Tag Archives: Focus Article

2021 Food Safety Consortium

FDA to Take Questions in Advance of 2021 Food Safety Consortium

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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2021 Food Safety Consortium

This year’s Food Safety Consortium Virtual Conference Series kicks off on Thursday, May 6 with a keynote presentation from Frank Yiannas, FDA deputy commissioner for food policy and response. This year we are extending the Q&A period with Yiannas to 30 minutes, and we are providing attendees the opportunity to bring their questions to the top of the list by filling out the below form. We had a lot of questions during last year’s FDA Town Hall, and we’d love to be able to get to more of them this year.

The Spring Program will run every Thursday in May, with each episode starting at 12 pm ET. The weekly episodes will tackle a range of critical topics in foods safety, including FSMA and traceability, food protection strategies, COVID-19’s lasting impact on the food industry by segment, audits and supply chain management. Registration is open now.

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About the Food Safety Consortium Conference

The Food Safety Consortium is an educational and networking event for Food Protection that has food safety, food integrity and food defense as the foundation of the educational content of the program. With a unique focus on science, technology and compliance, the “Consortium” enables attendees to engage in sessions that are critical for advancing careers and organizations alike. Over the past 9 years the Food Safety Consortium has built a reputation for delivering the most knowledgeable and influential perspectives in food safety. The speaker line-up has driven key food safety decision-makers to the event (both in-person and virtually)—facilitating an environment for vendors, suppliers, food industry professionals, and consultants to network and build long-lasting business relationships.

Due to COVID-19, the 2020 Food Safety Consortium was converted to a virtual conference series that featured specific topics in a weekly episode series. The 2021 Food Safety Consortium Virtual Conference Series will feature a Spring and Fall program, running in May and October, respectively.

El Abuelito Cheese

Recall Alert: Listeria Outbreak Linked to Hispanic-Style Fresh and Soft Cheeses

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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El Abuelito Cheese

–UPDATE February 24, 2021 — FDA has expanded its warning related to El Abuelito Cheese to include all cheese branded by the company “until more information is known”.

—END UPDATE—

A multistate outbreak of Listeria monocytogenes has been linked to Hispanic-style fresh and soft cheeses produced by El Abuelito Cheese, Inc. As a result, the company has recalled all Questo Fresco products with sell by dates through March 28 (032821).

Join Food Safety Tech on April 15 for the complimentary Food Safety Hazards Series: Listeria Detection, Mitigation, Control & Regulation“As the FDA stated, about this outbreak investigation, the Connecticut Department of Public Health collected product samples of El Abuelito-brand Hispanic-style fresh and soft cheeses from a store where a sick person bought cheeses. Sample analysis showed the presence of Listeria monocytogenes in samples of El Abuelito Queso Fresco sold in 10 oz packages, marked as Lot A027 with an expiration date of 02/26/2021,” the company stated in an announcement posted on FDA’s website. “Samples are currently undergoing Whole Genome Sequencing (WGS) analysis to determine if the Listeria monocytogenes found in these samples is a match to the outbreak strain. At this time, there is not enough evidence to determine if this outbreak is linked to El Abuelito Queso Fresco.”.

The recalled products were distributed to Connecticut, Maryland, New Jersey, North Carolina, New York, Pennsylvania and Virginia. Thus far seven people, all of whom have been hospitalized, have fallen ill.

FDA recommends that consumers, restaurants and retailers do not consume, sell or serve any of the recalled cheeses. The agency also states that anyone who purchased of received the recalled products use “extra vigilance in cleaning and sanitizing any surfaces and containers that may have come in contact with these products to reduce the risk of cross-contamination.”

Robert Galarza, TruTrace Technologies
FST Soapbox

Tracking an Outbreak: Creating a More Transparent Food Supply Chain with Blockchain

By Robert Galarza
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Robert Galarza, TruTrace Technologies

Despite what our parents told us, it’s not always healthy to eat our vegetables. In late 2020, 40 people contracted E. coli from leafy greens in the United States. By the time the outbreak was declared over, 20 victims had been hospitalized and four developed kidney failure. On top of the human cost, the food distribution businesses involved spent millions of dollars on public information as well as tracing the tainted vegetables and removing them from the market.

The USDA estimates that dealing with foodborne diseases cost $15.6 billion annually. Inefficient and painstaking guesswork is required with every incident, trying to find where the outbreak originated, and locate every shipment that may or may not have come into contact with that diseased strain which must then be recalled, as there’s no way to know for sure what has been affected. And by the time the original culprit is found, the malady may have spread so far that there is no choice but to recall and destroy tons of potentially wholesome products.

What if all this waste—not to mention dozens of infections—could be avoided? What if a foolproof, secure and constantly updating system could track the original tainted produce back to the farm it came from and confirm every employee, transport, and container it has been in contact with on the way? This technology exists today, ready to make food distribution not just safer but also more transparent, efficient and cost effective. It’s called blockchain.

Anyone with a passing familiarity with blockchain knows the technology was originally developed to track and safeguard cryptocurrency transactions. And while Bitcoin and its competitors definitely put the crypto in currency by being inscrutable to outsiders, it’s hard to call food supply chains a lot less complex. It is the vital importance of making that complexity accessible and understandable that makes blockchain the perfect way to futureproof distribution.

What Is Blockchain, Really?

Blockchain is a secure and decentralized ledger that tracks and records transactions. The keywords that indicate why this is an ideal solution for food supply businesses are “secure” and “decentralized.”

More than any other ledger system, blockchain is secure against tampering. Blockchain transactions can’t be altered or hidden, because every change is tracked and recorded and must be approved across the entire system. This system is also decentralized. Instead of one single ledger where a tiny mistake hidden on one obscure ledger could throw off an entire operation, blockchain distributes the whole ledger to all sources across a network, so anyone with the required permissions can see changes across the entire system in real time. When one person makes changes on their version of the ledger, all stakeholders across the network must confirm those changes, and the system remembers where and when they were made.

By distributing the records across different systems and always tracking changes, blockchain eliminates the guesswork and busywork of finding any individual item, when and how it was altered, and by whom. A simple search pinpoints any given item’s previous, current and future position in a supply chain. That search also reveals any other items with which it is shared space. Where once disease outbreaks meant painstaking searches and expensive purges of product, blockchain makes isolating infected produce easy and precise, saving capital and even lives, especially when time is a factor.

Transparency Is Time

When tracking products, blockchain’s unique advantages simply slice time off the process. By distributing its records, blockchain removes harmful lag between parties knowing when changes are made to a single master ledger. There is no need to wait for someone earlier on in the supply chain to update their documents, then for a central office to confirm and collate that update before the information can move further down the line. All stakeholders with the proper permissions can get a full view of inventory, finances, and concerns — all updated in real time the moment a change takes place.

Banks, suppliers, retailers and more can share immediate access to live changes in a system using blockchain. Keeping everyone updated becomes streamlined, tamper-proof and completely trustworthy. Suppliers and retailers can study trends in the ledger and see their partners taking out loans or expanding inventory space, allowing everyone to anticipate each others’ needs and react to crises like tainted produce much faster.

Everyone Knows Everything

In an emergency, the most important questions are often who knows what, where is the information that will lead to tracking down the problem, and more importantly, who has it? With blockchain, there’s no need to follow a trail of evidence in hopes of finding the original ledger where the problem appears, because the distributed network automatically upgrades universally across all systems.

Any mistake appears everywhere at once and can be caught by any number of parties, who are alerted in real time to every change. This creates redundant failsafes to prevent errors and catch problems. Not only are causes easier to track, but operational mistakes and execution errors are caught immediately. Partners can update schedules and adjust shipments, confident that everyone involved is automatically informed.

Way Beyond Bitcoin

Blockchain’s origins in cryptocurrency make it an ideal system for tracking and safeguarding transactional pipelines of all sorts, and this makes it uniquely suited to food supply chains. No other system seamlessly records countless transactions across multiple sources while keeping a clean record for all involved. This not only saves crucial time and money during a challenge like an E. coli outbreak, it smooths out longstanding problems in the food distribution industry by adding unprecedented access and redundancy.

Upon adopting this new technology, the food distribution industry will enter a new era of reliability and cooperation as tracking every product from farm to plate becomes the standard. Even without an outbreak to lock down, blockchain will improve every aspect of supply chain management, paving the way for a more efficient and collaborative industry. Our modern world relies on communication and authenticity, and blockchain can only make the truth clearer.

Mitzi Baum, Stop Foodborne Illness
Food Safety Culture Club

Our Petition to USDA: The Time for Change Is Now

By Mitzi Baum
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Mitzi Baum, Stop Foodborne Illness

On January 25, 2021 Stop Foodborne Illness (STOP), in collaboration with Center for Science in the Public Interest, Consumer Reports, Consumer Federation of America and five STOP constituent advocates filed a petition with USDA Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) to reform and modernize poultry inspections. The goal of these reforms is to reduce the incidence of Salmonella and Campylobacter contamination in raw poultry thus drastically decreasing foodborne illnesses due to these pathogens.

According to the CDC, in 2019, these two pathogens combined were responsible for more than 70% of foodborne illnesses in the United States. As Mike Taylor, former FDA Deputy Commissioner for Foods and Veterinary Medicine, shares in his
Op-Ed, the time for change is now as the current regulatory framework is inadequate and has not delivered the desired results of reducing Salmonella and Campylobacter outbreaks.

Today, the USDA’s mark of inspection is stamped on poultry, although birds may exceed the performance standards; there are no clear consequences for establishments that do not meet the current guidelines. Without science-based standards or penalties for non-compliance, the burden of this problem falls upon consumers.

At STOP, we share the voices of consumers whose lives have been altered due to preventable problems such as this. Our constituent advocates share their journeys through severe foodborne illness to share the WHY of food safety. Real people, real lives are impacted when we do not demand action. STOP board member, Amanda Craten, shares her son Noah’s story:

“My toddler suddenly came down with a fever and diarrhea, but it wasn’t until weeks later that I learned that his symptoms, which nearly killed him, were caused by a multi-drug resistant strain of Salmonella.

After being admitted to the hospital, his doctors found abscesses in the front of his brain caused by infection and they were creating pressure on his brain. He underwent surgery and weeks of antibiotic treatments.

My 18-month son was seriously injured and permanently disabled as a result of Salmonella-contaminated chicken.” – Amanda Craten.

Unfortunately, Noah’s story is not rare, which is why Amanda supports this petition for change and has provided a powerful video about Noah’s foodborne disease journey and his life now.

Because there are too many stories like Noah’s, STOP and its partner consumer advocacy organizations want to work with FSIS and industry to:

  1. Develop real benchmarks that focus on reduction of known, harmful pathogens in poultry
  2. Modernize standards to reflect current science
  3. Implement on-farm control measures
  4. Re-envision the standards to focus on the risk to public health

As a new administration begins, capitalizing on this opportunity to modernize poultry inspection that can benefit consumers and the food industry makes sense. STOP and its partners are hopeful that leadership at USDA/FSIS will take this opportunity to create consequential and relevant change. Ultimately, this transformation will reduce the incidence of foodborne illness due to contamination of poultry and increase consumer confidence in the USDA’s mark of inspection. Please comment on this petition.

Have you been impacted by foodborne illness? Tell STOP Foodborne Illness about it.

FDA

FDA Responds to Subcommittee Report on Toxic Metals in Baby Food

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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FDA

Following a report released nearly two weeks ago about the potential danger posed by toxic heavy metals found in baby foods manufactured by several major companies, FDA has issued a response. The report, “Baby Foods Are Tainted with Dangerous Levels of Arsenic, Lead, Cadmium, and Mercury”, was released by the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy on February 4. The Subcommittee stated that FDA should require baby food manufacturers to test their finished products for toxic heavy metals and require any toxic heavy metals be reported on food labeling. It also stated that FDA should set maximum levels of toxic heavy metals allowed in baby foods.

“The FDA has been actively working on this issue using a risk-based approach to prioritize and target the agency’s efforts. Consumers should know that FDA scientists routinely monitor levels of toxic elements in baby foods, along with other foods consumed in the country’s diet, through the Total Diet Study,” the agency stated in a CFSAN update. “Further, the FDA also monitors baby food under the FDA’s compliance program for Toxic Elements in Food and Foodware, and Radionuclides in Food and through targeted sampling assignments.”

FDA cited its work in sampling infant rice cereal for arsenic, which it says has resulted in safer products on the market, along with its recent court order to stop a U.S. company from distributing adulterated juice that had potentially harmful levels of inorganic arsenic and patulin (a mycotoxin).

The CFSAN update, however, did not specifically address the companies or baby foods called out in the Subcommittee’s report.

Stephen Dombroski, QAD
FST Soapbox

The Drive to Sustainable Food Manufacturing Begins with Three Critical Factors

By Stephen Dombroski
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Stephen Dombroski, QAD

Sustainability, without question, is one of the hottest social and political topics today. It is as complex as it is simple. Sustainability gets discussed in almost every walk of life, but in the world of food manufacturing, there are few subjects more debated than this one. It is a contentious subject because in the manufacturing arena, it is not just a social or political issue, it is a financial issue—a big financial issue. Sustainability and related issues around it are critical factors and components that are now impacting the bottom lines of food manufacturers. The impact is seen in terms of both red and black.

In a low-margin business like food manufacturing, profits are at a premium and even a minor disruption can negatively impact those profits. Adapting to all the issues that are involved in and around sustainability is, without question, a disruption for manufacturers. At the same time, manufacturers can make positive impacts through smart operational decision-making, which is where sustainability has the greatest presence. When sustainability is discussed in regards to food and beverage manufacturing, a number of topics surface. Some topics are discussed individually and some are grouped together. Consumer preferences, new foods, and packaging are three such areas. At first glance, you might ask why they are lumped together. They are lumped together because they are actually very closely related. Let’s explore those connections especially as they relate to finances.

Consumer Preferences: Paving the Sustainable Path

Consumer preferences have always been one of the leading factors determining what food and beverage manufacturers produce and send to market. For generations, countless amounts of time and money have been spent on trying to predict what consumers want and when they want it. A tremendous amount of data is painstakingly analyzed by manufacturers trying to figure out the consumer’s next move.

According to a 2018 Global Web Index survey, half of digital consumers say environmental concerns influence their purchasing decisions. Millennials—sometimes named the Green Generation—and Generation Z lead the way. About 61% of millennials and 58% of Gen Z’ers say they would pay more for eco-friendly products. Green consumers want brands to embrace purpose and sustainability, and they want their purchases to contribute to the greater good, or at least, do no harm.

These preferences started among millennials and Gen Z’ers, but with the influence of social media, they have expanded to all age groups. This expansion has contributed greatly to a change in what consumers purchase and to what manufacturers produce. In recent years, consumers have changed their eating habits in terms of what they eat, how they eat and when they eat, and those changes have impacted both food service and retail food producers. They have largely centered on healthier foods, pure ingredients and products that promote an eco-friendly culture and a sustainable world. The changes have been felt up and down manufacturing organizations, but most importantly they are reflected in the bottom line.

The industry has been forced to introduce healthier products, with more ethically sourced ingredients and more transparent supply chains. Younger consumers, especially, often trace a brand’s sustainability record with QR codes or smart labels. They want to know where their food originates. They don’t just want to know in which state the potato used in their organic baked potato crisp was grown. They want to know the county, town, farm, field and names of the people who picked it so they can connect with them on Facebook to determine if they practice safe hygiene principles! If a product doesn’t fit the consumers’ predetermined sustainable criteria, they buy a product from another manufacturer. Talk about an impact to profits. The consumer focus on sustainability has increased competition and costs, forced organizational changes and made food manufacturers figure out what processes and systems need to be in place to ensure their decisions keep consumers happy and their profits on the right side of the ledger. These consumer actions and attitudes are now influencing the development of new food items as manufacturers realize consumers are not just taking notice but taking actions as well.

New Foods: Where’s the Beef? Not Here!

As consumers change their food preferences for health and sustainability reasons, food and beverage producers have the opportunity, responsibility and if they want to survive, the mandate to develop new food products built on a reputation for sustainability. Brands have been working on protein alternatives for some time, but not until Burger King and McDonald’s introduced plant-based burgers did plant-based protein go “viral” so to speak. Talk about “Where’s the beef?” In addition to meeting the needs of the drive for sustainable foods, food manufacturers are developing plant-based proteins and many new foods to support the healthier lifestyle movement. As consumers embrace Keto diets, veganism, vegetarianism and other new eating and living practices, tofu, soybeans, seeds, nuts, legumes and other vegetable-based products are now being routinely used as replacements for protein, carbohydrate-heavy flours and food foundation bases.

Ten years ago, if I said in 2021 we would be eating pizza with a crust made of cauliflower, what would the public reaction have been? People in Chicago would have thrown away their deep-dish pans. Food manufacturers now introduce new products on a weekly basis and it is having a tremendous impact on sales and bottom lines. These rapid introductions also impact other key areas of the organization including supply chain, product development cycle and manufacturing cost infrastructure.

Substituting vegetables for carbohydrate-rich grains, of course, costs money. It can increase material costs, manufacturing costs, warehousing costs and distribution costs, which combine to raise retail prices. Luckily, as we have illustrated, consumers are willing to pay more for products that they perceive as having a sustainable footprint. Utilizing products differently to respond to the push for sustainability is a smart tactic that can expand the value chain, open up new markets and drive sales for food and beverage manufacturers.

Packaging Sells Products and Sustainability

Sustainable packaging can mean many things. It can mean packaging made with 100% recycled or raw materials, packaging with a minimized carbon footprint due to a streamlined production process or supply chain, or packaging that is recycled or reused. There is also biodegradable packaging like containers made from cornstarch being used for takeout meals.

For generations, packaging has had a tremendous influence on what consumers buy. Human beings are visual creatures. They are drawn to things that have visual and physical characteristics that appeal to the senses. How many products in the marketplace are known for a certain shape or color configuration? Many times, these shapes or colors can only be created using certain glass, plastic or other materials that might not meet the sustainable criteria. This has caused problems for manufacturers as consumers still want those products but are conflicted if their sustainable beliefs are compromised. Adapting new eco-friendly materials while retaining generations of packaging history and nostalgia can increase costs. But, to keep their customers, manufacturers make these changes, absorb the extra costs and try to make up for lost profits in other ways.

Packaging, especially smart packaging, can also help fight the battle against food waste. Packaging companies are creating and producing intelligent packaging for food products that have built-in sensors and monitors to determine when a product will lose its nutritional value or spoil. Smart labels are being used in conjunction with new packaging materials to monitor external factors that can influence product freshness. Packaging can be a driving force to reaching the goal of sustainability.

Adapting to changing consumer preferences, demand for new foods and new packaging materials and designs is critical for manufacturers trying to reach sustainable goals. Consumer preferences drive what manufacturers produce. Consumer preferences drive the development of new foods that consumers think they need in order to live a healthier lifestyle. Packaging is the wrapper that keeps the new foods fresh and catches the consumer’s eye, which in turn drives sales and thus drives profits. These three critical areas can be the foundation of the sustainable movement and manufacturing’s response to it. Food producers must embrace the sustainable movement if they want to stay in business. To meet this challenge, manufacturers of packaging and food need to evaluate their processes and systems and implement the ones that can help them cost-effectively transition to becoming sustainable manufacturers.

FDA

FDA Begins Phase Two of Artificial Intelligence Imported Seafood Pilot Program

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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FDA

FDA is beginning phase two of its Artificial Intelligence Imported Seafood Pilot Program. The program, which is expected to run from February 1 through July 31, intends to improve FDA’s response in quickly and efficiently identifying potentially harmful imported seafood products.

Phase one of the pilot looked at using machine learning to find violative seafood shipments. “The pilot program will help the agency not only gain valuable experience with new powerful AI-enabled technology but also add to the tools used to determine compliance with regulatory requirements and speed up detection of public health threats,” FDA stated in a news release. “Following completion of the pilot, FDA will communicate on our findings to promote transparency and facilitate dialogue on how new and emerging technologies can be harnessed to solve complex public health challenges.”

The pilot program is part of the agency’s efforts that fall under the New Era of Smarter Food Safety.

Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis

OSHA, Tyson, Smithfield and JBS Under Investigation for COVID Outbreaks

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis

Last week U.S. Congressman and chairman of the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis James E. Clyburn (D-SC) launched an investigation into OSHA, Tyson Foods, Smithfield Foods and JBS USA over the nationwide coronavirus outbreaks at meatpacking plants that have led to the deaths of at least 270 employees. Nearly 54,000 workers at 569 U.S. meatpacking plants have tested positive for COVID-19, according to the Subcommittee and media reports.

Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis“Public reports indicate that under the Trump Administration, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) failed to adequately carry out its responsibility for enforcing worker safety laws at meatpacking plants across the country, resulting in preventable infections and deaths. It is imperative that the previous Administration’s shortcomings are swiftly identified and rectified to save lives in the months before coronavirus vaccinations are available for all Americans,” the letter to James Frederick, deputy assistant secretary of labor for OSHA stated. “The Select Subcommittee strongly encourages you to take all necessary steps, including under President Biden’s Executive Order on Protecting Worker Health and Safety1and your other existing statutory authorities, to protect workers from the risks of the coronavirus by issuing clear guidance to employers, enacting an emergency temporary standard, and enhancing enforcement efforts.”

Clyburn and the Subcommittee issued a letter to Dean Banks, president and CEO of Tyson Foods, Dennis Organ, president and CEO of Smithfield Foods, and Andre Nogueira, president and CEO of JBS USA. Each letter pointed out the shortcomings of each company in adequately addressing the outbreaks that occurred among its workers.

“Public reports indicate that meatpacking companies … have refused to take basic precautions to protect their workers, many of whom earn extremely low wages and lack adequate paid leave, and have shown a callous disregard for workers’ health,” Clyburn stated in the letter. “These actions appear to have resulted in thousands of meatpacking workers getting infected with the virus and hundreds dying. Outbreaks at meatpacking plants have also spread to surrounding communities, killing many more Americans.”

The Subcommittee has asked OSHA and each company for documentation related to the COVID infections and deaths, as well as their enforcement of worker protections under the Trump administration.

Jason Chester, InfinityQS
FST Soapbox

Resilience for Tomorrow Begins with Digital Transformation Today

By Jason Chester
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Jason Chester, InfinityQS

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.

Digital transformation
When process and quality data are centralized and standardized on the cloud, they can be leveraged for real-time monitoring and timely response to issues—from anywhere and at any time. (Image courtesy of InfinityQS)

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.

U.S. House of Representatives Seap

House Subcommittee Releases Report on Dangerous Levels of Toxic Heavy Metals in Baby Food

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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U.S. House of Representatives Seap

Last week a report released by Congress cited dangerous levels of toxic heavy metals in several brands of baby food. Back in November 2019, the Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy asked for internal documents and test results from baby food manufacturers Nurture, Inc. (Happy Family Organics), Beech-Nut Nutrition Company, Hain Celestial Group, Inc., Gerber, Campbell Soup Company, Walmart, Inc., and Sprout Foods. According to the staff report, Nurture, Beech-Nut, Hain and Gerber responded to the requests, while Walmart, Campbell and Sprout Organic Foods did not.

The findings indicate that significant levels of arsenic, lead, cadmium and mercury were found in the baby foods of the four manufacturers who responded to the Subcommittee’s requests (Nurture, Beech-Nut, Hain and Gerber). It also stated the alarming point that, “Internal company standards permit dangerously high levels of toxic heavy metals, and documents revealed that the manufacturers have often sold foods that exceeded those levels.”

The Subcommittee voiced “grave concerns” that the baby food made by Walmart, Sprout Organic Foods and Campbell was “obscuring the presence of even higher levels of toxic heavy metals in their baby food products than their competitors’ products” due to their lack of cooperation.

In addition, the report states that the Trump administration “ignored a secret industry presentation to federal regulators revealing increased risks of toxic heavy metals in baby foods” in August 2019.

“To this day, baby foods containing toxic heavy metals bear no label or warning to parents. Manufacturers are free to test only ingredients, or, for the vast majority of baby foods, to conduct no testing at all,” the report stated (infant rice cereal is the only baby food held to a stringent standard regarding the presence of inorganic arsenic).

As a result of the findings, the Subcommittee has made several recommendations:

  • FDA should require baby food manufacturers to test their finished products for toxic heavy metals.
  • FDA should require manufacturers to report toxic heavy metals on food labels.
  • Manufacturers should find substitutes for ingredients that are high in toxic heavy metals or phase out the ingredients that are high in toxic heavy metals.
  • FDA should set maximum levels of toxic heavy metals allowed in baby foods.
  • Parents should avoid baby foods that contain ingredients that test high in toxic heavy metals.

The 59-page report, “Baby Foods Are Tainted with Dangerous Levels of Arsenic, Lead, Cadmium, and Mercury”, is available on the U.S. House of Representatives’ website.