Tag Archives: Focus Article

Adam Serfas, R.S. Quality
FST Soapbox

Tips for Creating an Inclusive Color-Coding Plan for Food Manufacturing Facilities

By Adam Serfas
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Adam Serfas, R.S. Quality

Color-coding as a quality assurance and safety measure has been on the rise since the passage of FSMA in 2011. Now, 10 years later, color-coding is being used in a wide range of industries from food manufacturers and processors to pharmaceutical developers and even brewers. As the popularity of the practice of color-coding has increased, so too has the market for color-coded tools. Nowadays, those in the industry can find virtually every high-quality cleaning tool under the sun, and a hygienic tools storage option for that tool in the color needed. The improved quality and availability of these products is wonderful, but nice tools alone cannot ensure a successful color-coding plan. Color-coding compliance is only possible when there is team-wide buy-in. That means meeting the team where they are—making the plan important to every single employee who steps onto a production floor. To do that, it needs to be introduced in an inclusive manner. The following are some tips for creating and implementing an inclusive color-coding plan.

Draw Up the Plan With Folks Beyond Management

Before you ever lock in a color-coding plan—whether you plan to color-code by zone, by allergen or by shifts—you first need to consult a wide range of team members. One common mistake is developing a color-coding plan with only quality assurance experts and those in management. This presents a problem for a couple of reasons.

One, you’re missing out on the perspective of those who will most often be asked to execute the plan. Say you choose the color purple as one of the colors in your color-coding plan, and you purchase all of the tools you think you will need in that color. You roll out the plan only to find out there’s an essential tool you need, and it doesn’t come in that color. You now have a problem on your hands, and a costly one at that, as you’re going to need to start over with a new color and new tools.

Beyond needing that on-the-ground perspective, you miss out on a key opportunity to gain buy-in early on from those who will be directly involved in carrying out the plan. Do yourself a favor and invite shift leaders to the table. Explain to them what you would like to do with a color-coding plan and listen to any advice they might have on executing a plan everyone is going to want to see succeed. Generally speaking, it pays to go with a big-tent approach to planning, so spend some time thinking about which parties should be represented in the planning process to capture all of the varying viewpoints of those at your facility.

Ensure the Plan Is Color-Blind Friendly

As selecting colors is one of the most important things you do in drafting a color-coding plan,pay special attention to the colors themselves. Color-blindness affects 1 in 12 men and 1 in 200 women—certainly not a negligible amount, and something you want to take into consideration.

Once you figure out all of the tools you need, determine which colors can accommodate those needs. From that list, try to avoid the most commonly confused color pairings in your plan. Red and green, green and brown, green and blue, blue and gray, blue and purple, green and grey, and green and black are the most commonly confused. If possible, avoid using those color combinations. Instead, opt for high-contrast options such as orange and purple, purple and yellow, or blue and yellow to name a few.

Some people will also look to shades to help achieve a higher contrast. For example, lime green and a maroon red is much better for a color-blind person than your standard royal red and shamrock green. These days more tools are available in varied shades but, again, you need to ensure that you’re able to get every tool you need now—and in the foreseeable future—in the color you pick.

Should you need to use colors that are not high-contrast, do your best to keep those tools separate. If you are color-coding by zone, use the most commonly confused color combinations on the opposite ends of the facility, where they are less likely to swap places. You can also help by using tool storage boards such as shadow boards or wall racks that are color-coded to match the tools. That way, tools always go back to the same place after each use.

Employ Multilingual Trainings and Signage

Generally speaking, the food industry is particularly diverse, and many facilities employ staff whose first language is not English. Work with your HR team and managers to identify which languages are primarily spoken among your staff and ensure you can offer trainings on the color-coding plan in all of those languages. Frequently, facilities have employees who are multilingual and can therefore translate during a training session. If not, it may be wise to hire a translator. This presents a nominal fee, whereas an employee failing to follow a color-coding plan could have disastrous consequences.

It is also important to ensure that any signage you have explaining the color-coding plan is available in the primary languages of the employees.

Make Use of Different Teaching Methods

Just as in the classroom, employees come to work with different learning styles. It’s up to the employer to meet those different needs with varying teaching styles and materials that speak to the importance of the color-coding plan. For the auditory learners, an all-hands meeting where a leader explains the importance of color-coding is going to be great. For the visual learners, handouts and permanent signage throughout your facility will be appreciated.

Meanwhile, tactile learners might want to run through a practice of grabbing tools, seeing where they will be used and returning them to their designated storage spot to see the plan in action. While asking employees to go through these different teachings might draw some eye-rolls for those who feel they grasped the concept the first time, the exercise might help make the color-coding plan click for someone who struggled to understand what they were being asked to do. Additionally, repetition helps all learners, so revisit these trainings to refresh veteran staff and bring newer folks up to speed.

Invite Feedback

Finally, invite employees to share feedback with you along the way. An inclusive culture is one that allows everyone to have a voice. Make it clear that team members are welcome to share any feedback they have on the color-coding plan, the trainings and tools along the way. Once again, in the interest of accommodating everyone, it’s a good idea to offer multiple avenues for feedback reporting. You might like to invite employees to share feedback directly with managers and also offer an anonymous suggestion box that gets checked regularly. Every facility and every staff has unique needs, so listening to the suggestions that come your way can help shed light on important considerations.

Food Safety Consortium

2020 FSC Episode 12 Preview: Food Safety Culture

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Food Safety Consortium

Episode 12 of the 2020 Food Safety Consortium Virtual Conference Series features a discussion on how food safety professionals can bridge the gap between the C-Suite and Food Safety. The presentation is given by food safety attorney Shawn Stevens of Food Industry Counsel, LLC, and followed by a TechTalk from Michael Alderson of STOP Alliance.

As part of a special offering, Episode 12 been made available for viewing on demand for free. Register to view the on-demand recording.

Susanne Kuehne, Decernis
Food Fraud Quick Bites

Things Do Not Get Better With Sage

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

Herbs remain a target for fraudsters. The latest investigation of sage samples by the Institute of Global Food Security (IGFS) at Queen’s University Belfast used a combination of spectroscopic and chemometric methods to check whether sage contained 100% of the actual herb. One quarter of samples from the UK included unapproved (fortunately, no hazardous) bulk material, such as tree leaves, some in significant concentrations of more than half of the product.

Resource

  1. Sage News”. (November 9, 2020). The Hippocratic Post.

 

Melody Ge, Corvium
Women in Food Safety

The Career Journey: Networking, Mentorship and the Balance

By Melody Ge
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Melody Ge, Corvium

As part of a special offering, Episode 9 has been made available for viewing on demand for free. Register to view the on-demand recording.We were thrilled to have our first Women In Food Safety event with Food Safety Tech during the Food Safety Consortium Virtual Conference Series on November 5. Industry leaders and professionals gathered to discuss women in this field, advocate for our strengths and provide advice to young female professionals as well as those who are at mid- or late-career stages. During the sessions in the episode, we explored self-development, networking, mentorship and leadership. The following are some of the issues we tackled.

When you first start your career or a job, don’t be afraid to take opportunities that have the potential for growth, and remember that all your experiences play a part in helping you achieve your final goal. While soft skills are crucial when looking for a job, technical skills shouldn’t be omitted, emphasized Martin Wiedmann, Ph.D., professor at Cornell University. You need to know how to do the basics; then you can be able to lead and teach others.

Mentorship

Mentorship and reversed mentorship were discussed throughout the episode. Different perspectives were brought up, however, everyone agreed that mentorship is very helpful throughout a career journey. Whether you are a mentor or a mentee, you can learn from each other. Self-learning and continuous development are crucial regardless of which stage you are at in your career. Mentorship happens organically and naturally, but one thing you need to think about prior to seeking a mentor is, what do you need one for? What do you want to learn and achieve? Lisa Robinson, VP of global food safety and public health at Ecolab, raised the question and continued: “For example, I have a mentor in business, because I know that is where I need help and advice.. Don’t be afraid to reach out to find your own mentor. “The mentor should have interests in your growth, and there has to be chemistry between mentors and mentees,” said Cindy Jiang, senior director of global food and packaging safety at McDonald’s Corp.

Women in Food Safety have five focused mentorship areas of focus:

  • Diversity/culture
    • For women with a diverse cultural background, focusing on helping their needs in work culture
  • Adventure starts
    • For women in school, focusing on bridging the gap between academic and industry, focusing on helping the start of their career, and providing a pipeline for future food safety professionals
  • Leadership
    • For women at an early career stage, focusing on helping them step up to senior management, and providing a pipeline for future leadership
  • Boots on the ground
    o For women working on-site, focusing on helping their needs in work culture
  • Work and life
    • For women who just came back from maternity leave or a long break, focusing on helping their needs when going through life-changing times with minimal impact on work

Mentors can be one or more, but it all depends on your goal and what you want.

Climbing the Career Ladder

There are many barriers and challenges throughout a career, but what’s important to keep us going during this journey is ourselves—stay humble, keep learning, and keep yourself physically and mentally healthy. “If you don’t take care for yourself, the rest doesn’t matter,” said Lisa Robinson. She added, “If I am not well, I cannot do anything well.” In today’s environment, the competition is high. We are all looking to find balance, and we need to commit time to ourselves and our family. One way of doing so is to learn how to and be comfortable with saying “no”.

On the other hand, saying “yes” is just as important as saying “no”. Lisa shared a story: She learned that the company she was working at was interviewing for a VP position that she is interested in pursuing. She went to her boss and asked why she wasn’t considered. He responded, “I thought you were very happy with what you are doing.” By sharing this story, Lisa emphasized that speaking up to your boss and saying what you want is important. While you may be enjoying what you are doing, don’t forget to look ahead and make known what you ultimately want.

In addition, “sometimes barriers or rejection might not be a bad thing,” said Allison Jennings, global director of food safety, quality, compliance at Amazon. “Understand what your goal is and find what you love, [and] of course, finding out what you don’t love is also important. When one door closes, another one will be open.”

“Think about how you achieve your goal instead of what you have achieved. Don’t bring a problem without a potential solution; also, don’t bring a solution without understanding the problem thoroughly,” said Sara Mortimore, VP of global food safety and quality at Walmart. As a leader, we all need to develop our team and ourselves together, create a psychologically safe environment where team members can speak up and share their thoughts freely. As female leaders, we tend to be less confident when taking responsibilities or making decisions. “Yes, I can do it! Be confident with yourself when opportunities come to you, ” Sara said as she encouraged the group.

Conclusion

Last but not least, build your own network! All the speakers during this session mentioned the importance and benefits of networking. The food safety industry is a close-knit family. Don’t hesitate to reach out and ask for help.

Let’s be honest, there are challenges for females in the industry, and as far as we have come, there is still a lot of work that needs to be done. But what’s important is that we are all very clear of our goals and how to get there. We are working on this together.

Please check out our group on LinkedIn. Follow #womeninfoodsafety

This summary is written based on the opinions and presentations by the speakers.

Dole Organic Lettuce

Dole Recalls Limited Amount of Organic Romaine Hearts

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Dole Organic Lettuce

Dole Fresh Vegetables, Inc. has issued a voluntary recall of a limited number of cases of organic romaine lettuce hearts over E.coli contamination. The recalled products, Dole Organic Romaine Hearts 3pk, combined English/French packaging (with Harvested-On dates of 10-23-20 and 10-26-20), and Wild Harvest Organic Romaine Hearts (with Harvested-On dates of 10-23-20 and 10-26-20).

The products were harvested and packed nearly four weeks ago, according to the FDA release and were distributed in AZ, HI, IA, IL, IN, KS, MD, MI, MN, MO, MS, MT, NC, ND and VA. No illnesses have been reported.

Susanne Kuehne, Decernis
Food Fraud Quick Bites

Criminals in the Lab

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

Herbs and botanical ingredients are a common target for fraud, especially during times of increased demand, for example caused by COVID-19. The Botanical Adulterants Prevention Program (BAPP) published an article describing some of the fraudulent methods that are used to intentionally create false results. The paper explains how deliberately manipulated plant extracts can fool lab methods like gas chromatography or high-performance liquid chromatography to produce results which make the analyzed product look legitimate.

Resource

  1. Nutraceuticals World. (October 30, 2020). “BAPP Publishes Article Detailing Adulteration Schemes Used to Fool Laboratory Analytical Methods”.
magnifying glass

‘Out of Sight, Out of Mind?’ Researchers Explore Produce Distribution Centers as Contamination Sources

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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magnifying glass

When looking at possible sources of contamination, far less attention has been put on produce distribution centers (DCs). “I think the DCs are a little out of sight, out of mind,” said Laurel Dunn, Ph.D., assistant professor in the department of food science & technology at the University of Georgia in a release from the Center for Produce Safety (CPS). “We have been so focused on foodborne outbreaks and what’s happening at the field level or packinghouse wash water and employees and hand hygiene.” As such, in an announcement from CPS, Dunn discusses a project that seeks to understand the contamination issues happening at the DC level, namely vented produce in breathable containers or stored in coolers. Examples of the items being examined are berries, tomatoes, and onions in mesh bags.

Dunn, along with researchers Laura K. Strawn, Ph.D. of Virginia Tech and Ben Chapman, Ph.D., of North Carolina State University, are focusing on Listeria due to the fact that biofilms can thrive indoors and be difficult to eliminate. The research project, “Environmental microbial risks associated with vented produce in distribution centers”, began on January 1 but was slowed considerably as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Thus far the researchers have collected samples from 11 DCs (they initially had a goal of sampling from at least 25 DCs), most of which was conducted before the pandemic. Due to travel restrictions, the researchers may only be able to get samples from operations east of the Mississippi River.

Depending on the outcome of the study, the researchers may also formulate written risk-reduction guidance for DCs. Based on the samples collected, Dunn anticipates they will be able to devise useful information to help DCs.

FDA

FDA’s New Outbreak Table an Effort Toward Earlier Transparency about Outbreaks

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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FDA

FDA has released an outbreak investigation table that aims to disseminate information about foodborne illness outbreaks right when the agency begins an investigation. The table, published by the FDA’s Coordinated Outbreak Response and Evaluation (CORE) Network, will be updated with important information before a public health advisory or food recall is issued.

“The outbreak investigation table is a demonstration of our continued commitment to more frequent and transparent communication with stakeholders and consumers about outbreaks we’re investigating,” said Frank Yiannas, deputy commissioner for food policy and response at FDA, in an agency statement. “We have already taken steps to release information early, in some cases prior to a specific food being linked to an outbreak, including in our recent communications on investigations into three ongoing E. coli O157:H7 outbreaks.”

As of November 18, the table listed seven outbreak investigations, only one of which identified a product linked to illnesses. Yiannas pointed out that during the early stages of an investigation, there may not be any action that a consumer can take—however, the tool is in line with the New Era of Smarter Food Safety initiative, which commits to releasing outbreak information in the “earliest stages of an investigation”.

The FDA’s outbreak investigation table is available on the agency’s website.

Food Safety Consortium

2020 FSC Episode 11 Preview: Supply Chain Management

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Food Safety Consortium

This week’s episode of the 2020 Food Safety Consortium Virtual Conference Series will address how food companies can navigate supply chain complexities. The following are highlights for Thursday’s session:

  • Disruptions in the Supply Chain and the Government Response, with Brian Ravitch and Benjamin England, FDA Imports
  • Food Safety Risks and the Cold Supply Chain, with Jeremy Schneider, Controlant
  • A panel discussion on the Third-Party Certification Program, moderated by Trish Wester, AFSAP and featuring Doriliz De Leon and Clinton Priestly of FDA
  • TechTalk on How Restaurant Brands International has Digital Transformed Its Supply Chain to Ensure Food Safety, Quality & Consistency, with Jim Hardeman, CMX

The event begins at 12 pm ET on Thursday, November 19. Haven’t registered? Follow this link to the 2020 Food Safety Consortium Virtual Conference Series, which provides access to all the episodes featuring critical industry insights from leading subject matter experts! We look forward to your joining us virtually.

Alert

15 Food, Beverage and CPG Groups Implore President Trump for COVID-19 Vaccine Priority

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Alert

Last week 15 organizations within the food and beverage, agriculture, retail and consumer packaged goods industries penned a letter to President Trump requesting priority access to the COVID-19 vaccine once it is distributed.

“Our members have been on the front lines of the response to the pandemic by continuing operations and ensuring Americans have access to safe, nutritious, and affordable food. Challenges have taxed the food supply chain over the past eight months, but the food, agriculture, manufacturing, and retail industries are resilient, and the supply chains have not broken,” the letter, which is posted on the United Fresh Produce Association’s website, states. “Once a vaccine for COVID-19 is developed, it is imperative that we have a federally orchestrated vaccine distribution program and prioritization of vaccination among population groups.”

The letter was submitted by the following organizations and associations:

  • American Bakers Association
  • American Frozen Food Institute
  • Consumer Brands Association
  • FMI – The Food Industry Association
  • Global Cold Chain Alliance
  • International Dairy Foods Association
  • National Automatic Merchandising Association
  • National Confectioners Association
  • National Grocers Association
  • National Restaurant Association
  • North American Millers Association
  • North American Meat Institute
  • Peanut and Tree Nut Processors Association
  • SNAC International
  • United Fresh

The letter also urges President Trump to activate the roadmap laid out in the COVID-19 Vaccination Program Interim Playbook for Jurisdiction Operations as soon as possible to facilitate “widespread and sustained acceptance of vaccinations.”