When it comes to mainstream consumer food brands, customers expect to receive the same product each time they buy it. That consistency brings consumers back to the same brands over and over again. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said about products sold in the cannabis industry. Consumers aren’t building long-term relationships with brands because consumers don’t have consistent product experiences and often take their business to other brands.
This inconsistency plaguing the cannabis industry can be attributed to an unreliable supply chain, which plays out in multiple ways.
First, cannabis companies are having difficulty meeting state regulations. This happens because the legal cannabis industry is still relatively young and there isn’t a substantial institutional knowledge about regulatory compliance, nor are there any standardized best practices in place. Regulation is expensive and requires human and financial capital that most cannabis companies don’t have in place. Complicating things further, regulations keep changing, making it more difficult for compliant businesses to keep up, even when they have the best intentions.
Second, testing of cannabis products has been complicated. Because cannabis isn’t federally legal, standardized testing guidelines have not been developed, leaving individual states in charge of dictating their own requirements and enforcement framework. There have been numerous reports in the past few years of labs in California either improperly reporting testing results, or worse, submitting fraudulent results.
Third, problems also arise on production end of the supply chain—not only with consistency, but also with consumer safety. According to an estimate from New Frontier Data, approximately 80% of sales are still conducted through the black market. Many growers are using banned pesticides in amounts way beyond recommended levels. In addition, as the recent vape issue has demonstrated, black market manufactured products are being adulterated with toxic substances that pose significant health hazards to consumers.
Given these consistency challenges, the standardization of the supply chain—especially compliance, testing and safety measures—should be a top priority for new cannabis brands. Luckily, many best practices and standardized procedures can be adopted from the food, agriculture and pharmaceutical industries, where companies have successfully developed protocols to ensure safe and reliable products.
In addition to standardization and best practices, cannabis companies should also utilize the following recent innovations in transaction technology to provide peace-of-mind to both new brands and consumers that cannabis products are tested and safe.
Modernized Retail POS systems. Common in other consumer packaged goods industries, such as food, wine, beverages and soft drinks, RFID tags can be used throughout the supply chain to track products from seed to sale. These tags, like the “chips” on credit cards, hold electronically stored information about a product that can be accessed to verify compliance and safety.
QR Codes. While QR codes are mostly used today as marketing gimmicks, they actually have potential to provide true value for curious customers. Batch-specific QR codes could be applied to cannabis products to show detailed information about when and where it was made, what strains of cannabis were used, and testing results. This technology could be used to increase transparency between companies and to consumers.
Data Informatics. A strong information technology infrastructure can be put in place to collect and store inventory and customer data. That data can then be run through algorithms, AI and machine learning systems to help cannabis brands make better decisions about how to optimize the production of their products and how to achieve better results on future batches.
Video Surveillance. Granted, this is a more ‘low-tech’ approach, but effective, nonetheless. Video cameras can go way beyond security purposes. Footage can be viewed and compared to collected data sets to gain a deeper understanding of product flows, personnel movement and logistics that might impact a company’s final product. Video can also be analyzed automatically using AI to provide important insight to help a company fine tune their business strategies.
Consumers want to know that the cannabis products they purchase are safe, compliant and tested. Consumers also have a right to know what they are buying and expect product consistency over time from companies they trust. Ensuring supply chain consistency is key to making this happen as the industry matures. An experienced and trusted supply chain partner can help companies across different cannabis sectors, ranging from medical to food, and ensure product safety and consumer trust today through standardization and consistency. Ultimately, cannabis businesses want to cultivate a culture of excitement, not fear or uncertainty, to help the market flourish and bring quality products to our customers.
Over the course of almost a full year, laboratory documents were falsified by the owner and the quality control officer of a Connecticut meat processing company. None of the reported beef samples were actually taken and tested for E. coli. The letterhead of a formerly utilized inspection laboratory was fraudulently used to falsify the test documents, an act that carries a maximum term of five years in prison. Fortunately, no illness was reported from consumers who purchased the meat products.
Over the course of three years, wholesale meat fraudsters in Brooklyn, NY, removed the USDA stamp on “Choice” beef and applied a counterfeit USDA “Prime” stamp to sell the fraudulently labeled meat at a premium price. A conviction can get the defendants a prison sentence of up to 20 years, even public health was not endangered, however, the USDA is taking integrity and quality of food very seriously.
Over the weekend Tyson Foods, Inc. announced an expanded voluntary recall of its frozen, ready-to-eat chicken strips due to more issues involving contamination with metal fragments. The initial recall occurred on March 21 and involved 69,093 pounds of product. All RTE chicken strips under the Class I recall have the establishment number “P-7221” on the product package and were produced between October 1, 2018 and March 2019, with “Use By Dates” of October 1, 2019 through March 7, 2020. The products were shipped nationwide to retail and Department of Defense locations, as well as to the U.S. Virgin Islands.
“Our company is taking corrective action at the location that makes these products. We have discontinued use of the specific equipment believed to be associated with the metal fragments, and we will be installing metal-detecting X-ray machinery to replace the plant’s existing metal-detection system. We will also be using a third-party video auditing system for metal-detection verification,” said Barbara Masters, DVM, vice president of regulatory food policy, food and agriculture for Tyson Foods in a company news release.
Thus far there have been six consumer complaints involving metals pieces, with three people claiming oral injury.
Unfortunately, quite often we are reminded of the vulnerabilities throughout the food supply chain. The latest E. coli outbreak linked to Chipotle restaurants in Oregon and Washington once again has consumers and the food safety industry on edge about traceability and a company’s ability to quickly identify the source of a serious outbreak. According to the CDC’s most recent update, laboratory testing is ongoing to find the DNA fingerprint of the bacteria. Concerning as this may be, no deaths have been reported thus far, but 42 people have been reported ill and 14 have been hospitalized in Washington and Oregon. In the most recent statement released on Chipotle’s website, the company said it is “aggressively” taking steps to address the problem, including by conducting deep cleaning and sanitization of its restaurants as well as environmental testing in its restaurants, and replacing all food items in the establishments that it closed “out of an abundance of caution”.
What if this were a situation of intentional contamination? Would Chipotle or any other company in this type of scenario really be prepared? These questions were posed by Rod Wheeler, CEO of The Global Food Defense Institute during a recent conversation with Food Safety Tech about food defense, and food tampering and intentional adulteration. Wheeler and Bruce Lesniak, president of Lesniak & Associates, shared their views on the threats that the food industry is facing and why companies need to have a strong plan in place to prepare for an attack on the food supply.
During next week’s Food Safety Consortium conference, Rod Wheeler will moderate the Ask the Experts session, “Engaging Food Tampering Discussion Surrounding Food Defense” on Wednesday, November 18. LEARN MOREFood Safety Tech:What challenges do you see companies facing in the area of food tampering and adulteration?
Rod Wheeler: Our food supply is wide open. It accounts for 13% of the overall U.S. GDP. One thing we know about terrorists is that they want to affect our financial markets. What’s the best way to do that? You attack the 13% GDP – and what infrastructure is that? It’s our wireless systems, airline systems, transportation systems, medical supply, or our food and agricultural supply. Those are the top areas in which we need to focus, and we have to make sure the food & agriculture supply remains safe and secure in the United States.
On 9/11 the world changed, and the challenge for us becomes, within all of our 18 infrastructures, but how have we changed? Do we continue to do business the same way we always have, even prior to 9/11? Over the past few years, we’ve seen a significant increase in terroristic activity around the world—from France to Syria to Yemen to Pakistan. Here in the United States, we have to be mindful of what is happening.
We’ve always had food safety programs: HACCP, HARPC, GFSI, SQF, etc.—those are good for unintentional contamination. But what happens if someone wants to intentionally place a deadly contaminant into a product?
In this country, on a daily basis we see contaminations occurring. We were recently notified of a massive outbreak of E. coli that has occurred throughout the Chipotle system: 47 Chipotle stores have been closed. What does that mean? Is that just a food safety issue? What if that E. coli could have been intentionally grown in a test tube and placed into the food supply? Going forward, we have a duty and an obligation to look at these things, not just at face value but think about whether they are intentional events.
FST: Where are the biggest holes within food defense plans?
Wheeler: With more than 15 years of visiting food processing facilities, agricultural farms, dairy farms, and dairy processing facilities, the biggest concern that resonates with me is the fact that the culture of security is not there. The culture of security is simply security awareness—not planning. People in food plants are being taught to be mindful not vigilant. The largest of food companies have well thought out and active safety and defense plans, and their employees are educated, trained and empowered. We find that this falls off sharply with the mid-sized and small manufacturers and suppliers. All food providers must have a comprehensive and strategic security plan that is active and measureable.
For example, let’s say a contractor is walking though a food plant. You have worked in that plant for five years but have never seen this person before. Would you question that person about their credentials? Are people thinking about the things they can personally do to reduce or mitigate the risk… are they empowered?
So, the question is “what do you do when/if”: This is one of the topics we will be discussing at the [Food Safety Consortium] conference. It’s interesting that when we present this scenario to the management of a food company, many answer back with a blank stare. We ask, do you shut down your facility? Do you notify your customers? Do you notify the national media? This question goes to the root of the company’s security culture and the strength of its strategic planning. Until we develop the necessary plans, processes and protocols to respond proactively, we will continue to remain vulnerable.
FST: Do you think many food companies assume something catastrophic won’t happen to them?
Wheeler: I always ask why it is that we don’t anticipate these things in advance. People are complacent. “It’s not going to have happen here,” they say. “What terrorist would come to our small town and do this? We’re just a small mom and pop [business].”
Recently, I received a call from a 17-employee company in Tennessee. This particular company processes honey for 100 large box retail stores. I received a call from the CEO who said, “My client wants us to have one of those vulnerability things.” He was referencing the vulnerability assessment. He said, “I don’t know why they’d want us to have one of those. We’re a small company down here in Tennessee, why does my client think some terrorist would come here?” The fact is, attackers will find the weakest link to attack: The small honey company is not the target; they are the vessel by which the attackers get to the primary target, and in this case, the big box retailer. The big box retailer/supplier is the target and the simplest, most effective way to get to them is through the hundreds of small, low to no protection suppliers.
These are the issues we need to enlighten and educate companies about; we need to get them thinking differently, because this way of thinking is completely different. If you ask someone who’s been in this industry for years, they’ll say, we never had to worry about locking our doors, or use biometrics to gain access to certain areas. We never had to think about these things in the Food & Ag supply before.
During our front line training course, we place a significant amount of focus on the food plant blending areas and why it is the number one threat area for intentional/unintentional contamination of our food supply in the United States. The blending area is exposed to a number of vulnerabilities and once attacked, the tainted ingredients are spread among numerous products that once distributed, are not necessarily quickly traced once they are blended into the final product.
Bruce Lesniak: The consequences of such an emergency are multifaceted; they affect the consumer and their product confidence, the manufacturer through recall and the retailer through recall, brand damage and loss of consumer loyalty. Often, this ripple effect begins with the small supplier and works its way upstream to affect the entire process.
We are seeing this scenario unfold in real time with Chipotle—this is huge in the food industry. FDA has not been able to determine exactly where that genetic fingerprint has originated resulting in location closures, shaken consumer confidence and brand damage. –Rod Wheeler
FST: What will it take the industry to wake up to what could become a serious reality?
Wheeler: Unfortunately it’s probably going to take a major incident for people to wake up and smell the coffee. With that said, we firmly believe that it is critical to awaken the sleeping giants before something happens. We must increase the awareness and provide education to heighten the reality of what can potentially happen and promote proactive engagement of risk mitigation.
FST: In the context of FSMA, are companies prepared for the compliance stage?
Wheeler: Over the years, I’ve seen a number of companies begin to ramp up security at their facilities. But a number of them are doing it because they realize they need to comply with the food defense elements of FSMA; the larger companies are driving compliance and are requiring that their suppliers comply. But I think convincing companies about “Why” this is important, is the challenge. Often times companies will say, “we’re doing this training”, or “we’re doing this vulnerability assessment because it’s a requirement of FSMA.”
We feel that if being compliant is your “Why “reason, then you are spending time and money for the entirely wrong reason. You don’t do vulnerability assessment or training in food defense because you want to comply with the law. You do it because you want to protect your company and the consumer from the reality of what can happen and proactively work to avoid a threat.
Lesniak: We see the adoption trend take hold as it has traditionally, in three phases. First are the early adopters—they understand the importance of compliance for the right reasons and the need for food defense, Second are those who feel the urgency to comply due to a compelling issues (an incident or have been instructed to do so by larger suppliers in order to retain contracts), and third are those who will come kicking and screaming.
Wheeler: A lot of the requirements of FSMA were generated as a result of the PCA event in 2009. The prosecution and subsequent conviction of the Parnell brothers isn’t the last prosecution we’re going to see for someone violating a food safety protocol. This is the first, and it’s a wake up call.
Achieving complete traceability is a must to combating seafood fraud. How is industry getting there?
The length and complexity of the seafood supply chain has created an ideal environment for fueling the mislabeling of the world’s most highly traded food commodity. Considering 91% of all seafood consumed in the United States imported, the ethical and economic impact of seafood mislabeling is enormous. While increased demand is putting pressure on the seafood industry, federal agencies are laying the groundwork to aggressively attack the rampant mislabeling problem.
“Illegal unregulated and unreported fishing is a huge global phenomenon that distorts markets and skews estimates of fish abundance,” said Kimberly Warner, PhD, senior scientist at Oceana, during a recent webinar on food fraud. The goal is to achieve complete transparency and traceability, keeping the “who, what, when, where, and how” with the fish. “Right now when fish are landed, they are required in the United States to list the species, where it was caught, [and] how it was caught. But that information is not following seafood through the supply chain.”
Simply put, seafood fraud is as any illegal activity that misrepresents the seafood one buys. According to Oceana, this can include not disclosing the real name of the fish or its origin, not providing an accurate weight, adding water or breadcrumbs, not declaring the presence of additives, or selling “fresh” fish that was previously frozen.
There are several motivations behind seafood fraud, says Warner. Some businesses want to increase profits and avoid profits; others want to hide illegally caught seafood or engage in trading endangered or threatened species, or mask seafood hazards; and some companies are just ignorant to the requirements of seafood labeling.
The lack of reliable and trustworthy information poses a challenge to consumers who want to make informed decisions when purchasing seafood. While proactive consumers use guides such as “Seafood Watch”, a program offered by the by Monterey Bay Aquarium, in many cases they still do not have enough information to make a decision with complete confidence.
Supply Chain Traceability
Last month the Presidential Task Force on Combating Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated Fishing and Seafood Fraud released its final recommendations for creating a risk-based traceability program that tracks seafood from harvest to entry into U.S. commerce. The ambitious action plan seeks to tackle the following goals:
• Combat IUU fishing and seafood fraud at the international level • Strengthen enforcement and enhance enforcement tools • Create and expand partnerships with nonfederal entities to identify and eliminate seafood fraud and the sale of IUU seafood products in U.S. commerce • Increase information available on seafood products through additional traceability requirements
Key dates on the plan’s timeline include identifying the minimum types of information and operational standards by June 30, which will be followed by a 30-day comment period; engaging the public on principles used to define “at risk” species by July and releasing final principles and “at risk” species by October 2015; and building international capacity to manage fisheries and eliminate IUU fishing, with an interagency working group developing an action plan by April 2016.
• Red snapper is the most commonly mislabeled fish (up to 28 species were found to be substituted, a large amount being tilapia) • 74% of fish are mislabeled in sushi venues • 38% of restaurants mislabel seafood • 30% of shrimp samples misrepresented • Chesapeake Blue Crab cakes: out of 90 sampled, 38% mislabeled, with 44% coming from the Indo-Pacific region
Statistics generated from studies conducted by Oceana in which the organization gathered seafood samples nationwide.
How can consumers protect themselves?
Warner’s advice: Ask the folks behind the seafood counter where they purchase their seafood from and whether it is farmed or fresh. If you can, buy the whole fish, because it’s harder to disguise when whole. And finally, if the price is too good to be true, it probably is. “Expect to pay more for wildly caught, responsibly fished seafood,” she said.
On September 26, Dr. Jacqueline Southee, U.S. Liaison for FSSC 22000, will present FSSC 22000 – The Road Ahead, as part of the 2014 GFSI Leadership Webcast Series presented by SafetyChain Software and FoodSafetyTech.
Dr. Southee will talk about what’s new for the scheme, what changes are expected in 2015 and beyond, how these changes will affect you, and why it’s important to embrace these changes to be better prepared for upcoming food safety regulations such as FSMA. In this interview with Food Safety Tech’s Sangita Viswanathan, Dr. Southee discusses some of the topics that will be examined in more depth during the webinar – including FSSC 22000’s international food safety management certification scheme and its global integrity program.
Food Safety Tech (FST): We’re very excited to have you participate in the GFSI Leadership Webcast Series. What will you be talking about in terms of current changes with FSSC 22000?
Dr. Southee: The most striking change that FSSC 22000 is undergoing revolves around the rapid uptake of the scheme by industry and the increase in the number of certified sites which currently stand at more than 8000. This represents a 48 percent increase since mid-2013. The standard is currently operating in 146 countries, and has become a truly global scheme. We are also working to extend the scope in line with the GFSI goal to cover the entire supply chain. For instance, we have added animal feed to our scope, and will soon be adding animal farming. We are constantly making adjustments within the scheme to keep in line with GFSI requirements in terms of maintaining the highest possible scheme integrity. Overall, FSSC 22000 is creating a lot of buzz out there and we continue to work to meet the growing needs of the industry.
FST: We know that audits will be a topic of many questions. Is FSSC 22000 planning changes on the way it does audits? What are some of audit-related topics you’ll be addressing in the webinar?
Dr. Southee: FSSC 22000 does not do audits itself. It oversees the FSSC 22000 scheme which provides the specifications for the audit which is conducted by a qualified Certification Body. We work with 96 licensed Certification bodies and more than 1500 auditors throughout the world who conduct FSSC 22000 audits. Our goal is to ensure that these audits are conducted consistently and in line with GFSI requirements. We focus on having a global integrity program, and are in regular contact with auditors and Certified Bodies to monitor auditor competence and to ensure that both CB’s and auditors are meeting these requirements. This monitoring may require an increase in the communication that we have with our CB’s and may even result in an increase in the number of visits that we pay to them. The overall goal is to maintain the highest standard of food safety audits for FSSC 22000 certified companies.
FST: You will also be talking about the direction of FSSC 22000 in 2015 and beyond? Is there a “theme” or specific set of business drivers that are driving future changes to FSSC?
Dr. Southee: The main business drivers for FSSC 22000 are increasing transparency across the supply chain, maintaining the highest standard of consistent audits around the globe to promote a continuous improvement in food safety. As a global scheme, we are in a good position to work with many of the world’s leading food manufacturers. We work on ensuring transparency throughout the supply chain to maintain efficiency in the control of food safety, raise the confidence of the customers and the regulators in the third party certification process and to ensure the production of safe food ingredients and products for the consumer.
FST: While we all know change is important, it’s not always easy to get already-burdened food safety organizations to embrace change. What are some of the things we’ll learn in the webinar about why embracing change is critical to the ongoing success of FSSC 22000?
Dr. Southee: The global food manufacturing industry is currently under a tremendous burden with pressures coming from all sides. They must produce safe food efficiently and effectively to meet the demands of the retailers, the regulators and the consumer. What’s more in this truly digital age, where social media drives consumer preference more than anything else, they need to show their commitment to food safety. The new norm is that consumers are “involved” in what they eat. Every step industry takes is scrutinized by everyone with access to the information, and if anything slips out of compliance, it is public knowledge almost within the hour. There’s a constant demand for information, so food manufacturers need to invest in management systems such as FSSC 22000 to manage their food safety effectively, maintain transparency across the industry both for their customers and their consumers and be quick to respond to issues.
FST: We know that you’ll be providing advice on how companies can start today to prepare for tomorrow’s FSSC. Can you tell us some of the topics you’ll be addressing in this part of the webinar?
Dr. Southee: One topic I’ll be addressing is that food safety management should not be considered a cost center. In order to prepare for FSSC 22000, it is critical for senior management within an organization to recognize the need to take responsibility for food safety and that this will involve the need to have a robust food safety management program in place. Many companies now recognize the importance of investing in food safety and this is to the benefit of all. We also hear about the importance of establishing a “food safety culture” and we can talk more about what this means.
FST: It has been said that GFSI certification is a very good start to preparing for FSMA compliance. What are some of the key points you’ll be addressing when it comes to FSMA compliance and FSSC 22000?
Dr. Southee: First of all, I think that the establishment of the GFSI is an example of the food industry already regulating itself. The benchmarking approach has raised the standard of the accredited third party certification process and a company that is certified under a GFSI scheme is already meeting a high standard of food safety. A scheme such as FSSC 22000 provides additional evidence of a company’s commitment to food safety practices and management. The FSSC 22000 scheme meets many of requirements specified by the initial draft of the FSMA rules and existing data suggests that GFSI certification is a very important start to ensuring compliance with FSMA requirements.
To learn more about all of these and many more topics on FSSC 22000 – including live questions from the audience – register today for FSSC 22000 – The Road Ahead, Friday, September 26, with Dr. Jaqueline Southee.
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