“A new era of smarter food safety is coming,” said Frank Yiannas, FDA’s deputy commissioner of food policy and response, at the GFSI Conference 2019 in Nice, France. He went on to explain, “a smarter food safety is people-led, FSMA-based and technology-enabled.” Afterwards, Yiannas announced the need for a greater budget for the FDA to invest in modern food safety for 2020 and beyond.
Now the question is, when this new era comes, are you ready?
The food industry is relatively behind on technology compared to other industries, or even within our daily lives. Take a look at the cell phone you have now compared to what you had 10 years ago; it has come a long way with all of its handy and useful features. Why can’t the food industry also benefit from technology? Of course, every coin has two sides, but no one would deny that technology played a significant role in bringing the world closer and making it more efficient nowadays.
The scary part of change is that it’s hard to predict what and when they will come to us, however, they also force us think outside of the box. Instead of debating whether incorporating advanced technology into our daily operations makes sense, why don’t we take a look at our current processes in place and see where technology can truly help us? We now have the opportunity to take advantage of technology to enhance our food safety and quality culture at our own facility. Here are some thoughts to share.
1. Identify what can be automated in your current process with technology
Certain things just can’t be replaced by technology, such as risk assessment or hazard identification (at least for now). However, inventory, temperature checking, testing results recording, or anything executing a command from you or implementing a part of your SOPs can potentially be automated. Execution is also the part where the most error could occur, and technology can help improve accuracy and consistency. Identify those steps systematically and understand what data needs to be captured to help your food safety management system.
2. Work with your technology developer to build technical requirements
Explain to the technology developer exactly how you want the program to operate daily. List the operating steps along with responsibilities step-by-step, and identify what requirements are needed for each step. Translating the paper SOP to a computer program plays an important role in this transition. Not only does it set the foundation for your future daily operation, but it also ensures that the control parameter is not lost during the transition.
3. Keep the integrity of the food safety management system through verification and validation
Once processing steps are done by technology, it doesn’t mean that we no longer have to do anything. We need to verify and validate the technology with certain frequency to ensure the steps are controlled as intended. Confirming that the software or system is capturing the right data at the right time becomes key to ensure the integrity of control risks is not compromised.
4. Utilize “preventative maintenance” on all technology used on site
Just like all equipment, food safety technology needs a preventive maintenance schedule. Check whether it is properly functioning on a certain frequency based on the safety impact in your process flow and take actions proactively.
5. Learn from your own records
The time saved from traditional ways allows us to have more time for looking at control points and records received to identify areas for continuous improvement. There are many ways of studying the data with modeling and trend analysis based on your own facility situation. Either way, those records are your own supporting documents of any changes or modifications to your food safety management system, as well as strong support to your risk assessment for justifications.
Just like Yiannas said, a smarter food safety system is still FSMA based. The goal has never changed; we want to produce sustainable, safe and high-quality products to our consumers, whether we use traditional or advanced approaches. After all, we are utilizing technology as a modern way to help us enhance and simplify our food safety management system; the outcome from the automated technology is still controlled by us.
So when the era comes, we all want to be ready for it.
EDGARTOWN, MA, Feb. 19, 2019 – Innovative Publishing Co., the publisher of Food Safety Tech and organizer of the Food Safety Consortium Conference & Expo has added two distinguished industry leaders to its Advisory Board for this year’s Consortium event, which takes place October 1–3. Randall Phebus, Ph.D., interim director at the Food Science Institute and professor of food safety & defense at Kansas State University, will serve as chairperson for the Testing track at the Food Safety Consortium Conference & Expo, and Darin Detwiler, lead faculty for regulatory affairs of food and food industry, and assistant teaching professor at Northeastern University, will chair the Food Safety Leadership and Management track. Detwiler and Phebus will have a significant role in organizing these tracks to ensure that the sessions are accurate, relevant and meaningful for attendees.
“The addition of Darin Detwiler and Randy Phebus to the Food Safety Consortium Conference & Expo Advisory Board is an important step in further expanding the wealth of expertise brought to this annual event,” said Rick Biros, president of Innovative Publishing Co., Inc. and director of the Food Safety Consortium Conference and Expo. “Darin and Randy are highly respected professionals in this industry, and I am delighted to work with them and to help deliver their insights to Consortium attendees.”
Detwiler has been a member of the Food Safety Tech and Food Safety Consortium Advisory Board for two years and has made strong contributions to the content at the organization’s events, including most recently leading panel discussions on blockchain at last year’s Food Safety Supply Chain Conference and the 2018 Food Safety Consortium. Phebus is joining the Advisory Board for 2019 and will be providing critical perspectives in the area of food microbiology, food safety testing and environmental control.
Detwiler and Phebus join Angela Anandappa, Ph.D., who was announced as the chairperson for the 2019 Food Safety Consortium Conference & Expo’s Sanitation track.
About Food Safety Tech
Food Safety Tech publishes news, technology, trends, regulations, and expert opinions on food safety, food quality, food business and food sustainability. We also offer educational, career advancement and networking opportunities to the global food industry. This information exchange is facilitated through ePublishing, digital and live events.
About the Food Safety Consortium Conference and Expo
The Food Safety Consortium Conference and Expo is a premier educational and networking event for food safety solutions. Attracting the most influential minds in food safety, the Consortium enables attendees to engage conversations that are critical for advancing careers and organizations alike. Visit with exhibitors to learn about cutting edge solutions, explore diverse educational tracks for learning valuable industry trends, and network with industry executives to find solutions to improve quality, efficiency and cost effectiveness in an ever-changing, global food safety market. This year’s event takes place October 1–3 in Schaumburg, IL.
The North American food safety testing market is projected to reach $16 billion by 2020, according to a recent study by Markets and Markets. In just a few short years, it’s safe to say that purchasing a software solution to create and manage food safety programs will become ubiquitous, equivalent to that of employing any other software tool such as Microsoft Excel.
However, there is a broad range of capabilities for food safety software, and some solutions are much more complex than others. Many types of HACCP software operate as part of an ERP system, merely managing documents online under IT administration. But the technological capabilities of a food safety management system are endless in terms of value-driven innovation. Any competitive software on the market should go further, and be flexible and agile enough to meet and contain the challenges of a changing regulatory landscape and aggressive market space.
One of the ways food safety management can take things further is through the use of intelligent algorithms that can help food safety professionals get the most out of their software—and their HACCP plan. For example, instead of manually searching for all the physical, chemical and biological hazards (as well as radiological hazards under HARPC), intelligent algorithms can use data from other HACCP plans to suggest hazards. By comparing facility types, process flows, ingredients and more, a sophisticated algorithm can make smart suggestions that give food safety professionals a significant leg up, cutting down research time and providing a context of learning since it’s much easier to learn by example than starting from scratch. As such, suggestions can equip food safety professionals with the right mindset to discover potential hazards.
There are core benefits to searching for software technologies that have intelligent algorithms in place to analyze and retrieve data for those food businesses looking to get the most long-term value out of their vendor purchase.
Facilities with High-Risk Products and Complex Process Steps
High-risk foods are defined by the FDA as foods that “may contain pathogenic microorganisms and will normally support formation of toxins or growth of pathogenic microorganisms.” High-risk foods include raw meat, poultry, fish, dairy, fresh fruit, and vegetables, and processors working with these products handle more hazards and process steps in general than processors making low-risk foods. Instead of sorting through hundreds of hazards, facilities with high-risk products and complex process steps are able to skip much of the manual grunt work and simply select automatically generated hazards and process steps suggested to them at their fingertips.
Small Business Owners or Basic Food Safety Professionals
It’s common for small food businesses to put the bulk of their food safety duties on the shoulders of the owner. For many who have no previous background in food safety, there can be an unexpected and frustrating learning curve to overcome before you can pay the sweat equity required to develop a HACCP plan, and not for lack of trying. Similarly, junior food safety employees in new facilities can find established food safety practices challenging to navigate. Through intelligent algorithms, a software system can reinforce food safety hazards and process steps that might have been missed or forgotten by making them instantly available for retrieval and selection.
Giving Back Time
Recordkeeping is an essential component to an excellent food safety culture. In the grand scheme of things, managing resources to allocate time to high-level tasks that require human expertise on the production floor is a critical activity that most food safety professionals prioritize. Having more time to correct potential risk actions is crucial to ensuring the lowest possible likelihood of a recall. Smart software systems facilitate better employee time management practices so they can maximize their hours for meaningful, rather than menial, work. By taking back the time that would have been spent researching hazards, smart suggestions provide food safety professionals with a starting point that allows them to choose from a curated selection without delay.
Experimental Facilities with Changing Product Portfolio
Facilities that have a tendency to experiment with product development (i.e., food startups) are prone to using a significant amount of ingredients and formulas. When it comes time to present the right information for inspections and audits, this translates into a substantial amount of additional work in maintaining a HACCP plan. Intelligent algorithms enable a clear and organized focus, eliminating the minutiae surrounding information management of experimental product development.
New Regulations and International Compliance
Around the world new regulations surrounding acceptable food safety documentation are coming into effect; notably, FSMA even adds to the traditional hazards included under HACCP. For foreign exporters as well as American businesses, regulatory expectations for a more comprehensive approach to hazards and critical control points are higher than in the past. In the face of new regulatory demands, smart algorithms help food businesses lay out a common framework so that they can build internationally compliant programs
Extra Safeguard Check
Human error is inevitable. The beauty of technology is that it acts as a safeguard to ensure there are no glaring omissions that may have an impact on food safety duties. As a final once-over before sending in the HACCP plan, it makes good sense to have smart suggestions to cover all the bases.
Intelligent algorithms allow food safety professionals to do more with their time. By selecting from suggestions related to ingredients, materials, packing and process steps, a considerable amount of time is restored to the work day compared to the time-consuming exercise of manually assembling lists. The main benefit to a food safety software solution with intelligent algorithms is to reinforce the right mindset for listing physical, chemical and biological hazards for ingredients, material, processes and beyond. While smart suggestions should always be verified by a food safety professional familiar with the internal operations of a facility, for companies that aim to work smarter but not harder, smart algorithms are a key feature to keep in mind when researching software vendors.
Food safety regulations are driving organizations to seek more methods of enhancing visibility into their quality and safety operations to increase compliance and reduce risk. As this need evolves, the tools inherent in the Food Safety Management System are crucial in helping an organization take a proactive approach to preventing food safety risks.
What lessons can you learn by looking at and analyzing your non-conformance reports and how can you use these to better your food safety management programs?
LeAnn Chuboff, Senior Technical Director, SQFI, talked about using data within the food safety management system to prioritize food safety risks within your organization.
Speaking recently on the topic of How can Food Safety Management Systems Improve Compliance and Reduce Risk, Chuboff discussed the example of SQF analyzing a year’s worth of audit reports and non-conformances. Below are some excerpts.
“We asked ourselves the following questions: What area has the greatest impact to food safety – is this impact overall, major, minor or critical? What is one of the main reasons for recalls? What is the top major or critical non-conformances? And what is the frequently missed element? And we identified allergen management as the top area.”
Chuboff listed the key requirements for an allergen management program:
- The facility needs to have an allergen management program in place;
- The program should have cleaning and validation requirements in place;
- There should be a register of list of allergens maintained;
- And the allergen management program should be thoroughly addressed in the facility’s food safety plan.
On further analysis, SQF found that 84 percent of the facilities were missing an allergen program; 13 percent of the non-conformances were due to improper storage of the food products; the next issue was that facilities have improper labeling in place – 2 percent of non-conformances were due to labeling issues. And another problem was inadequately addressing rework.
So what can a supplier do in terms of corrective actions to address these non-conformances:
- Conduct validation study for SSOPs (validate it, test it, revalidate it) – if you don’t have in-house expertise, bring them in from outside;
- Identify ingredients as allergens at receiving, in process and rework – do a complete reassessment of the labeling program;
- Establish label inspection program at receipt and in packaging – work with raw material suppliers to ascertain that the labels are clearly specified, taking into account requirements of both the country that it’s produced in and the country it’s being shipped to;
- Include allergens in the facility’s HACCP plan; and
- Have a strong internal audit program – this will help you engage your employees, identify problems, and address them successfully.
What can auditors and scheme owners do?
- Support additional research for eﬀective allergen control;
- Training and guidance for auditors and suppliers is needed for this sensitive area; and
- Work on providing stronger GFSI guidance?
In summary, Chuboff added that companies need to gather the right data, use the data available to identify areas of opportunity and establish KPIs; conduct a root cause analysis and use the tools available and work with all members on the team to develop a solution; avoid settling on simple solutions and immediate corrections and instead plan to get to the root; establish a preventive action plan for long-term control; and finally, repeat all the above!
To listen to Leann Chuboff talk more on this topic, click here.
The fiscal cliff is a series of tax cuts that are set to expire at the end of the year. It also would mean that spending cuts would take effect, which would have an impact specifically on Food Safety in the United States.
One of the key areas that stands to lose in the fiscal cliff lies in food safety. If we indeed fall off this fiscal cliff, there will be an 8 percent cut in spending for plant and animal health inspections, equaling about $70 million in cut funding. The Food Safety and Inspection Service agency could stand to lose about a billion dollars from their budget. We are also looking at about $3 million in spending cuts on inspectors. This means less food inspectors in the field, and as a result, less inspections. We are looking at a food chain that is less safe in 2013 that it is now.
FSMA: Still alive?
The other question that comes into play is whether the ever-delayed Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) is going to continue its path to law. We all know the delays that the FSMA has encountered since its introduction and passing in 2010. Now that the election is over, the administration seems more committed to the law than ever before.
However, this does not mean that we will see much movement in the coming year. The Office of Management and Budget has stated they plan to release the rules of the FSMA in early 2013, with a 60 day period of public comment. Once that is completed, FDA will take about a year or so to incorporate any public’s comment into the final rule. After that, other agencies will need to review these rules and approve them to actually make it into law.
So, it’s a year for FDA, and a year for other agencies – provided we don’t have any issues (which we will), we’re looking at 2015. More realistically, we’re looking for 2016-2017 timeframe for the FSMA to become a law.
That’s if we don’t see cuts stemming from a fiscal cliff disaster. The Obama Administration seems committed, stating “…We are working as expeditiously as possible to implement the food safety legislation we fought so hard for. When it comes to rules with this degree of importance and complexity, it is critical that we get it right.”
Law or not, food manufacturers are acting now
But whatever the result of government legislation and laws to be enacted for Food Safety Management, organizations are taking the necessary steps today to build processes that foster safer and higher quality food management. The Global Food Safety Initiative’s various schemes (BRC, SQF, IFS, etc.) are currently the gold standard for food safety in the industry today. Companies that are implementing these schemes are taking a proactive stance on food safety, and demonstrating a commitment to promoting safe quality foods in their operations.
Look at Canada
Canada seems to be on the right track these days. Just last month the Canadian government passed their food safety bill into law, which is a sister bill to the FSMA. The new law, which comes in the aftermath of a massive E. coli outbreak at a local farm, has many similar elements to what the U.S. is trying to do with the FSMA. The “Safe Food for Canadians” Act entails:
- Better traceability in the food system, making it easier to recall products if safety issues arise somewhere in the food chain.
- New record-keeping requirements for regulated facilities and more powers for inspectors to compel the production of documents in usable formats.
- Tougher penalties for those who violate established safety standards, increasing maximum fines from $250,000 to up to $5 million, or even higher at the court’s discretion.
- Registration for all importers, to add a greater degree of certainty to the food safety system.
- More authority for the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) to certify exporters, if required by other countries to facilitate trade.
There’s obviously more to the bill, but the highlights emphasize a tighter control and enhanced visibility to an organization’s Food Safety Management System, and their supply chain.
Food Safety is under threat in the United States – spending and budget cuts are going to make a harder environment for promoting Food Safety;
The FSMA is still alive, but there’s a long road before we see any results on the dinner table;
GFSI still remains the key compliance area holding Food Safety processes together; and
Canada has made some movement into promoting Food Safety at the Federal level.
I sincerely hope that 2013 gives us a better view on Food Safety Management than it seems to be right now. But if not, it’s up to the producers to promote their continued commitment to adhering to the compliance standards that help them to operate a safe environment and produce the safest possible products for the food and beverage industry.