Tag Archives: consumers

Matthew Botos, ConnectFood
FST Soapbox

Food Entrepreneurial Trends

By Matthew Botos
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Matthew Botos, ConnectFood

Over the last two decades I have had the utmost privilege to work with food manufacturers from every sector. From dried goods, meats, poultry, school lunches programs, etcetera. I have seen almost everything. The leading trend I have seen over the last 20 years is the steady rise of beverage companies. Everyone likes a different type of beverage: Water, juice, cold coffee, teas, energy drinks, kombucha… the list goes on. The two most important things a small company entering the market needs to remember is to make sure that first, you can comply with the regulators, and second, that the people you are selling your products to also understand their market (buyers and retailers).

The marketplace loves new and innovative products. We need, as an industry, to continue to support innovation in the beverage industry. Healthcare trends, nutraceuticals, supplements, and “fresh” are some of the many things consumers are looking for in a product. We often have questions such as, “I have the perfect recipe for a new beverage product—how do we get it out into the market?” The first question to ask yourself is: Do you understand your product and its intended use? And, second: Do you understand how the physical properties of this product impact how it will need to be transported as well as stored and used by the final consumer? Both of these questions come back to—and can be answered by—food safety. Companies can have the greatest product ideas; however, if you do not have the ability to make sure it has a safety factor during transportation, as well as the ability to communicate your food safety plan, an entrepreneur can jeopardize the future of their company before it is even allowed to begin.

I have used the analogy that food safety best practices are like a sport—the more you train, practice and focus on the “basics done well,” the better your plan will be on a day-to-day basis. Bottom line: The focus is making the food supply safer. Please take note the transition to new practices does not mean that an existing HACCP plan (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points) is invalid! As a matter of fact, HACCP and Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP’s) should be looked at as the foundation of FSMA’s Preventive Controls for Human Food. Local departments of public health still rely on HACCP as their main line of defense for the food safety industry. We have seen so many small processors and restaurants that have inspections where HACCP is still the focus, even though Preventive Controls has some more advanced techniques for protection. Both HACCP and Preventive Controls focus on making sure you have good sanitation practices, employee training, and have done a hazard analysis for biological, chemical and physical hazards. I believe the lines are blurring a bit—companies, academics and regulators don’t often understand the differences between the two and, to be honest, the differences are not that substantial from a fundamental level. Ultimately, companies are responsible for their own food safety best practices.

As we trend toward new and innovative beverage concepts, we need to be partners with both our regulators and our customers. There is so much information across the United States and companies that are in emerging markets will only grow and develop if they have proper food safety plans as a foundation. Emerging companies should get connected early and learn from other companies and organizations, and become more proactively involved in the food safety element of their product.

I believe 2019 will be an incredible year for the rise of food and beverage startups. We have already seen much growth in the knowledge of food supply due to easily accessible information about products. Keeping a transparent conversation with regulatory personnel and customers is key to the success of any food or beverage company.

FDA

FDA Final Guidance Informs Companies on When to Notify Public about Food Recalls

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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FDA

FDA has issued a final guidance that reviews the situations in which a company should warn the public about a voluntary food recall. This includes the appropriate timeframe for issuing the warning and what information a company should include in the warning. The guidance, “Public Warning and Notification of Recalls”, also discusses when the FDA may decide to take action to issue a public warning, should one that a company issues is not sufficient.

In an agency statement, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, MD., also addresses the buzz around folks feeling that there have been more recalls. “In actuality, for fiscal year 2018, there were a total of 7,420 recalls with 831 that were classified as the highest risk. That figure represents a five-year low in recalls. However, the reason why recall notices might seem to have increased is that our publicizing of these events has become more prominent,” said Gottlieb. “We’re routinely providing more information on recalls and other safety issues that have happened.” He added that the ability to detect, track and trace product issues has improved with the help of technology, including whole genome sequencing.

“Our labs are currently testing cutting-edge technology that can screen for multiple allergens simultaneously and even technology that shrinks the genetic testing of pathogens from machines that were once the size of an entire room to a device that’s smaller than many smart phones. We’ll also be working to improve product traceability by tapping into modern approaches, such as blockchain technology, to further advance our mission of protecting public health.” – Scott Gottlieb, M.D., FDA

In addition, the agency is looking at how new technologies can be used notify consumers about whether a product they purchased has been recalled.

Megan Nichols
Retail Food Safety Forum

How Can We Make Food Labeling More Consistent?

By Megan Ray Nichols
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Megan Nichols

Consistent Inconsistencies

Current food labels may seem to possess a wealth of information, but they’re often challenging to read even if you know what you’re looking for. Additionally, studies have shown that even accurate food labels don’t work —they lead to no significant dietary changes. Even posting the calorie counts on fast food menus did little to change people’s eating habits.

It might sound as simple as telling consumers to read the ingredients labels on the items that they’re purchasing. The problem with this—aside from the fact that ingredients are often printed in a painfully small font—is that you almost need a degree in chemistry to understand the components. This confusion is a big issue with processed foods that contain a variety of chemicals to protect the flavor of the food and preserve it during storage.

When it comes down to it, choosing healthy foods isn’t the problem—or at least, not the only problem. Picking a healthy option isn’t as complicated as doing your taxes or choosing a mortgage when you purchase a home. We as consumers have plenty of information available to us when it comes to eating healthy. The problem is the fact that it’s easier and usually cheaper to choose the unhealthy option. You can buy a can of soda for $0.50, while a bottle of water often costs more than $1 at a soda machine or convenience store.

No One Reads Them Anymore

Another big issue with nutrition labels is that no one bothers to read them anymore. One survey found that two-thirds of young adults in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area don’t bother reading nutrition labels or worry about the nutrition content of what they’re eating.

While the survey didn’t explore why adults were no longer utilizing nutrition labeling, it’s likely due to a combination of consumer distrust and confusion. People either don’t trust that the labels contain accurate information, or they’re merely confused by the information presented in that format.

The Healthwashing Dilemma

How many times have you walked into the grocery store and chosen a brand based on whether or not it had “All-Natural” or “Organic” labels? Even if these phrases are written on the label, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the food contained within falls under either of those categories. That’s where the problem of healthwashing occurs.

Food packages will slap these labels on their product even if it doesn’t apply—a company can claim that their product is “all natural” and still use pesticides on it. Some businesses use products like pyrethrins, which are potentially dangerous pesticides derived from natural sources—specifically, the chrysanthemum flower.

Food companies don’t typically like to advertise this information because it might discourage potential consumers from choosing their brand, especially if the user is concerned about their health and is trying to remove all chemicals and pesticides from their food chain.

Fixing the Labeling Problem

What can we do to encourage consumers to pay attention to nutrition labels? The biggest challenge lies in making these labels more consistent and transparent. That task is more complicated than it sounds since there is no regulation or standardization in nutrition labeling. Clean labeling could be the solution.

Five key facets define clean labels — Simple ingredients lists, transparency in ingredients and packaging, no flowery language, accurate images and fresh food—are top priorities for consumers, with transparency being in the highest demand. However, these labels face the same problems as current nutrition labels—a lack of standardization. When asking more than 27,000 people in 31 countries what they thought clean labeling meant, more than a third had no idea, according to a report from Packaged Facts.

Many companies have started to transition to clean labels, but no law currently requires businesses to do so.

The Need for Change in Food Labeling Consistency

Food labeling could potentially help consumers make healthier choices if they were more accurate and easier to understand. Eliminating the flowery language that currently defines food labeling is one step in the right direction. The federal government— or, more specifically, the FDA— may need to step in as well to create standards that each company can be held to so that consumers know what exactly is in their food, no matter the brand.

Food labels are on nearly everything that we buy, except for fresh meat and produce. It’s time to create a standard and transparent label that everyone can understand.

HPP, high-pressure processing

HPP Keeps Food Safe, While Extending Shelf Life

By Mark Duffy
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HPP, high-pressure processing

Research shows the global high pressure processing (HPP) food market to be worth $14 billion in 2018. By 2023, the market will reach an estimated $27.4 billion and will grow to $51.1 billion by 2027, according to Visiongain, a UK-based business intelligence company. This growth is a result of many factors, including consumer trends, food safety and food industry demand.

One of the biggest consumer food trends is the clean label movement. Consumers are more attentive to what they eat and drink than ever before, requesting more information about the products they buy and consume. For instance, 73% of U.S. consumers agree it is important that ingredients on a food label are familiar and would be used at home, according to Innova Market Insights, a market research firm for the food and beverage industry.

Consumers want fresh, convenient and less processed foods and beverages. Shoppers, especially millennials, are willing to spend more money to receive better-for-you products, and they are also more willing to research production methods before making purchases.

HPP, high-pressure processing
An employee loads meat, sealed in its package, into the HPP canister where it will be subjected to isostatic water pressure (300 to 600 Mpa or 43,500 to 87,000 psi – five times stronger than that found at the bottom of the ocean – for typically one to six minutes. Pressures above 400 MPa / 58,000 psi at cold (+ 4ºC to 10ºC) or ambient temperature inactivate the vegetative flora (bacteria, virus, yeasts, molds and parasites) present in food, extending shelf life and ensuring food safety. All images courtesy of Universal Pure

On the industry side, due to an increasing concern over food safety and the rise in foodborne illness, food producers and retailers are seeking reliable food safety and preservation methods that will help ensure the best product quality. Not only do they want to keep their customers safe, they also want to ensure their brand is protected.

Food waste and sustainability is also important to consumers and industry. In the 2017 Nielsen Global Sustainability Survey, 68% of Americans said that it is important that companies implement programs to improve the environment; 67% will be prioritizing healthy or socially-conscious food purchases in 2018; and 48% will change their consumption habits to reduce their environmental impact.

Companies want to be responsible and make sure good food does not go to waste. Longer shelf life decreases a product’s chance of ending up in a landfill. Additionally, the longer a product lasts, the further it can be safely distributed and sold.

What is HPP?

High pressure processing (HPP) ironically isn’t really processing at all. HPP is a unique food preservation method that utilizes cold water and extreme pressure (up to 87,000 psi) to inactivate foodborne pathogens and spoilage organisms.

The effectiveness of the HPP process depends on the amount of pressure applied, vessel holding time, temperature, product type and targeted pathogens and spoilage organisms.

Unlike chemical and thermal treatments that can compromise flavor, vitamins and nutrients, HPP is a non-thermal, non-chemical process. Without the use of heat, the product’s original qualities remain intact. Also, because water pressure is applied uniformly in all directions, HPP foods retain their original shape.

HPP, high pressure processing
HPP equipment on a plant floor. Food, already sealed in its package, is loaded into these gray and yellow canisters and sent through the HPP vessel behind them where water and high pressure are applied to inactivate foodborne pathogens.

Current and New Applications for HPP

One of the most popular uses for HPP is for proteins, including roast beef, chicken, pork and ground meats like turkey, chicken and beef. Other uses include premium juices, dips, wet salads, dairy and seafood, as well as pet food.
Some of its newer applications are in the preservation of baby food, premium juices, plant-based protein drinks, cocktail mixers, nutrient dense shots, coffee and tea selections and bone broth. HPP is widely used for ready-to-eat meats, dips, guacamole, salsa and hummus. Raw pet food, which has been affected by Salmonella and other pathogenic outbreaks in recent months, is also a growing market for HPP. Just like for their own food, pet owners are demanding fresh, non-processed foods for their pets. HPP is a proven means of creating a safe, clean-label raw pet food.

While food safety is still the number one reason for HPP, many manufacturers and retailers also cite shelf-life extension as a major benefit. Table I is a breakdown on the type of food, shelf-life extension and key benefits of HPP.

Food Type Applications Shelf-Life Extension Key Benefits
RTE (Ready-to-Eat) Meats Sliced, cooked meats: chicken, turkey, ham and beef; uncured ham and sausage Greater than 2X Extends shelf life while addressing common vegetative bacterial concerns. Allows manufacturers and retailers to offer reduced sodium products.
RTC (Ready-to-Cook) Meats Ground meats such as turkey, chicken and perhaps beef. 1.5X to 2.5X Increase food safety while extending product shelf life.
Guacamole, Wet Salads, Salsas, Dressings & Dips Guacamole, salsa, chicken salad, seafood salad, dressings 2X–6X Extends product shelf-life and reduces vegetative bacteria issues.
Juices and Smoothies Super premium juices, juice blends & smoothies 20–60 days HPP is a natural way to deal with microorganisms and extend shelf life without the use of heat ,which can negatively affect color and flavor.
Dairy Yogurt & yogurt-based dressings, cream, sour cream, cream cheese and milk. 2X–10X In yogurt-based products and milk, HPP is believed to give a creamier product consistency.
Seafood Oysters, lobster, crab, shrimp, mussels 2X–4X Meat extraction (yield) is better than by hand shucking or steam methods. Labor savings in this manner makes the HPP’ing of shellfish a great application. The shelf-life extension is also significant.
Table I. A breakdown on the type of food, shelf-life extension and key benefits of HPP.

Cost

The cost of HPP varies depending on the size of production runs, fill efficiency of the product within the HPP vessel and the HPP process parameters. The good news is the cost may be offset by other price reductions that HPP enables such as eliminating food additives. While HPP can be performed in-house, many companies outsource their HPP needs so they do not have to allocate significant capital expenses or disrupt production efficiency with an HPP batch process, allowing them to focus on their core competencies.

A Bright Future for HPP

HPP’s future is bright, with new uses on the horizon. These new uses have already resulted in new market opportunities that increase revenue. As its awareness grows among manufacturers, retailers and food service companies, and with additional education about its benefits, more companies will embrace HPP as part of their food safety program and for its shelf-life benefits. With consumer demand for fresh foods and beverages showing no signs of stopping, HPP will lead the way in helping to produce fresh, safe food and beverage products for all to enjoy.

HPP: Achieve High Standards of Food Safety Without Compromising Food Quality

Jordan Anderson, PAR Technology Corp.
Retail Food Safety Forum

The Future of Food Service

By Jordan Anderson
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Jordan Anderson, PAR Technology Corp.

The food service industry has rapidly changed since Boulanger disputably opened up his doors to the first modern restaurant in Paris over 200 years ago. While soups, sandwiches and pasta dishes continue to be served, the ever-changing landscape of this industry continues to evolve and not only provide new dishes, but innovative practices to cultivate products and introduce technological advances that ultimately enhance the consumer experience.

Localization

In attempts to reduce waste and increase visibility, grocers are looking to localize their product assortments. Whether they garner these products from within their market or a predetermined radius, they can increase traceability best practices while appealing to local shoppers. An example of this would be regional grocery chains selling beer only from local breweries or vegetables from local farms.

In executing this strategy, grocers increase sales by appealing to local shoppers while reducing produce shrink due to shorter delivery times from farm to fork. While some may argue focusing on local offerings takes away focus from more profitable national brand names, keeping your local consumers’ best interests in mind ensures their happiness and strengthens their brand loyalty.

Healthier Foods

Healthy food and beverage options continue to drive demand in grocery stores. As clean eating and heart healthy diets become the responsible practice, grocers must increase their offerings surrounding this category. Companies such as H-E-B have introduced clear labeling to signify certain products were produced without high-fructose corn syrup, while others are removing junk food offerings from checkout lines.

One way grocers are making healthy foods more appealing is by reducing the price of fresh produce by implementing shorter delivery cycles. This strategy ensures food safety, the freshness of the products, and their aesthetic value on display shelves, too. While this makes them more appealing, it also reduces the risk of product spoilage and profit loss due to the perpetual freshness of the product coming in.

Digital Coupons

While paper coupons have been the industry norm for decades, more grocers are turning to digital offerings. Wegman’s recently introduced a mobile app that allows consumers to digitally clip coupons, look up recipes, and find where products are within their stores. With the popularity of mobile devices, this trend will continue to burgeon.

The switch to digital also helps grocers strategically place products and offerings to their customer base. They can optimize sales and marketing approaches this way while discovering patterns and trends in the buying cycle. This allows them to understand their customer base while simultaneously increasing sales.

The Future of Grocery

Like most people, I enjoy eating. However, unlike most people, I actually enjoy the grocery shopping process. Typically, I go hungry while envisioning the endless possibilities of what I could make for dinner. Of course, due to my hunger, I end up purchasing copious amounts of unnecessary items while overspending in an impressive and irresponsible manner.

Due to my rare affinity for grocery shopping, the current and future landscape of the grocery market is interesting to me. I know, pathetic, but we all must have our odd interests.

Walmart Scan & Go

Walmart has developed an app that allows buyers to skip the lines and enjoy a seamless shopping experience. The app allows buyers to scan their desired goods, while keeping a running total of the goods in their cart. Once done shopping, you simply click ‘pay’ and you can check out wherever you are standing. A Walmart employee must verify your receipt before leaving the store but that only takes a moment.

You may be asking yourself, “How do they know I scanned everything?” Well, the honor system comes into play here so just because you hate grocery shopping, don’t rip off the nice people of Walmart, no matter how rich you think they are.

The app is only available at three stores currently – but keep an eye out for a location near you!

Cart MRI

Scan & Go is great for convenience, but if you’re in even more of a rush then this technology is great. The product debuted at Euroshop this past year. This technology allows for buyers to simply push their cart through a device that scans everything within the cart. This technology adds up everything, allows you to pay, and you’re out the door. No more dealing with 10-minute waits or lane closures.

Additionally, the technology provides a touchscreen on the cart that informs you about your selected items, where other products are, and gives you suggestions that compliment your shopping experience.

Sip and Stroll

While the above technologies make the buying experience more convenient—how about something that allows customers to chill out?

As I stated before, most individuals hate grocery shopping. Nevertheless, what if you could have a beer or two while shopping?

Whole Foods first adopted this burgeoning trend. The company sought out on-premise liquor licenses so their patrons could enjoy a few drinks while they shop. This allows for a more relaxed shopping experience while also giving customers insight on different or new brands they may not be familiar with.

Plus, if we’re being honest, if the drinks are good enough… the customers may be more willing to splurge.

The Future of Convenience Stores

Ah, convenience stores, pleasantly reeking of greasy hotdogs, gasoline, and cigarette fumes from the miserable 17-year old cashier outside neglecting the line. That’s generally the perception, right?

Well, not anymore! Convenience stores are now becoming a popular destination for consumers everywhere.

C-stores are beginning to seek alternatives from the slimmer margins of gas and cigarettes. In 2016, the industry saw a 9.2% drop in fuel sales, however, in-store sales increased by 3.2%.

While electric cars and public transportation can explain the precipitous drop in fuel sales—the industry took note of the increased in-store sales. Discovering potential reasons why and how to sustain them.

As the general population becomes increasingly more health conscious, convenience stores are beginning to adapt. Trending now are plant-based protein bars, dried fruits and nuts, and upscale jerky.

“Protein is the new energy,” says Jeff Lenard, vice president of strategic industry initiatives for the National Association of Convenience Stores. The demand for grass-fed and cage-free offerings are increasing in demand. Leaving the industry to either adapt, or fall behind.

After protein inspired snacks, convenience stores are beginning to incorporate their own restaurant concepts within their stores. The Pride Stores, a small c-store chain in the greater Chicago area, hired a corporate chef and introduced two different concepts, one being taco themed. This allows for consumers to eat-in, spending more time in their stores, or carry out for their convenience.

If you haven’t noticed lately, more convenience stores are beginning to expand their offerings of beer. Craft beer and wine selections are becoming bountiful options within the aisles. The copious amount of microbreweries opening up nationwide has spiced up the masses taste buds and demand for these crafted beers has continued to steadily increase.

National and local brands allow consumers to enjoy their local favorites, or to discover a new personal favorite.

Vineyards have begun to spring up more than ever, too. While the west coast has long been notorious for their wine, the fad has begun to spread nationwide. Whether you want to try something from the west, or upstate, NY, convenience stores are now becoming a go-to for the moderate connoisseur.

Jordan Anderson, PAR Technology Corp.
FST Soapbox

Advocate for Change to Establish a Food Safety Culture

By Jordan Anderson
1 Comment
Jordan Anderson, PAR Technology Corp.

Many times food companies will simply say, “We have to change our culture” or “We’ve always done things this way”, but this attitude will not remedy potential outbreaks or help develop food safety protocols.

As author and businessman Andy Grove once said, “Success breeds complacency. Complacency breeds failure. Only the paranoid survive.” This statement could not apply more to the food service and manufacturing industry.

The first step to change is convincing your organization from the top down to buy in; getting your executive team to accept the cultural change from manual paper-based approaches to digital food safety is paramount.

Common objections will be the investment and positive record of accomplishment. Taking a proactive and preventative approach to everyday food safety compliance will have a positive ROI over time while ensuring the utmost brand protection.

Presenting the potential damages of being linked to a foodborne outbreak is a great place to start. It typically will open the eyes and slightly intimidate each audience member. After all, executives and board members do not like to hear “profit loss”, “stock plunge”, and “tainted brand image”.

While this can all seem overwhelming, it does not have to be. Preparing a strategy and evaluating the processes needed to fulfill this goal will help alleviate the red tape to get this off the ground.

However, before we prepare a strategy, it is important to understand the basic premise behind food safety and how technology can enhance it.

In essence, food safety fundamentally revolves around individual human behavior. Human behavior in turn, is largely driven by culture. In order to successfully develop a food safety culture, an operation must possess impeccable leadership and incorporate the highest standards of food safety.

Most notably, the HACCP plan and individual processes created are a reflection of the human behavior that shapes and molds the culture of an organization. In large organizations, the challenges are often compounded by an increased number of locations and stakeholders (employees, suppliers, customers, etc.) Within these operations, food safety culture and human behavior can potentially become compromised due to the nature of the organization, or attitude and work ethic of the stakeholders.

Technology can assist in the development and maintenance of larger food safety cultures through the use of extensive and dynamic procedures. Human behavior can be shaped by the resources available in today’s food safety tool box. We can now overcome the arduous “pencil whipping” of safety checklists via handheld, wireless and cloud-based technologies. Such technologies are ubiquitous today in the form of apps downloaded from the internet, cell phones, reporting platforms and omnipresent communications.

History has shown that in challenged cultures, individuals often behave as though they are not a part of the whole, and operate as one, rather than as a team that is linked together under one vision and shared effort. However, during the processing, handling and storage of food, we need all stakeholders to act as a collective operation and function as one. The growing adoption of technology is the fundamental turning point that can help drive human behavior and food safety culture in a positive direction.

The introduction of FSMA has brought both challenges and opportunities to the food safety industry—the requirement to document and record actions of a larger food safety plan is one of them. Conceptually speaking, you are only as good as your records say you are. In this context, we are faced with both the challenge of maintaining a positive and efficient food safety culture, in addition to the burden of increased regulatory compliance.

However, FSMA and the innovative technological era have guided the industry to a crossroads of sorts. I suggest embracing the FSMA mentality and implementing food safety technology into your operations. This will not only protect and preserve your organization, but perhaps more importantly, it will define your food safety culture, and implement a positive change into your brand.

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
Dana Johnson Downing, TraceGains
FST Soapbox

Dispelling the Myth that Food Safety is Not a Competitive Advantage

By Dana Johnson Downing
7 Comments
Dana Johnson Downing, TraceGains

“Food safety is not a competitive advantage” is one of the barf-worthy “feel good” messages you hear from food industry executives during speeches and public forums. Last week at the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) conference in Houston, an audience of more than 1,150 from 54 countries heard this tired mantra repeated during a panel discussion featuring CEOs from Mondelez, Cargill, Tysons and Wegmans. The common theme espoused by the CEOs was that food safety is a given and it’s just the right thing to do. Under their flawed rationale, because food safety is mandated, it cannot be a differentiator. Huh? That’s like saying monogamy in marriage is a given. Sure, most brides and grooms pledge faithfulness, but hey, we all know cheaters gonna cheat.

I wasn’t the only one who didn’t buy the food safety kumbaya message the CEOs were peddling. BBC business journalist Adam Shaw was the moderator for the panel and he grilled the CEOs to try to expose the fallacy that food safety is not a competitive advantage as nothing more than high-mindedness with altruistic notions, but the CEOs deflected his pointed questions and stayed on-message. I thought the song from the Lego movie, “Everything is Awesome” might start blaring from the sound system at any moment. What I cannot discern is if the CEOs really believe that food safety is not a competitive advantage, or do they feel compelled to say it to bolster confidence in the food supply.

I think we can all agree that consumers expect their products to be safe. Objectively, I think we must also agree that there are some companies in the food industry that simply do a better job of managing risk in their food safety system. As Warren Buffet once said, “Risk comes from not knowing what you’re doing.” Have you ever read the warning letters issues by the FDA? There are plenty of food operators who either do not know what they are doing or their profits are more important to them than the safety of the products they produce.

Perhaps the real reason these CEOs say food safety is not a competitive advantage is because they are trying to trick us with some twisted reverse psychology technique. More likely they avoid positioning their company as having an extraordinary food safety system because you can never eliminate all risk, and a recall or foodborne illness outbreak could be lurking just around the corner. That logic is a little lost on me, but okay.

What about food safety as a competitive advantage in the business-to-business (B2B) environment? With all the transactions between ingredient suppliers, brokers, distributors, co-packers and manufacturers, there is often friction between vendor and customer over food safety standards and the underlying documentation. Who you do business with matters more than ever before, especially now that there is greater supply chain transparency and process control mandated by FSMA. According to Brian Perry, senior vice president, food safety & quality at TreeHouse Foods, he has had to drop suppliers who are not FSMA-compliant because they pose too much risk. Meanwhile, companies are willing to pay a premium for suppliers who have their food safety documentation in order and routinely deliver on time and within specifications. So at least in the B2B marketplace, we can see that food safety can definitely provide a competitive advantage.

Pesky undeclared allergens and foreign material find a way to sneak into food production. Unsanitary conditions are sometimes permitted and product is adulterated. Mistakes are made, stuff happens, and sometimes food makes people and animals sick or even leads to death. So please don’t tell me that food safety is a given! If you want consumers to have confidence in our food supply, then tell them what your company does to try to prevent stuff from happening. Consumers’ appetite for information and knowledge about the food they consume is at an all time high. If consumers care about GMOs or how ethically-raised, humanely-treated, or sustainably-produced their food is, isn’t it logical to think they care about how companies develop a culture of food safety, the technology they use, and how strictly they monitor their suppliers? In order to make food safety a competitive advantage, food companies need to show supply chain partners and consumers that transparency isn’t just a buzzword. They need to show how they are operationalizing transparency to elevate food safety as a corporate imperative. Share your food safety story and respect your consumers enough to make up their own minds about whether your food safety system sets your brand apart.

Hand

How Much Do Consumers Really Know about Food Safety?

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Hand

Consumers think they’re more likely to get a foodborne illness from food they consume at a restaurant versus food they prepare at home, and they’re also more worried about contamination of raw chicken or beef than contaminated raw vegetables.  These and other findings were part of an annual survey, conducted by FDA in partnership with FSIS and USDA, to assess and track consumers’ understanding of food safety handling techniques, along with their feelings and behaviors surrounding food safety. The findings can help the FDA determine its education efforts to help improve consumer food safety behaviors.

Nearly 4200 Americans participated in the survey between October 6, 2015 and January 17, 2016. The questions measured food safety behaviors such as handwashing and washing cutting boards; preparing and consuming risk foods; and food thermometer use. Highlighted findings among respondents include:

  • Rates of consumers owning food thermometers remains constant, but usage has increased for roasts, chicken parts and hamburgers over the past 10 years.
  • Handwashing rates remain constant or decreased between 2010 and 2016.
  • New finding: Only 35% of consumers wash their hands after touching handheld phones or tablets while preparing food.
  • 67% wash raw chicken parts before cooking; 68% wash whole chicken or turkeys before cooking. “This practice is not recommended by food safety experts since washing will not destroy pathogens and may increase the risk of contaminating other foods and surfaces,” according to FDA.
  • 65% of respondents had not heard of mechanically tenderized beef (Labeling required as of May 2016).

A full copy of the 49-page 2016 FDA Food Safety Survey is available on the agency’s website.

Patrick Embwaga, The Hershey Company
FST Soapbox

Open Letter to FDA on Adoption of Systems Approach to FSMA

By Patrick Embwaga
4 Comments
Patrick Embwaga, The Hershey Company

The new FSMA regulations are primarily intended to enhance the protection of public health through promotion of adopting a modern, preventive and risk-based approach to food safety regulation. The general consensus industry-wide is that the new regulations will increase the capacity of firms in the industry to develop effective food safety management system at facility levels that will be effective in preventing distribution of food-related hazards to the general public, which may result in foodborne illness.

There is widespread consensus that the development and implementation of a food safety system whose primary purpose is to prevent the distribution of hazardous product to the general public and hence prevent or reduce foodborne illness is a much more effective and practical approach towards this end. This is especially the case when compared to past approaches, among which many programs were quality control based and focused on end-product testing given the highly fluid and dynamic complexity in the food industry, which is being fueled by technological advancements that occur at the speed of light.

Having stated consumer safety as the primary stakeholder of a facility’s food safety system, there are other secondary stakeholders whose requirements are subservient to the consumer’s health requirements, but they play key roles in determining the architectural structure of the food safety system:

  • Regulatory requirements. Primarily serve the public and act on its behalf in ensuring that all food products distributed in the market are safe for consumption. However, the regulatory requirements have their own innate requirements (i.e., the uniformity of the structure of a food safety system) at the most basic level for the purposes of compliance, which enables a harmonized structure that conveniently lends itself to a uniform approach in the inspection of facilities by FDA agents.
  • Organizational requirements. There are existential risks to an organization should a facility ship out contaminated product, as can be seen from the recent cases widely reported by the media. These range from market share reductions to rattled shareholders, and to employees, it becomes a job security issue. In fact, this is one of the key points I always bring out during trainings: The consumer is the ultimate boss, and if the consumer complains, it’s bad for our jobs as food manufacturers. If they are outright sickened/angry/mad by our job performance, we should expect the pink slips (I’m sure a number of employees at the Blue Bell Creameries will support this opinion).

From a regulatory requirement perspective, uniformity is a key aspect of the requirements, as can be inferred from regulatory text on the preventive rules, which describe the fundamental elements that must be implemented by a facility in order for it to be compliant with FDA registration. The lifecycle of regulatory requirements are long term—the last time comprehensive changes were conducted on cGMPs was in the mid-1980s. And hence the analytical/reductionist approach of focusing on food safety at the facility level is complementary to its enforcement strategy (i.e., facility-based registration and inspection).

From the organizational perspective, given that the food safety system serves an existential purpose to the business, organizations are leveraging the best available resources to endure its proper design and implementation, including employing the use of the latest available technologies. From the organizational perspective, the organizational requirements are highly dynamic and often tied to consumer and market trends. And as such in most corporate organizations, the food safety system adopts a holistic approach, whereby plant facility food safety systems are often nested within larger hierarchical corporate food safety systems. One of the fundamental reasons for this holistic set up is to enhance efficiency of these programs, especially given their key functional roles in mitigating or preventing organizational risks that may be presented through distribution of contaminated product.