Tag Archives: food waste

Emily Newton, Revolutionized Magazine
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Using Artificial Intelligence May Add More Transparency to the Food Supply Chain

By Emily Newton
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Emily Newton, Revolutionized Magazine

Food industry professionals know how supply chain transparency plays a major role in keeping everything running smoothly. Brand representatives want confirmation that their agricultural partners can fill upcoming orders. If things go wrong and people get sick from what they eat, better visibility is vital in addressing and curbing such issues.

Artificial intelligence (AI) is a critical part of better food supply chain awareness among all applicable parties. This article briefly discusses some interesting examples.

Applying AI to Crop Management

Even the most experienced agricultural professionals know farming is far from an exact science. Everything from pests to droughts can negatively impact a growing season, even if a farmer does anything they can to influence production in their favor.

However, AI can help predict yields, enabling farmers to maintain transparency and set accurate expectations for parties further down the supply chain. That’s especially important in the increasingly popular farm-to-table movement, which shortens how far produce travels and may entail using it on the same day someone picks it.

One newly developed machine-learning tool relies on computer vision and ultra-scale images taken from the air to categorize lettuce crops. More specifically, it captures details about the size, quality, and quantity of the heads. Combining that with GPS allows more efficient harvesting.

Tracing Foodborne Illness

CDC Statistics indicate foodborne illnesses sicken one in six people every year in the United States. FSMA contains rules and actions for food processing facilities to prevent such instances, but outbreaks still happen. AI could be yet another useful mitigation measure.

Researchers at the University of Georgia determined that, since the 1960s, approximately a quarter of Salmonella outbreaks have been from the Typhimurium variation. They trained a machine-learning algorithm on more than 1,300 Typhimurium genomes with known origins. The model eventually achieved 83% accuracy in predicting certain animal sources that would have the Typhimurium genome. It showed the most accuracy with poultry and swine.

Reducing Food Waste

Waste is a tremendous problem for the food supply chain. In the United States, data shows that upwards of 40% of packaged consumables get discarded once they reach the use-by date. That happens whether or not the products are actually unsafe to eat.

However, better visibility into this issue has a positive impact on food distribution. For example, some restaurants give people discounted meals rather than throwing them away. In other cases, grocery stores partner with charities, helping people in need have enough to eat.

Scientists in Singapore have also created an electronic “nose” that uses AI to sniff out meat freshness. More specifically, it reacts to the gases produced during decay. When the team tested the system on chicken, fish and beef, it showed 98.5% accuracy in its task. Using AI in this manner could bring transparency that cuts food waste while assuring someone that a food product is still safe to eat despite the appearance of it being expired based on Best Before’ labeling.

Removing Guesswork From Dynamic Processes

People are particularly interested in how AI often detects signs that humans miss. Thus, it can often solve problems that previously proved challenging. For example, even the most conscientious farmers can’t watch all their animals every moment of the day and night, but AI could provide greater visibility. That’s valuable since animal health can directly impact the success of entire farming operations.

One European Union-funded AI project took into account how animal health is a primary factor in milk production. The tool compared cows’ behaviors to baseline levels and characteristics of the animals at the most successful farms. It then provided users with practical insights for improvement. Europe has at least 274 million dairy cows, and their milk makes up 11%-14% of Europeans’ dietary fat requirements. Those statistics show why keeping herds producing as expected is critical.

AI is also increasingly used in aquaculture. Until recently, fish farming professionals largely used intuition and experience to determine feeding amounts. However, that can lead to waste. One company uses artificial intelligence to sense fish and shrimp hunger levels and sends that information to smart dispensers that release food. The manufacturers say this approach causes up to a 21% reduction in feed costs. Other solutions track how much fish eat over time, helping farmers adjust their care protocols.

Fascinating Advancements in Supply Chain Transparency

These instances are only a sampling of what AI can do to support the food supply chain. Although most of them are most relevant to producers, consumers will likely reap the benefits, too. For example, some food labels already show the precise field associated with the potatoes used for a bag of chips. Once technology reaches a point where most consumers could have advanced AI apps on their phones, it could be a matter of aiming a smartphone’s camera at any food product and instantly seeing the path it took before reaching the consumer. It’s too early to know when that might happen. Nevertheless, what’s already possible with innovative technology is compelling in its own right and makes people rightfully eager to see what’s on the horizon.

Waylon Sharp, Bureau Veritas
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You Are What You Eat: Meeting the Demand For Sustainable Practices and Transparency

By Waylon Sharp
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Waylon Sharp, Bureau Veritas

A very volatile sector, there are always new trends, opportunities and challenges in the food space, as a multitude of factors—including global climate and geopolitical challenges—can cause supply chain disruptions. Sustainable audits are heightening in demand, in order to validate company claims and provide consumers with peace of mind, as the industry continues to evolve with new ingredients, processes and technologies in play.

Consumers Today Demand Sustainable Practices and Transparency

The shift towards sustainability has further been accelerated by COVID-19, as the pandemic has made for more ethical and conscious consumers. According to research from Forrester, 68% of highly empowered consumers plan to ramp up their efforts to identify brands that reduce environmental impact. While there are numerous audits to measure sustainability and social responsibility, trending focus areas in the food space today are around sustainable packaging, water usage and food waste.

Three Ways Food Processors and Manufacturers Can Reduce Their Footprint

Key players across the food industry are stepping up to the challenge and finding innovative ways to minimize their environmental impact. The following are three ways food processors and manufacturers can reduce their footprint.

  • Use Environmentally Friendly Packaging: Food packaging is a major source of waste and pollution. In fact, containers and packaging make up a major portion of municipal solid waste (MSW), amounting to 82.2 million tons of generation in 2018, according to the EPA. Unfortunately, most packaging is designed as single-use, and is typically thrown away rather than reused or recycled. Given the impacts of packaging on the environment, more manufacturers are looking into packaging options that reduce waste and boost sustainability, including wood- and paper-based alternatives. Other manufacturers are developing innovative alternative packaging from biodegradable materials. The same rings true for takeout and grocery delivery, as the demand for home consumption grows, retail and foodservice companies are considering utilizing more sustainable packaging or reduce the use of virgin plastics to offset their impact.
  • Increase Energy and Water Efficiency: Food processing and manufacturing are energy- and water-intensive. In fact, according to the World Resources Institute, the 1.3 billion tons of wasted food annually also includes 45 trillion gallons of water. Water conservation methods can be implemented throughout the entire food chain—from selecting more efficient crops, to using less water within processing facilities and ultimately reducing food waste on the backend of the chain.
  • Reduce Food Waste: According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), nearly one-third of food produced for human consumption gets wasted each year. In fact, the carbon footprint of food waste is greater than that of the airline industry. This also includes the waste of resources used to produce the food including water, soil, transportation and labor. By improving processing and manufacturing efficiencies, we can reduce waste and better manage resources. Implementing systems to categorize and assess food waste can help identify areas for improvement and enable your team to develop a plan to correct.

Value-Add of Sustainability

Sustainability provides benefits to the consumer, the manufacturer and society-at-large. The consumer feels better about making a purchase that is not only better for the planet, but that may also provide health benefits to themselves and their families. The Organic Trade Association’s 2021 U.S. Organic Industry Survey highlights this trend, as organic food has the reputation of being better for your health and more sustainable for the planet. Organic food sales were up 12% in 2020, the highest growth rate in this category in over a decade.

Intrinsically, manufacturers with sustainable programs in place feel better about the work they are doing, knowing that they are supporting a better world. Companies that publicize their green programs and back them up with the applicable certifications can also attract top employees, despite today’s talent wars. Employees are zeroed in on corporate social responsibility and desire to work for a company that aligns with their purpose.

As it relates to the bottom line, the common misconception is that the sustainable choice will cost more. However, as sustainable supply increases due to consumer demand, companies are able to source sustainable inputs more affordably. Furthermore, they can communicate their commitments via certification bodies, through public forums and by labeling products based on their certifications. These approaches help reach and educate consumers at different levels—from their initial research of products to purchases from the store shelves.

Key Certifications and Auditing Technology

To reduce their environmental footprint throughout the value chain and implement more sustainable business practices, food companies can move toward a circular economy business model. By renewing, reusing and recycling materials at every stage of the food supply chain, companies can preserve the critical resources that allow their business to flourish.

There are a wide range of services help food producers make the transition to a more sustainable business model. This includes the GHG emissions verification, and management system auditing and certification or training to standards like ISO 14001 (Environmental Management System), ISO 24526 (Water Efficiency Management System), AWS (Alliance for Water Stewardship), ISO 50001 (Energy Management System) and SA8000 (Social Accountability standard), as well as SMETA (Sedex Members Ethical Trade Audit) audits. There are also a range of food sustainability-related product certifications including Organic, MSC, ASC and RSPO.

Auditing technology supports a range of requirements and helps teams set achievable targets. It can be used to analyze packaging materials, categorize and assess food waste, and monitor water usage. Newer auditing technology is now blockchain enabled to assess raw materials and packaging, and to ensure third party partners are also socially responsible. This information is packaged into a blockchain solution so that food companies can be confident that the auditing information is correct and secure. Furthermore, this technology provides the added visibility into their network should they have a recall.

How To Initiate or Ramp Up Your Sustainable Programs

For companies interested in kicking off a sustainability program, or branching into new levels of sustainability, a great place to start is training, in order to understand the audit standard. Early on in this process, ensure all parties are onboard and aware of the certification process and related costs—from managers who will be implementing the program daily to board level executives providing the final sign off. Doing this helps allocate sufficient time and resources and avoids surprises down the road.

It’s helpful to work with a third-party consultant through this process, as they are able take a birds-eye-view look to identify gaps in the program and help you achieve specific certification requirements that meet your unique food product needs. If your team works with a consultant to put together a plan that includes auditing, testing, inspection and certification, the right partner can verify that the program meets all the requirements necessary for the certification.

To keep your program running efficiently, arrange regular trainings for employees to stay up to date on the latest requirements and fill any gaps. For more specialized programs, it’s also a good idea to set aside standalone training sessions to avoid information overload.

As the industry continues to innovate, there will be more ways to reduce waste throughout the entire supply chain and build more efficient business models that are better for the company, consumers and the planet. Looking ahead to next year and beyond, the trend towards sustainability and transparency will press on. Ultimately, companies that take the extra steps to be more sustainable are setting a higher standard for industry and supply chain partners and building a pathway for long-term success.

Emily Newton, Revolutionized Magazine
FST Soapbox

How Are Food and Beverage Professionals Putting Packaging Safety First?

By Emily Newton
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Emily Newton, Revolutionized Magazine

As the food and beverage industry manages the continual impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, safety remains a major topic of discussion. While many are aware of how handling practices can impact safety, less attention is sometimes paid to how packaging and materials can also play a significant role.

Good packaging practices and innovative technology—like antimicrobial surface coatings and plastic alternatives—are helping to make food and beverage products safer for consumers.

The Role of Packaging in Food Safety

The packaging process can have a significant impact on the safety of food products. Hygiene and other practices present significant cross-contamination risks. Packaging material choice can also affect safety.

While outbreaks of foodborne disease are somewhat rarer than they were 20 years ago, they remain a serious threat to consumers. In 2018, there were 1,052 foodborne outbreaks in the United States, an increase from the previous year and only a slight decrease from the 1,317 outbreaks in 1998, according to data from the CDC’s National Outbreak Reporting System (NORS) dashboard.

Food and beverage manufacturers are investigating innovative practices and materials to help make their products safer. In response to the pandemic, in December DS Smith announced a partnership with Touchguard to develop antimicrobial coatings for cardboard packaging. One coating created by the two companies has a “proven kill rate of 99.5% in under 15 minutes on bacteria types … and eliminates the risk of person-to-person transfer of infections, such as MRSA and E. coli.

The cardboard is just one of several examples of antimicrobial materials that may help limit the spread of viruses that cause foodborne diseases, like E. coli.

Other businesses are aiming to tackle spoilage during shipping and storage. Innovative experiments could have a major impact on food waste. EU-funded project RefuCoat intends to “develop fully recyclable food packaging with enhanced gas barrier properties.” These materials will keep foods sealed from air and water while also offering recyclability.

New design strategies and technologies can also preserve the freshness of food once customers bring items home from the grocery store.

Portion packaging allows customers to open only the amount they need, leaving the rest sealed for future use. This helps customers avoid relying on home storage strategies, which may not be as effective as factory packaging in keeping food fresh and preventing spoilage.

These strategies also can support existing food safe packaging techniques. For example, portion control can be combined with tamper-evident packaging to make it more obvious when an item at the store has been accidentally opened. This will help ensure that customers only bring home and use food items that they know are safe and as fresh as possible.

Choice of mold release agents used in manufacturing processes that require packaging molds can also have a significant impact on food safety. These chemical compounds help resins and other materials detach from molds once cured, without being damaged. This helps to ensure that the finished product is as close to the mold shape as possible, and isn’t compromised when released from the mold. Certain kinds, like silicon, can produce cleaner finished products and extend the lifespan of packaging, which reduces waste and potentially improves package safety.

These strategies can help protect food from contamination during the packaging process and ensure it remains fresh and safe for as long as possible after leaving the facility.

As customers experiment with new brands and foods, businesses may find they are more willing to try items that use novel packaging strategies.

Safety Risk and Potential in Food Packaging Materials

Like food items themselves, all packaging materials are subject to approval by regulatory agencies, like the FDA or the European Food Safety Authority. However, some substances approved by the FDA can still have health impacts.

For example, bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical used to make certain industrial plastics and resins, is not banned by the FDA. However, its use has become controversial in the food packaging industry due to potential reported adverse health effects.

Some major manufacturing companies, like Campbell Soup Company, have fully transitioned away from the use of BPA. Others, like the Coca-Cola Co., continue to use the chemical in linings for aluminum cans.

One paper, The FoodPrint of Food Packaging, details how materials used may present health risks—and how alternatives already in use can help the industry create safer packaging.

For example, styrofoam use is declining due to the material’s environmental impact. However, polystyrene is still frequently used in rigid and foam food packaging. Plastic particles made from materials like polystyrene may harm health.

The report also lays out steps that food and beverage manufacturers can take to reduce the use of potentially unsafe chemicals in their packaging. Reusable containers can significantly reduce the amount of plastic waste generated by the food industry while also lowering the health risks packaging presents.

In an article for Packaging Digest, senior editor Rick Lingle briefly summarized the report’s findings and discussed them with Jershua Klemperer, director of FoodPrint. When asked about alternatives to plastics, Klemperer suggested using sustainable packaging materials—like metal, cardboard and fiber—but only if manufacturers can ensure they are not used in combination with unsustainable or potentially harmful materials like PFAS.

Strategies for Improving Food Safe Packaging

Food safety will remain a top priority for the food and beverage industry. Innovative strategies like antimicrobial coatings, portion packaging and plastic alternatives can help manufacturers make safer options. These strategies may become more common over the next few years as consumers become increasingly invested in food safety practices.

Scott Deakins, Deacom
FST Soapbox

Billions of Dollars Lost to Food Waste, Tech Exists to Reduce It

By Scott Deakins
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Scott Deakins, Deacom

Food waste is a massive global problem led by the United States. According to the USDA, an estimated 30–40% of the country’s food supply ends up in landfills—most of it at the retail and consumer levels. This amounted to approximately 133 billion pounds and $161 billion worth of food wasted in 2010 alone, which prompted the USDA and the Environmental Protection Agency to launch the U.S. Food Loss and Waste 2030 Champions initiative in 2016. Businesses and other organizations can join the ranks as champions by committing to a 50% reduction of food loss and waste by 2030.

That’s a noble goal, but those businesses will only be able to achieve their objective with technologies that reduce food waste in production and the supply chain. Food lost in this medium is hardly insignificant. At least 10%—or billions of pounds of food—is wasted in acts as small as over-ordering or in transport. This is, in short, the result of errors in resource planning.

After an extremely difficult year, food process manufacturers can no longer afford to generate that level of waste. Fortunately, technologies already exist to help the industry regain control of its production, storage and forecasting, and can facilitate leaner businesses and less waste.

Eliminate Human Error and System Inconsistencies

There have been a lot of changes in the way food is grown, harvested, delivered and sold over the last few decades, yet little progress has been made when it comes to unnecessary waste. The Commission for Environmental Cooperation reports that food loss and waste can occur post-harvest due to inaccurate supply and demand forecasting, grade standards for size and quality, and deficiencies in refrigeration. Even the packaging can cause problems if it is inefficient or ineffective.

These and other problems lead to waste—some up front before the product is ever sold to consumers, others down the line after an item has been purchased, leading to a recall. If inventory records are anything less than 100% accurate from formulation through shipment, additional challenges will follow. Though it is not heavily considered in an FDA audit, manufacturers still need the ability to instantaneously report on any aspect of their inventory history, regardless of the ERP software from which data is pulled. ERP systems with bolt-on modules often fail in this regard. If functionalities of the sub-systems are not designed for strict lot tracking, or if those sub-systems are not designed exactly the same, errors are inevitable.

Workarounds can be implemented, but they cannot account for processes that still need to be performed manually, which increases the likelihood that lot tracking accuracy will fall short. Inefficiencies are further exacerbated by sub-systems that handle actions differently, but the challenges don’t end there.

Problems can also develop when data has to be shared across more than one module, database or even system, which may inspire the use of outside solutions, such as an Excel spreadsheet, compounding the issues at hand. Makeshift solutions increase the risk that an incorrect lot number will be entered or that someone will forget to delete a number after a lot was de-issued and re-issued. Any of these cracks in the operational foundation will inevitably deduct from the 100% inventory accuracy that’s necessary for a smooth recall process—anything less will lead to a greater impact on the business.

The only real solution is to eliminate the potential for human error and system inconsistencies altogether—and that can only be accomplished with a configurable ERP solution that handles all business processes from one system and one database and can easily adapt to changing regulation and recipes. Without it, true strict lot control—meaning 100% inventory accuracy with perfect record keeping and the ability to instantly report on any aspect of the inventory history—cannot be achieved.

Reduce Inventory Variance and Grow without Unnecessary Expansions

There are aspects of food waste that can be controlled, including inventory variance, which occurs when items are lost, misplaced or miscounted. This is particularly problematic for packaging and ingredients, causing issues at the production level—finished products cannot be made if there aren’t enough items to complete the process, which is also bad for the bottom line. Inventory variance may occur if deliveries are not verified to confirm that ordered ingredients were actually received or may happen if items are entered incorrectly or simply misidentified.

Variance is more than a nuisance—it can be quite costly. For example, Silver Spring Foods encountered this firsthand when it discovered that its inventory variance commonly reached between $250,000 and $300,000. The company, which debuted in 1929 when founder Ellis Huntsinger started growing horseradish and other vegetable crops, now produces the number-one horseradish retail brand in the United States. With more than 9,000 acres of prime Wisconsin and Minnesota farmland, Silver Spring realized that it had outgrown its outdated ERP solution.

The company initially thought that it had reached capacity and could only grow further by physically expanding its building with an additional manufacturing line that would require new hires to come aboard. In reality, the company needed an ERP solution that could keep up with its impressive level of growth.

More specifically, Silver Spring Foods wanted an ERP system that could tie together several elements, including customer service, accounting, manufacturing, purchasing and shipping within a single tool. The company needed a solution that offered strong data mining and reporting functionality, as well as strong sales reporting, sustainable tech support capabilities and would not exceed ERP budget allocations. It was equally important to have an ERP solution that was configurable without customization, prioritizing speed and efficiency while offering predictable quality and cost of ongoing IT support and maintenance.

After upgrading to a solution that met all of its requirements, Silver Spring Foods was able to gather all data in one system that brought together multiple software integrations, including CRM. This allowed the firm to fine-tune its material purchases to match current production needs, sales forecasts and production schedules. More importantly, inventory variance was reduced to $90,000 during the first year and now falls within a range of just $1,800 to $2,500. By improving inventory management, unearthing new efficiencies and proving that Silver Spring had not yet reached capacity, the company was now able to grow without adding additional square footage.

Don’t Let Waste Cut into Productivity

Food growers, processors and supply chains cannot afford to let waste cut into their productivity or their bottom line. They need to be able to keep track of everything, achieving true strict lot control to limit the damage caused by a recall. They also need to be able to improve food management and reduce inventory variance. These and other advantages can only be attained with the right ERP technology, however, so businesses must choose wisely before making an investment.

Sanjay Sharma, Roambee
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The Need for Improved Visibility in the Fresh Produce Supply Chain

By Sanjay Sharma
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Sanjay Sharma, Roambee

The Ever Given eventually broke free, but the Suez Canal blockage was just one dramatic incident in a year full of “black swan” events exposing weaknesses in the global supply chain, including daily mini disruptions. Among the lessons to be learned is the need for verifiably better supply chain visibility that goes beyond crowdsourced carrier or telematics data. This article hones in on the significant challenges faced in the fresh produce supply chain, and strategies suppliers can implement in situations to help improve supply chain visibility and prepare for an unpredictable future.

The Reality of Today’s Food Supply Chains

As the global supply chain continues to expand, the distance fresh produce travels to reach the consumer is extended. According to the International Institute of Refrigeration, the lack of a functioning cold chain causes significant food loss; the Global Cold Chain Alliance (GCCA) reports that “one-third of food produced globally is lost or wasted between farm and fork.”

Multimodal shipping, as well as the change in hands before the harvested produce reaches the consumer, makes it hard for food to retain its freshness. Moreover, multiple parties involved in the supply chain create plenty of room for coordination issues, contributing to delays, damaged products, and increased costs. Potential challenges faced while transporting fresh produce include the following.

Reusability and Circular Economy of Plastic Containers

The best way to preserve quality and freshness from source to consumer, retail-ready transport packaging solutions are needed to optimize space, improve temperature control and protect quality into the retail distribution center. While it is an environmentally sustainable choice, renting returnable plastic containers (RPC) instead of corrugated boxes comes with its own challenges. These RPCs get lost or misplaced from the time they are rented, during use to ship products from consumer locations and during the return of the empty RPCs back to the renter.

Temperature Excursions During Transport & Transshipment

Transport losses in a fresh food cold chain are primarily related to temperature and humidity excursions, caused by delayed/improper cooling or refrigeration equipment failure. The biggest problem is not always the lack of data, but rather the lack of timely data that can be used to correct anomalies in time to prevent spoilage.Temperature excursions can occur both while in transit and at transshipment points. During the former, it can happen due to failure of cooling equipment, while for the latter, it can occur if active cooling containers or reefers are not plugged into power sockets for extended periods of time during handling or when on a ship. In air transport, the goods can face temperature excursions during loading, unloading and storage, such as on the tarmac on a hot day.

Damaged Packages

Early spoilage in fresh produce can be attributed to both handling as well as changes in external environment. An example is the impact of atmospheric pressure on bags of potato chips traveling through a mountainous region or by air. The financial impact of damaged packages—one of the leading reasons for increased cost of food logistics management—goes beyond the visible replacement and re-shipping costs; in the case of fresh food spoilage, not only can your brand be impacted, legal issues could result if consumer health is affected.

Safety/Security Issues

Fresh produce is easily contaminable and thus requires extra care in the chain of custody. Today, customers are not just demanding visibility into the authenticity of how their food was farmed, but also how safely it was transported. The right temperature and humidity play a vital role in maintain the quality of the fresh produce reaching the grocery store. Whether it is a Black Swan event like a widespread E. coli contamination of tomatoes that can endanger human lives, or just a daily product freshness issue, there’s considerable impact on the food brand and retail store.

High Maintenance Costs

Maintaining the right conditions, ensuring quality packaging, and facilitating quick transportation increases the cost of a fresh produce supply chain significantly compared to other products.

Lack of Information Accuracy in Data Sharing

Every actor in the supply chain is working toward maintaining the freshness of a product, such as avocadoes imported from Mexico. But tying this data into a common thread is difficult due to disparate systems and processes in monitoring condition, handling and chain of custody. For example, the warehousing company may only measure temperature in a few corners of the warehouse where the fresh product wasn’t technically stored and the trucking company will only have the reefer’s temperature, but the product may have never traveled on that reefer owing to a missed connection. This makes data aggregation inaccurate and unactionable.

The Need for Improved Visibility

Whether it be food losses, increased costs, or food safety regulations, improving the verifiability of supply chain visibility from end to end can ultimately help eliminate these challenges. The following are some measures that can help contribute to food supply chain success.

Enhancing Information Transparency

A clear string of communication from end-to-end is critical to manage the supply chain. Increased information transparency and a clear chain of data can reduce food damages and losses.

Optimizing Maintenance

Maintenance costs can arise out of substandard packaging, lack of adherence to quality standards, and mishandling during transportation. Additional measures can be taken in order to reduce the overall maintenance costs, as well as time and effort spent tackling late or damaged product delivery. Such measures include adding more service locations, improving on time delivery, monitoring in real time, improving reusable packaging (if applicable), and performing thorough quality checks.

Building Faster, Flexible and Precise Supply Chains

Running a lean supply chain is vital to successfully delivering fresh food products. Many items such as yogurts or fresh produce have a short shelf life. Hence, the slightest reduction in transit time has significant benefits. Predictive analytics, image recognition and process automation offer timely alerts to improve actionability.

Where to Begin

You need to take a top-down, end-to-end approach to visibility because a supply chain involves several stakeholders and modes of transport from farm to fork.

Sensor-driven visibility helps implement a top-down, end-to-end approach because it is firsthand and not reliant for data from the actors in the chain of custody. Sensor-driven location and condition in real time offers transparency, collaboration and ultimately, reliable logistics automation.

End-to-end real-time data on inventory location and package conditions can result more transparency and control across the supply chain. The best, and often the only way to wade through both the visible and hidden business costs of in-transit damage is to keep track of your shipments from door to door with the help of an on-demand food and beverage monitoring solution.

When working with low shelf life products like food, reliable supply chain visibility is vital to prevent incidents that can contribute to financial loss. The loss of customer relationships, dealer loyalty, and cascading delays can have a ripple effect and result in further monetary losses as well as long-term business impacts that might take very long to resolve. Implementing the above recommendations can help supply chains recover from accidents and prepare for the inevitable future of “black swan” events and daily mini disruptions alike.

Dollar

Quantifying the ROI of Environmental Monitoring Program Automation

By Joseph Heinzelmann
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Dollar

The COVID-19 pandemic heightened the urgency for food brands to adopt technology solutions that support remote management of environmental monitoring programs (EMPs) as they strive to provide safe products to customers. While digital transformation has progressed within the food safety industry, food and beverage manufacturers often have lower profitability as compared to other manufacturing industries, such as pharmaceutical and high-tech equipment, which can lead to smaller IT spend.1 Many companies still rely on manual processes for environmental monitoring and reporting, which are prone to error, fail to provide organizations with visibility into all of their facilities and limit the ability to quickly take corrective actions.

Despite growing recognition of the value of automating testing, diagnostics, corrective actions and analytic workflows to prevent contamination issues in food production environments, barriers to adoption persist. One key obstacle is the recurring mindset that food safety is a necessary compliance cost. Instead, we need to recognize that EMP workflow automation can create real business value. While the downside of food safety issues is easy to quantify, organizations still struggle to understand the upside, such as positive contributions to productivity and a stronger bottom-line achieved by automating certain food safety processes.

To understand how organizations are using workflow automation and analytics to drive quantifiable business ROI, a two-year study that included interviews and anonymized data collection with food safety, operations, and executive leadership at 34 food organizations was conducted.

The respondents represent more than 120 facilities using advanced EMP workflow automation and analytics. Based on the interviews and the shared experience of food organization leaders, two key examples emerged that demonstrate the ROI of EMP automation.

Improved Production Performance

According to those interviewed, one of the primary benefits of EMP automation (and driver of ROI) is minimizing production disruptions. A temporary conveyor shutdown, unplanned cleaning, or extensive investigatory testing can add up to an astounding 500 hours annually at a multi-facility organization, and cost on average $20,000 to $30,000 per hour.2 So, it’s obvious that eliminating costly disruptions and downtime has a direct impact on ROI from this perspective.

But organizations with systems where information collected through the EMP is highly accessible have another advantage. They are able to take corrective actions to reduce production impacts very quickly. In some cases, even before a disruption happens.
By automatically feeding EMP data into an analytics program, organizations can rapidly detect the root cause of issues and implement corrective actions BEFORE issues cause production delays or shutdowns.

In one example, over the course of several months, a large dairy company with manual EMP processes automated its food safety workflows, improved efficiencies, reduced pathogen positives and improved its bottom line. At the start of the study, the company increased systematic pathogen testing schedules to identify where issues existed and understand the effectiveness of current sanitation efforts. With improved access to data on testing, test types and correlated sanitation procedures, the company was able to implement a revamped remediation program with more effective corrective action steps.

Ultimately, the automated workflows and analytics led to reduced positive results and more efficient EMP operations for the company as compared to the “crisis-mode” approach of the past. The associated costs of waste, rework, delayed production starts, and downtime caused by food safety issues were significantly reduced as illustrated in Figure 1.

EMP automation
Figure 1: Reduction of food safety testing costs through EMP automation. Customer Study 2016-2018. All figures courtesy of Corvium, Inc.

Quantifying the ROI of Production Performance Improvements

The financial impact of reducing production downtime by just 90 minutes per week can be dramatic when looked at by cumulative results over multiple weeks. In fact, eliminating just a few delayed starts or unplanned re-cleaning can have significant financial gains.

Figure 2 shows the business impact of gaining 90 minutes of production up-time per week by automating food safety operations. For the purposes of this analysis, the “sample organization” depicted operates two facilities where there are assumptions that down-time equates to a cost value of $30,000 per hour, and that both plants experience an average of 90 minutes of downtime per week that can be re-gained.

Production Performance Improvement ROI Calculation
Figure 2: Sample Production Performance Improvement ROI Calculation.

Reduced Food Waste

The second key insight uncovered in the two-year study was the impact that automating the EMP process had on waste. An estimated 30–40% of all food produced in the United States is wasted, and preventable food safety and quality issues account for a substantial portion of this waste.3

A key challenge shared by study participants was detecting food safety issues early enough to avoid wasting an entire production run. Clearly, the later in a processing or manufacturing run that issues are discovered, the greater the potential waste. To limit this, organizations needed near real-time visibility into relevant food safety and EMP data.

By automating EMP workflows, they solved this issue and created value. By tracking and analyzing data in near real time, production teams were able to keep up with ever-moving production schedules. They could define rules to trigger the system to automatically analyze diagnostic results data and alert stakeholders to outliers. Impacted food product could be quickly identified and quarantined when needed before an entire production run was wasted.

Companies included in the study realized substantial benefits from the increased efficiencies in their testing program. According to a food safety quality assurance manager at a large U.S. protein manufacturer, “Our environmental monitoring program has reached new heights in terms of accuracy, communication, visibility and efficiency. Manual, time-intensive tasks have been automated and optimized, such as the ability to search individual sample or submittal IDs, locate them quickly and make any necessary changes.”

Quantifying the ROI of Food Waste Reductions

Figure 3 shows how measuring the business impact of gaining back just 10% of scrapped food per week. For the purposes of this analysis, the “sample organization” depicted operates two facilities where there are 500 lbs. of finished product scrapped each week, and the value per pound of finished product is valued at a cost of $1 per pound.

Sample Waste Reduction ROI Calculation
Figure 3. Sample Waste Reduction ROI Calculation.

Conclusion

Automating EMP workflows decreases the time required to receive and analyze critical EMP data, helping food manufacturers achieve significant improvements in production performance, waste reduction and overall testing efficiency. By using these same ROI calculations, food brands can better illustrate how improved food safety processes can build value, and help leaders see food safety as a brand imperative rather than a cost center. As food organizations progress through each stage of digital transformation, studies like this can show real-world examples of business challenges and how other organizations uncovered value in adoption of new technologies and tools.

References

  1. CSIMarket, Inc. (2021). Total Market Profitability.
  2. Senkbeil, T. (2014). Built to Last: Maintaining Reliability and Uptime of Critical Connected Systems in Industrial Settings. Anixter.
  3. USDA. Food Waste FAQs.
Stephen Dombroski, QAD
FST Soapbox

Food Insecurity Vs. Food Waste: Producers and Manufacturers Can Affect the Balance

By Stephen Dombroski
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Stephen Dombroski, QAD

As the population continues to grow and the effects of climate change, global warming, pollution and other factors impact humanity’s ability to grow and provide enough food for itself, the concern that the world could run out of food is increasing.. The COVID-19 pandemic has put more focus on how fragile the food supply chain is and how easy it is to disrupt the process of feeding the world. For years, it has been mostly a topic of discussion. But with so many disruptions, it is now an issue that needs to be acted on. Social groups, civic associations, government bodies and food manufacturers have taken notice of the problem and are attempting to get their hands around the issues. One of the key points in this discussion revolves around the amount of food and food sources that will be needed in the future. It always starts with the same question: “Will there be enough food?” Most people immediately say no. But is that 100% true? This is where the debate between food insecurity and food waste begins.

What is Food Insecurity?

According to the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, food insecurity is defined as “the disruption of food intake or eating patterns due to lack of money or other resources…Food insecurity does not necessarily cause hunger, but hunger is a possible outcome.” The debate about whether there is or isn’t enough food can get pretty contentious. There are many people in many countries that are “food insecure.” The problem in many cases, however, is due to affordability rather than availability. There are distinct issues and differences between availability and affordability. Go to any grocery store or purchasing venue in most developed countries and for the most part, the shelves are well stocked. The obvious conclusion is that there is enough food. However, can the entire population afford that food? Now, go to countries that are not as developed and you would be hard-pressed to find a grocery store that is as well stocked. Even if the population can afford to buy it, there simply is not enough food to buy. The difference between these two scenarios is where the debate begins. People talk about climate change making it challenging to produce enough food to meet the world’s needs, but store shelves in developed countries are full. All the while edible food is getting thrown away and destroyed in ridiculous amounts each day.

The world agrees that manufacturers, governments and consumers have a social responsibility to do their part to combat world hunger. Consumers are becoming more aware of food security and the threat that climate change poses. There are trends supporting sustainability in daily diets, with meals lower in environment impact and awareness of plate portions and food waste. Government agencies are working with manufacturers to resize portions and package sizes to align with scientific research on the necessary amount of food and nutrients needed in diets. Manufacturers and their customers (retail channels) are working more closely to create accurate and realistic “best by dates” to reduce the amount of food that is thrown out as “expired.”

World health organizations are increasing their focus as well. The U.N. World Food Program (WFP) is addressing hunger and emphasizing “food security.” WFP provides 15 billion meals to nearly 100 million people suffering from the effects of life-threatening hunger in over 80 countries. Manufacturers are expanding their participation in this area by increasing and improving donation programs, developing nutritional foods from new sources and incorporating limited perishability to make foods last longer and minimize food waste.

Wasted Food: An Understated and Complex Problem

If you think about it, the two largest consumers of food are garbage disposals and landfills. Both are well fed. Landfills receive both expired food that is not used and consumer food waste. Obviously, garbage disposals are used by consumers for cooked food that is not eaten or saved. I bring this up because it sparks the discussion of defining food waste. People use this term often and many times it is about food that consumers discard. But food waste has multiple categories and mirrors the supply chain. Food waste occurs at the following levels:

  • Growers/agricultural
  • Supplier
  • Primary producer/manufacturer
  • Distribution/transportation
  • Retail
  • Foodservice providers
  • The consumer

Approximately one-third of the total food produced globally—about 1.4 billion tons—is wasted. In addition to the loss of a great deal of edible food, there are other consequences to this waste. Food waste and food loss impact climate change, accounting for roughly 10% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. Human behavior is a significant contributor to climate change. Luckily, habits can be changed through education, like encouraging composting or recycling. Portion control at restaurants and in the home can make us healthier and also help to reduce food waste. Another trend in recent years is the migration for many consumers to healthier eating. This typically consists of using and consuming fresh ingredients with less processing and chemical additives. These ingredients, however, typically have shorter shelf lives and end up contributing to the growing amount of food waste. Over the last 10 years, food manufacturers, suppliers and the greater agricultural community have focused on efforts to reduce food and other wastes that fall into the sustainability category such as energy, water, materials used in packaging, etc. Food producers have figured out ways to repurpose unused ingredients, by-products and waste. Many sell to farms to be converted to feed and fertilizer. Some is sold to pet and animal feed producers to convert into sellable products. It is actually quite a profitable business for many manufacturers.

Balancing Between Food Insecurity and Food Waste

Analyzing both concepts requires a balancing act. On one hand, you can argue that if you recoup 1.4 billion tons of wasted food, or let’s say, even half of it, we might eliminate the hunger problem. But then consider the issue of food costs. When people go shopping for food, an often-heard comment is, “I can’t believe how much this food costs.” You have said it, and I have too. However, I have spent a significant amount of time in food manufacturing facilities of almost every vertical segment and I have a hard time not saying, “I can’t believe this only costs this much.” The entire process from field to fork for most food items is extraordinarily complex and comes with a wide array of costs. Most food manufacturing businesses are meager margin. They turn a profit but most feel the social responsibility to provide quality food at reasonable prices.

The industry is making significant progress, however, and more can be done. With new technology including IoT, Industry 4.0 and Smart Agriculture, resources such as land, water and space are being utilized much more efficiently to increase supply. This reduces costs. Through the use of technology, farmers are growing healthier more sustainable crops that minimize waste. Food and beverage manufacturers are now using business systems and processes to better communicate with suppliers. Adaptive ERP and integrated business planning are simplifying the supply chain, helping to maximize shelf lives and minimize food waste. As we move into 2021 and beyond, technology and integrated business systems and processes throughout the entire food supply and value chain will help minimize food waste and hopefully reduce costs. This should bridge the gap between food insecurity and food waste.

Stephen Dombroski, QAD
FST Soapbox

8 Reasons Sustainability is Critical in Food and Beverage Manufacturing

By Stephen Dombroski
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Stephen Dombroski, QAD

Sustainability pushes a lot of our hot buttons—it’s a political issue, an economic concern, and a social conversation. Some people even see it as a moral matter. Sometimes it’s on the back burner, but then it blazes back into the headlines. Sustainability is, arguably, an industry unto itself, since the economic impact on companies trying to adhere to government guidelines or react to consumer preferences can be in the billions of dollars across a wide range of markets. Sustainability demands are hitting a variety of industries, not just food and beverage. For example, the move from the internal combustion engine to the electric vehicle can be called a “sustainability” issue.

Exclusive Series on Food Safety Tech:
The Eight Elements of Sustainability
1. Consumer preferences
2. Climate change
3. Food insecurity
4. Food waste
5. New foods
6. Packaging
7. Regenerative agriculture
8. Transportation and regulatory restrictions
In light of the many disruptors in the food and beverage industry and most recently, due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, sustainability is now front-page news. This article will discuss eight reasons why sustainability is now one of the defining issues in food and beverage manufacturing. Future articles in this series will examine each issue in more detail.

Consumer Preferences

The green consumer wants brands to embrace purpose and sustainability, and they want their purchases to contribute to the greater good, or at least, do no harm. The demand started among millennials and Gen Zers, but with the influence of social media, it’s expanded to all demographics.

The industry has been forced to introduce healthier products, with more ethically-sourced ingredients and more transparent supply chains. Younger consumers, especially, often trace a brand’s sustainability record with QR codes or smart labels. They want to know from where their food originates.

These consumer actions and attitudes are now influencing the development of new food items and packaging designs as manufacturers realize consumers are taking notice.

Climate Change

Warming is causing the earth’s poles, permafrost and glaciers to melt and the oceans to rise. Average sea levels have swelled more than eight inches since 1880, with about three of those inches gained in the last 25 years. Here’s the impact on sustainability—when sea levels rise and warm, flooding can occur, causing coastal seawater contamination and erosion of valuable farmland. Higher air temperatures may also rule out the cultivation of some valuable crops (gasp, chocolate!).

Hotter temperatures can also cause insect body temperatures to rise; they need to eat more to survive and may live through the winter instead of dying off. A larger, more active insect population could threaten crops. And changes to water, soil and temperature could affect the complex ecosystems of the world’s farms, causing plant stress and increasing susceptibility to disease. The food manufacturing and farming industries are starting to investigate new ways of growing food in environments that can protect crops from these changes.

Food Insecurity

Food demand is expected to increase anywhere from 59% to 98% by 2050. Populations are growing and due to rising incomes, demand is ramping up for meat and other high-grade proteins. At the same time, climate change is putting pressure on natural and human resources, making it challenging to produce enough food to meet the world’s needs.

The world agrees that governments, manufacturers and consumers have a social responsibility for to do their part to combat world hunger. Consumers are becoming more aware of food security and the threat that climate change poses. People are attempting to eat sustainably with meals designed to have a lower environmental impact, and incorporating an awareness of plate portions and food waste.

World health organizations are also stepping up. The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) is the food-assistance branch of the United Nations and the world’s largest humanitarian organization, addressing hunger and promoting food security. The WFP works to help lift people out of hunger who cannot produce or obtain enough food for themselves, providing food assistance to an average of 91.4 million people in 83 countries each year. Food brands worldwide are offering support through donation programs, new product development to provide more nutrition with less and new sources of food.

Food Waste

Around one-third of the total food the world produces—around 1.3 billion tons—is wasted. It’s more than just the direct loss; food waste contributes heavily to climate change, making up around eight percent of total global greenhouse gas emissions. Food manufacturers are making significant efforts to reduce their food waste footprint. Is it possible to anticipate and plan for potential glitches in frozen food processing? Sustainable brands make contingency plans in advance so that food can be stored safely while a broken line is fixed, rather than let it go to waste. What should be done with raw materials left over after processing? Perhaps there are other creative uses for it—vegetable waste, for example, has been used for fertilizer.

Human behavior is a main contributor to climate change and the motivator for new sustainable practices. Over time, community attitudes can change habits, like encouraging commitments to composting or recycling. In certain communities, grocery stores and restaurants contribute leftover food to charities. Portion control at restaurants and in the home can make us healthier and also help to reduce food waste.

New Foods

In response to changing food preferences and the demand by consumers for healthier options, food and beverage companies have the opportunity to develop new foods and build a reputation for sustainability.

Brands have been working on protein alternatives, but one can argue that plant-based protein went mainstream when news broke in 2019 that both McDonald’s and Burger King were testing plant-based burgers. And with veganism and vegetarianism growing, tofu, seeds, nuts and beans are also showing up in kitchens more frequently, as are products made from them.

Did it surprise you the first time you heard about cauliflower pizza crust? Food manufacturers have been actively introducing new products like this, substituting vegetables for carbohydrate-rich grains. Product manufacturers have brought us new product options like zoodles made from squash as a substitute for spaghetti. Utilizing products differently is a sustainable tactic. In addition, it opens up new markets, expands the value chain and increases business opportunities for food and beverage manufacturers.

Packaging

Sustainability also involves sustainable or “eco-friendly” packaging. Packaging with a reduced environmental impact is becoming a consumer priority.

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

To help fight food waste, intelligent packaging for food can use indicators or sensors to monitor factors outside the packaging like temperature and humidity, or internal factors like freshness. Smart labels can tell an even more complete story about what sustainable practices have been used in packaging manufacturing or along the supply chain via a QR code or webpage.

Optimizing product density for transport is another sustainability technique. Minimizing packaging can reduce shipping weight and packaging waste to minimize an organization’s carbon footprint. An added benefit is that manufacturers can deliver more in less time thus improving customer service and keeping the supply chain moving.

Regenerative Agriculture

Sustainability may call for practices that maintain soil health, but regenerative agriculture goes further; it looks to reverse climate change. Regenerative techniques promote the need to restore soil health, rebalance water and carbon cycles, create new topsoil and grow food in a regenerative way—so nature has the boost it needs to sustain improvement. If the quantity of carbon in farm soils increases 0.4% each year, says the European “4 Per 1000” initiative, it could offset the 4.3 billion tons of CO2 emissions that humans pump into the atmosphere annually.

The regenerative food system market has drawn investors, wedding the benefits to both water and soil to economic incentives. Unhealthy soil requires more water to produce the same amount of food. Healthy soil resulting from regenerative agricultural practices holds more water and therefore requires less water to be added. Underground and hydroponic versions of regenerative agriculture are also emerging.

Transportation and Regulatory Restrictions

Sustainability is also dependent on transportation and the supply chain. Governments are evaluating current practices and implementing changes that can positively affect climate change.

The food and beverage industry is actively embracing other changes that affect sustainability. Electric trucks fit well with their distribution hub model, with clean, quiet, short run deliveries. Fuel usage during transportation is being considered from every angle. Local and regional food systems, where farmers and processors sell and distribute their food to consumers within a given area, use less fossil fuel for transportation because the distance from farm to consumer is shorter, and therefore reduce CO2 emissions.

These eight areas are the defining issues facing food and beverage manufacturers today in sustainability. Sustainability impacts all of us, everywhere, and food and beverage manufacturing is right in the middle of it. What this means to the manufacturing world is that they must prepare their processes, systems, infrastructure and mindset to evolve their business in tune to the evolving issue of sustainability.

Mikael Bengtsson, Infor

As COVID-19 Stresses Food Suppliers, Technology Steps In

By Maria Fontanazza
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Mikael Bengtsson, Infor

The theme of better traceability and more transparency is a theme that will only grow stronger in the food industry. Just last week we heard FDA Deputy Commissioner for Food Policy and Response Frank Yiannas talk about the agency’s recently proposed FSMA rule on food traceability during the 2020 Food Safety Consortium Virtual Conference Series. In a recent Q&A with Food Safety Tech, Mikael Bengtsson, industry & solution strategy director for food & beverage at Infor, explains yet another role that technology can play in helping companies maintain agility during changes that affect the supply chain such as the coronavirus pandemic.

Food Safety Tech: How can food suppliers mitigate the risks of foodborne illness outbreaks under the stress of the COVID-19 pandemic and with limited resources?

Mikael Bengtsson: Food safety must always be a top priority for any food and beverage company. The risks associated with contamination can have a severe impact for public health, brand and company reputation. Safety routines are therefore always of the highest priority. In today’s situation with COVID-19, the stress on safety is further increased. Now, it’s not only about keeping products safe but also keeping employees healthy. One progression and resource that all food suppliers must follow is the FDA [FSMA rules], which require suppliers to be diligent and document their compliance. Especially now, while suppliers are faced with limited resources and additional stress during the pandemic, they must rely on the basics—ensuring masks are worn in and out of the workplace, washing hands for at least 20 seconds prior to touching any food, and remaining six feet apart from co-workers. When it comes to a crisis like COVID, take solace in knowing suppliers can rely on the basics—even when conditions are strained.

This year we have seen many companies having to adapt and change quickly. Demand has shifted between products, ingredients have been in shortage and many employees have had to work from home. Some were better prepared than others in adapting to the new situation. Technology plays a big role when it comes to agility. Regarding food safety, there are many proactive measures to be taken. The industry leaders establish transparency in their supply chain both upstream and downstream, use big data analysis to identify inefficiencies, as well as couple IoT with asset management systems to foresee issues before they happen.

FST: How can technology help suppliers meet the growing consumer demand for transparency in an end-to-end supply chain and improve consumer trust?

Mikael Bengtsson, Infor
Mikael Bengtsson, industry & solution strategy director for food & beverage at Infor

Bengtsson: Communication with consumers is changing. It is not only about marketing products, but also to educate and interact with consumers. This requires a different approach. Of course, consumers are loyal to brands, but are also tempted to try something new when grocery shopping. After a new study is published or a new story is written, consumers are likely to shift their shopping preferences.

It is therefore important to build a closer connection with consumers. Companies who have full supply chain visibility, transparency and traceability have detailed stories to tell their consumers. One way they can build these stories is by including QR codes on their packages. The consumer can then easily scan the code and be brought to a website that shows more product details—e.g. who was the farmer, how were the animals cared for and what sustainability efforts were involved. These are all important aspects to build consumer trust. According to researchers at MIT Sloan School of Management, investing in supply chain visibility is the optimal way to gain consumer trust, and can lead to increased sales.

FST: What technologies should suppliers leverage to better collaborate with trading partners and ensure consistent food safety procedures?

Bengtsson: When a food safety problem arises, batches, lots, and shipments need to be identified within minutes. Manufacturers must be able to trace all aspects of products throughout the entire supply chain—with complete visibility at the ingredient level—from farm to table, and everything in-between. An efficient and transparent food supply chain requires extensive collaboration and coordination between stakeholders. New technologies can extend both amount of collaboration possibilities and the impact of those collaborations. In order to maintain a transparent, efficient food supply chain, companies need to invest in modern cloud-based ERP and supply chain systems that incorporate the increased visibility of the Internet of Things (IoT) with data sharing, supplier and customer portals, and direct links between systems—all aimed at facilitating joint awareness and coordinated decision-making. Modern technologies that enable transparency will also have the added benefits of meeting consumer demand for product information, identifying and responding to food safety issues, reducing food waste, and supporting sustainability claims.

Megan Nichols
FST Soapbox

COVID-19 Led Many Dairy Farmers to Dump Milk

By Megan Ray Nichols
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Megan Nichols

Much of the news coverage surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic mentions infection numbers and fatalities. Those are undoubtedly important for showing parts of the overall impact. However, it’s easy to overlook the ramifications felt by some professionals. One recent example concerns the instances of dairy farmers dumping milk.

Numerous Factors Contributing to the Problem

The pandemic drastically and dramatically disrupted life. Many of the associated changes affected milk producers, but perhaps not in the ways people expect. As schools closed and restaurants operated on delivery or a takeaway-only basis, the demand for milk typically consumed in the food and educational sector went down.

Consider, too, that the pandemic forced the closure of enterprises that did not necessarily serve large quantities of milk every day but still likely placed ongoing orders with suppliers. For example, a daycare center might give toddlers boxes of dairy beverages each day during snack time. Coffee shops often add milk to their lattes or set out bottles for people who want to put some in their coffee.

When coronavirus cases emerged in the United States, many people panicked and flocked to grocery stores for essentials. Milk is often one of the staples people buy before winter storms hit, and they wanted it to prepare for the pandemic, too. One Target store in New Jersey sold out of its entire stock of milk in only five minutes. Stores responded by imposing per-person limits on the product.

If the demand exists, what caused the milk surplus? Part of it boils down to a lack of space at milk processing plants. A related issue is that processors typically serve particular markets. One might cater to retail buyers while another primarily addresses needs in the food service sector. They lack the infrastructure to pivot and begin accepting milk orders from a new type of customer, particularly if the milk-based product is substantially different, like sour cream versus ice cream.

A First-Time Phenomenon

Farmers discarding milk is not unheard of, but it’s not something many producers do regularly. Andrew Griffith, a professor at the University of Tennessee, said that some farmers had to do it recently for the first time in careers spanning decades. He explained, “It’s not that [dumping] hasn’t occurred from farm to farm.” Adverse weather conditions can delay pickups, and unexpected supply spoilages might lead to too much milk.

“But we’re talking about a level of dumping that is not common at all. There [are] a lot of farmers that are experiencing dumping milk for the first time in their 30- or 40-year careers,” Griffith said in an article published on The Counter.

The highly perishable nature of milk poses another problem contributing to the milk surplus. That aspect hit dairy harder than some other types of agricultural goods. People could put grain into silos, but storage is more complicated for dairy products.

Any exposure to higher-than-recommended temperatures causes spoilage. The subsequent risk to consumers means farmers must throw it away. Cold storage facilities are essential for the dairy industry. Statistics from 2018 indicated an average of 10.67 cents per kilowatt-hour for energy consumption at commercial facilities. However, cold storage facilities operate 24/7, so their energy needs are often higher than those of other commercial buildings.

Cows, dairy, farms
The coronavirus is only one of the challenges likely to impact the dairy industry in the coming months and years. Dairy consumption has been trending down for years. (Pexels image)

The delicate nature of the product is another unfortunate aspect that may lead to dumping milk. If a processor has no room to accept the raw goods, there’s nowhere for them to go. In April The Wall Street Journal reported that in one week, producers threw out as much as 7% of the milk in the United States from that period. The same story highlighted how a specialty cheese factory saw sales of its chèvre and ricotta drop by 95% in one day.

Coping With Dairy Industry Fluctuations

The coronavirus is only one of the challenges likely to impact the dairy industry in the coming months and years. A Statista chart profiles the progressive decline of milk consumption in the United States. The average amount of milk per person in 1975 totaled 247 pounds. It plunged to 149 pounds by 2017.

There’s also the issue of people showing a growing preference for plant-based milk alternatives. One industry analysis tracked sales of traditional and oat milk during mid-March. Purchases for the first category rose by 32%, while oat milk sales soared by 476%. A potential reason for that huge increase in the latter category is that supermarkets sell shelf-stable milk alternatives. Those often stay in date for months when unopened.

People can get them in the refrigerated section, too, but they may have preferred not to as they cut down their shopping trips due to COVID-19. Consumers also noticed the increasing number of milk-like beverages made from hemp, hazelnuts and other options. If a person tries one and doesn’t like it, they may try a different option.

Despite those challenges, some dairy farmers anticipated favorable trends—at least before the coronavirus hit. Producers get paid per 100 pounds of milk. Katie Dotterer-Pyle, owner of Cow Comfort Inn Dairy, said 2013 was a particularly good year for the rates. Back then, farmers received about $30 for every 100 pounds, although the price has stayed at approximately $17 per 100 over the past two years.

When Might the Milk Surplus Ease?

This coverage emphasizes the lack of a quick fix for the dairy industry strain. As restaurants reopen, that change should help address the problem, but it won’t solve it entirely. Some enterprises refocused their efforts to better meet current demands. One Dallas-based plant that handles dairy products more than halved its output of cardboard milk cartons and increased production of whole and 2% milk for the retail sector. It is now back to normal manufacturing runs.

As mentioned earlier, though, many processors can’t make such changes. Dumping milk becomes a heart-wrenching practice for hard-working producers. Many tried to compensate by selling their least-profitable cows for slaughter or making feeding changes to reduce the animals’ production. Some private entities committed to purchasing milk from farms and getting it to food banks. Other analysts say the government should step in to help.

People in the farming community support each other with tips and reassurance, but most know they could be in for a long struggle. As supply chains recovered from the initial shock of COVID-19, most people stopped panic buying, and stores no longer set product limits. Things are moving in the right direction, but the impacts remain present.

A Complicated Issue

Many state leaders have let businesses reopen, and others are following. Any step toward a new kind of normal is a positive one that should gradually help the dairy sector. However, much of what the future holds remains unknown, mainly since this is a new type of coronavirus, and scientists still have plenty to learn about mitigating it.