Tag Archives: Focus Article

Kari Hensien, RizePoint
FST Soapbox

Food Crisis Backup Planning

By Kari Hensien
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Kari Hensien, RizePoint

We were collectively shocked by the Covid-19 crisis that disrupted the food industry. We didn’t see it coming and we weren’t prepared for the long-lasting, widespread repercussions of that crisis, including product and labor shortages, supply chain disruptions and record-setting inflation.

Many food businesses were reliant on certain suppliers, and if they couldn’t deliver necessary products, companies either had to go without or scramble to find an alternate solution. As an industry, we were reactive—not proactive—to the pandemic and the ensuing fallout.

Now that we have some perspective, a big takeaway is that food businesses need to have better backup plans to address supply chain disruptions, product shortages and delays. This is especially important because:

  • Extreme weather is causing crop failures, livestock deaths and suboptimal soil conditions, resulting in more world hunger. Extreme drought conditions are destroying produce out west, including in California, a region that grows significant amounts of produce to ship nationwide. The Midwest, which produces approximately three-quarters of our country’s corn supply, is facing the opposite problem, as frequent floods wash away precious soil. Europe’s record-setting heat is torching vegetation, while India is pausing exports because of a severe heat wave.
  • The ongoing Ukraine/Russian war is predicted to give rise to a “food catastrophe.” Our global food system relies on a few big food commodity exporters, and Ukraine and Russia are two of the biggest. Together, these two countries supply approximately 60% of the global sunflower oil production—a product that goes into hundreds of consumable goods. It is a significant threat to the global food supply that so many of these exports have stalled.
  • Soaring inflation and resulting record high food prices are putting food out of the reach of many, leading to a worldwide rise in food insecurity, leading to increased hunger and malnutrition. The number of food insecure people is predicted to grow globally from 440 million to 1.6 billion, and nearly 250 million people are facing famine.
  • The ongoing labor shortage is contributing to disruptions and food waste all along the supply chain. Crates of perishable foods are being left to rot in shipping containers, warehouses and trucks because there aren’t enough workers to get them safely to their final destinations.

Below are several steps food brands can take to address and prepare for these ongoing threats to the supply chain.

Use tech tools to manage your supply chain. Today’s digital solutions allow you to audit and evaluate your supply chain’s sustainability and resilience. These innovative tools can help you get a better handle on your supply chain by organizing supplier certifications into a system that offers better visibility and is easier manage.

Embrace sophisticated technologies. Advances in artificial intelligence (AI), robotics and other technologies may help solve some of our most pressing supply chain challenges. For instance, when the Suez Canal was blocked in 2021 it halted all shipments through that major passageway, causing a supply chain crisis. AI rerouted ships to avoid the blockage, so food deliveries could continue via a detour. AI can also monitor shipments to ensure safety and quality, notifying suppliers and buyers about any safety breaches.

The FDA’s New Era of Smarter Food Safety calls for a broader approach to food safety and traceability, and AI can help achieve those goals. Moving forward, AI will be instrumental in increasing transparency all along the supply chain, providing end-to-end visibility and predicting the path of foodborne outbreaks.

Develop back up plans. How are your suppliers pivoting to manage the simultaneous threats against our global food supply? How are they preparing for climate change? What will they do if they can’t get necessary produce from California, corn from the Midwest or grain from Ukraine? How will they recruit and retain enough labor to deliver necessary products safely to their final destinations? It’s smart to find backup suppliers, especially those closer to home, to ensure an uninterrupted supply of foods. Work with suppliers that are focused on solutions, safety and quality, and keep careful track of each supplier’s safety certifications.

Consider vertical farming. Increasingly, companies are looking for alternate supplier and agriculture solutions, such as vertical farming, which grows crops closer to their final destinations. Growing foods closer to their final destination helps reduce food deserts and safety risks, boost sustainability and minimize food wastage. Vertical farms are typically indoor climate-controlled spaces. These growing conditions protect crops from severe weather, and offer a viable solution to bypass a variety of current issues from the climate crisis to supply chain headaches.

Pivot to agroecological farming. Agroecological farming practices mitigate climate change and prioritize local supply chains. Using this approach, farmers adopt agricultural techniques based on the local area and its specific social, environmental and economic conditions. Agroecology focuses on sustainability, working to reduce emissions, recycle resources and minimize waste. Those that embrace this farming approach believe that traditional farming often faces—and contributes to—a variety of problems, including soil degradation and excessive use of pollutants. Intensive, traditional farming approaches typically focus on short-term output vs. long-term sustainability, which exhausts many natural resources, local resources and wildlife. Agroecological farmers adhere to strict standards that support animal welfare, fewer pesticides and antibiotics, healthier soil and no GMOs.

Be proactive. In hindsight, we should have been more proactive during the Covid-19 crisis, developing backup plans for the huge supply chain disruptions that were headed our way. Before the pandemic, we couldn’t possibly have anticipated the ramifications of a disrupted supply chain and we didn’t understand the need to have backup plans in place for alternative food sources and waste reduction. Today, we have a more realistic perspective and recognize the need to plan ahead for any eventuality.

Our food supply is being threatened by simultaneous crises—from climate change to war—so we must be proactive, prepared, resilient and flexible in developing a solid Plan B.

 

 

PFAS

Phasing Out PFAS

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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PFAS

Efforts to regulate and remediate per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are picking up a steam. Earlier this month, researchers from Northwestern University published a study verifying a low-cost process that breaks the chemical bonds of two major classes of PFAS compounds—perfluoroalkyl carboxylic acids (PFCAs) and perfluoroalkyl ether carboxylic acids (PFECAs)—leaving behind only benign end products.

Last week, the EPA proposed designating perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS), two of the most widely used PFAS, as hazardous substances. If finalized, the rule will trigger industry reporting of PFOA and PFOS releases and allow the agency to require cleanups and recover cleanup costs.

For the food and beverage industry, most current regulations involve food contact packaging, with states outpacing the FDA in implementing thresholds and working toward outright bans.

“Maine has a declaration requirement for PFAS in food packaging, and eight states are in motion to completely ban PFAS in food packaging products,” says Sally Powell Price, regulatory expert for food and beverage safety, MilliporeSigma.

California, Connecticut, Maine, Minnesota, New York, Vermont and Washington are among the states that have already passed legislation limiting the use of PFAS in food packaging. Outside the U.S., the Eurpean Commissions’ Restrictions Roadmap outlines a plan to outlaw the use of PFAS in packaging by 2030.

The good news for the food and beverage industry is that non-PFAS packaging alternatives are affordable. “The alternatives are fairly priced, so if manufacturers are converting from PFAS to non-PFAS materials, it may require changing some processes, but the price will not change very much,” says Yanqi Qu, food & beverage safety and quality technology specialist, MilliporeSigma.

The area that poses a greater challenge and requires more significant investment from the public and potentially industry groups lies in the testing of actual food commodities. This is also an area of increased regulatory scrutiny.

Regulating and Detecting PFAS in Food

In July, the FDA released the results of its Total Diet Study, which included outcomes of its retail seafood products PFAS testing. “This testing actually catalyzed a recall of clam products from China,” says Price. “The FDA tested foods imported from all regions for the study, so this is something that the FDA is monitoring. I can see this recent recall driving them to do more testing at the border for products coming in to the U.S., especially seafood.”

The state of Maine has dairy testing mandates already in place. “PFAS are bio-accumulators, so it’s not just fish. Cattle and other livestock could also be an issue,” says Price. “The testing program in Maine is a regulatory model that I would use to extrapolate and look at where our future could lie.”

One of the key challenges in detecting PFAS levels in food commodities lies in the variety of matrices to be tested and the huge numbers of PFAS currently in the environment. In December 2021, the FDA published its methodology for PFAS analysis in food and beverage, which focused on fruits, vegetables and beverage samples.

“They are using an extraction method. They used a solvent to extract materials from the surface of the food and beverage samples, and then analyzed them using a liquid chromatoghraphy and mass spectrometry (LC-MS) system,” says Qu. “This method was just posted last year, and the public is not satisfied with it. There are more than 600 different types of PFAS compounds, and for this method they only focused on 16 of them. The FDA is saying, we need more time to test for all 600.”

LC-MS used to test for PFAS in food and beverages is very similar to the PFAS testing in the environment. However, testing food products is more complex than testing water or soil. “Different foods have different interferences and complications, and it is extremely difficult to account for all of the potential interferences and or complications that might arise as you move from one matrix to another,” says Taylor Reynolds, marketing manager for environmental testing and industrial chemical manufacturing, MilliporeSigma. “The science is struggling to keep up. You get into issues where you might have overlapping peaks on your chromatogram, which makes it hard to distinguish the readings. Calibration standards are not all readily available. So, even if a lab wanted to test for 600 compounds, I’m not sure they could easily get their hands on 600 compounds as a reference standard to do their calibration groups.”

What Food Manufacturers Can Do

Price encourages food manufacturers to keep an eye on their state legislatures for proposed and upcoming regulations and be aware of known concerns specific to their areas. “The FDA looks to best fit for purpose,” she says. “So if there is a known concern, for example local data shows that you have PFAS infiltration in the ground water near your livestock or your crops, having a testing plan in place or a mitigation strategy is a good idea, where possible.”

Local FDA and EPA departments can often provide mitigation support as well as guidance to ensure you are aligned with local regulations.

In the coming years, we are likely to see not only more stringent regulations, but also a better understanding of the most hazardous PFAS compounds to help target mitigation and replacement strategies. This data combined with continued efforts to neutralize PFAS, as seen in the Northwestern study, could signal a promising future.

“Our work addressed one of the largest classes of PFAS, including many we are most concerned about,” said William Dichtel, Robert L. Letsinger Professor of Chemistry in Northwestern’s Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, and lead author of the Northwesten study. “There are other classes that don’t have the same Achilles’ heel, but each one will have its own weakness. If we can identify it, then we know how to activate it to destroy it.”

“PFAS compounds have been so incredibly useful, yet weaning ourselves off of them is not going to be terribly difficult,” says Reynolds. “As long as organizations keep their heads up and are paying at least a marginal amount of attention, it shouldn’t be a terribly difficult to transition away from them, particularly on the packaging side of things. I personally am optimistic about the ultimate resolution of this issue, because people are taking it seriously and the science is showing that we can find solutions.”

 

Image: PFAS Molecule, courtesy of NIST

Thermo Fisher

Using Isotope Fingerprints To Determine Fish Oil Authenticity

By Dr. David Psomiadis, Mario Tuthorn
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Thermo Fisher

The demand for fish oil is increasing. It is packed full of heart-friendly omega-3 fatty acids, including the functionally important docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). Today, consumers are ever more aware of the health benefits of incorporating fish oil into their diets, such as lowering blood pressure and helping prevent heart disease. It is therefore no surprise that many companies are increasing their investments in providing high-quality fish oil supplements, such as those with value claims including single species, designated geographical origin, sustainability practices and traceability. And it’s a lucrative business: the industry was worth USD 11.95 Billion in 2021 and is expected to reach a value of USD 17.64 Billion by 2028—a CAGR of around 6.7%.

As the industry continues to grow, so does the risk of economic fraud. Fish oil itself varies depending on its source: fish from different regions—even within the same species—have different oil compositions, and, understandably, different price points depending on the quality. Individuals and illicit organizations are exploiting the growing demand by circulating adulterated, mislabeled products with sub-standard fish oil and/or misrepresented product origin for financial gain. More than ever, robust legislation is required, and there is a need for increasingly accurate and sensitive analytical techniques to verify the origin, authenticity and label claims of supplements, foods and beverages containing fish oils.

Traditional food integrity techniques can’t accurately distinguish the origin of fish oils from the same species. New approaches are needed to provide greater analytical depth and accuracy, and to ensure that consumers can trust brands, manufacturers are protected and governments can control the use of fish oil. Here we explore how gas chromatography isotope ratio mass spectrometry coupled with a mass spectrometer (GC-MS-IRMS) can overcome these challenges and allow analysts to confidently determine fish oil origin from a given species.

Fish Oils: A Tricky Catch for Authenticity Testing Laboratories

The existing approaches to determine fish oil authenticity, including gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS) fatty acid profiling and untargeted fingerprint determination by spectroscopic techniques such as nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) and near-infrared (NIR), are based on the compositional characteristics of the oils. While these compositions are important to understand, they do not reflect significant regional and geographic parameters. Yet gaining clarity on the geographical origin of fish oils from the same species is vital because the source of the fish oil can have significant financial implications. In particular, label claims that fish oils are derived from a certain geographical region can add value to the product. Confirming the fish oil origin also verifies traceability of the product and contributes to other important label claims including sustainability, health and safety. Therefore, knowing the origin of the fish oil and its authenticity helps to identify fraudulent practices that are used to boost product value.

Isotope Fingerprints Identify Regions and Processes

So, how can we better characterize fish oil? Compound-specific stable isotope analysis (CSIA) is an ideal solution. Fatty acids consist almost entirely of carbon and hydrogen. In fish, the natural variation of the isotopic ratios of these elements is influenced by the feed, the environment and the local habitat of a given population. CSIA can enhance fish oil testing by determining the stable isotopic values of individual fatty acids. Since isotopes vary with differing dietary sources, geographical regions of origin can be determined, even within the same species.

Recent advances in GC-IRMS allow the technique to provide the separation accuracy and detection resolution required to distinguish between different carbon and hydrogen isotopes in compositionally equivalent fatty acids, by CSIA. GC-IRMS works by separating compounds using gas chromatography, then analyzing carbon and nitrogen isotope fingerprints by combustion, and oxygen and hydrogen isotope fingerprints through pyrolysis. This approach enables the acquisition of isotopic information for each individual compound in the sample.

To further improve the capability of GC-IRMS, the set-up can be coupled to a single quadrupole mass spectrometer—GC-MS-IRMS—to allow structural determination and identification of compounds. With the hybrid system, the flow from the GC column is separated into two parts: the majority continuing for IRMS isotope analysis, with a minor portion for MS compound identification. The innovative design does not impact IRMS sensitivity, thereby gaining structural information without compromise. These system attributes mean that GC-MS-IRMS can determine the structure and isotope ratio of each fish oil compound. Using this method, analysts can generate accurate (close to the absolute value), repeatable and reproducible results.

The power of GC-IRMS is well-established in the industry. It has been embraced as a method to be standardized in food authenticity testing by several international bodies, including the European Committee for Standardization (CEN) and the German Chemical Society (GDCh), and is only made more powerful when coupled to MS. However, standardization requires successful method validation, demanding its specific investigation for fish oil characterization.

Separating Salmon and Comparing Cod

Fish oil labeling is centered around differentiating species and their geographical origins to support label claims. In a recent experiment, Thermo Fisher Scientific and Imprint Analytics worked together with Orivo to compare 30 salmon oils and 43 cod liver oils from the same species in different areas. These experiments were performed to demonstrate that isotopes can be used to identify the geographic origin of the samples, and to validate the method.

Samples were prepared by a derivatization procedure using CH3COCl in MeOH to obtain Fatty Acid Methyl Esters (FAMEs). Both carbon and hydrogen isotopes were measured for the samples (Table 1), and statistical analysis of the isotope data allowed the selection of certain parameters for the statistical model (Table 2). These then contributed to the discrimination of the given clusters for each model.

A number of principal functions (Fx) are generated in the analysis, integrating information from analytical parameters. Using different Fxs allows bivariate or multivariate illustrations, where F1 and F2 represent the largest amount of information available for the samples.

Table 1: List of the fatty acids (as FAMEs) screened and analyzed by GC-MS-IRMS.

Table 2: List of the fatty acids (as FAMEs) used in the statistical model.

Salmon

Most salmon products come from either Norway or Chile, and the two have significant price differences and values. It is therefore crucial that the label claims of any fish oil supplement can be verified. In the study, FAMEs were analyzed, and carbon and hydrogen isotope ratios determined using GC-MS-IRMS.

Discriminant analysis gave a correct prediction of 94.29% (Figure 1), showing that the two regional products could be clearly determined.

Figure 1: Discriminant analysis: Atlantic salmon (Norway) vs. Atlantic Salmon (Chile). Correct prediction: 94.29%

Cod

Similar to the salmon situation, Iceland and Norway have price discrepancies between products derived from each region’s cod. However, the two countries are physically very close, meaning there may be less extreme differences between the two diets and habitats, and therefore more similarity between isotopic fingerprints.

Despite the close proximity of the cod species, the multi-isotope method was able to discriminate the fish oil origin with a correct prediction of 97.22% (Figure 2). Based on this score, we can see the technique is highly accurate and reliable, making it a strong choice for fish oil determination.

Figure 2: Discriminant analysis: Arctic cod (Iceland) vs. Arctic cod (Norway). Correct prediction: 97.22%

GC-MS-IRMS Paves the Way for More Reliable Analyses of Fish Oil Authenticity

GC-MS-IRMS is a powerful technique that can determine the origin of fish oil by elucidating structure and isotope ratio. The study here shows the potential of GC-MS-IRMS in verifying the geographical origin of matrices with emerging commercial value and high adulteration risks—and validates the method, demonstrating that the resulting data provides conclusive answers about fish oil origins. Crucially, the technique is suitable even for products deriving from geographic regions close to one another.

We anticipate that isotope fingerprint analysis will continue to grow in the industry. With plans to use the technique to discriminate between different fish species underway, adopting GC-MS-IRMS methods into food analysis supports the need to uphold product authenticity and maintain consumer trust.

The authors kindly thank Orivo for collaboration on this study and providing the samples for analysis.

Frank Meek, Orkin
Bug Bytes

Make Your Facility A No-Fly Zone: Fly Prevention Practices

By Frank Meek
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Frank Meek, Orkin

Flies are speedy breeders, disease spreaders, vectors of contamination and a costly pest for food manufacturing and processing facilities if not handled appropriately. One female fly can create hundreds of eggs in five or six days and potentially introduce many microorganisms and pathogens.

It might be surprising that such a small pest can have a major impact on your business, but luckily there are preventive measures you can implement to help keep their presence to a minimum while ensuring food safety regulations are met.

The types of flies that impact food-handling establishments the most are “filth” flies, which transmit diseases, and “nuisance” flies, which typically do not. While these pests are all flies, different types of flies require different control methods.

Available On Demand         Special Delivery: Avoid Pests at Your Receiving DockPrevention

What attracts flies to your facility? “Filth” flies (such as house flies and blow flies) are attracted to odors first, then food waste, organic build up, sewage and feces. In comparison, “nuisance” flies (such as vinegar/fruit flies, drain flies and phorid flies) flock to overripe or decaying fruits, vegetables or other organic materials.

Flies typically enter buildings through frequently opened doors and improperly sealed openings such as drains/pipes, ventilation systems and windows. Because of this, preventive tactics like exclusion should be an important part of your pest control program.

The best way to help deter flies is to seek a pest control provider that offers an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) program. IPM is a sustainable system that focuses on the prevention of pests by implementing proactive techniques that help reduce the need for reactive treatments. A successful IPM program is environmentally conscious and addresses the reasons pests are attracted to your facility. IPM is comprised of a team effort between you and your pest control provider. Once implemented, your IPM program should be reviewed annually with your pest management professional to ensure continued improvement.

Now that you’re aware of what causes these flies to frequent your place of business and the best way to deter them, here are some tips that will help while working closely with your pest control provider:

Sanitation

Proper sanitation can help eliminate the items pests are attracted to. As mentioned earlier, vinegar flies and phorid are attracted to food, grease and other organic matter that can accumulate in drains and other places. Foul odors from decaying foods can also attract flies, which is why maintaining a sanitary environment is essential to keeping these pests away. Proper sanitation can also help reduce the possibility of transmission of diseases and contamination of products, which in turn will protect your business’s reputation and bottom line. Here are a few steps you can take now to improve your sanitation routine, so flies stay away:

  • Keep dumpsters and trash cans as far away from the facility as possible and work with your waste management company to routinely clean or rotate your dumpster so flies and other harmful pests aren’t enticed.
  • Install an odor control device where needed to eliminate any foul smells that might attract flies.
  • Remove trash, debris and food from areas like employee lockers or breakrooms multiple times throughout the day.
  • Keep tight lids on interior trash receptacles, change the liners daily and regularly clean out the bottom of the bins.
  • Regularly clean machinery that handles food, as joints and crevices can build up organic matter and attract pests.
  • Wipe down counters and high-touch areas using a proper disinfectant so you can remove any bacteria and pathogens on the surface as well.

Sanitation is crucial to the food processing, manufacturing and service industries due to the importance of food safety. If you don’t already have a rigorous sanitation routine in place, work with your pest control provider to review your current schedule and how you can improve it to help ensure flies are kept outside where they belong.

Facility Maintenance and Exclusion

Part of keeping pests out involves making sure your facility is kept in a good condition. Flies don’t need a lot of space to get in and out of buildings, and a well-maintained business can help keep all kinds of pests away.

Exclusion—using preventive methods to help eliminate pest entry points—is another helpful way to keep flies from entering your facility. The following tips will help keep flies out of your buildings:

  • Walk through your facility regularly with your pest control provider to address any facility maintenance work that should be done and pest control methods that need to be refreshed.
  • Seal any cracks, holes and crevices as soon as you notice them to avoid pests accessing your building.
  • Have fly lights and mechanical traps installed to monitor fly activity and further customize your treatment plan. These traps can be used in many areas of your facility. Work with your pest control provider to determine the best locations and type of device needed. It’s important to keep in mind that fly lights and mechanical traps monitor the efficiency of your overall fly control program, and alone are not a complete control option.
  • Seal all doors and windows with weather stripping. This will aid in closing the small gaps that flies hunt for when doors and windows are closed.
  • Limit lighting around the entrances of your facility to help discourage flying insects. If you must, use sodium-vapor light bulbs near entryways, as these are less appealing to insects than fluorescent bulbs (which draw pests in, especially at night)
  • Work with your pest control provider to train your staff on a protocol for spotting and reporting signs of pest activity. This can help catch pests before they become a bigger problem and helps you save time and money later. After all, your employees know your facility just as well as you do.

Flies in your facility can be a symptom of a problem, and the source of that problem will be unique to the fly species and weak spots in your specific facility. It’s important to maintain a fly prevention plan that will ensure the safety of your employees, products and customers as well as your reputation.

Most pest control providers offer complimentary staff training that clarifies the role your employees play in preventing pest infestations. With help from your employees, maintaining a successful fly control program can become an easy part of your daily operations. By following these tips and partnering with a reliable pest control provider who understands your industry and unique needs, your facility will be on its way to being a no-fly zone in no time.

Vanessa Coffman, Ph.D.

How To Implement a Strong Food Safety Culture

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Vanessa Coffman, Ph.D.

Creating a company culture that embraces food safety is paramount to protecting your business and end users. But, developing a strong food safety culture takes time, effort and a buy-in from leadership.

We spoke with Vanessa Coffman, Ph.D., director of the Alliance to STOP Foodborne Illness, to discuss what it takes to create a company culture committed to food safety and what is holding companies and employees back from speaking up and taking action when safety concerns are identified.

Food Safety Tech (FST): How do companies get started in implementing a strong food safety culture?

Dr. Coffman: I think it’s really important to remember that every company in the food space already has a food safety culture. They may just not know it. So, a good first step is to assess your current food safety culture. What’s going right? What’s going wrong? From there, outline where you would like to go.

FST: How do you assess your current food safety culture?

Dr. Coffman: Talking with your employees and asking questions is a good start. There are some questionnaires available online to help you assess your current culture. It’s hard, though, because a lot of them are not scientifically validated, largely because food safety culture is amorphous and it’s also new.

We have a number of resources available on our website, including a Food Safety Culture Toolkit for businesses.

FST: How do company leaders motivate employees to play an active role in ensuring safe food processing and handling?

Dr. Coffman: That is really, really important. You can incentivize people through a rewards and recognition program, which is what a lot of our Alliance member-companies are doing.

I also think that getting into the heart and not just the mind of the employee is important. We have a lot of video resources and stories from foodborne illness survivors and people who have lost loved ones to foodborne illness. These are good motivators to help your team understand what can happen and how important every single person’s role is in the the production of safe food.

FST: How are companies incentivizing their employees to embrace food safety practices?

Dr. Coffman: It can be as simple as recognizing an employee of the month—a food safety culture employee of the month—and having a parking spot dedicated to that person or putting their name in the company newsletter.

Sometimes those big outward shows of recognition aren’t the best for every employee, and maybe somebody would rather get a little monetary bonus. Some businesses have taken employees or teams that have done really well out to lunch with the executives or someone who is well respected in the company. Getting an hour off from work may be a really great reward.

There are a lot of example of ways you can incentivize folks to do the right thing, but ultimately you want a culture of people wanting to do the right thing. That’s the most important aspect of a good food safety culture. You’re not doing it because you’re going to win a prize, but because it’s the right thing to do.

FST: Who, ultimately, is responsible for spearheading and developing a company’s food safety culture?

Dr. Coffman: That’s a really complicated question. Everybody needs to be a part of it and everybody needs to buy in to building a positive food safety culture at a company. That includes frontline workers, maintenance workers and the top executives.

We have been doing a webinar series in partnership with the FDA, and we have gotten a lot of questions about who should be leading these efforts. While it is the front-line workers that have the ability to stop the line, note a problem or report a safety issue, if you do not have buy in from your executives, there is no motivation for the people on the front line to do the right thing. So, getting the company leaders—the C-suite and the middle management people—involved is critical.

FST: Do you have any tips or recommendations on how to speak to the people in the C-suite to help them understand the importance of food safety?

Dr. Coffman: A lot of times people who are not involved in food safety day-to-day are incentivized by different things or see things a little bit differently. Some of things we have found that people who are in the C-suite respond to or are concerned with include the cost of a recall, the cost of getting sued and the cost of brand damage. Those things are really, really important for business leaders to understand. But, as with other employees, you also need reach their hearts.

Join us at the Food Safety Consortium in Parsippany, NJ, October 19-21 and take part in our panel discussion, “Communicating to the C-Suite.”

Everybody has a family, everybody has friends, everybody has people they love and they would never want to see those people get hurt by something that they fed them or by something that their company created. So, really tapping into the hearts is important in addition to presenting those cold, hard numbers, which you do sometimes need.

FST: What prevents employees from being proactive about food safety or raising safety concerns?

Dr. Coffman: Termination. Getting in trouble. A lot of the companies within the Alliance have said that every single employee in their organization is allowed to stop the line. Their employees know that you will never get in trouble for stopping something if you see a problem. Unfortunately, that is not as commonplace as it should be. People who are whistleblowers get in trouble. People who bring up problems to their bosses get in trouble. And when we’re talking about food safety, if you let things slip you are putting people in danger

FST: What is the biggest misconception about food safety culture?

Dr. Coffman: That this is a linear task. That this is something that you can just do and then it’s fixed and in place. It takes a lot of planning, a lot of energy and a lot of time.

Food safety culture is not something you have to do to meet an auditing requirement. The components are not going to be black and white, yes or no. This might seem frustrating at first to those who are used to following detailed checklists and written procedures, but once a positive, mature food safety culture is established, problem areas on your checklist will likely diminish.

Kari Hensien, RizePoint
FST Soapbox

New Tools Help Track Suppliers’ ESG Initiatives

By Kari Hensien
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Kari Hensien, RizePoint

Your food brand may be committed to eliminating single use plastics, lowering your energy and water use and reducing waste throughout your organization. Perhaps you’re using sustainable packaging and donating excess food to underserved populations in your community. But are your suppliers equally committed to environmental, social and governance (ESG) initiatives?

As food brands work to improve their ESG efforts, they must also examine the quality of their supply chains. It’s not enough to meet your own ESG goals—it’s also essential to work with suppliers who are practicing responsible ESG efforts, as well.

In fact, organizations that don’t allow enough time and resources to build and manage a meaningful supplier program put themselves at risk. Without a user-friendly digital system, food brands can’t properly identify inefficient, unreliable suppliers. That becomes costly in terms of revenue, time and your organization’s reputation.

But how can brands definitively know that they’re working with sustainable organizations through every step of the supply chain? The answer is, better supplier tracking and management. After all, food businesses can’t manage what they’re not measuring. In the past, this was difficult to do. Manually collecting, organizing and reviewing certifications was tedious and labor-intensive. And, historically, software solutions were complicated, difficult to operate and their high price points meant that only large enterprises with enormous budgets could afford to use them. They came with long sales cycles and required extensive training. Thankfully, all that has changed.

Affordable and Accessible Supplier Documentation Solutions

Today’s software tools are user-friendly, accessible and cost-effective, finally making it possible for the “smaller guys” to compete with giant corporations. Now, small-to-mid-sized organizations can easily and affordably use the most innovative software solutions in the marketplace to: gather, organize and manage supplier documentation and information in a centralized location; track which suppliers are committed to strong ESG goals and practices; check status and deadlines; ensure compliance; and reduce time-consuming administrative tasks.

These tools allow companies to:

  • Track which suppliers have environmental, sustainability and compliance certifications (and see which ones don’t)
  • Learn more about where their raw materials are coming from, who is processing them and what practices they follow, allowing companies to better understand their entire supply chain’s ESG commitments
  • Find suppliers that have better ESG goals and practices and, conversely, stop working with vendors that are not committed to ESG goodwill
  • See task and certification status for all suppliers and drill down to view this information by supplier, location and material
  • Streamline processes to save time and reduce redundancies, errors and data entry needs for a more efficient, accurate experience
  • Implement software easily and be up and running in minutes, with no onboarding or training required

This is the time to get on board and manage suppliers’ ESG (and safety!) certifications because the FDA is watching and consumers expect good, ethical management. Companies need to know where their food is coming from, if it’s safe and if it meets the latest ESG guidelines.

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For instance, traditional farming is not always environmentally friendly. Some farmers destroy soil, use harmful pesticides, contribute to high emissions from truck transport, waste significant water, etc. Therefore, some food businesses are opting for more sustainable alternative options, such as working with suppliers that embrace vertical farming. As compared to traditional farms, vertical farms use fewer resources, generate lower emissions and reduce transportation needs by locating operations near the point of consumption.

It’s important to know that the U.S. uses more than one billion pounds of pesticides annually in traditional farming, which negatively impacts ecosystems. Many vertical farms grow pesticide-free produce in controlled, protected environments. Vertical farms also use up to 98% less water than traditional farms.

Food Brands with Impressive ESG Initiatives

Chipotle is one brand that goes the extra mile with bold ESG goals. Their ingredients are responsibly sourced and prepared with people, animals and the environment in mind. They bought 35.7 million pounds of local produce—an investment of more than $40.2 million in support of local food systems—and will continue relying on local, sustainable farmers. They’ve also identified key water risk areas in their supply chain to inform their water conservation strategy.

Additionally, The J.M. Smucker Co. is highly regarded for its commitment to ESG efforts. As part of its ESG program, the company is committed to reducing their greenhouse gas emissions, institutionalizing consistent waste reduction activities at their facilities, reducing their use of water and energy and using sustainable packaging. Additionally, through the safe production and distribution of their products, partnerships with farmers and growers and support of hunger-related organizations, Smucker will help ensure people and pets have consistent access to trusted, quality food.

Chipotle and Smucker hold themselves accountable for making business decisions that cultivate a better world. Shouldn’t we all strive to do the same?

Food factory workers

Key Components of Environmental Control

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Food factory workers

Ready to eat foods (RTE) pose a significant risk of foodborne illness, if proper safety precautions are not followed. Key to keeping contaminants out of your RTEs and keeping regulatory action at bay is developing a strong environmental control program (ECP).

We spoke with Benjamin Miller, vice president of regulatory and scientific affairs at the Acheson Group, about the core components of an ECP and the biggest risk areas for producers of RTE foods.

There are three key components of an ECP:

  • Hygienic design of a facility and equipment
  • People management within a facility or operation
  • Sanitation

“From a facility standpoint, you want a facility that is constructed well,” says Miller. “The floor, walls and ceilings are in good condition. You have adequate water drainage, if you’re going to be using a wet clean as part of your sanitation program and, from the equipment standpoint, you want equipment that is designed to be cleaned and is easy to clean. That is one of the areas where we see some of the biggest issues in terms of risk from environmental contaminants and pathogens.”

There are multiple challenges to keeping equipment clean and santized, notes Miller. And it starts with a lack of standardization. There is little regulation on equipment design for food processing, although there have been efforts among industry, with groups such as the 3-A Consortium in the dairy industry and the European Hygienic Engineering and Design Group (EHEDG). “But a lot of equipment is custom fabricated in the food manufacturing space, and equipment is expensive and has a long serviceable life span,” says Miller. “So, while we do understand the good principles of hygienic design, those are not always baked into equipment design, either because of the cost or the complexity of the design of the equipment itself.”

Equipment Considerations

When investigating new equipment or reviewing your existing equipment, you want to look at the materials used as well as placement of the equipment. “We think about stainless steel as being easy to clean and sanitize, but even with stainless steel there are different finishes that can make it more difficult to clean, so you need to think about the the different finishes that come on the equipment, the seams where the weld points are and how smooth those weld points are,” says Miller.

Flat surfaces can collect dirt, debris and water. “Rotating existing infrastructure or equipment components can make a significant difference in cleanability, drying and run off,” says Miller.

The placement of the equipment in the facility can also affect cleanability. “A good analogy is, if you look under the hood of your car some engines are in there so tight that you have to take everything apart to get in there to fix or replace a specific part,” says Miller. “Other cars, you can practically climb inside and get to every piece of equipment easily.”

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If equipment that needs to be cleaned and maintained on a regular basis is up against a wall, it will be very difficult to get back there to work on the equipment or do a thorough cleaning.

“You need to think about hygienic design, equipment design and placement, materials selection and cleanability. These are all really important. The other thing is flow—facility flow and people movement within a facility,” says Miller.

Facility Traffic Flow

Some pathogens will occur more frequently in areas where raw food is handled. People can also bring contaminants into a facility on their clothes or shoes. Limiting foot and equipment traffic within the facility—and restricting high care (or high risk) areas where RTEs are assembled and packaged—reduces the risk of food contamination.

“Ideally, you want a very clear delineation between where the food is raw up to the point where the kill step is applied and then where the RTE environment is,” says Miller. “You want a linear process and design flow from where you receive your raw materials, where you do your raw material prep and assembly, through to the area where you do your cook or kill step. The people and food should flow through the environment in a way that the risk of contamination from raw product is minimal.”

Developing a captive footwear program where employees in high care areas are provided with dedicated footwear and limiting traffic within those areas is required. “Often when we see people struggling with their environmental control programs, it’s because they don’t have adequate separation of people movement and equipment movement within the facility. Either everyone’s going everywhere or they have a defined program, it is just not enforced,” says Miller.

He relates the challenge to an age-old design adage: “There is a saying that, if you’re designing a campus, wait to put down the sidewalks until you see where people naturally walk,” says Miller. “Because they will choose the most efficient route to get from building A to building B. That’s often what happens in the food manufacturing or processing facility. If you don’t have active enforcement in high care areas, people will naturally take the most efficient route to go from point A to point B, and that creates risk.”

The best approach to reduce that risk is to engineer out the hazards, so people don’t have the option not to comply. “You can close off spaces that are natural cut throughs so that people cannot take the shortcut,” says Miller.

Visual programs, where employees in the high care areas wear white smocks and those in the low care areas wear red, for instance, can help with oversight and compliance. “But you also need to positively reinforce behavior, which gets to the hot topic of food safety culture,” says Miller. “Is it acceptable to cut through, or is somebody going to stop that person and report what is happening because your team understands the risk? And are you addressing that behavior in a nonpunitive way, and instead explaining why this is important? Companies should be rewarding people who call out safety hazards as well. The primary challenge for facilities that are not designed well in terms of either equipment design or traffic flow is that it takes time and effort to enforce and build that culture.”

Drainage and Sanitation

Drains can a source of contamination if not properly designed, used and maintained. Trench drains are harder to clean and maintain than circular drains. “People sometimes use their drains as a garbage disposal, which provides food for bacteria,” says Miller. “Limit the amount of food going down the drain and, ideally, you want to use a circular drain with stainless steel sieve in high care areas.”

In the past, it was not uncommon for facilities to perform high-pressure cleaning of drains, which can then aerolize the bacteria in the drain. “Use low pressure mechanical or steam cleaning of drains,” says Miller. “Again, this comes back to design. You want to start with well-designed drains and follow good sanitation practices.”

Sanitation and cleaning products used in food processing and manufacturing faciities are regulated and safe to use in the food environment, provided all instructions are followed. “Read chemical labels to make sure you are using the correct concentrations and the correct cleaning/rinse cycle,” says Miller. “The label determines how the cleaning agent should be used and whether it can come in contact with food.”

Companies can help maintain a strong ECP by giving their food safety and quality assurance teams a seat at the table, particularly when developing their capital improvement plans. “If you know a particular piece of equipment is really hard to clean and has been a source of contamination over the last couple of years, how can you repair or redesign that equipment so that it is easier to clean or replace it with something that’s going to be easier to clean?” says Miller. “A key piece of managing food safety is understanding where your highest risk points are, and then making sure those areas are part of your capital improvement plan.”

 

 

Gary Nowacki
FST Soapbox

It’s Time To Embrace Ingredient Agility

By Gary Nowacki
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Gary Nowacki

In a recent Politico report, critics blasted the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for chronic failures, including instances of contaminated baby formula, outbreaks of contaminated produce and the agency’s institutional reticence to implement changes.[1] Compounding the situation is the most fragmented global supply chain in history, making it a particularly challenging time for food and beverage companies.

Ingredients are the building blocks of the supply chain, so when circumstances threaten their integrity and availability, the ripple effect can linger for weeks, months or even years. As the FDA’s limitations become more apparent and supply chain challenges persist, brands must take responsibility for foundational change that addresses and mitigates risks related to food-, beverage- and supplement-borne illness.

Food Safety and Supply Chain Issues Challenge CPGs

As the Politico coverage pointed out, high turnover at the top of FDA has contributed to the agency’s challenges: five different commissioners have led the FDA over the last three years. In addition to concerns with federal oversight, brands are still navigating a broken supply chain, which has taken a beating over the last few years. And while the damage has come from war, trade tariffs and shipping congestion, food safety also emerged as a culprit when the FDA announced a recall of some of the country’s most popular infant formula brands. In February, the agency announced it was investigating consumer complaints of bacterial infections in four infants who were hospitalized. This bacterial infection might have contributed to death in two cases.[2]

While the recall emerged as a catalyst for the U.S. formula shortage, it wasn’t the only factor. Import restraints and market concentration (four companies produce 90% of the formula sold [3]) contributed to this perfect storm that rocked an already strained supply chain. National out-of-stock rates peaked at 70% near the end of May, and regulators announced that they did not expect relief until July. [4]

In scenarios such as this, the best defense brands can employ is to build a diverse supplier base and agile ingredient supply chain. Relying on a limited number of ingredient suppliers is a risky strategy even under the best of market conditions. But when disaster strikes, it can cripple a manufacturer and grind production to a halt. For the sake of consumers, creating agility and resilience around ingredients and sourcing is critical.

Equally important to cultivating relationships with alternate suppliers is the ability to have quick access to critical data. A robust digital document management system that offers manufacturers a unified view of products, data and processes across the business and the supply chain can help brands ensure they have a resilient ingredients network able to withstand supply chain or ingredient-sourcing issues. CPGs can benefit from instant access to millions of supplier documents to help fast-track sourcing, formulation and recipe development as well as protect themselves from potential disaster.

Pandemic Uncertainty and New Legislation

As the pandemic ramped up in March 2020, the FDA announced it would pause most foreign food inspections.[5] Additionally, regulators moved to virtual audits to keep their inspectors safe from COVID. Recalls fell. The FDA reported 495 recalls in the fiscal year 2020 and 427 in 2021. By comparison, the agency reported 526 recalls in the fiscal year 2019.[6]

The drop in recalls could be attributed to the ongoing rollout of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), which strengthened food production safeguards. In addition, a proposed rule change to FSMA, Section 204, would enforce better recordkeeping and quicker recall responses. The introduction of the Formula Shortage Reporting Act of 2022, requiring immediate action from manufacturers when future disruptions to production occur, is another step toward stricter food standards.

If passed, Section 204 would require companies who process, pack or hold items on the food traceability list (FTL) to capture and store ingredient data for two years, and submit it within 24 hours of a recall.[7] Without a formal system of record in place to manage food production, tracing ingredients—where, when and from whom they came—is a difficult and complex challenge to solve. Human error, overseas suppliers, recalls and other constantly changing variables all must be tracked and monitored constantly. This diligence demands automation and collaboration at scale.

Collaboration via holistic networked platforms can facilitate that diligence by enabling global ingredients suppliers, CPG brands, co-manufacturers and packing companies to build safer, stronger and more modern supply chain networks. Today, the stakes of not having a modern supply chain and access to real-time ingredient data have grown exponentially beyond profit and competitive advantage to a whole new level of costing lives.

Nimble Access to Ingredient Data is Crucial

On May 27, U.S. Sen. Edward J. Markey, D-Massachusetts, introduced the “Ensuring Safe and Toxic Free Foods Act.” The bill, co-sponsored by Sens. Richard Blumenthal, D-Connecticut, and Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts, would—among other things—strengthen the Substances Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) Rule, which allows companies to avoid pre-market approval for food chemicals.[8]

The bill would direct the FDA to revise the GRAS Rule to include provisions that:

  • Prohibit manufacturers from designating substances as safe without supplying proper notice and supporting information to the Secretary of Health and Human Services
  • Require safety information to be publicly available on the FDA website and subject to a 90-day public review period
  • Prohibit carcinogenic substances from receiving GRAS designation
  • Prohibit substances that show reproductive or developmental toxicity from receiving GRAS designation
  • Prohibit people with conflicts of interest from serving as experts in reviewing and evaluating scientific data regarding GRAS designations

Brands must have easy access to ingredient data to ensure compliance with the GRAS revisions as well as be proactive about food safety. Software that monitors threats and regulatory risks throughout the supply chain in real-time is essential to prevent both food safety issues and supply chain disruptions. These systems transform massive amounts of data into user-friendly, actionable insights for fast and effective risk management.

Food safety remains one of the gravest public health threats to consumers worldwide. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) insists that foodborne diseases cause 76 million illnesses in the U.S. annually, leading to 325,000 hospitalizations and 5,000 fatalities.[9]

With the FDA still struggling to regain the agency’s pre-pandemic diligence, it’s incumbent on manufacturers to double down on food safety. Digitization—evolving from paper to relevant, real-time data—is a critical component of the path forward to improve safety and increase ingredient agility.

Technology and automation help manufacturers and suppliers work better together, collaborate on ingredient data, move more quickly and problem solve together. In today’s modern supply chain, more CPGs are investing in partnerships to increase agility and gain more resilience over the shocks we’ve seen the past few years. More flexible and collaborative tools for engaging with global ingredient supplier networks can increase safety while improving bottom line efficiency.

References:

[1] Bottemiller Evich, H. (2022, April 8). The FDA’s Food Failure. Politico.

[2] U.S. Food & Drug Administration. (2022, May 12). Powdered Infant Formula Recall: What to Know.

[3] Muller, M. & Nyler, L. (2022, May 20). How US Baby Formula Monopolies Have Failed Families. Bloomberg.

[4] KHN. (2022, May 27). FDA Chief Suggests Stockpile Of Baby Formula Once Crisis Ends In July. Kaiser Health News.

[5] U.S. Food & Drug Administration. (2021, May). Resiliency Roadmap for FDA Inspectional Oversight.

[6] U.S. PIRG Education Fund. (2022, January 31). Food Recalls Decline in 2021, but That Doesn’t Mean Food is Safer.

[7] Govinfo.gov. (2022, June 13). Formula Shortage Reporting Act of 2022.

[8] Ensuring Safe and Toxic-Free Foods Act of 2022. (2022, May 27). Ensuring Safe and Toxic Free Foods Act.

[9] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2018). Estimates of Foodborne Illness in the United States.

 

Ice Cream Cone

Listeria Outbreak Linked to Ice Cream

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Ice Cream Cone

On July 2, the CDC announced that a multi-state listeria outbreak has been linked to Big Olaf ice cream. So far, there are 23 reported illnesses, 22 hospitalizations and one death associated with the outbreak. The reports span 10 states, although the brand is only sold in Florida.

The CDC is advising consumers who have Big Olaf Creamery brand ice cream at home to throw away any remaining product and to clean any areas, containers and serving utensils that may have touched Big Olaf ice cream products.

If you are a business that carries the brand, do not serve or sell any Big Olaf ice cream products and clean and disinfect any areas and equipment that may have touched Big Olaf ice cream products, including ice cream scoops and other serving utensils.

Big Olaf Creamery, located in Sarasota, Florida, is voluntarily contacting retail locations to recommend against selling their ice cream products until further notice.

Listeria is most likely to sicken pregnant people and their newborns, adults aged 65 or older and people with weakened immune systems. Per the CDC announcement, consumers with the following symptoms should call their healthcare providers right away:

  • Pregnant people typically experience only fever, fatigue and muscle aches. However, Listeria infections during pregnancy can lead to miscarriage, stillbirth, premature delivery or life-threatening infection of the newborn.
  • People who are not pregnant may experience headache, stiff neck, confusion, loss of balance and convulsions, in addition to fever and muscle aches.
Rena Pierami
Women in Food Safety

Be Yourself, and Be Kind

By Jacqueline Southee
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Rena Pierami

Many of us know Rena Pierami from her successful leadership role as vice president of technical services at Mérieux Nutrisciences, from which she recently retired after 45 years in the industry. During the April gathering for Women in Food Safety, Rena, now managing director of Pierami Consulting, shared with us her sage advice on how to achieve a successful career in management without compromising your personal standards or charms.

Originally from Philadelphia, Rena completed a BS in Biological Sciences from Drexel University and an MS in Food Science from Michigan State University before moving to Louisville for a position with KFC. In the 20 years she was with them, Rena made a concerted effort to gain experience in and knowledge of the many different functions and departments within the company.

Join Women in Food Safety at the Food Safety Consortium, October 19-21 in Parsippany, New Jersey

While she entered on a technical track, she ultimately moved into product development and from there into quality. While some opportunities were presented to her by the company, others she actively pursued to broaden her experience and understanding of food service and safety. Examples of these “extra-curricular” activities included a stint in strategic planning, participating in a reengineering program with external consultants and volunteering to run the United Way campaign for the KFC organization.

Expanding her knowledge base in this way allowed her to consider other career opportunities. When her job and division within KFC became redundant, she joined Silliker/ Mérieux NutriSciences. Although she had no formal business training, she was quick to learn what was needed and “how to live and die by a P&L.”

In her new position, Rena learned that she loved interacting with clients and developing relationships, which was her key focus and undoubtedly contributed to her success in growing the business.

The Golden Rules of Leadership

For those stepping into leadership positions, Rena shared the “golden rules” that she strove to follow in her career:

Do not get “hung up” on being a leader. When one takes on a leadership role, they often act based on how a leader is supposed to behave. Rena always worked hard to be herself and remain genuine. Rather than doing things that you think you are supposed to do as a leader, be yourself and exhibit the integrity and trust that a leader needs to get people to follow. In other words, Be You!

Be a good listener, and hear from everyone. The adage, “Everyone knows something that you don’t, and everyone is worth listening to,” is true, said Rena. A leader must listen, remain objective and retain confidentiality. If you can do this, people will remember you and trust you.

Keep current. In order to get ahead, you first need to stay up to date. Read daily updates and smart briefs to remain updated and share information with others if you think it would help them or be of interest to them.

Know your weaknesses, and use tools to help mitigate them. In her position, Rena had to keep abreast of huge amounts of information and a continuous flow of new contacts. She took copious notes and would annotate her contact list so that she would remember particular things about individuals when she next met them.

Compliment the people surrounding you. This makes others feel better about themselves and about you. Say something kind, always smile, and if you are having a tough time know that tomorrow will be a better day.

It is OK to get nervous. Learn to work through anxiety and self-doubt. Sometimes that anxiety peaks your performance, and do not be afraid of a challenge or trying something new.

Network and maintain contacts in the industry. Make an effort to meet others in your field, and do not burn bridges. Rena still looks to those who helped “raise” her for advice and friendship and to those whom she has helped guide and raise. “It’s so great to see folks prosper,” she said.

Be collaborative, and never stop learning. As the world of food safety expands in breadth and complexity, Rena stressed the need for an open mind and willingness to collaborate. “Collaboration creates some great friendships, and I have just learned the term ‘co-opetition’—the process of collaborating with a competitor within your industry. This is a great philosophy. Collaborations take all sorts of paths to the benefit of all,” she said.

Find your balance. The key to achieving a good work-life balance is being aware that the balancing point will change depending on your stage of life. For those with young children, it is important to develop a strong support system. It is also important to focus on maintaining your personal health throughout your career.

Resources for Current and Future Food Industry Leaders

Some of the leadership tools that Rena has found helpful in developing her career include books, especially those focused on situational leadership strategies and processes. Situational leadership refers to adapting your management style to each unique situation and adjusting your style based on your team members’ individuality, personalities, work styles and behaviors. Some of her favorite titles include:

  • “Strengths Finder 2.0” by Tom Rath
  • “Lean In” by Sheryl Sandberg
  • “SPIN selling” by Neil Rackham
  • “The One Minute Manager” by Ken Blanchard and Spencer Johnson

Rena also cites social media, particularly LinkedIn, as a valuable tool that helps her stay connected and learn from others.

After an enlightening and inspiring discussion, Rena summarized her key takeaways for success in leadership:

  • Be yourself and be genuine with others
  • Be both a mentor and a mentee, and know this is a continuous cycle
  • Be open and collaborative
  • Learn about your industry and never stop learning. It helps you exude confidence.