Tag Archives: consumers

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
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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.

How Much Do Consumers Really Know about Food Safety?

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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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
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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.

House Votes to Repeal COOL for Beef, Pork and Chicken

By Maria Fontanazza
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The debate over country-of-origin labeling isn’t over yet.

In a 300-131 ruling, the House voted to pass the highly contentious COOL Amendments Act of 2015 (H.R. 2393) last week. This means that country-of-origin labeling will no longer be required for beef, pork and chicken. Consumer advocacy groups such as the Consumers Union (a division of Consumer Reports) are clearly unhappy about the passage of the bill, while industry associations such as GMA immediately applauded the decision.

“Without these changes to U.S. COOL rules, U.S. food and agricultural sectors could face financial losses in the billions when Mexico and Canada impose WTO authorized retaliatory tariffs as early as this summer,” said Denzel McGuire, executive vice president for government affairs at GMA, in a statement. “The financial impact of these tariffs will be felt even before they are implemented because the targets of these retaliatory tariffs will begin to experience a substantial drop in export sales almost immediately due to supply chain disruptions. A wide array of product categories will be impacted by these tariffs.”

On the opposing side, the Consumers Union states that the U.S. can avoid trade sanctions. According to the advocacy group, 90% of Americans surveyed want country-of-origin labeling on the meat they purchase. “No penalties have yet been accepted by the WTO, and the U.S. may still avoid trade sanctions by negotiating a settlement with Canada and Mexico,” said Jean Halloran, director of Consumers Union’s Food Policy Initiatives, in a letter sent to the House of Representatives, urging them to vote against a repeal. “Even if retaliation occurs, it is not likely to begin for many months, during which time the United States could develop and implement a solution preserving consumers’ access to country-of-origin information.  Contrary to statements made by the proponents of H.R. 2393, a settlement with our trade partners would be the true “targeted response” to the WTO ruling.”

Now it’s up to the Senate.

Randy Fields, Repositrak
FST Soapbox

Despite FSMA Exemptions, Compliance Will Not Be Optional For Small Suppliers

By Randy Fields
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Randy Fields, Repositrak

The product recall at Blue Bell Creameries earlier this year is yet another example of food safety issues negatively impacting food marketers, growers, processers and manufacturers. We all remember the Peanut Corporation of America’s salmonella outbreak in 2008 and the Jensen Farms listeria outbreak in 2011. Salmonella-tainted eggs in 2010, E. coli in strawberries in 2011, and listeria in caramel apples last Halloween combined with dozens of others during the last six years, have sickened thousands and killed dozens of people.

The brand reputation impact from the incidents at Peanut Corporation of America and Jensen Farms was terminal—both companies went bankrupt. The effect on Blue Bell, while likely not fatal, is expected by industry experts to be substantial and include loss of revenue and market share. The company has already announced plans to lay off more than 1,000 workers as a result of the recall.

In addition, growers saw cantaloupe consumption take a nosedive after the Jensen Farms listeria outbreak, which was one of the worst foodborne illness outbreaks in U.S. history in terms of number of deaths. They are only now seeing sales levels return to those before the incident. And because the farm itself went out of business, personal injury lawyers went after the companies that sold the disease-ridden cantaloupes—the retailers. By virtue of last year’s out-of-court settlement by Walmart on the Jensen Farms lawsuit, both suppliers and retailers are now responsible for everything they sell.

Enter the Food Safety Modernization Act, signed in 2011 and about to begin finalization in August. FSMA mandates that retailers and suppliers have documentation that verifies their supply chain’s regulatory compliance is readily accessible for government inspection. Add these records to the business relationship records that retailers and suppliers should already be maintaining (including indemnifications and certificates of insurance that help manage brand risk), and you’d think our risk of foodborne illness is about be eradicated.

Although FSMA represents the most sweeping change to our food safety laws in the last 70 years, it may not have the greatest impact where the supply chain is most vulnerable. Today the largest suppliers that sell the majority of our food have very sophisticated systems to ensure safe food production and transportation. This group will have the easiest path to compliance with FSMA, and they most likely already hold themselves to a higher standard. It’s actually the smaller suppliers, which likely do not have the available resources or sophistication to comply with FSMA requirements, that will be exempt from certain documentation under FSMA based on their size. This group of suppliers is growing rapidly to meet consumer desire for fresh food that is locally grown and produced. Unfortunately for them, it’s only a matter of time before wholesalers and retailers decide that the risk is too great to continue to do business with these small suppliers.

The good news is that technology exists that can help small suppliers reduce risk in their extended supply chains. Affordable, interoperable systems have been developed to address the market need for receiving, storing, sharing and managing regulatory, audit and insurance documentation. Suppliers of any size can also track products as they move through the supply chain and trace them back in the event of a recall. This move to automation will help all suppliers not only meet the demands of FSMA, but also establish a base for retailer and consumer demands for transparency in the supply chain going forward.

Having a comprehensive food safety system is quickly becoming a competitive advantage. Retailers and consumers are looking for those suppliers that have an unblemished safety record and are transparent about their safety processes, so the time is now for small suppliers to hold themselves to a higher standard than FSMA requires for future business opportunities. The stakes are just too high for retailers and wholesalers to not verify that everything they sell to consumers is produced and transported safely.