Tag Archives: Focus Article

food waste

New IBM Challenge Puts Solving Food Waste in the Hands of Developers

By Maria Fontanazza
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food waste

Nearly 40% of U.S.-produced food is not consumed, according to a 2018 report by The Center for Biological Diversity. In addition, retailers are named as the largest culprits when it comes to food waste. IBM estimates that supermarkets tossed about 16 billion pounds of food last year alone. The technology company is working to get more involved in this problem and is holding the Food Waste Developer Challenge in an effort to find solutions to help reduce waste.

John Walicki, IBM
John Walicki, senior technical staff member, CTO IoT developer advocacy at IBM

“Often, innovation comes from unexpected places. IBM’s sponsorship of the Food Waste Developer Challenge encourages developers to use their unique expertise toward solving some of society’s hardest problems,” says John Walicki, senior technical staff member, CTO IoT developer advocacy at IBM. “We hope to ignite an open community of impassioned developers to create solutions that improve the food supply chain and reduce food waste.” In a Q&A with Food Safety Tech, Walicki explains the important role that technology could play in stopping the ongoing food waste problem.

Food Safety Tech: What are the biggest challenges in addressing food waste?

John Walicki: One big issue is that the data around a product’s age, origin and journey lies with different parties or isn’t being tracked at all. Without shared visibility into these product attributes, at all stages of their life, it’s hard for grocers and producers to optimize how they sell and fulfill each item to guard against waste. And while less waste has a direct impact for the bottom line, more than ever, it has just as big of an impact in the mind of the increasingly belief-driven customer. According the 2018 Edelman Brand Survey, nearly two-thirds of consumers now choose, switch to or boycott a company based on its stand on societal issues, up from 51% in 2017.

FST: What is the goal of IBM’s Food Waste Developer Challenge?

Walicki: The goal of the challenge is to excite and crowd-source the minds of the developer community to create creative cloud-based, AI-enabled solutions for reducing food waste. For example, developers in the challenge have access to open-source code patterns for IoT, blockchain, AI-enabled bots, and more from IBM they can leverage in creating a solution. Nearly all of these capabilities are available for free on the IBM Cloud.

FST: Where are the key areas in which the food industry should be collaborating to solve these issues?

Walicki: The supply chain is the area [that] a lot of food retailers and producers are looking at. Better visibility into where the food is coming from, when, and its conditions are key in understanding when food will perish, etc. This involves collaboration from every partner all the way from the farm to when the customer purchases the product. The food chain is such a connected eco-system today. It’s really a team game in terms of generating solutions.

In addition, retailers are working to get better visibility into real-time on-hand inventories, so they can better know exactly how much of a certain product they have, so they can take prescriptive action if needed. More and more this type of insight requires the integration of data across many systems, both cloud-based and not. This means tight collaboration for food retailers internally and with suppliers.

Lab grown meat

“Real” Beef: It May Not Be What’s For Dinner Anymore

By Maria Fontanazza
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Lab grown meat

As the consumer craze over plant-based meat continues, cell-cultured meat is next on the list of alternatives to “real meat”. There are several factors driving this market, including increased demand for meat as the world’s population grows and becomes more affluent, and the concern that if more sustainable solutions are not implemented, there won’t be enough protein to feed the world’s population by 2050, according to Paul Mozdziak, professor at NC State University. Mozdziak, who presented his perspective on cell-cultured meat during the IAFP Annual Meeting last month, has been working in the cell-cultured meat space for 25 years. It’s not a new concept, he pointed out, but sustainability issues, concerns over the efficiency of the animal industry (i.e., the biological limits of animals), along with a waning enthusiasm in eating animals have sparked even more interest in animal technologies during the past few years.

Animal cell culture technology involves a controlled growth of animal cells from livestock, poultry, fish or other animals, their subsequent differentiation into various cells types, and their collection and processing into food, according to Roberta Wagner, assistant administrator, Office of Policy and Program Development at FSIS, USDA. Wagner shared the regulatory perspective on this emerging segment at IAFP. And although the session in which Wagner and Mozdziak spoke was titled, “Is Cell-cultured Meat Really Meat?”, neither of them answered this question. Rather, they discussed the status of the sector and the challenges ahead.

Scale Up

“The technology has been around,” said Mozdziak. “The issue is getting it to scale and myogenic to actually produce product.” Muscle cells want to attach to something. The process of making cultured meat involves isolating cells, getting them to grow in suspension and transferring them to a bioreactor to grow. In order to create a fully formed muscle, the cells needs to attach to a scaffold and differentiate, he explained. The bioreactor facilitates a sterile environment, but when scaling up, the challenge is the unknowns (which could introduce food safety issues) during downstream processing. “Once it’s out of the bioreactor and in a non-sterile environment, there are a variety of ways it can be contaminated,” said Mozdziak.

The production process could be cost prohibitive as well. “Currently, serum-based media cost $25 a liter; serum-free is $104 a liter. How much lower can we go from that?” said Mozdziak. “A kilo of turkey at ALDI is $6… therefore the media costs would have to be below $12 a liter for this to ever be profitable.”

How Will It Be Regulated?

In October 2018, FSIS and FDA held a joint public meeting to discuss the use of cell culture technology to develop products derived from livestock and poultry. The agencies also started talking about what regulatory oversight might look like. In March of this year the USDA and FDA reached a formal agreement on joint framework for regulating cell-cultured meat and poultry products. FDA will regulate the extraction of cells from live animals and jurisdiction will be transferred to FSIS during the cell harvest stage, and FSIS will oversee production and labeling. “The agreement roughly mirrors our jurisdiction of both agencies for traditionally produced livestock,” said Wagner. She added that regarding FSIS authority over cell-cultured products, the agency does not expect there will be a need for additional legislation nor will there be new regulation to inspect the products (Establishments that harvest cells or process the cells must comply with sanitation, HACCP and any other applicable FSIS regulations). Labeling for cell-cultured meat and poultry products must be approved.

Wagner noted two major challenges ahead in the federal regulation of cell-cultured meat. “We’ve received very little information about the process and technology being developed or used by cell-cultured meat and poultry manufacturers,” she said. “If industry doesn’t share such information, there could be a delay in review of products.” She added that the agency is encouraging industry to come forward sooner than later with this information. The second big challenge involves research and science gaps—more is needed to understand the risks.

So, is cell-cultured meat really meat? “Before we can answer that, someone needs to actually have a product,” said Mozdziak. He believes industry will get there in creating marketable cell-cultured meat, but there is no telling how long it will take.

Dole baby spinach, recall

Dole Recalls Baby Spinach Due to Salmonella Risk

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Dole baby spinach, recall
Dole baby spinach, recall
Dole issued a voluntary recall of baby spinach.

Dole Fresh Vegetables announced a voluntary recall of its 6-oz Dole Baby Spinach bags after a random sample test conducted by the Department of Agriculture in Michigan tested positive for Salmonella. The recalled products were distributed in 10 states: Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Kentucky, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Tennessee, Virginia and Wisconsin. The products contain Use-by dates of August 5, 2019. No illnesses associated with the recall have been reported.

 

2019 Food Safety Consortium Conference & Expo

Don’t miss this Plenary Session on October 1: Recalls Panel Discussion moderated by Rob Mommsen, Director of Global Quality & Food Safety, Sabra Dipping Co.

Panelists:

  • Don Zink, Ph.D., President, IEH Consulting Division of Foods and Regulatory Compliance, retired Senior Science Advisor CFSAN FDA
  • Craig Wilson, VP Quality and Food Safety, Costco Wholesale
  • Daniel Dwyer, JD, Partner Kleinfeld, Kaplan, & Becker

 

Susanne Kuehne, Decernis
Food Fraud Quick Bites

Need to Focus on Crocus

By Susanne Kuehne
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Susanne Kuehne, Decernis
Food fraud, crocus, saffron
Find records of fraud such as those discussed in this column and more in the Food Fraud Database. Image credit: Susanne Kuehne

Many food adulteration cases revolve around spices, since the profits can be significant. Genuine saffron is the world’s most costly spice by weight. Often, fraudsters blend real saffron threads, which are derived from saffron crocus flowers, with cheaper fibers from other plants. Saffron costs up to $9 per gram and is therefore a spice that is very tempting for fraudsters to adulterate. Product sold in the UK led to the seizure of 90 kg of fake saffron in Spain and subsequent arrest of two fraudsters.

Resource

  1. Spirit FM News Team (August 6, 2019). “Fake saffron found in West Sussex sparks international investigation”. Spirit FM News.
Robotic technology, automation

Automation Bandwagon: Know the Challenges Before Jumping On

By Maria Fontanazza
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Robotic technology, automation

The food industry is behind high tech industries when it comes to automating certain manufacturing and warehousing processes. Although the advantages of using automation technologies can benefit many food companies in the long run, they should also be aware of the potential hurdles before moving forward. “With our growing population, we’re going to have to grow more food with [fewer] resources—automation will enable us to do that,” said Wendy White, project manager, food safety at Georgia Tech during her presentation at the IAFP annual meeting in Louisville, KY. “There are a lot of jobs in our industry that will benefit from automation—I don’t think it will necessarily eliminate jobs; I think it will help eliminate the harshness of some of the repetitive tasks.”

The benefits of automation are clear (especially for processes that involve close precision). Automation technologies can contribute to preventing injuries on the job, promote operational efficiencies, and give companies better access to records and reporting. They also can in turn enable the production of more consistent products, aid in faster product release and lower food costs. The following are the challenges that food companies may face, which include the reproduction of human senses, having the facility footprint that allows for these technologies, expense and complexity, and potential vulnerability to outages and even cybercrimes.

Challenge 1: It’s hard to replicate a human. It’s difficult to replicate any human task that requires thought. “For example, it’s hard for us to understand how many decisions go into picking off an apple from a tree,” said White. “It’s actually extremely hard for a robot to do… we underestimate how many things happen before you pick an apple.” White referred to a project at the Georgia Tech Research Institute’s Food Processing Technology Division that uses cameras to assess characteristics of an apple (i.e., insect intrusion spots, bruises, damage, ripeness, desired color), and integrates different sensing capabilities into a robotic arm. The robotic arm can sense the different gases being produced by the apple and can understand if it is at the peak of its ripeness. Yet, doing this type of work in a lab is very different from operating the robotic arm out in an actual apple orchard, so there is still a lot of work to be done.

Another example is the process of deboning a chicken carcass. “We have to figure out a way to get the bones off faster,” said White, adding that with American consumption of chicken reaching about 92 pounds annually, the poultry industry is trying to keep up. There are safety concerns with deboning, including making sure that a sliver of bone or cartilage is not left on the end product. It’s another task that is not easy for a robot to execute. She discussed current work that is using cameras and x-ray technology to understand the joint location, and from there this information is fed into an algorithm to help the robot make decisions that a trained human would intrinsically make. Once again, it takes a lot of effort for a robot to make those decisions, White pointed out.

Challenge 2: Facility footprint. Implementing automation technologies usually requires a larger facility footprint, and many food companies simply don’t have the space.

Challenge 3: Robot injuries. According to OSHA, about 4,500 injuries occurred in food facilities in 2013, two of which were robot related. However, those two robot-related injuries resulted in death. Although robot injuries are less likely to occur, they are usually more serious when they do happen, cautioned White. She stated between 1984 and 2013, 38 robot-related accidents were reported and 28 resulted in fatalities.

Challenge 4: Finding increasingly skilled labor. An employee needs to operate the robot. Although this may not seem like it would be difficult, the question is whether the existing workforce at a company can handle a completely different way of doing their jobs. Finding the level of skill required to either operate these robots or finding the employee who is willing to even work with these technologies could be a hurdle. White added that she is seeing a lot of research around co-bots, or collaborative robots, which is the term for robots that provide assistance to humans in conducting tasks such as heavy lifting.

Challenge 5: Complexity. The more complex the technology, the more likely there is to be an issue. And when this issue occurs, how long will it take to fix? Will it shut down an entire product line? This is also a consideration for companies that are considering retrofitting their existing facilities.

“We owe it to our workforce to make their jobs as safe and as easy as possible,” said White. She encourages industry to pursue automation but to also be aware of these challenges and vulnerabilities to ensure that companies are approaching implementation in the right way.

Susanne Kuehne, Decernis
Food Fraud Quick Bites

Oodles of Not-so-Sweet Potato Noodles

By Susanne Kuehne
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Susanne Kuehne, Decernis
Food fraud, noodles
Find records of fraud such as those discussed in this column and more in the Food Fraud Database. Image credit: Susanne Kuehne

One of China’s and other Asian countries food staples are sweet potato noodles. However, almost 60% of investigated samples tested positive for cassava, a common adulterant in sweet potato noodles (and also the basis for tapioca). The DNA of 52 samples was extracted and analyzed by the real-time loop-mediated isothermal amplification (Real-time LAMP) method, which showed accurate detection down to a 1% limit.

Resource

  1. Wang, D., et al. (May 29, 2019). “Detection of Cassava Component in Sweet Potato Noodles by Real-Time Loop-mediated Isothermal Amplification (Real-time LAMP) Method”. Molecules 2019, 24(11), 2043. Retrieved from: doi:10.3390/molecules24112043

 

magnifying glass

Advances in GC-MS/MS Enhance Routine Detection of Dioxins and Dioxin-like Compounds in Food and Animal Feed

By Richard Law
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magnifying glass

Dioxins are highly toxic organic compounds that can remain in the environment for extended periods. These persistent organic pollutants (POPs), which include polychlorinated dibenzo-p-dioxins (PCDDs) and polychlorinated dibenzofurans (PCDFs), are mainly generated by the combustion or manufacture of chlorine-containing materials such as plastics. Dioxins and other closely related POPs, such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), are classed as carcinogenic by the United States Environmental Protection Agency, and present a significant threat to human health even at low levels.

Dioxins and PCBs can enter the food chain when livestock consume contaminated animal feed, and can accumulate in the fatty tissues of animals due to their high fat-solubility. As a result, over 90% of human exposure to dioxins and PCBs is through the consumption of meat, fish, dairy and other foods of animal origin.1 Given the health risks posed by dioxins and PCBs, effective food testing workflows are essential to ensure products do not exceed regulatory-defined safe levels.

GC-MS/MS: A Robust Technique for Analyzing Dioxins and PCBs in Food and Animal Feed

To control human exposure to PCDDs, PCDFs and PCBs from the food chain, global regulatory bodies have established maximum levels (MLs) and action levels (ALs) for various POPs in food products, as well as approved analytical methods for food testing laboratories to enforce these standards. In the European Union (EU), for example, European Commission regulations 2017/644 and 2017/771 outline sampling, sample preparation and analysis protocols for the detection of dioxins and other dioxin-like compounds in food and animal feedstuffs.2,3

With food testing laboratories tasked with handling potentially hundreds of samples every day, these workflows must be supported by robust and reliable analytical technologies that can confidently identify and accurately quantify dioxins and PCBs with minimal maintenance requirements in order to minimize downtime and maximize throughput.

Thanks to ongoing improvements in the robustness and sensitivity of gas chromatography-triple quadrupole mass spectrometry (GC-MS/MS) systems, regulations were updated in 2014 to permit this technique as an alternative to gas chromatography-high resolution mass spectrometry (GC-HRMS) for confirmatory analysis and for the control of MLs and ALs. The latest GC-MS/MS systems are capable of exceptionally reliable performance for the routine analysis of dioxins and PCBs, providing accurate and sensitive quantification of these compounds even at trace levels.

Case Study: Sensitive and Reliable Determination of Dioxins Using GC-MS/MS

The performance of modern GC-MS/MS systems was evaluated in a recent study involving the confirmatory analysis and quantification of 17 PCDDs and PCDFs, and 18 dioxin-like and non-dioxin-like PCBs in solvent standards and various food and feedstuff samples. The samples were analyzed using a triple quadrupole GC-MS/MS system equipped with the advanced electron ionization source (AEI) and a TG-Dioxin capillary GC column. Two identical GC-MS/MS systems in two separate laboratories were used to assess the reproducibility of the method.

Extraction was performed by Twisselmann hot extraction or pressurized liquid extraction. The automated clean-up of the extracts was performed using a three-column setup, comprising multi-layered acidic silica, alumina and carbon columns. Two fractions were generated per sample (the first containing non-ortho PCBs, PCDDs and PCDFs, and the second containing mono-ortho and di-ortho PCBs and indicator PCBs) and these were analyzed separately. The analytical method gave excellent separation of all the PCDD, PCDF and PCB congeners in less than 45 minutes.

Given the high sensitivity of modern GC-MS/MS instruments, a calibration-based approach was used to determine limits of quantitation (LOQs) of the analytical system. Using calibration standards at the LOQ and subsequent check standards at this level enabled the performance of the method to be assessed throughout the analytical sequence. This also allowed LOQs for the individual congeners to be determined, assuming a fixed sample weight. Individual congener LOQs could be applied to upper-bound, middle-bound and lower-bound toxicity equivalence (TEQ) results by substituting the result of any congener that fell below the lowest calibration point with this value multiplied by the toxicity equivalence factor (TEF) of the congener.

To evaluate the response factor deviation over the course of the analytical sequences, standards at the specified LOQ were analyzed at the start, during and end of each run. Using a nominal weight of 2 g, and assuming 100% 13C-labeled standard recovery and all natives were less than the LOQ in the sample, a minimum upper-bound value of 0.152 pg/g WHO-PCDD/F-TEQ was determined. This met regulatory requirements for reporting at 1/5th of the ML upper-bound sum TEQ for all food and feedstuffs with a nominal intake of 2 g, with the exception of guidance associated with liver of terrestrial animals and food for infants or young children, which both have legal limits defined on a fresh weight basis. In these cases, either a larger sample intake or a magnetic sector instrument would be required. All of the calibration sequences demonstrated response factor %RSDs within EU regulations, highlighting the suitability of the method.

To demonstrate the performance of the GC-MS/MS system, six replicate extractions of a mixed fat quality control sample (QK1) were prepared, split between the two sites and analyzed at regular intervals throughout the analytical sequences (14 injections in total). The measured WHO-PCDD/F-TEQ values for congener were in excellent agreement with the reference value provided by the EU Reference Laboratory for Halogenated POPs in Feed and Food, and the upper bound WHO-PCDD/F-TEQ value did not deviate by more than 6% from the reference value for all 14 measurements (Figure 1). The deviation between the upper-bound and lower-bound WHO-PCDD/F-TEQ for each measurement was consistently less than 1.2%, well below the maximum limit of 20% necessary to support compliance with EU regulations.

pper- and lower-bound WHO-PCDD/F-TEQ values
Figure 1. Upper- and lower-bound WHO-PCDD/F-TEQ values for all 14 measurements of the QK1 mixed animal fat quality control sample, for six replicate extractions.

Robust Routine Analysis of Dioxin and Dioxin-like Compounds

To assess the robustness of the GC-MS/MS system, the PCDD, PCDF and non-ortho PCB extracts were pooled into a mixed matrix sample and analyzed more than 161 injection sequences across a period of approximately two weeks. Each sequence consisted of 40 matrix injections and 40 LOQ standards, interspersed with nonane blanks. No system maintenance, tuning or user intervention was undertaken throughout the two-week study. Figure 2 highlights the exceptional peak area stability achieved for selected PCDD and PCDF congeners.

Peak area repeatability
Figure 2. Absolute peak area repeatability over two weeks of analysis for selected PCDD and PCDF congeners in a pooled matrix sample (%RSD and amounts on column are shown for each congener).

These results highlight the exceptional levels of day-to-day measurement repeatability offered by the latest GC-MS/MS systems. By delivering consistently high performance without the need for extensive maintenance steps, modern GC-MS/MS systems are maximizing instrument uptime and increasing sample throughput for routine POP analysis workflows.

Conclusion

Developments in GC-MS/MS technology, namely the advanced electron ionization source, are pushing the limits of measurement sensitivity, repeatability and robustness to support the needs of routine dioxin and PCBs analysis in food and feed samples. By minimizing instrument downtime while maintaining exceptional levels of analytical performance, these advanced systems are helping high-throughput food testing laboratories to analyze more samples and ultimately better protect consumers from these harmful pollutants.

References

  1. Malisch, R. and Kotz, A. (2014) Dioxins and PCBs in feed and food – Review from European perspective. Sci Total Environ, 491, 2-10.
  2. European Commission. Commission Regulation (EU) 2017/644, Off J Eur Union, 2017, L92 9-34.
  3. European Commission. Commission Regulation (EU) 2017/771, Off J Eur Union, 2017, L115 22-42.

Acknowledgements

This article is based on research by Richard Law and Cristian Cojocariu (Thermo Fisher Scientific, Runcorn, UK), Alexander Schaechtele (EU Reference Laboratory for Halogenated POPs in Feed and Food, Freiburg, Germany), Amit Gujar (Thermo Fisher Scientific, Austin, US), and Jiangtao Xing (Thermo Fisher Scientific, Beijing, China).

Alec Senese, Bayer Crop Science, Digital Pest Management
Bug Bytes

Meet the Three Biggest Rodent Offenders

By Alec Senese
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Alec Senese, Bayer Crop Science, Digital Pest Management

Rodents are wary and cautious animals. Because of their discreet and mainly nocturnal nature, hundreds can be present in a facility without anyone knowing, all the while spreading dangerous bacterial diseases.

In order to outsmart them and protect your facility, you need to know what you’re dealing with. I’d like to introduce you to the three biggest rodent offenders and share some helpful hints to help you identify them. Without further ado…

Norway Rat

Norway rats are large, stocky, strong and sometimes aggressive. Common characteristics include coarse, reddish to greyish brown fur, blunt noses, small, close-set ears and short, scaly, semi-naked tails. They dig burrows and often nest in their burrows or in basements, walls, floor voids, woodpiles and sewers.

REGISTER NOW! Complimentary Webinar: Pest Management, Accountability and Food Safety: How to get more from your service provider | September 10, 2019 | 12 pmPossible signs of Norway rats: Urine and droppings with blunt ends, grease marks, fighting noises, scurrying and climbing sounds, footprints (about 2 cm-long and may show 4-5 toes), visual signs of gnawing that are around 0.3 cm and damaged goods (favorite foods include meat, fish, cereal and dry dog food).

Roof Rat

Roof rats are smaller and sleeker in appearance than Norway rats. Common characteristics include grayish black to solid black fur, pointed snouts, large ears and long tails. They are climbers and often nest in stored material, walls, appliances, false ceilings, wood piles, floor voids, garages, storm drains, attics and in vegetation like ivy and climbing vines, in trees like yucca, palm and cypress trees.

Possible signs of Roof Rats: Grease marks, fighting noises, scurrying and climbing noises, footprints (about 2 cm-long and may show 4-5 toes), visual signs of gnawing that are around 0.3 cm and damaged goods (favorite foods include fruit, vegetables and cereal). FYI: Roof rats do not often leave signs of urine or droppings on building floors.

House Mouse

House mice have small, slender bodies. Common characteristics include dark grey fur, large ears and long, semi-naked tails. They nest in walls, attics, trees, storm drains, woodpiles garages, basements, closets and storage places. They are especially drawn to insulation and voids of the walls with fibrous and shredded materials like paper, cloth, burlap, insulation or cotton.

Possible signs of house mice: Small droppings similar to those of large cockroaches, footprints (more numerous than a rat’s and do not exceed 1 cm-long), characteristic musky odor, scurrying and climbing sounds, visual signs of gnawing that are around 0.15 cm and damaged goods (favorite foods include seeds, cereals and insects trapped on glue boards).

Susanne Kuehne, Decernis
Food Fraud Quick Bites

In France, Appellation Matters, Not Just for Wine

By Susanne Kuehne
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Susanne Kuehne, Decernis
Food fraud, Decernis, Strawberries
Find records of fraud such as those discussed in this column and more in the Food Fraud Database. Image credit: Susanne Kuehne

The 2013 horse meat and lasagna scandal, and the 2018 kiwi fraud issue are just some of the product traceability cases that are under public scrutiny in France. For the second time in France’s Lot-et-Garonne region, strawberries labeled French turned out to originate in Spain. Part of the harvesting labor was outsourced and was therefore more difficult to track. This makes it easier for mislabeling and food fraud to enter smaller-scale agricultural and agricultural cooperative businesses.

Resource

  1. Annick Berger (June 22, 2019). “Apres les faux kiwis, voici les fausses fraises francaises”. Capital.fr Retrieved from https://www.capital.fr/entreprises-marches/apres-les-faux-kiwis-voici-les-fausses-fraises-francaises-1342718
Home food delivery, food safety

Home Food Delivery: “It’s Kind of a Wild West Out There”

By Maria Fontanazza
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Home food delivery, food safety

As the popularity of home delivery services for food (i.e., online grocery shopping, prepared meals from restaurants, meal kits) continues to gain traction, the industry has been grappling with clear-cut guidance on how to ensure food safety during what is known as the “last mile” of delivery to the consumer. For example, how do third-party delivery services address concerns such as maintaining the right temperature of food during transit? How are allergen risks controlled? Do the people who deliver the food undergo any food safety training?

“It’s kind of a wild west out there,” said Donald Schaffner, Ph.D., professor at Rutgers University during a panel discussion on the topic of home food delivery at the IAFP annual meeting last week in Louisville, Kentucky.

In April, Acting FDA Commissioner Ned Sharpless, M.D. and Deputy Commissioner for Food Policy and Response Frank Yiannas acknowledged that there are food safety challenges presented by “evolving business models” such as e-commerce, and stated that the agency will be looking at ways to work with federal, state and local stakeholders to address the issues. During the IAFP panel, food safety professionals from Amazon, Uber Eats, The Kroger Company and FSIS shed some light on how their respective organizations are handling the food safety risks associated with home delivery.

Home food delivery, food safetyTraining the People Who Deliver Your Food

The overarching consensus among panelists was that there is not a one-size-fits all approach to training the people who deliver food to the consumer, because there are so many different business models out there. The key to developing successful training will be to first understand the risks associated with each of those different models.

“Everyone needs training, but we don’t want to over-engineering it—not everyone needs ServeSafe training,” said Schaffner. For example, training the person who is simply putting food in the car and delivering it to an address should be different from the training necessary for an employee selecting food in the grocery store versus the warehouse employee packing food. “Figuring out the right-size training and what kind is currently available is one of the things that we’re trying to figure out on the [Conference for Food Protection] committee.” (Note, the Conference for Food Protection committee is developing guidance that addresses home food delivery.) Schaffner indicated that training surrounding time and temperature, allergens and product tampering are important considerations.

Howard Popoola, vice president, corporate food technology and regulatory compliance at The Kroger Company provided the retailer perspective. “Our challenge is multiple in nature,” he said, emphasizing that stores try to keep labor at a minimum. Designing training for workers who are getting a $.25-per-hour raise presents a different hurdle. “What we’re doing in the store today is something we’ve never done before, and [we’re] asking individuals to do things they’ve never done before,” said Popoola. “The training we’ve done before is slowly becoming obsolete.” He said that The Kroger Company is evaluating its current basic food safety training and is looking at building on the segments of its stores that are involved in picking, packing and preparing food—especially the fresh items that are more susceptible to potential microbial contamination.

The Allergen Risk

A question was raised about whether delivery services use the same bags over and over, introducing the potential for cross-contamination. As part of its restaurant community guidelines, UberEats encourages restaurants to put food in tamper-resistant packaging. According to Joseph Navin, senior manager of global safety at the company, in order to reduce the possibility of cross contamination, all food should be placed in a bag before it is put in the insulated bag for transport. UberEats also has guidelines for how those bags should be cleaned. Further addressing the allergen risk: “How do we optimize the way that consumers can disclose that they have a food allergy? We don’t want to have food allergies going in the same free form text [box] that says ‘send extra napkins’,” said Navin. He added that UberEats is developing ways in which dealing with allergens is more conspicuous for restaurants when their employees are preparing food.

Allison Jennings, director food safety and compliance North America at Amazon, said the company has experimented with multiple types of packaging, but there isn’t one perfect set of variables and inputs. Amazon currently uses single-use bags for delivery to mitigate risks with re-cleaning, she said.

Consumer Complaints

As a best practice, integrating relevant information from consumer complaints should become part of a company’s food safety program, said Schaffner. An important role of technology will be its ability to collect feedback that allows companies to generate actionable insights related to food safety, identify any gaps, strengthen controls and be able to develop ways to mitigate risks, said Navin. Amazon currently monitors customer feedback using automatic detection for keywords related to food safety and quality that arrives via the phone, online chats with customer service and social media outlets. When necessary, the method can prompt an investigation, look for trends or help engage in continuous improvement processes. “We are constantly looking for any potential blind spots with our processes,” said Jennings. “We also mystery shop ourselves and make sure we’re meeting our requirements.”

The most common consumer complaints reported among the panelists were not related to food safety, but rather food quality—the product was crushed, didn’t look appealing, etc. “Since we rely on third party partners, we’ve walked through with them on those processes…[and are] challenging our third party partners on who they hire to deliver food, training, etc. and taking caution on delivering food,” said Popoola.

Schaffner said common complaints noted during a study conducted by Rutgers University and Tennessee State University were the following: The product was received out of temperature control; there was evidence of packages leaking (meat, poultry, and fish); a lack of cooking directions; and no mechanism to provide feedback to the company if you have a complaint.

According to Navin, among the top complaints that UberEats receives is missing food or a replacement for items that might be out of stock.

Recalls

In general, recalls in the home delivery segment would apply to products that are received via online grocery shopping services. Since consumers must sign up for these services by providing either an email or phone number, companies can contact customers in the event of a recall. For example, Amazon requires an email account, so it directly emails customers when there is recall or known safety risk associated with a product purchased. Similarly, when a customer uses a loyalty card at a grocery store such as Kroger, the retailer can use its robocall system to notify customers if they purchased an item that is subject to a recall or is associated with an outbreak.