage of this familiarity with social media by providing an internal forum that encourages open discussion and group learning. This approach enables the workforce to engage in an interactive learning path that is continually up to date. Internal social media also encourages networking, which fosters a sense of camaraderie between individuals, along with company loyalty. One major food company that has used this approach has seen employee questions flourish from 3,000 entries in the first year to more than 15,000 the following year. What an incredible way to keep the workforce updated minute by minute with appropriate, relevant answers to their inquiries.

The Future of Technology, Compliance and Food Safety

By Jason Dea
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There is no question that we are in the midst of a unique time period in history. Technology is continuing to innovate at an increasingly rapid rate, which has led to drastic changes that affect nearly every corner of day-to-day life. From the way we find information to our food choices, technology is influencing our lives in new ways.

The Rise of the Internet

Mary Meeker, the venture capitalist who was dubbed the “Queen of the Internet” more than 15 years ago, has described the current Internet age as a period of reimagining. At the heart of this reimagining has been the rapid growth, maturity and adoption of the Internet and Internet-enabled technologies.

In her most recent 2015 research, Meeker published some fascinating statistics. The number of people online has ballooned more 80 times, from a user base of a mere 35 million in 1995 to a staggering 2.8 billion users in less than 20 years. This figure translates into nearly 40% of the total global population.

InternetUsers_2014
A breakdown of the 2.8 billion Internet users in 2014. This figure (39% global penetration) exploded from the approximately 35 million users in 1995. Source: Internet Trends 2015 – Code Conference

It hasn’t just been the volume of usage that has evolved radically. The nature by which those billions of users are signing online has also changed. It’s hard to believe that the original iPhone was released in 2007, less than 10 years ago. In that time, the mobile Internet has gone from a novelty to a necessity for many of us in our daily lives. This smartphone adoption has fueled Internet use and has drastically increased the ease with which consumers can get online.

Reimagining Communication and Compliance

The result of our new “always-on,” globally connected world (to borrow Meeker’s term) is a complete reimagining of communication. Consumers expect a velocity and volume of communication that the world has never before experienced. We now take for granted that we can reach friends, family and acquaintances anywhere in the world—at any time—in an instant. This has also drastically changed our expectations of business relationships.

Consumers in an ever-connected world have an expectation of availability and transparency of information from the brands with which they interact and the establishments they frequent. What this means for businesses is that customers expect to have a degree of access to business data that they’ve never asked for previously.

A tangible side effect of this desire for data transparency can be seen within the regulatory environment that organizations operate. Governments and regulatory bodies have increased their expectations of data access and availability over time, resulting in more stringent regulations across the board.

Research from Enhesa shows that the regulatory growth rate is nearly as staggering as Internet growth rates. According to the firm’s research, from 2007–2014 regulatory increases by region were as follows:

  • North America: +146%
  • Europe: +206%
  • Asia: +104%

Impact on Food Safety: Consumer Engagement and Regulatory Growth

One particular area of regulatory growth has occurred within the food and beverage sector. Arguably no product category has a more direct impact on consumers than food, as it literally fuels us each day. It’s no wonder that in an environment of increasing regulations and more empowered consumers that food quality and food safety are under increased scrutiny.

In today’s environment, it becomes much more challenging to brush aside product recalls and food safety incidents or bury these stories in specialized media. The latest news is not just a fleeting negative headline. In a worst-case scenario these incidents are viral, voracious and more shareable than ever before. From Listeria outbreaks to contaminated meat to questionable farming practices—when fueled by the Internet, the negative branding impact of these stories can be staggering. Consumers are paying attention and engaging with these stories—for example, during a Listeria or Salmonella outbreak, online searches for these terms significantly rise.

The rise of hyper-aware consumers has had a measurable impact. As a result, governments have been quick to respond and have beefed up existing regulations for the food and beverage sector via FSMA and GFSI.

Top 10 Tips for Creating a Sustained Food Safety Culture

By Holly Mockus
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After much anticipation, FDA has finally published the FSMA final rules. If you’ve had time to dig into the details, you most likely noted the new initiative that requires companies to measure food safety culture. The industry is also seeing SQF, BRC and other GFSI audit schemes ramping up discussions around measuring food safety culture. However, FDA and GFSI audits aside, how do you create a culture for sustained compliance with this initiative? Follow these 10 tips to ensure your food safety culture is constant and in line with the new requirements

Photo credit: Dennis Burnett for Alchemy Systems
Set clear expectations for employees across the board. Photo credit: Dennis Burnett for Alchemy Systems

1: Create a solid foundation of programs, procedures and policies

Have a preset annual schedule for review and update of all programs, procedures and policies. Don’t let the schedule slide because there are competing priorities. A small pebble is all it takes to start ripple effect in the company, making it difficult to recover.

2: Set clear expectations, driven from the top down

Everyone should follow the rules and guidelines—from visitors to the CEO to the plant manager to the hourly employee. A “no exceptions” policy will drive a culture that is sustainable and drive a “this-is-just-how-we-do-things” mindset.

3: Use record keeping to ensure that food safety culture is well documented and data-driven

Collect the data that is measureable and non-subjective to help drive continuous improvement. If you collect it, you must do something with it. Good documentation is imperative to proving you did what you said you were going to do, especially in the event of an audit. Be stringent in training, and review all documentation before it hits the file cabinet to ensure it is accurate and appropriate.

4: Implement a robust continuous improvement process

Forward momentum through a continuous improvement process cannot be achieved unless management nurtures the program. If you are not continuously improving, you are falling behind.

5: Have a 360-degree approach to employee engagement with 24/7 awareness and communication

Top-down communication is critical to highlighting the priorities and needs of an organization and will not be effective unless an organized program is in place. Organizations that are not making the necessary pivots to communicate with the multiple generations within their workplace today will struggle to sustain change.

6: Foster an atmosphere of mutual respect

Treat people as you would like to be treated, turn the other cheek, etc. There may be lots of adages you quote, but which one best describes your facility and the relationships with management and peers on a daily basis?

7: Be sure employees have consumer awareness for the products they produce

Do your employees know who the end consumer is of the product that they are producing every day?  Does your culture include a review of consumer complaints and customer complaints with your frontline workers?  Listening in to a call center is a very powerful way to help employees understand what affects consumers and how their job is critical to avoiding a food safety or quality issue.

8: Create accountability across the board

Hold folks who do not support the culture in which you are striving to develop or maintain accountable, regardless of their position or stature.

9: Provide positive reinforcement. It’s the best motivator

Work to catch people doing things right and make a big fuss when you do. Positive reinforcement for a job well done is the most powerful motivator. It helps keep every team member on board with food safety commitments.

10: Celebrate often

We spend too much time at work not to celebrate all the good things that are accomplished. Whether it’s a cake and recognition for those that served in the armed forces on Veterans Day or a successful launch of a new product—celebrations are a great way to recognize and reinforce your employees’ hard work. Identifying and correcting mistakes should also be celebrated; they are fertile ground for making changes and provide great nutrients for continuous improvement.