The nose knows: In case fish smells “fishy”, it is no longer fit for human consumption. A Canadian fish importing company pleaded guilty to the import of 9,000 pounds of rotten and partially decomposed fish into the United States. The potentially adulterated fish was sampled by the FDA, who declared it to be too spoiled to be sold in the country, hence refused its entry into the United States—but the fish was imported via a wrong shipment declaration anyway. The crime of importing refused food carries a prison sentence of up to a year.
In the complex food supply chain, a single product travels a long journey before reaching consumers’ plates. It’s no wonder that it has become so difficult to control the quality and safety of food. As food moves from trucks to conveyor belts and through grocery store shelves and shopping carts, the risk for harmful bacteria to contaminate products rises immensely. What’s worse is pinpointing the source of contamination can be nearly impossible, leaving food manufacturers scrambling to “fix” the error without even knowing the cause.
In recent recalls, processing plants completely shut down operations in an effort to resolve the issue and thoroughly sanitize their entire facilities. While this is good news for consumers, this type of reactive response will undoubtedly have a long-term, irreversible impact on the business—both financially and potentially for the brand’s reputation. Consumers remember the name of the company they heard on the evening news that had to pull thousands of pounds of products from shelves in their city or region. Then, when they make their weekly trip to the grocery store, they likely make sure to avoid that company’s products in fear of potential quality issues that could make them and their families sick. It’s a deadly cycle for consumers and public health, as well as business livelihood.
Product and consumer safety must continue to be the top priority for the food industry. The success of these companies literally depends on it. With so much on the line, the food industry must come together to spark a shift in how they operate to prevent food recalls rather than having to respond to them.
Stopping Recalls to Save Lives and Businesses
To move in the direction of mitigating pathogens from ever coming into contact with food and therefore preventing recalls altogether, processors must develop and deploy new strategies that keep facilities consistently clean. The U.S. government is stepping in with regulations such as FSMA that urge companies to shift from reactively responding to safety issues, to proactively working to prevent them. This is the fundamental shift that is needed across the food supply chain in order to protect consumers and food producing businesses.
Important new technologies have emerged in recent years that can add new layers of meaningful protection to continuously combat contamination across the supply chain. When coupled with existing disinfection and cleaning practices, these new technologies can help mitigate the introduction of harmful pathogens as food moves from point A to point B, with all the stops made in between.
One example is the advent of a new class of technology that incorporates antimicrobial LED lighting, which enables food processors to take an “always on” approach to keeping surfaces free of harmful pathogens. Since these lights meet international standards for unrestricted and continuous use around people, they’re able to irradiate large places and the smallest of spaces, all while workers are present.
However, simply deploying these new technologies isn’t enough. For new prevention strategies to be truly successful, food processors should consider the bigger picture. A large percentage of food processors focus primarily on bolstering their sanitation approaches in the areas that have the highest likelihood of coming into contact with food products. This is logical, as Zone 1 and Zone 2 are typically the highest risk for contracting and spreading harmful pathogens.
However, processors are leaving holes in their sanitation strategies by not taking measures to keep areas, such as Zone 3 and Zone 4, also well protected. To ensure food remains free of contaminants, plant managers must ensure the entire environment is fully protected, including the belts and vessels that the food touches, as well as the break rooms where employees rest and offices where management holds meetings. If these areas aren’t kept equally as clean, facilities are risking outside contaminants to enter Zone 1 that can ultimately compromise their food products.
Food recalls have become eerily common, putting a strain on public health and businesses. To stop what seems to be rising to crisis level, all companies involved in the food supply chain need to take a proactive stance toward prevention. This means deploying advanced technologies that continuously prevent harmful pathogens from taking root anywhere in their facilities. Simple yet thoughtful solutions, such as antimicrobial LED lighting, ensure food companies are one step closer to keeping all of us and their businesses safe.
The following infographic is a snapshot of the hazard trends in milk and dairy from Q3 2019. The information has been pulled from the HorizonScan quarterly report, which summarizes recent global adulteration trends using data gathered from more than 120 reliable sources worldwide. For the past several weeks, Food Safety Tech has provided readers with hazard trends from various food categories included in this report. Next week will conclude this series.
FDA Deputy Commissioner for Food Policy and Response Frank Yiannas made it clear that the FDA is not replacing FSMA. Rather, the goal is to build on it, recognizing changes in the food industry over the last 10 years and the technologies available to tackle new challenges.
This isn’t surprising given continuing quality issues resulting in food recalls and shelf withdrawals. Last year, two major outbreaks of E. coli that were tied to consumption of romaine lettuce made a mark on industry perceptions, impacting customer trust, brand loyalty and the bottom line of companies involved were affected. Research by Allianz found recall costs could reach $10,000,000 for significant events.
To achieve the FDA’s goal of end-to-end traceability, the amount of information carried by every food item needs to increase, as will information about its location and condition in the supply chain. Grocers are at the sharp end of the food chain, meaning everything the FDA is proposing will impact them. As well as being merchandisers, they are brand-owners in their own right. They work directly with farmers and growers, they are directly involved in food safety, storage and distribution, and they feel the impact of recalls more than most. Unlike others in the food chain, they interact with consumers daily. This is important to note, since consumers are expecting communication on recalls immediately. In a recent study of more than 15,800 global consumers, 66% of respondents noted that they expect immediate notification of a product recall and another 28% stated they expect notification within a week.1 Furthermore, 88% said if a retailer immediately informed them of an issue, they would be more likely or slightly likely to trust them. The study also found that only 16% of consumers completely trust the product information provided to them from retailers today. In short, the impact of recalls extends far beyond the empty store shelf, and gives the industry even more reason to strive for safety.
High-Tech Next Steps
The FDA plans to publish a strategic blueprint early in 2020 of planned actions to meet its goal, but food brands and grocers need not wait to act. Proven technologies like brand compliance solutions, combined with emerging blockchain track and trace solutions and Internet of Things (IoT) sensors can add new depth and detail to traceability in the food supply chain, and these new technologies are already helping grocers and retailers keep consumers safe.
As retailers have sought a better means to track supply chain movements, blockchain technology has emerged as a potential way forward. Originally developed to manage financial transactions involving cryptocurrency, blockchain has proven to be capable of providing a verifiable record of the movement of goods through a supply chain. In fact, one major retailer has been piloting blockchain for more than a year and has already proven its value on produce items, cutting traceability times from more than a week to a matter of seconds. Some want to go even further and use IoT sensors to monitor the condition (e.g., temperature) of food products in the supply chain. Together, blockchain can help trace the path a product took through the supply chain and IoT can monitor the environmental conditions en route, providing a more cohesive picture of its supply chain journey.
But while supporting a few simple products with one ingredient and a one-step supply chain, such as fruits or vegetables, is one thing, scaling to address the needs of the average private brand retailer—now handling more than 10,000 active products from 2,000 production sites globally—is another. Managing the complexity of a product like tiramisu or a ready-made meal with dozens of ingredients, all coming from different sources, needs a different approach. To address the complexity, many are turning to brand compliance solutions—trusted, real-time repositories of information spanning the entire supply chain. For example, those using brand compliance solutions now have complete visibility of the ingredients in their private label products, helping them ensure labeling accuracy and transparency for consumers. Brand compliance tools also bring improved visibility of the food supply chain, enabling them to verify the status of manufacturing sites and respond quickly to food quality issues.
This combination of detailed product and supplier information makes brand compliance a foundational enabler for any blockchain/IoT-based initiative to improve supply chain visibility and traceability. For example, using brand compliance solutions, grocers can:
Confirm the ethical compliance of the supply chain at the point of selection or review, while using blockchain/IoT to monitor the ongoing conformance to these standards
Validate shelf life claims during formulation, while blockchain/IoT monitors logistical movement and environments to optimise products’ freshness
Record products’ formulation and ingredients to ensure safety, legal compliance and labeling accuracy, with blockchain/IoT monitoring the ongoing conformance to these standards
Rapidly identify potential risks across the entire formulation and supply chain, while tracking the affected batches to stores using blockchain and IoT
This convergence of static factual data (e.g., formulation, nutrition and allergens) linked to near real-time traceability and checking offers grocers confidence in the data and supports the consumer’s confidence of an actual product in their basket.
It seems clear that the food business is moving in the same direction as airlines and banks and becoming much more data driven. For grocers looking to keep pace, they will need to:
Treat data as a core competency. This means hiring information experts, investing for the future, and using data to identify ways to deliver better, safer products.
Create a customer-centric value promise. Grocers must go beyond regulatory compliance and use data to improve consumer transparency, support ethical sourcing initiatives, expand sustainable packaging and speed innovation.
Go above and beyond. Rather than waiting for FDA direction or simply complying with requirements, brands should take matters into their own hands, hold themselves to high markers and get started now.
In the future, improving the way that we manage the food supply chain is not just about how well we work with trucks and warehouses; it’s about how use information. The FDA’s initiative makes a clear statement that now is the time to modernize our food supply chains. As we look ahead to a new decade, the industry can come together to improve food safety and protect consumers, and we need not wait for the FDA’s blueprint or even the new year to get started.
In a large study of nearly 6000 products, more than a quarter (27%) of herbal medicines and foods sold in 37 countries on six continents was found to be deliberately or accidentally adulterated. In this study, the products, which came in a variety of forms such as softgels, tea and more, were analyzed with high throughput DNA sequencing and showed mislabeling, added fillers, substituted ingredients or contaminants. Such fraud can be a harmful to consumer health and safety, and must be monitored and tracked closely.
Ichim, M.C. (October 24, 2019). “The DNA-Based Authentication of Commercial Herbal Products Reveals Their Globally Widespread Adulteration”. “Stejarul” Research Centre for Biological Sciences, National Institute of Research and Development for Biological Sciences, Piatra Neamt, Romania. Frontiers in Pharmacology. Retrieved from https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fphar.2019.01227/full.
Innovative Publishing Company, Inc., organizer of the Food Safety Consortium Conference and Expo, has announced the 2020 dates for the event. The Consortium will take place from October 21–23, 2020 at the Renaissance Convention Center in Schaumburg, IL. The event is co-located with the Cannabis Quality Conference.
Highlights from the 2019 Food Safety Consortium include:
The food and beverage sector is a huge presence in the U.S. economy. As of 2017, the industry employed 1.46 million people across 27,000 different establishments. Total food and beverage sales stand at around $1.4 trillion and add $164 billion in value to the economy as a whole.1 This presents significant opportunities and risks alike. Companies that trade in food products are held to some of the highest regulatory standards. With globalization ongoing and a higher demand than ever for variety and niche products, companies find they need to expand the mobility of their services. They must also broaden their product choices without missing a beat when it comes to quality.
Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) have emerged as unlikely allies in that quest. These technologies are already having a positive impact on food and worker safety in the industry.
Improves New Employee Training
Onboarding and training new employees is a costly and time-consuming endeavor in any industry. Moreover, failure by companies to impart the necessary skills, and failure by employees to retain them, can have ghastly consequences. Errors on assembly lines may result in faulty products, recalls, worker and customer injuries, and worse.
The stakes in the food and beverage sector are just as high as they are in other labor- and detail-oriented industries. VR provides an entirely new kind of training experience for employees, whether they’re working on mastering their pizza cutting technique or brewing the perfect cappuccino. Other times, “getting it right” is about much more than aesthetic appeal and immediate customer satisfaction.
Animal slaughtering and processing facilities represent some of the more extreme examples of potentially dangerous workplaces in the larger food and beverage industry. Between 2011 and 2015, this U.S. sector experienced 73 fatal workplace injuries. Excepting poultry processing, 2015 saw 9,800 recordable incidents in animal processing, or 7.2 cases for every 100 full-time employees.
Some adopters of VR-based employee training claim that virtual reality yields up to an 80% retention rate one year after an employee has been trained. This compares extremely favorably to the estimated 20% retention rate of traditional training techniques.
Training via VR headset can help companies get new hires up to speed faster in a safe, detailed and immersive environment. Food processing and service are high-turnover employment sectors. The right training technology can help workers feel better prepared and more engaged with their work, potentially reducing employee churn.
Helps Eliminate Errors in Food Processing
Augmented reality is already demonstrating great promise in manufacturing, maintenance and other sectors. For instance, an AR headset can give an assembly line worker in an automotive plant detailed, step-by-step breakdowns of their task in their peripheral vision through a digital overlay.
The same goes for food and beverage manufacturing. AR headsets can superimpose a list of inspection or processing tasks for workers to follow as they prepare food items in a manufacturing or distribution facility.
In 2018, there was an estimated 382 recalls involving food products. Augmented reality alone won’t bring that number down to zero. However, it does help reduce instances of line workers and inspectors missing critical steps in processing or packaging that might result in contamination or spoilage.
Eases the Learning Curve in Food Preparation
There are lots of food products in the culinary world that are downright dangerous if they’re not prepared properly and by following specific steps. Elderberries, various species of fish, multiple root vegetables, and even cashews and kidney beans can all induce illness and even death if the right steps aren’t taken to make them fit for consumption.
In early 2019, inspectors descended on a Michelin-starred and highly respected restaurant in Valencia, Spain. The problem? A total of 30 patrons reported falling ill after eating at El País, one of whom lost her life. Everyone reported symptoms similar to food poisoning.
The common element in each case appeared to be morel mushrooms. These are considered a luxury food item, but failure to cook them properly can result in gastric problems and worse. Augmented reality could greatly reduce the likelihood of incidents like this in the future by providing ongoing guidance and reminders to new and veteran chefs alike, without taking the bulk of their attention away from work.
Brings New Efficiencies to Warehousing and Pick-and-Pack
Consumers around the globe are getting used to ordering even highly perishable foodstuffs over the internet—and there’s no putting that genie back in the bottle. Amazon’s takeover of Whole Foods is an indicator of what’s to come: Hundreds of freezer-equipped and climate-controlled warehouses located within a stone’s throw from a majority of the American population.
Ensuring smooth operations in perishable food and beverage supply chains is a major and ongoing struggle. It’s not just a practical headache for companies—it’s something of a moral imperative, too. The World Health Organization finds that around 600 million individuals worldwide fall ill each year due to foodborne illnesses.
Augmented reality won’t completely solve this problem, but it may greatly reduce a major source of potential spoilage and contamination: Inefficiencies in picking and packing operations. Order pickers equipped with AR headsets can:
Receive visual prompts to quickly find their way to designated stow locations in refrigerated warehouses after receiving refrigerated freight.
Locate pick locations more efficiently while retrieving single items or when they already have a partial order of perishable goods picked.
In both cases, the visual cues provided by AR help employees navigate warehousing locations much more quickly and efficiently. This substantially lowers the likelihood that food products are stuck in limbo in unrefrigerated areas, potentially coming into contact with noncompliant temperatures or pathogens. The FDA recognizes mispackaged and mislabeled food products as a major public health risk.
For food and beverage companies, AR should be a welcome development and a worthy investment. FSMA recognized that 48 million Americans get sick each year from compromised foods. The act required these entities to be much more proactive in drawing up prevention plans for known sources of contamination and to be more deliberate in standardizing their processes for safety’s sake.
AR and VR Boost Food, Worker and Customer Safety
Augmented and virtual reality may seem like an unusual ally in an industry where most consumers are primarily focused on the aesthetic and sensory aspects of the experience. However, there’s a whole world that lives and dies according to the speed and attention to detail of employees and decision-makers alike. Augmented realities, and entirely new ones, point the way forward.
The following infographic is a snapshot of the hazard trends in fruits and vegetables from Q3 2019. The information has been pulled from the HorizonScan quarterly report, which summarizes recent global adulteration trends using data gathered from more than 120 reliable sources worldwide. Over the past and next few weeks, Food Safety Tech will provide readers with hazard trends from various food categories included in this report.
Visibility, accountability and traceability are paramount in the agriculture industry, says Allison Kopf, founder and CEO of Artemis. In a Q&A with Food Safety Tech, Kopf explains how growers can take advantage of cultivation management platforms to better arm them with the tools they need to help prevent food safety issues within their operations and maintain compliance.
Food Safety Tech: What are the key challenges and risks that growers face in managing their operations?
Allison Kopf: One of the easiest challenges for growers to overcome is how they collect and utilize data. I’ve spent my entire career in agriculture, and it’s been painful to watch operations track all of their farm data on clipboards and spreadsheets. By not digitizing processes, growers become bogged down by the process of logging information and sifting through old notebooks for usable insights—if they even choose to do that.
I was visiting a farm the other day and the grower pulled out a big binder. The binder contained all of his standard operating procedures and growing specifications for the varieties he’s grown over the past 20 years. Then he pulled out a pile of black notebooks. If you’ve ever worked on a farm, you’d recognize grower notebooks anywhere. They’re used to log data points such as yield, quality and notes on production. These notebooks sit in filing cabinets with the hopeful promise of becoming useful at some point in the future—to stop production from falling into the same pitfalls or to mirror successful outcomes. However, in reality, the notebooks never see the light of day again. The grower talked about the pain of this process—when he goes on vacation, no one can fill his shoes; when he retires, so does the information in his head; when auditors come in, they’ll have to duplicate work to create proper documentation; and worse, it’s impossible to determine what resources are needed proactively based on anything other than gut. Here’s the bigger issue: All of the solutions are there; they’re just filed away in notebooks sitting in the filing cabinet.
Labor is the number one expense for commercial growing operations. Unless you’re a data analyst and don’t have the full-time responsibilities of managing a complex growing operation, spreadsheets and notebooks won’t give you the details needed to figure out when and where you’re over- or under-staffing. Guessing labor needs day-to-day is horribly inefficient and expensive.
Another challenge is managing food safety and compliance. Food contamination remains a huge issue within the agriculture industry. E. coli, Listeria and other outbreaks (usually linked to leafy greens, berries and other specialty crops) happen regularly. If crops are not tracked, it can take months to follow the contamination up the chain to its source. Once identified, growers might have to destroy entire batches of crops rather than the specific culprit if they don’t have appropriate tracking methods in place. This is a time-consuming and expensive waste.
Existing solutions that growers use like ERPs are great for tracking payroll, billing, inventory, logistics, etc., but the downside is that they’re expensive, difficult to implement, and most importantly aren’t specific to the agriculture industry. The result is that growers can manage some data digitally, but not everything, and certainly not in one place. This is where a cultivation management platform (CMP) comes into play.
FST:How are technologies helping address these issues?
Kopf: More and more solutions are coming online to enable commercial growers to detect, prevent and trace food safety issues, and stay compliant with regulations. The key is making sure growers are not just tracking data but also ensuring the data becomes accessible and functional. A CMP can offer growers what ERPs and other farm management software can’t: Detailed and complete visibility of operations, labor accountability and crop traceability.
A CMP enables better product safety by keeping crop data easily traceable across the supply chain. Rather than having to destroy entire batches in the event of contamination, growers can simply trace it to the source and pinpoint the problem. A CMP greatly decreases the time it takes to log food safety data, which also helps growers’ bottom line.
CMPs also help growers manage regulatory compliance. This is true within the food industry as well as the cannabis industry. Regulations surrounding legal pesticides are changing all the time. It’s difficult keeping up with constantly shifting regulatory environment. In cannabis this is especially true. By keeping crops easily traceable, growers can seamlessly manage standard operating procedures across the operation (GAP, HACCP, SQF, FSMA, etc.) and streamline audits of all their permits, licenses, records and logs, which can be digitized and organized in one place.
FST: Where is the future headed regarding the use of technology that generates actionable data for growers? How is this changing the game in sustainability?
Kopf: Technology such as artificial intelligence and the internet of things are changing just about every industry. This is true of agriculture as well. Some of these changes are already happening: Farmers use autonomous tractors, drones to monitor crops, and AI to optimize water usage.
As the agriculture industry becomes more connected, the more growers will be able to access meaningful and actionable information. Plugging into this data will be the key for growers who want to stay profitable. These technologies will give them up-to-the-second information about the health of their crops, but will also drive their pest, labor, and risk & compliance management strategies, all of which affect food safety.
When growers optimize their operations and production for profitability, naturally they are able to optimize for sustainability as well. More gain from fewer resources. It costs its customers less money, time and hassle to run their farms and it costs the planet less of its resources.
Technology innovation, including CMPs, enable cultivation that will provide food for a growing population despite decreasing resources. Technology that works both with outdoor and greenhouse growing operations will help fight food scarcity by keeping crops growing in areas where they might not be able to grow naturally. It also keeps production efficient, driving productivity as higher yields will be necessary.
Beyond scarcity, traceability capabilities enforce food security which is arguable the largest public health concern across the agricultural supply chain. More than 3,000 people die every year due to foodborne illness. By making a safer, traceable supply chain, new technology that enables growers to leverage their data will protect human life.
Producers of food-based products are faced with challenges of maintaining the safety and quality of their products, while also managing rapid screening of raw materials and ingredients. Failure to adequately address both challenges can be costly, with estimated recall costs alone starting around $10 million, in addition to any litigation costs.1 Long-term costs can accumulate further as a result of damage to brand reputation. A vast array of methods has been employed to meet these challenges, and adoption continues to increase as technology becomes smaller, cheaper and more user friendly. One such technique is Fourier transform infrared (FTIR) spectroscopy, an analytical technique that is widely used for quick (typically 20–60 seconds per measurement) and non-destructive testing of both man-made and natural materials in food products. The uniformity and physical state of the sample (solid vs. liquid) will dictate the specifics of the hardware used to perform such analyses, and the algorithm applied to the identification task will depend, in part, on the expected variability of the ingredient.
Infrared spectral measurements provide a “compositional snapshot”— capturing information related to the chemical bonds present in the material. Figure 1 shows an example of a mid-infrared spectrum of peppermint oil. Typically, the position of a peak along the x-axis (wavenumber) is indicative of the type of chemical bond, while the peak height is related either to the identity of the material, or to the concentration of the material in a mixture. In the case of peppermint oil, a complex set of spectral peaks is observed due to multiple individual naturally occurring molecular species in the oil.
Once the infrared spectrum of an ingredient is measured, it is then compared to a reference set of known good ingredients. It is important that the reference spectrum or spectra are measured with ingredients or materials that are known to be good (or pure)—otherwise the measurements will only represent lot-to-lot variation. The comparative analysis can assist lab personnel in gaining valuable information—such as whether the correct ingredient was received, whether the ingredient was adulterated or replaced for dishonest gain, or whether the product is of acceptable quality for use. The use of comparative algorithms for ingredient identification also decreases subjectivity by reducing the need for visual inspection and interpretation of the measured spectrum.
Correlation is perhaps the most widely used algorithm for material identification with infrared spectroscopy and has been utilized with infrared spectra for identification purposes at least as early as the 1970s.2 When using this approach, the correlation coefficient is calculated between the spectrum of the test sample and each spectrum of the known good set. Calculated values will range from 0, which represents absolutely no match (wrong or unexpected material), to 1, representing a perfect match. These values are typically sorted from highest to lowest, and the material is accepted or rejected based on whether the calculated correlation lies above or below an identified threshold. Due to the one-to-one nature of this comparison, it is best suited to identification of materials that have little or no expected variability. For example, Figure 2 shows an overlay of a mid-infrared spectrum of an ingredient compared to a spectrum of sucrose. The correlation calculated between the two spectra is 0.998, so the incoming ingredient is determined to be sucrose. Figure 3 shows an overlay of the same mid-infrared spectrum of sucrose with a spectrum of citric acid. Notable differences are observed between the two spectra, and a significant change in the correlation is observed, with a coefficient of 0.040 calculated between the two spectra. The citric acid sample would not pass as sucrose with the measurement and algorithm settings used in this example.
When testing samples with modest or high natural variability, acceptable materials can produce a wider range of infrared spectral features, which result in a correspondingly broad range of calculated correlation values. The spread in correlation values could be of concern as it may lead to modification of algorithm parameters or procedures to “work around” this variation. Resulting compromises can increase the potential for false positives, meaning the incorrect ingredient or adulterated material might be judged as passing. Multivariate algorithms provide a robust means for evaluating ingredient identity for samples with high natural variability.
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