It is fair to say that 2020 was a challenging year with wide-ranging effects, including significant effects on our ongoing efforts to ensure food integrity and prevent fraud in the food system. COVID-19 caused major supply chain disruptions for foods and many other consumer products. It also highlighted challenges in effective tracking and standardization of food fraud-related data.
Let’s take a look at some of the notable food fraud occurrences in 2020:
- Organic Products. The Spanish Guardia Civil investigated an organized crime group that sold pistachios with pesticide residues that were fraudulently labeled as organic, reportedly yielding €6 million in profit. USDA reported fraudulent organic certificates for products including winter squash, leafy greens, collagen peptides powder, blackberries, and avocados. Counterfeit wines with fraudulent DOG, PGI, and organic labels were discovered in Italy.
- Herbs and Spices. Quite a few reports came out of India and Pakistan about adulteration and fraud in the local spice market. One of the most egregious involved the use of animal dung along with various other substances in the production of fraudulent chili powder, coriander powder, turmeric powder, and garam masala spice mix. Greece issued a notification for a turmeric recall following the detection of lead, chromium, and mercury in a sample of the product. Belgium recalled chili pepper for containing an “unauthorized coloring agent.” Reports of research conducted at Queen’s University Belfast also indicated that 25% of sage samples purchased from e-commerce or independent channels in the U.K. were adulterated with other leafy material.
- Dairy Products. India and Pakistan have also reported quite a few incidents of fraud in local markets involving dairy products. These have included reports of counterfeit ghee and fraudulent ghee manufactured with animal fats as well as milk adulterated with a variety of fraudulent substances. The Czech Republic issued a report about Edam cheese that contained vegetable fat instead of milk fat.
- Honey. Greece issued multiple alerts for honey containing sugar syrups and, in one case, caramel colors. Turkey reported a surveillance test that identified foreign sugars in honeycomb.
- Meat and Fish. This European report concluded that the vulnerability to fraud in animal production networks was particularly high during to the COVID-19 pandemic due to the “most widely spread effects in terms of production, logistics, and demand.” Thousands of pounds of seafood were destroyed in Cambodia because they contained a gelatin-like substance. Fraudulent USDA marks of inspection were discovered on chicken imported to the United States from China. Soy protein far exceeding levels that could be expected from cross contamination were identified in sausage in the Czech Republic. In Colombia, a supplier of food for school children was accused of selling donkey and horse meat as beef. Decades of fraud involving halal beef was recently reported in in Malaysia.
- Alcoholic Beverages. To date, our system has captured more than 30 separate incidents of fraud involving wine or other alcoholic beverages in 2020. Many of these involved illegally produced products, some of which contained toxic substances such as methanol. There were also multiple reports of counterfeit wines and whisky. Wines were also adulterated with sugar, flavors, colors and water.
We have currently captured about 70% of the number of incidents for 2020 as compared to 2019, although there are always lags in reporting and data capture, so we expect that number to rise over the coming weeks. These numbers do not appear to bear out predictions about the higher risk of food fraud cited by many groups resulting from the effects of COVID-19. This is likely due in part to reduced surveillance and reporting due to the effects of COVID lockdowns on regulatory and auditing programs. However, as noted in a recent article, we should take seriously food fraud reports that occur against this “backdrop of reduced regulatory oversight during the COVID-19 pandemic.” If public reports are just the tip of the iceburg, 2020 numbers that are close to those reported in 2019 may indeed indicate that the iceburg is actually larger.
Unfortunately, tracking food fraud reports and inferring trends is a difficult task. There is currently no globally standardized system for collection and reporting information on food fraud occurrences, or even standardized definitions for food fraud and the ways in which it happens. Media reports of fraud are challenging to verify and there can be many media reports related to one individual incident, which complicates tracking (especially by automated systems). Reports from official sources are not without their own challenges. Government agencies have varying priorities for their surveillance and testing programs, and these priorities have a direct effect on the data that is reported. Therefore, increases in reports for a particular commodity do not necessarily indicate a trend, they may just reflect an ongoing regulatory priority a particular country. Official sources are also not standardized with respect to how they report food safety or fraud incidents. Two RASFF notifications in 2008 following the discovery of melamine adulteration in milk illustrate this point (see Figure 1). In the first notification for a “milk drink” product, the hazard category was listed as “adulteration/fraud.” However, in the second notification for “chocolate and strawberry flavor body pen sets,” the hazard category was listed as “industrial contaminants,” even though the analytical result was higher.1
What does all of this mean for ensuring food authenticity into 2021? We need to continue efforts to align terminology, track food fraud risk data, and ensure transparency and evaluation of the data that is reported. Alignment and standardization of food fraud reporting would go a long way to improving our understanding of how much food fraud occurs and where. Renewed efforts by global authorities to strengthen food authenticity protections are important. Finally, consumers and industry must continue to demand and ensure authenticity in our food supply. While most food fraud may not have immediate health consequences for consumers, reduced controls can lead to systemic problems and have devastating effects.
- Everstine, K., Popping, B., and Gendel, S.M. (2021). Food fraud mitigation: strategic approaches and tools. In R.S. Hellberg, K. Everstine, & S. Sklare (Eds.) Food Fraud – A Global Threat With Public Health and Economic Consequences (pp. 23-44). Elsevier. doi: 10.1016/B978-0-12-817242-1.00015-4
Earlier this week FSMA celebrated its 10-year anniversary, and FDA Deputy Commissioner for Food Policy and Response Frank Yiannas reflected on the progress and accomplishments as a result of this legislation, and the path forward. As we round out the first week of 2021, Yiannas is looking back at the achievements of 2020 in the face of the historic COVID-19 pandemic.
“I’m struck by how tirelessly our team members have worked together to help ensure the continuity of the food supply chain and to help keep food workers and consumers alike safe during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Yiannas on the FDA Voices blog. “Their commitment has not wavered in a time when we’re all dealing personally with the impact of the pandemic on our families, schooling our children from home and taking care of elderly parents.”
- Response to COVID-19. FDA addressed the concern of virus transmission, assuring consumers that COVID-19 cannot be transmitted via food or its packaging. The agency also worked with CDC and OSHA on resources to help promote worker safety and supply chain continuity.
- Release of the New Era of Smarter Food Safety Blueprint
- Release of the 2020 Leafy Greens STEC Action Plan with a focus on prevention, response and research gaps
- Artificial Intelligence pilot program to strengthen the screening of imported foods
- Proposed Food Traceability Rule issued in an effort to create more recordkeeping requirements for specific foods
- New protocol for developing and registering antimicrobial treatments for pre-harvest agricultural water
- Enhanced foodborne outbreak investigation processes and established the outbreak investigation table (via the CORE Network) to disseminate information about an outbreak right when the agency begins its investigation
The year 2020 brought with it continued court filings within the food safety litigation space, and it should come as no surprise the pandemic presented its own set of unique challenges. We’ve seen disruptions to the food and beverage supply chain, noteworthy changes with recalls, and continued developments in litigation specific to product labeling. These challenges have impacted everyone involved in the industry and laid the groundwork for what’s to come in 2021.
The most notable impact the food industry has faced as a result of the pandemic has been the massive disruption of the food supply chain. Grocers and other retail food providers have seen an immense spike in demand, whereas foodservice locations, such as restaurants, universities, and hotels, have seen the exact opposite. This disruption to the supply chain has required regulatory agencies to take notice and implement temporary policies to support these businesses and consumers alike. Employees across the food industry supply chain, including agriculture and food processing, have further been classified as essential, leading federal agencies to issue guidance to these employers to help them assess COVID-19 control plans and protect their employee’s health. Further, safety concerns and bumps in unemployment compensation have imposed additional strains on worker retention and attendance.
Another interesting facet of the pandemic’s impact on the industry has been its influence in the product recall space. Believe it or not, companies have strayed from pulling their products off the shelf even if it subjects them to potential liability. Why is this? Because as mentioned earlier, the demand for food in the retail space has increased so much, it has become a necessary choice to avoid food shortages across the United States. Don’t worry, if a product possesses a health or safety threat, companies are still recalling those to protect consumers and address safety concerns, but voluntary non-health or safety related recalls may have become a thing of the past. For example, rather than recall a box of cereal or other dry good for not meeting a fill-line requirement, providers may elect to risk a false-advertising lawsuit to meet the recent shift in retail food demand.
Since 2012, there have been more than 200 class action lawsuits filed related to the labeling on food products. This past year, we observed a continuation of this trend. Class action lawsuits were filed addressing the authenticity of “all-natural” products or claims based on the “origin” of a product, while we witnessed a sharp decline in slack-fill lawsuits. Consumers are becoming increasingly aware of the ingredients in food products and are continuing to demand transparency from companies to disclose how their products are made. There has been a particular increase in claims related to the definition of vanilla—is it pure? Is it natural? The same goes for citric acid, a product that can be made naturally or synthetically. There has been continued debate within the industry about citric acid in its use within other products where some citric acid is naturally occurring either from citrus fruit, tomatoes or other fruits with citric acid. If all-natural citric acid is added into tomato paste to help with the taste, can the tomato paste still be classified as being all-natural, even if the use of citric acid is displayed on the label?
To help combat the discrepancies around all-natural products, the USDA is currently working on developing an official definition of “all-natural,” which upon its completion is anticipated to have a major impact on the labeling industry and the number of false-advertising class actions. This definitional development comes at a crucial time especially as plant-based protein continues to rise in popularity.
The next wave of claims are being filed related to plant-based protein products. These claims include trademark and First Amendment issues. For example, when is a burger, a burger? Everyone assumes a burger means a hamburger, traditionally deriving from beef, and there has been an increase in debate around when the sale of plant-based products infringe on the rights of ranchers selling traditional beef products. Can food created in a petri-dish claim the same title as products created through traditional harvesting methods? What about other genetically modified products? These issues will likely spawn additional litigation in the coming year.
Looking ahead towards 2021, we can fully anticipate cases addressing food labeling issues to continue. Historically many of these claims were filed in Northern California with one federal court there earning the moniker of the “Food Court”. Recent years have seen increased filings in New York and Illinois, but the coming year may see a decrease in cases filed in New York as a result of recent court decisions relating to pre-emption and a recent opinion of a federal appellate court disallowing the settlement of class claims on an injunction-only basis. California may also see changes in their total cases as food producers curtail product sales in California to avoid the ambit of Prop 65.1
2021 will continue to bear witness to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. The supply chain will continue to adjust to the varying demands of the public as they navigate safety regulations, and companies will maintain an “only-recall-if-absolutely-necessary” mindset. Many of the adjustments that businesses, consumers and regulators have had to make in light of the pandemic may also lead to long-term or permanent shifts. In fact, the Consumer Brands Association has identified a few select areas ready for change, such as the maintenance of flexibility in food labeling to ease the transfer process of products between foodservice and food retail providers. We just might find 2021 to be one of the most industry-defining years in the food safety litigation space.
- California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment. (n.d.). Proposition 65. Accessed December 17, 2020. Retrieved from https://oehha.ca.gov/proposition-65
2020 has taken a lot away from us, but it has also taught us the importance of being able to quickly adapt (can you say…“pivot”?) to rapidly changing, dire circumstances. For Food Safety Tech, that meant shifting our in-person annual Food Safety Consortium to a virtual event. I really look forward to the Consortium each year, because we are a virtual company, and this is the one time of year that most of the Food Safety Tech and Innovative Publishing Company team are together. When we made the decision to move the event online, we really wanted to be considerate of our attendees, who more than likely were quickly developing webinar and Zoom fatigue. So we created a series of 14 Episodes that spanned from September until last week. I am not going to single out one episode or speaker/session in particular, because I think that all of our speakers and sponsors brought a tremendous amount of education to the food safety community. Thank you.
With that, the following are my top 10 takeaways from the 2020 Food Safety Consortium Virtual Conference Series—and this simply scratches the surface. Feel free to leave a comment on what you learned from our speakers and the discussions this fall.
- COVID-19 has served as the springboard for digital transformation, more of which we have seen in the past nine months than in the last several years or even decade. Tech advances are increasing efficiencies, adding the ability to be more predictive, giving more visibility and traceability in the supply chain and offering increased accessibility. These include: IoT; Advanced analytics; Artificial intelligence (FDA has been piloting AI technology); Graph technology used in supply chain visibility; blockchain; mixed reality; and remote monitoring.
- There are new responsibilities that come with being a part of America’s critical infrastructure and protecting essential frontline workers.
- Companies must have a strong relationship (or work to build one) with local health departments and authorities
- Name a COVID Czar at your company: This is a designated person, located both within a production facility as well as at the corporate location, who manages the bulk of the requirements and precautions that companies should be undertaking to address the pandemic.
- Every company should have an emergency risk management plan that centers around good communication.
- The COVID-19 pandemic is a reminder to us that the threat for viruses is always lurking beneath the surface. There is still work to be done on the food labs side regarding more rapid assays, leveling the playing field regarding conducting viral testing, and technology that enables labs to get safe, effective and consistent results.
- Lessons in sanitation: Investment in sanitation is critical, there are no shortcuts, and empower your sanitation employees, give them the tools they need to effectively do their jobs.
- The FDA’s FSMA Proposed Traceability rule is expected to be a “game changer”. It will lay the foundation for meaningful harmonization. FDA Deputy Commissioner for Food Policy and Response Frank Yiannas said the pandemic really put a spotlight on the fact that the U.S. food industry needs better tracking and tracing.
- Know your suppliers, know your suppliers, know your suppliers!
- Biofilms are ubiquitous, and the process of detecting and eliminating Listeria in your facility is a marathon with no finish line.
- Food Safety Culture is a profit center, not an overhead department.
- “If I’m not well, I can’t do well.” Making sure your needs are met personally and professionally plays an important role in being a better contributor to your company’s success.
As part of a special offering, we are making four episodes of the 2020 Food Safety Consortium Virtual Conference Series available on demand for free. Head to our Events & Webinars page to register to view the sessions on or after January 2021.
While COVID-19 exposed disconnects in the food supply chain, it also served as an overdue catalyst for rapid technology adoption. Food manufacturers, distributors and retailers were forced to grapple with consumer behaviors that—previously expected to occur over five years— changed within about five weeks. Faced with unprecedented demand, channel shifts and rapidly changing consumer purchasing behaviors, forward-looking brands and retailers have started to transform their business models to become highly responsive and agile.
A new approach called “programmatic commerce” may be the key to faster market insights and pivots. Taking cues from past attempts to digitize the supply chain from end-to-end, programmatic commerce uses artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) to connect and unify critical business data across food manufacturers, distributors and retailers using common retail portals, BI and CRM tools as well as other data resources and platforms.
With a real-time unified view of channels and activity, programmatic commerce has the potential to create fully automated trade processes to optimize production, inventory management, logistics, promotions and more for both upstream and downstream supply chain activities.
To achieve the potential of programmatic commerce, real-time or near real-time data sources must be easily integrated, unified and displayed. This is in stark contrast to previous attempts to create end-to-end supply chain visibility, which often required custom or manual integrations, had costly and lengthy implementation requirements and necessitated custom reporting.
The programmatic approach is already gaining traction, enabling retailers to leverage AI and ML technology to optimize supply chains. But the real value is in taking it one step further—to tap into rich customer data, understand rapidly changing consumer behaviors and ultimately—to predict and personalize shopping experiences at scale.
Tracking and Adapting to Evolving Consumer Journeys
Consumers increasingly demand greater choice, control, personalization and transparency and companies must continuously create, track and manage a 360º view of customers’ shopping journeys to stay ahead of these trends. Fortunately, real-time data and analytical capabilities are available to supply the critical information they need to implement a programmatic commerce approach.
Among the shifts companies must track as a result of COVID-19 is the explosion in online grocery shopping. In November 2020, U.S. grocery delivery and pickup sales totaled $5.9 billion and a record high 83% of consumers intend to purchase groceries online again, signaling this trend continues as the pandemic lingers on.1 By 2025, online grocery sales are predicted to account for 21.5% of total grocery sales, representing more than a 60% increase over pre-pandemic estimates.2 A permanent shift toward online grocery shopping can be expected as consumers’ shopping and fulfillment experience continues to improve.
For consumers still shopping in stores, the pandemic also drove switches in primary physical store locations. In the United States, an estimated 17% of consumers shifted away from their primary store since the start of the pandemic.3 This was driven by increased work-from-home, which eliminated commuting routes and made different store locations more convenient, including ones closer to home.
Given the multitude of changes impacting consumer journeys during the pandemic, it is imperative that companies track relevant purchase drivers and considerations of each purchase occasion, while also taking into account their recent shopping experience. This creates the need for consistent, seamless and relevant experiences across both digital and physical channels that aligns all touchpoints with the consumer as part of their “total commerce experience.”
Multiple retailers are already pursuing this approach in the hope of retaining their “primary store” status across the totality of their consumers’ shopping experiences. Walmart recently launched a new store format to help achieve “seamless omni-shopping experiences” for its customers through a digitally enabled shopping environment. Customers can use the Walmart app to efficiently find what they’re looking for, discover new products, check pricing, and complete contactless checkout.4 Data tracked on these customers can eventually be used to create personalized recommendations and in-store activations and assistance based on their purchase history and in-store experience.
Conversely, the “digital store” is also being reimagined to align with consumers’ in-store experience to create a seamless shopping experience. For example, personalized meal planning service The Dinner Daily now offers the ability for its members to order recipe ingredients directly from Kroger and other Kroger-owned stores through The Dinner Daily app.5 Integrated data from multiple shopping platforms and consumer touchpoints can provide food manufacturers and retailers with shopper profiles, consumer experiences, and purchase history along with inventory status and other inputs to ultimately build personalized customer experiences and enhance shopper loyalty.
Applying Programmatic Commerce to Deliver Personalization to Consumers
Once armed with real-time data in a uniform format from sources ranging from consumer search analytics to retailer promotional pricing, a programmatic commerce approach can provide companies with predictive understanding of demand and supply to optimize decision making from raw materials through production through retail or direct-to-consumer.
Using online grocery shopping as an example, consumer personalization can be delivered through the accurate prediction and display of items relevant to each shopper based on shopping history, preferences, current cart selections, and other inputs such as real-time availability, marketing promotions and more.
Innovations are already in the market, including Halla, a data science company that developed a grocery-specific personalization algorithm that works with grocery retailer e-commerce platforms to create smart recommendations based on understanding of individual shoppers’ product usage and preferences.6 Another example is the Locai Solutions digital grocery platform, which applies AI to personalize recipe recommendations based on consumer preferences and purchase history and determines ingredients and quantities needed for easy incorporation into their shopping cart.7
The Path Ahead: Accelerating Technology Adoption in the Food Industry
AI and ML are already reducing waste across supply chains and enabling consumer personalization. However, currently only about 12% of retail decision-makers feel they are very effective at providing these experiences to customers and only 10% have access to the real-time data needed to achieve this goal.8
Modern programmatic commerce platforms (see Figure 1) can effectively bridge information gaps, improve inventory and distribution to prevent shortages or overages and help companies be data-ready to meet actual demand. Beyond this, a programmatic approach unlocks the next stage of customer satisfaction and loyalty, personalizing the experience during and after the pandemic.
- Bishop, D. (2020). Tracking Online Grocery’s Growth. Brick Meets Click.
- Mercatus. (2020). The Evolution of the Grocery Customer.
- Briedis, H., et al. (2020). Adapting to the next normal in retail: The customer experience imperative. McKinsey & Company.
- Whiteside, J. (2020). Reimagining Store Design to Help Customers Better Navigate the Omni-Shopping Experience. Walmart.
- Corke, R. (2020). Our Online Ordering Connection for Kroger is Here. The Dinner Daily.
- Halla. (2016). Halla Grocery Solutions.
- Locai. (2018). Locai Meal Planning.
- Bluecore. (2019). Align Technology, Data, And Your Organization to Deliver Customer Value.
COVID-19 has had a major impact on the food and beverage industry this year, contributing to everything from bare shelves and supply chain issues to changes in consumer behavior to plant shutdowns, and to historic grocery cost spikes. We continue to experience changes every day, along with challenges that must be overcome. Lessons from the last year can prepare us for the years ahead, but only if we learn to adapt and anticipate.
Nearly all parts of the supply chain have been impacted, from raw material sourcing and packaging shortages to manufacturing plant shutdowns to logistics capacity to bricks and mortar store operations to consumers. At the onset of the pandemic, major industry trade shows were cancelled and postponed, along with demos and in-person sales meetings, leaving the future of shelf resets with a dark cloud hanging above them. Staying in touch virtually with buyers and providing updates proved to be a best practice and will continue into 2021.
To keep things running smoothly on the manufacturing side, assets from some logistics providers were redeployed to where they were needed most, and with consumers dining more from home, the industry saw a huge move from food service to retail, which we will touch on a bit later. Moving into 2021, brands should ensure their raw materials and supply inventories, especially those that are imported, can cover any potential and unforeseen disruptions. It is critical to prepare well in advance of shortages or surges, specifically in at-risk chains.
Despite the attempts to mitigate against shortages, even the most well-known brands faced major out-of-stock issues and consumers turned to alternative, smaller brands. The shortages came from an increase in pressure from consumers stocking up on items, not from a lack of supply as many believed. Manufacturers increased hours and scheduled capacity on production lines to maximize efficiencies to keep up until things returned to normal. When possible, production lines were reconfigured to distance operators and shifts staggered to limit contact between teams. Senators even introduced the Food Supply Protection Act to help strengthen the chain, protect workers and reduce waste, as per the United States Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry. Despite these efforts to keep shelves stocked, the unprecedented time presented smaller brands the opportunity to gain new loyal customers. The transition to e-commerce became an avenue for increased exposure for brands and continues to prove to be a vital option to explore if they have not already.
The retail sector made major headlines this year. In an effort to avoid crowds and follow stay-at-home orders, many consumers began shifting their purchasing behaviors. With today’s technology, it has been easier than ever to shop via e-commerce platforms, whether grocery pickup, delivery or takeout. We experienced temporary out-of-stocks at brick-and-mortar stores and increased wait times on deliveries due to fulfillment shortages. Consumer reaction to these changes—including stocking up on staple products such as paper towels and toilet paper—caused spikes in grocery costs. April saw the largest monthly increase in food at home indexes since February 1974, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Food service has not been exempt from the impact of 2020. With less dining out and more eating at home, restaurants, bars, college cafeterias and stadiums have had to adapt with major shifts in business operations, traffic and income, and practically hit a standstill. In September, the National Restaurant Association reported that nearly one in six restaurants, or about 100,000 nationwide had closed permanently due to the pandemic. Restaurant management had to amend all aspects of operations, including their takeout procedures and other established programs.
In order to survive, restaurants have been creative, building welcoming and distanced environments, and delivering new services to diners. The use of technology will play an even bigger role, now more than ever, to limit touch points. QR codes for menus and contactless ordering and payment options will become the new norm for establishments, if they have not already. Going into 2021, some restaurants are even revamping menus and finding ways to turn them into CPG products, a new trend that is sure to take off in the new year. In April Shake Shack announced a ShackBurger Kit, complete with all the ingredients necessary to cook the chain’s signature burgers using the same ingredients as the dine-in experience, but from the comfort of home. More recently, in November, Chipotle introduced its first digital-only restaurant, which will handle only pickup and delivery orders. Many local restaurants have adopted new best practices to serve their patrons and stay in business. When in-person dining was suspended in the spring, one of our favorite neighborhood restaurants began offering takeout for the first time. Initially, they required patrons to come in the restaurant to sign their ticket and pick up their order. They evolved into a totally online ordering and payment process, including tip, and masked touchless curbside pickup. They have continued this even as in-person dining resumed. We can expect to see more tactics like these, loyalty programs and digitized experiences in the coming year.
It is impossible to be certain what 2021 will bring, but what we do know is that it will require proactive planning and preparation. Learning from 2020 will play a pivotal role in survival for some brands, companies and establishments, and mitigating against breaks in the supply chain until we return to a sense of normalcy. The good news is the food supply chain has proven to be very robust and resilient. How we react to changes in the next few months is critical to maintaining a strong and secure supply chain to ensure we continue smooth operations.
Everybody has to eat. That is the mantra of many companies involved in the food and beverage industry. It sounds so simple. Yet, in recent years, especially this one, it is becoming more challenging than we ever thought it could be. Disruptions from the beginning to the end of the food supply chain are making the task of feeding the masses more difficult. The COVID-19 pandemic has made people in all walks of life question the food supply chain. It is being evaluated in new ways with the goal of ensuring that there is food available in not just crisis times but in normal circumstances, too, as the population continues to grow and more disruptions interrupt the supply chain. Climate change is one disruption that is impacting the food and beverage industry and is possibly the biggest threat to overall food sustainability. When people think about climate change they only think about weather events and global warming, but if you look at the definition of “climate,” other issues need to be considered in addition to looking out the window and checking the thermometer.
Global warming, greenhouse gases, carbon emissions, the earth’s normal evolution and consumer behaviors can all contribute to climate change. Everyone talks about limiting greenhouse gases and carbon emissions but is it really happening? Almost every day, some government agency or industrial company announces policy changes touting the drive to 100% sustainable packaging by this year and that year. “Company X announced today that it will use fully-sustainable packaging by 2035.” Fully sustainable packaging; what does that even mean? And 2035, what’s the hurry?! There are other programs in the works, but the question is, are they quick fixes that are really just Band-Aids on a gunshot wound? Are they actually long-term solutions and are they happening fast enough? The adoption of electric vehicles could have a huge impact on our climate but it is just a small piece of the solution for total carbon emission elimination. Water to be used in non-farming consumption is getting harder to come by due to climate change. Land space is eroding and available farm space is decreasing. The process of raising and harvesting livestock is getting more complex and costly, making plant-based substitution options more attractive. But is that really a long-term solution if we are already running out of traditional farming space? Consumers hope that recycling will help combat the problem but it is barely making a dent and their changing food habits impact the climate as well. The earth itself is constantly going through a geological evolution in spite of what we humans do to the planet.
Global warming is accelerating climate change and causing a number of serious issues. The earth’s poles are warming, which is promoting permafrost, causing glaciers to melt and oceans to rise, which is impacting sea levels, irrigation methods and land temperatures that promote erosion. Higher than average temperatures can potentially impact the growing of certain crops in terms of yields and even where they are grown. Climate change is impacting all areas of agriculture, the environment and the total ecosystem. Insect behaviors are evolving and these changes affect crops. The food manufacturing and farming industries have realized that a “new way” needs to be implemented to grow food in environments that can combat these changes.
Sustainability initiatives call for practices that maintain or improve soil conservation and improve the overall health of soil. Two processes, regenerative agriculture and precision agriculture, working in conjunction, may actually provide a long-term solution by combining environmental and farm science with technology. Regenerative agriculture goes beyond soil conservation. It is a process that looks to reverse the effects of climate change. The regenerative process focuses on restoring soil health, solving water issues, reversing carbon cycles, and creating new topsoils and growing environments.
Precision agriculture focuses on increasing the land used for farming as well as increasing the productivity of that land. It utilizes newly available IoT devices like GPS services, guidance systems, mapping tools and variable rate technologies (VRT) to optimize crop yields. These new management systems collect data that transmit valuable metrics to farmers. Every aspect of farming, from planting to harvesting, can benefit from these emerging technologies. The information about the moisture of soil, for example, is sent to a computer, which then identifies signs of health or stress. Based on these signals, farmers can provide water, pesticide or fertilizer in adequate dosages. As a result, precision farming can help conserve resources and produce healthier crops.
Climate-smart agriculture, which is an approach to dealing with the new realities of climate change, is another smart agricultural method. Climate-smart agriculture improves agricultural systems by enhancing sustainability, which leads to improved food security. Food production has struggled to keep up with erratic weather patterns and natural resources have been stretched alarmingly thin, signaling a call for action. With this new approach, crop yields can adapt accordingly and productivity will increase.
The regenerative food system market has drawn a great deal of interest from investment groups. Initial investments have focused on water and soil reconstitution and development. Restoring soil strength reduces water usage and at the same time produces stronger and more available food sources. Underground and hydroponic versions of regenerative agriculture are also emerging.
Advanced technologies like these are making their way into the food, beverage and agriculture industries. Traditional agricultural methods are being replaced with climate-smart methods. Peripheral areas like streamlining the supply chain and optimizing manufacturing operations can receive “sustainable” benefits from these new agri-methods. The good news is that smart agricultural methods are making progress in counteracting climate change and revolutionizing farming worldwide.
Regenerative and precision agriculture are without question the leading processes and philosophies being used today to help all food industries combat climate change and other disruptors to the total food supply chain. These new technologies will continue to efficiently solve farming practices. In addition, there will be rollover benefits to food processors and manufacturers who will now have improved access to data. This will enable better communication, and improved traceability at all levels of the supply chain and throughout operations, distribution and procurement. This data will allow all involved in growing and producing food to communicate better and enable society to adapt to these changes.
Yesterday Tyson Foods, Inc. announced that it is appointing Claudia Coplein, M.D. to the newly created position of chief medical officer at the company. Effective January 4, this role has been established to help the company promote a “culture of health, safety and wellness at Tyson”. Coplein will supervise the launch of Marathon Health clinics, which will be piloted at seven of Tyson’s facilities (in Texas, Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, North Carolina and Tennessee) and are intended for both team members as well as their families early next year. The clinics will provide healthcare at no cost in most instances.
Tyson Foods has invested $540 million this year to establish protective measures such as walk-through temperature scanners, workstation barriers and testing services. The company has also hired 200 nurses and administrative staff to add to its occupational health staff, which now totals nearly 600 employees.
The COVID-19 pandemic propelled food processors to scrutinize various aspects of their existing employee hygiene and environmental safety programs in an effort to protect facility workers’ health. Implementation of measures such as social distancing, illness screening, workspace barriers, additional personal protective equipment (PPE) and enhanced cleaning measures have aided the industry in reducing employee sickness and unplanned shutdowns.1 Of these actions, effective cleaning protocols in non-production areas, under the scope of facility janitorial programs, have been brought to heightened attention as a critical preventative measure for surface contamination of SARS-CoV-2.1 Through incorporation of the fundamental principles of sanitation programs utilized for food production zones, processors can elevate the effectiveness of their janitorial cleaning programs in non-production areas.
Scope of Janitorial Program
Food processing facilities should evaluate, using a risk-based assessment, all non-production areas that employees occupy on a routine basis, for inclusion into the janitorial cleaning program. Examples of areas that are routinely subject to high employee traffic and regular congregation include, but are not limited to, locker rooms, restrooms, break rooms, cafeterias, hallways, conference rooms and offices.
Additionally, specific surfaces within each of the identified non-production areas for inclusion into the program should also be evaluated in the risk-based assessment. Surfaces within these identified areas that are frequently touched, and present a greater likelihood of contamination to employees, would be considered higher-risk, and thus, command more focus during routine janitorial cleaning activities. Examples of such surfaces may include the following: Door handles, tables, desks, chairs, toilet and faucet handles, vending machines, phones, computers and other electronic devices.
Janitorial Best-Practice Examples
Sanitation Standard Operating Procedures
Sanitation standard operating procedures (SSOPs), or written cleaning instructions, should be developed for all janitorial cleaning tasks of selected employee and welfare areas, in a similar manner as those for production area equipment and infrastructure. These documents should contain pertinent information to effectively perform the desired janitorial tasks, such as the following: The individual(s) responsible for the task, appropriate chemicals, personal protective equipment (PPE) and other safety measures, frequency of cleaning, steps of cleaning execution and verification measures.
Chemical Selection & Use
Selection of chemicals for cleaning of employee and welfare areas is critically important in ensuring biological agents are effectively removed from surfaces during janitorial activities. Much like in production areas, the facility janitorial cleaning program should utilize an appropriate detergent suitable for removing residual surface soils as a base of the program. Inadequate removal of soils, such as grease or food debris in break rooms, will inhibit the effective removal of adverse biological agents.2 Additionally, the program should include an application of sanitizer or disinfectant to the target surface effective in neutralizing SARS-CoV-2.3
Cleaning Process & Frequency
An effective cleaning process for routine janitorial tasks can be modeled after the established Seven Steps of Sanitation commonly utilized in food production zones.4 Typical steps in this process applicable for janitorial cleaning should include: area preparation and dry cleaning, wiping surfaces with fresh water, application and wiping with detergent, removal of detergent with fresh water wiping, inspection verification activities and application of sanitizer or disinfectant to target surfaces for required dwell time (subsequent wiping of chemical after dwell time may be required). The frequency of cleaning and additional sanitizing activities should be validated and take into consideration times of employees breaks, level of non-production area occupancy and extent of employee contact with higher-risk surfaces. Additionally, individuals who performed the required cleaning tasks should ensure appropriate PPE is worn, not only to protect from chemicals utilized, but from biological agents that may be present on surfaces.
Master Sanitation Schedule
A master sanitation schedule, or MSS, encompassing janitorial cleaning activities that occur on a non-daily basis should be maintained either separately, or included in an existing sanitation schedule.
Examples of non-routine janitorial tasks may include:
- Emptying and cleaning of personnel storage lockers
- Cleaning of difficult-to-access surfaces for daily cleaning, such as ceilings, walls and around vending machines
- Misting of frequently touched surfaces, or entire rooms, with an additional disinfectant chemical approved to inactivate SARS-Cov-2
The appropriate frequencies of these non-routine tasks should be validated through a risk-based assessment and continually verified to ensure effectiveness.
All employees who are required to perform routine and non-routine janitorial tasks should be fully trained and records maintained. This should not only include adequate training knowledge of required practices and documentation, but also chemical selection and handling specific to janitorial activities. Retention of knowledge should be verified and included in existing facility training programs. Routine auditing of the cleaning practices by facility personnel will ensure continued acceptable outcomes of the program.
Completion of all janitorial cleaning activities should be documented and records maintained following similar practices for sanitation in production areas. As a best practice, documentation, such as checklists, should be made visible to employees who utilize the welfare areas as a means to convey facility hygiene practices and ease potential health concerns.
Validation & Verification of Cleaning Effectiveness
To ensure an established janitorial cleaning program for non-production areas is effective in achieving appropriate hygiene outcomes, the facility must validate and routinely verify the process. Validating the effectiveness of janitorial programs can be undertaken in much the same manner as performed for the traditional sanitation process in food production zones. A combination of visual inspection, environmental sampling and other methods should be utilized both during the validation and subsequent routine verification process. Specific to the COVID-19 pandemic, several contract laboratories offer surface environmental testing for SARS-CoV-2 (via RT-qPCR) that should be incorporated into janitorial validation and verification protocols.2,5 Routine absence of the virus will assist in demonstrating effectiveness of the facility janitorial cleaning program.
With the increased scrutiny of employee welfare during the COVID-19 pandemic, maintaining effective facility hygiene remains a critical goal of food processing facilities. Through incorporation of current sanitation best practices utilized in food production zones, facilities can elevate the outcomes of their janitorial cleaning programs, ensuring effective hygiene.
- North American Meat Institute. (November 12, 2020). Significant Events and Progress Involving the Meat and Poultry Industry during the COVID-19 Pandemic.
- American Society for Microbiology. (October 8, 2020). Detecting SARS-CoV-2 in the Environment.
- United States Environmental Protection Agency. (November 25, 2020). List N: Disinfectants for Coronavirus (COVID-19).
- International Association of Food Protection. (December 7, 2017). Cleaning, Sanitizing and the Seven Steps of Sanitation [Webinar].
- IEH Laboratories & Consulting Group. (December 2020). SARS CoV-2 Environmental Monitoring.