After finding evidence of rodent infestation during an inspection of a Family Dollar distribution facility in Arkansas, the FDA warned the public of usage and consumption of products purchased at certain stores from January 1 through present time. The affected products, which include food, were distributed to Family Dollar stores in Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri and Tennessee.
“Families rely on stores like Family Dollar for products such as food and medicine. They deserve products that are safe,” said Associate Commissioner for Regulatory Affairs, FDA, Judith McMeekin, Pharm.D. in an agency press release. “No one should be subjected to products stored in the kind of unacceptable conditions that we found in this Family Dollar distribution facility. These conditions appear to be violations of federal law that could put families’ health at risk. We will continue to work to protect consumers.”
The FDA inspection followed a consumer complaint and found both live and dead rodents, rodent feces and urine, and evidence of rodent presence, along with dead birds and bird droppings, throughout the facility in West Memphis, Arkansas. After fumigating the facility, 1100 dead rodents were recovered. FDA’s review of company records also revealed a history of infestation, with more than 2300 rodents collected between March 29 and September 17, 2021.
Among the range of hazards associated with rodents include Salmonella.
COVID-19’s impact on the food safety community has been significant and its impact will continue to be felt for years.
While FDA inspections and supplier audits are resuming, one cannot assume that the food industry is going back to 2019 or even that it should. It’s time for a food safety reboot or Food Safety 2.0.
Call it what you want, the industry must not only adapt to the “New Normal” but strategize on how to navigate through new challenges, including supply chain capacity and diversity of capacity, workforce welfare and retention, food defense and cybersecurity, food integrity, increased need for traceability, climate change’s impact on food safety, new challenges in supplier audits and compliance, mentoring and developing the future FSQA Leaders and lastly, the next regulations.
The goal now is not to get food safety back to 2019 levels but to build it better. These issues must be discussed among peers and best practices must be shared. You can’t do that in a webinar or in the traditional conference setting of didactic “death-by-PowerPoint” lectures.
To help facilitate this much needed critical thinking and meeting of the minds, the 10th annual Food Safety Consortium Conference, managed and curated by Food Safety Tech is back to an in-person format, October 19–21, 2022 at the Hilton Parsippany, New Jersey (20 minutes from Newark Liberty Airport and 29 miles outside on New York City).
With a capped audience of 250, the 2022 Food Safety Consortium Conference program has been designed to encourage true peer-to-peer networking and sharing of best practices. The program features many discussion groups including “The Days FSQA Professionals Fear the Most,” “Strategic Challenge: Engagement of Management” and “What is the current state of the food safety industry and where is it going?”
You will not just attend the Food Safety Consortium, you will actively participate in the program that features strategic and critical thinking topics that have been developed for both industry veterans and future FSQA Leadership.
I hope you can join us and participate in the meeting of the minds in October.
In 2016, the food authenticity team at Queen’s University Belfast published a study that evaluated adulteration levels in oregano—specifically, 78 samples purchased at retail.1 Almost a quarter of the samples had some adulteration. Some samples actually contained more than 70% other leaf material, primarily olive and myrtle leaves. This study was widely reported and appeared to result in drastic decreases in the levels of adulteration in oregano.
However, just last year, the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission published the results of a coordinated control plan for “fraudulent practices” in spices in which they tested 1,885 samples of 6 herbs and spices submitted from from 23 countries.2 Almost half of the 295 oregano samples were “suspicious of being adulterated.” The results of these studies imply that food fraud—especially fraud involving higher-value and further-processed products with a substance that does not make consumers sick—is a persistent risk and demands a sustained response from industry and regulators.
Evaluating historical data from various sources (the scientific literature, regulatory reports, media reports, etc.) is a critical component of a food fraud prevention program, but it is not enough. A strong program will include an in-depth evaluation of what is known historically about food fraud for relevant raw materials, ongoing monitoring of food safety and fraud notifications, a fraud-focused evaluation of supplier controls, audit and testing programs that include specific anti-fraud measures, and an assessment of situational factors that could increase fraud incentive (geographic, economic, etc.).
The Food Fraud Database has tracked public reports of food fraud for almost 10 years. Many incidents are types of fraud that have occurred repeatedly, as the incident distribution from last year illustrates (see Figure 1). In addition to herb/spice fraud, frequent types of fraud include replacement of honey with sugar syrups; unregulated and counterfeit liquor; wines labeled as a more expensive varietal or with undeclared additives; milk products with added protein or fats from other sources; and fraud related to organic certification or geographic origin. Although these types of fraud appear to be “reasonably foreseeable,” the challenge is that during a time of supply chain stressors—such as the COVID-19 pandemic—risks may evolve quickly as suppliers and supply chain structures change. Re-evaluating food fraud vulnerability in response to changing conditions can be time-consuming, but is important to stay ahead of potential risks.
We frequently work with food manufacturers to develop their food fraud vulnerability assessments. Our experience is that searching and compiling risk data and mapping a set of raw materials to the appropriate data sources for analysis can be the most time-consuming aspects of the project. Since Google searches or other manual processes are not always reliable and efficient, a helpful first step can be finding a data source that compiles and standardizes food safety and fraud data from a wide range of reliable sources. The mapping process then involves identifying each individual ingredient component of the raw materials sourced by the company and linking it to the relevant ingredient name in the data source. It is important to invest this time up front to identify the most appropriate data sources and conduct a thorough mapping process. This ensures food safety and quality assurance staff will be notified of information relevant to their particular supply chains moving forward.
Many quality assurance professionals struggle to fit in food fraud assessments and mitigation plans while managing day-to-day food safety and quality programs. A two-stage process, including an ingredient screen followed by a detailed assessment for potentially high-risk ingredients, can make the process more efficient for companies managing hundreds of raw materials (see Figure 2). Existing food safety testing and auditing programs may also have application to food fraud prevention and should also be documented in a food fraud program. Many food companies find value in outside expert guidance to set up a food fraud program so that food safety and fraud risks aren’t unintentionally missed. The goal of a food fraud program is not to add to the workload of food safety and quality assurance staff, but to enable those staff to identify the most targeted measures that will help ensure food safety, authenticity, and brand protection.
Last week the FDA announced that it would resume conducting domestic surveillance inspections on February 7—affecting all commodities. The agency will continue with mission-critical domestic and foreign inspections, and leverage remote assessments when necessary. FDA will also conduct previously planned foreign surveillance inspections that have received country clearance and fall within the CDC’s Level 1 or Level 2 COVID travel recommendation.
“Throughout all these activities, the agency remains committed to the health and safety of its investigators and will provide the protection needed to safely inspect facilities and conduct investigations at the ports and in agency laboratories.” – FDA
FDA’s plans to start foreign prioritized inspections in April. It will also continue remote FSVP activities for human and animal foods. However, state inspections under the FDA contract have the authority to determine whether to make inspection decisions as per local information.
The food processing and manufacturing industry is one of many in the United States that is continuing to struggle with attracting and retaining workers. The situation is one that processors have found themselves in for years, but amidst an ongoing pandemic, the problem of labor shortage has rapidly reached a critical mass.
To fill understaffed processing lines, companies have employed a wide range of tactics—boosting wages, dishing out bonuses, announcing better work schedules, and bolstering benefits packages. While these recruiting tactics will get bodies on plant floors, they alone aren’t enough to keep things running smoothly. (And, noticeably, there’s been less chatter around measures that aren’t as public facing.) Inevitably, some employees will continue to fall ill with COVID-19 and need to isolate for periods of time, requiring job function shuffling and the need for temporary workers. Likewise, turnover is predicted to remain high industry-wide as companies continue to compete for a slim labor market. With this tumult will come continued product delays, supply chain disruptions, and the very real risk of critical food safety slipping.
For years now, food processors and manufacturers have looked to color-coding as a method for ensuring quality and preventing product contamination and cross-contamination. Conceptually, the process is simple. By assigning different colors to plant zones, assembly process steps, shift teams, or potential allergens and hazards, workers are able to use the correct, conveniently color-coded tools and products in the way they were intended. The plans are customized by facility but are always framed by four basic models mentioned here. When implemented correctly—and inclusively—a color-coding plan can bring so many benefits to a facility, especially in this moment.
Benefit #1: It’s Easily Recognizable
The point of a color-coding plan is to streamline and systemize food safety and hygiene procedures to minimize risks to the safety of products and team members in a facility. With that in mind, most color-coding plans comprise just a handful of colors, and oftentimes, workers in a plant will only ever interact with one or two. Once a team member learns, “I work in this zone, and I will always use blue tools here; or, I work in this part of the assembly process, which will always use red tools”; it’s pretty easy to remember that guidance.
With the availability of high-quality, hygienic tools in full-color options these days, it is pretty effortless to spot a tool that’s out of place. Additionally, many plants will choose to color-code wearables and PPE such as gowns, masks, and gloves so that it’s immediately obvious when a team member isn’t where they should be. Facility signage also comes into play as it’s a best practice for color-coding to always place descriptive plan signage in sight. Some facilities even put color-coding plans on individual ID tags to ensure it is always at the fingertips of team members.
Benefit #2: It’s Easily Understood
The success of a color-coding plan hinges on marrying design simplicity (meaning as few colors as possible with the most logical categorization), with a robust rollout (where every functional item is color-coded). When these needs are met, the plan is easy to understand and follow. It can help multilingual teams as the language barrier is minimized with a focus on colors vs. terminology, and as these plans are growing in popularity, a new employee with experience in the industry has likely worked with a plant operating under some form of a color-coding plan.
Most importantly, now, a color-coding plan can allow for new employees or temporary workers to get up-to-speed quickly. When turnover and hiring are happening more frequently and training team leaders are strapped for time, this is a game-changer as people can be on-boarded quickly without compromising quality and safety.
Benefit #3: It Doesn’t Rely On One Team Member To Train
It’s never a good idea to have important procedural safety standards of a facility live in just one person’s head. It is especially risky at a time when employees are falling ill and needing to isolate themselves on an ongoing basis.
One of the things that makes a color-coding plan successful is that everyone who works in a facility is involved. The plan only succeeds if everyone understands their unique role in the equation, and because of that structure and expectation, everyone is aware of how the plan should be working in practice. This means training new employees doesn’t only involve a small handful of individuals, allowing the responsibility of onboarding to be shared.
Benefit #4: It Can Boost Morale—Really
It’s no secret that many companies are facing dips in team morale these days. Between an ongoing pandemic and persistent turnover, new stressors are added every workday. This can impact not only job satisfaction for employees while at work but also present a safety risk, as food safety culture truly relies on every person in any given facility.
A color-coding plan sets the tone of teamwork and serves as a reminder of the importance of every individual in the larger goal of keeping every other person and the product safe. That reminder of personal responsibility and impact can go a long way when baseline tensions are up, and workflow disruptions are the norm.
If there’s anything the past couple of years has taught the industry, it is to expect the unexpected and, in turn, use whatever devices you have to make the best out of the current situation. A color-coding plan can help you do just that by serving as one of the best tools at your disposal in this moment.
The ongoing pandemic, food fraud, food insecurity, supply chain disruptions and shortages, maintaining and fostering a robust food safety culture, and foodborne illness outbreaks kept the food industry very busy last year. Looking ahead to 2022, these challenges will continue, but many food companies are becoming better at forecasting and course correcting. During a recent interview with Food Safety Tech, Waylon Sharp, vice president and chief operating officer at Bureau Veritas, discussed trends affecting food safety this year, along with how companies should respond to incoming challenges.
Food Safety Tech: What challenges did food companies face in 2021 and how can they apply their lessons learned in the new year?
Waylon Sharp: Supply chain disruptions were a big challenge for food companies in 2021, as much of the North American food system is reliant on production or raw materials from international locations. This theme will continue into 2022, as logistics become more costly and challenging from a labor perspective, food companies will naturally gravitate to exploring alternatives. This shift in supply will increase the need for verification of product quality and safety of new suppliers. In addition to, or alternatively, some producers may choose more local options to reduce delays and increase stability of supply.
FST: What are the key trends impacting food safety in 2022?
Sharp: This year we’ll see food safety impacted by sustainability, consumer preferences and health and wellness:
Sustainability: Connecting with a purpose will be a key driver for both attracting new customers and enticing top talent to join food organizations. All aspects are critical, including sourcing raw materials, the packaging used, and minimizing the CO2 footprint in production and logistics. Consequently, I suspect there will be bad actors that see the advantage of appearing to be responsible but not doing what they say. Services that hold these organizations accountable will likely continue to grow.
Consumer Preferences: Migration to hyper-local, community supporting businesses can be directly correlated to the COVID financial fallout. Buying local helps support the areas we reside in, and this trend will likely persist. The feel-good support should also result in fresher product with less supply chain challenges for consumers.
Health & Wellness: Sustainable, plant-based products are expanding in prevalence. Traditional meat alternatives witnessed an increase in volume and new entrants such as seafood alternatives also grew in consumer acceptance. I expect more to launch in 2022 to meet the rising demand for healthy and environmentally conscious alternatives.
FST: What technologies will play a role in helping food companies tackle their biggest hurdles this year?
Sharp: Technology will continue to play an important role in the industry this year. Additional automation and digital tools to manufacture, assess food quality and safety, and distribute food are all likely to grow. Staffing challenges will continue to impact those highly manual production environments and the more work that can be performed without human intervention will gain favor over labor-intensive functions. In addition, remote audits and inspections allow for an experienced individual to assess a situation without traveling and being present on-site to limit human contact.
Year three of the pandemic is pushing industries to the limit, as the highly contagious omicron variant is resulting in even more severe labor shortages that are impacting all angles of business. The food industry is no exception. The food supply chain has already been significant impacted by COVID-19, resulting in empty grocery store shelves. Last year, BSI’s Jim Yarbrough and Neil Coole wrote an article for Food Safety Tech about the fact that COVID-19’s Impact on the Food Industry Reaches Far Beyond Supermarket Shelves. Now eight months later, the omicron variant is further disrupting food operations, with a considerable amount of the workforce being sidelined with the virus.
“The entire food-at-home supply chain is being impaired by deeper labor shortages than anticipated—this much seems clear to us—and it’s only a question of how bad the impact is,” stated JP Morgan analyst Ken Goldman in an article by The Wall Street Journal.
Companies such as Conagra Brands, Inc. are struggling to keep up with consumer demand while also maintaining that food safety and quality is of the utmost importance. The company has stated that inflation could be even worse than initially expected as a result of higher costs for proteins, transportation, dairy and resin, which could all translate to higher price tags for consumers. “The word of the year this year is perseverance,” the company’s CEO Sean Connolly stated.
Business travel took a significant hit last year and 2021 has yet to see a rebound. Over the past two years, Food Safety Tech has strived to continue to educate the food safety community without missing a beat—in both 2020 and 2021 we converted our annual Food Safety Consortium into a virtual event series, and we ramped up our other web seminars.
As we look ahead to 2022, we are planning a great lineup of virtual events. However, we also want to get a feel for our audience’s comfort level in getting back to traveling for business—and even if you’re comfortable traveling, is there money in the budget for it?
As a valued member of the food safety community, we invite you to participate in the following brief survey. As a show of appreciation, you will be entered into a drawing for a chance to win a free registration for the 2022 Food Safety Consortium.
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought challenges to all industries, and many restaurants have been forced to close their doors permanently. Restaurant owners have struggled due to COVID-19 restrictions that have drastically cut the number of customers they can serve—whether as a result of an indoor dining ban or capacity limits. Those that have been allowed to re-open are being stretched to meet new guidelines to keep guests safe and comfortable while dining. Not only do restaurant owners need to make sure their restaurants are COVID-safe, but they also need to ensure they are providing the quality service and meals their customers have come to know and love. The Internet of Things (IoT) can not only ease the burden of implementing new protocols while also ensuring a clean and safe environment for both employees and patrons, but also help restaurants enhance efficiency.
The following are some points on how the IoT can help restaurants not only survive, but thrive amid the pandemic.
Easy-to-deploy IoT-enabled devices provide several benefits to QSRs, including the monitoring of employee hand washing stations, dishwashing water temperatures, sanitizer solution concentrations and customer bathroom usage frequency to ensure constant compliance with cleanliness standards.
By placing sensors on tables and work lines, restaurant owners can collect valuable data and insights in real time. For example, the sensors can share information about how often tables are being cleaned. This information will help owners trust that tables are being cleaned thoroughly in between each use.
Sensors can also be placed on washbasins to monitor employee hand washing. Sensors on the sinks will not only confirm that employees’ hands have been washed, but they will also share exactly how long employees washed their hands. That way, owners can have peace of mind knowing employees’ hands and restaurant surfaces are properly sanitized before customers sit down to eat. With door sensors monitoring customer bathrooms, store owners can ensure adequate cleaning is allocated based on frequency of usage.
Owners can also have peace of mind knowing their restaurant is rodent free by using IoT monitored sensors. Rodents are especially dangerous to be found lurking in restaurants because they carry diseases and can cause electrical fires. Devices can be placed throughout the restaurant to detect any motion that occurs. When the devices detect a motion, restaurant owners will receive notifications and will be immediately aware of any rodents that may have snuck into the restaurant.
These sensors give restaurant owners a chance to proactively address a rodent issue before it causes damage to their business.
In addition to monitoring sanitation and detecting motion, restaurant owners can leverage the IoT many other ways. For example, IoT devices can be placed on trash bins to alert when they are full and ready to be taken out. They can also be placed near pipes to detect a leak. Sensors can also be placed on all refrigerators to detect temperature. With accurate updates on refrigerators’ temperatures, restaurant owners can easily monitor and ensure that food is stored at the appropriate temperature around the clock—and be immediately alerted if a power issue causes temperatures to change.
IoT devices can offer restaurant owners insights to help them change their operations and behavior for the better. While everyone is eager to go back to “normal” and want our favorite restaurants to re-open as soon as possible, it is important that restaurant owners have the tools needed to reopen safely—and create efficiencies that can help recoup lost income due to COVID-19 restrictions. Restaurant owners looking to receive real-time, accurate data and insights to help run their restaurants more efficiently and ensure a safe and comfortable experience for customers can turn to the IoT to achieve their goals.
COVID-19 has been a sharp wake-up call for many food manufacturers in the need for resilient production environments that can readily respond to large and sudden changes, including fluctuations in demand and disruptive external events. This means being able to optimize operations for the following:
Efficiency: Where you can achieve constant output even when given fewer inputs—such as in workforce availability or resources. This was especially important when the pandemic caused widespread supply shortages, as well as staffing shortages due to social distancing measures.
Productivity: When you can ensure that, given the amount of available input (i.e., raw ingredients, manpower, equipment availability), you can maintain a consistent output to meet demand in the marketplace.
Flexibility: Where you can rapidly and intelligently adapt your processes in the face of change, in ways that are in the best interest of your business, the supply chain, and the consumers who purchase and trust in your products.
That trust is paramount, as manufacturers must continue to uphold quality and safety standards—especially during a time when public health is of the upmost importance. But between operational challenges and managing product quality, that’s a lot for manufacturers to wade through during a crisis.
To navigate the current COVID reality and improve response to future events, more organizations are looking to harness the power of data to enable agile decision-making and, in turn, build more resilient production environments.
Harnessing the Power of Data
The key to harnessing data for agile decisions is to aggregate end-to-end process information and make it available in real time. When you can achieve that, it’s possible to run analytics and derive timely insights into every facet of production. Those insights can be used to increase efficiency, productivity and flexibility—as well as ensure product quality and safety—even amidst upheaval.
When looking at solutions to aggregate data from a single site—or better yet, multiple sites—all roads lead to the cloud. Namely, cloud-based quality intelligence solutions can decouple the data from physical locations—such as paper checklists, forms, or supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) and human-machine interfaces (HMI) systems—and centralize what’s collected digitally in a unified repository. The data can then be accessed, analyzed, and consumed by those who need actionable insights from anywhere, at any time, and on any device, making cloud an ideal solution for connecting on-site operators and remote employees.
An Opportunity for Broader Transformation
In migrating to the cloud, manufacturers open the opportunity to break away from the legacy, manual processes of yesterday and transition to more nimble, digitally enabled environments of tomorrow. For example, manual processes are often highly dependent on individual operator knowledge, experience and judgement. As the pandemic has shown, such institutional knowledge can be lost when employees become ill, or are unavailable due to self-isolation or travel restrictions, presenting a risk to operational efficiency and productivity. But if that valuable institutional knowledge were captured and codified in a quality intelligence solution as predefined workflows and prescriptive instructions, then a manufacturer could more easily move their resources and personnel around as necessary and find comfort knowing that processes will be executed according to best practices.
For many organizations, this would be a remarkable transformation in the ways of working, where data and digital technologies can augment human capacity and flexibility. Take for instance, in traditional production environments, a lot of human effort is spent on monitoring lines to catch process deviations or events like machine anomalies or quality issues. Using real-time data, next-generation solutions can take on that burden and continuously monitor what’s happening on the plant floor—only alerting relevant teams when an issue arises and they need to intervene. Manufacturers can thereby redeploy people to other tasks, while minimizing the amount of resources necessary to manage product quality and safety during daily production and in the event of disruption.
Ensuring Quality Upstream and Downstream
One company that has succeeded in digital transformation is King & Prince, a manufacturer of breaded, battered and seasoned seafood. When the company digitized its manufacturing processes, it centralized the quality data from all points of origin in a single database. The resulting real-time visibility enables King & Prince to monitor quality on more than 100 processes across three U.S. plants, as well as throughout a widespread network of global suppliers.
With this type of real-time visibility, a company can work with suppliers to correct any quality issues before raw materials are shipped to the United States, which directly translates to a better final product. This insight also helps plant-based procurement managers determine which suppliers to use. Within its own plants, operators receive alerts during production if there are any variations in the data that may indicate inconsistencies. They can thereby stop the process, make necessary adjustments, and use the data again to confirm when everything is back on track.
During finished product inspections, the company can also review the captured data to determine if they need to finetune any processes upstream and respond sooner to prevent issues from making it downstream to the consumer level. Overall, the company is able to better uphold its quality and safety standards, with the number of customer complaints regarding its seafood products dropping to less than one per million pounds sold year over year—and that’s all thanks to the harnessing of data in a digitally enabled production environment.
There’s No Time Like the Present
In truth, technologies like the cloud and quality intelligence solutions, and even the concept of digital transformation, aren’t new. They’ve been on many company agendas for some time, but just haven’t been a high priority. But when the pandemic hit, organizations were suddenly faced with the vulnerabilities of their long-held operational processes and legacy technologies. Now, with the urgency surrounding the need for resilient production environments, these same companies are thinking about how to tactically achieve digital transformation in the span of a few weeks or months rather than years.
Yet while digital transformation may sound like a tremendous initiative with high risks and expenses, it’s more tangible than some may think. For example, cloud-based Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) solutions offer flexible subscription-based models that keep costs low on top of rapid scalability. Digital transformation doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing endeavor either. In fact, it can be better to progress incrementally, starting first with the manufacturing areas that are most in need or have the most issues. This minimizes unnecessary risk, makes digital transformation more achievable and realistic over short timeframes, and avoids overwhelming already maxed out operational and IT teams.
All things must pass. The pandemic will eventually be over. But in its wake will be a permanent legacy on not just society, but also on the manufacturing sector. In my opinion, digital transformation is a fundamental basis for building resilience into the modern food production environment. Now, more than ever, is the time to address that opportunity head on.
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