Tag Archives: last mile

Derek Stangle, Squadle
Retail Food Safety Forum

How the Pandemic Raised the Stakes for Food Safety

By Derek Stangle
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Derek Stangle, Squadle

Food safety concerns are constant across the food industry. From grocery stores to restaurants to meatpacking plants, the industry has doubled down on creating greater transparency into how food is stored, handled, cooked and delivered to the end customer. At the same time, new technology is helping food executives execute everything from contactless transactions to track, record, and promote their safety policies as never before.

Both independent restaurants and large chains see food safety as an issue that grew in importance during the pandemic. Diners have come to rely on restaurant policies for staff hygiene, such as washing hands, wearing gloves, and tracking personnel temperatures at the beginning of every shift. Their patrons expect that each restaurant will demonstrate how they are adhering to safety protocols. Restaurants are publishing their policies via signage, flyers added to take-out orders, social media posts, updated website language, or even safety protocols published to Yelp.

What’s more, their customers can easily access guidelines published by the CDC such as “Avoid Food Poisoning: Tips for Eating at Restaurants”, which explain how to check a restaurant’s safety score at the local health department website or find information, such as certificates that show kitchen managers have completed food safety training and posted it in the physical restaurant.

For restaurants, a transparent safety policy can become a competitive advantage, used to win new customers and attract the very best job candidates.

Grocery stores face similar challenges. From the checkout line to deli employees and the inventory clerks stocking the shelves, grocery employees are essential workers who also experience an unusually high level of public contact. According to the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW), which represents 1.3 million workers in food and retail, since the pandemic began, there have been more than 100,000 frontline and grocery union workers infected or exposed to COVID-19.

The UFCW has called for better safety precautions for grocery workers, including free PPE, paid sick leave, and vaccination prioritization that reflects their role as essential workers. As the national vaccination program picks up steam, more states are recognizing the need to vaccinate these essential workers, and they’ve been moved up in the prioritization line.

Until vaccines become more prevalent, however, grocery stores have adopted measures, much like those in restaurants, that are designed to protect both workers and shoppers. Mask mandates, one-way aisles, six-foot distancing, and Plexiglas shields at checkout are now commonplace.

Expanding Takeout and Delivery

Both restaurants and grocery stores have seen a huge shift to delivery ordering or curbside takeout over the course of the pandemic. Customers expect their favorite brands to give them the option of a frictionless, contactless experience where they have minimal contact with employees.

In order to offer a contactless takeout experience, both grocery stores and restaurants have invested heavily in technology. Curbside pickup and home delivery require an up-to-date website synched to inventory and menus. In addition, mobile apps enable guests to order remotely regardless of their location. The ability to pay via the app or a mobile wallet is the next step in a seamless contactless experience. Guests can pick up groceries or restaurant orders curbside, or pay a little more to have them delivered to their doorsteps.

The big advantage for shoppers is that they never come into contact with store employees, thus reducing the possibility of virus transmission. However, shoppers are finding that they also like the speed and convenience of the contactless experience. For this reason, many restaurants, such as McDonald’s and Chipotle, are expanding their drive-through capabilities.

Big brands like Amazon are doing the same with grocery. The Amazon Go concept store provides a “Just Walk Out Shopping” experience. There are no lines and no checkout. Customers download an Amazon Go app, and their items are automatically scanned and billed to their account. Other innovators include Wegman’s, which has partnered with Instacart to facilitate free delivery for its online shoppers, and brands like Safeway and Albertson’s, which also have curbside pickup facilitated via their mobile apps.

Back-of-House Technology

Back-of-house technology completes the food safety paradigm for restaurants and grocery stores. New systems that combine wireless networks with temperature monitors and data analysis make it simple and compulsory to track food temperatures throughout a facility. Remote sensors automatically record temperatures in coolers, the kitchen, and as orders move on to the customer.

Workflow automation in the back-of-house has become equally indispensable as food compliance has become increasingly more complex. Whether it’s a multi-unit restaurant or grocery brand, operators crave the data and visibility that only a digital solution can provide. Automation reduces the amount of time spent on tasks otherwise done manually, cuts down on the chance of errors, increases customer satisfaction and improves overall efficiency.

Technology helps the foodservice industry to stay on track, ensure compliance and encourages employees to stick with these practices. With a digital solution that keeps an electronic record of all the protocols that need to be completed, restaurants and groceries can record each inspection, such as taking photos of clean equipment and walk-in coolers at proper temperatures, as well as reminding them of their most important tasks and cleaning schedules.

FDA

FDA Receives Record Turnout As Industry Eager to Discuss New Era of Smarter Food Safety

By Maria Fontanazza
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FDA

Industry from the public and private sector joined for a record turnout during the FDA public meeting yesterday to discuss the agency’s initiative, a new era of smarter food safety. The meeting, which was at maximum capacity for both in-person as well as webcast attendance, began with a call to action from FDA Deputy Commissioner, Office of Food Policy and Response, Frank Yiannas on the importance of all stakeholders in the industry to work together to drive the change. As Yiannas has previously commented, the food industry is in the midst of a revolution. The world is changing faster than ever, and the FDA is challenged with not just creating a safer, more technology-centric and traceable food system, but also getting there faster and more effectively. “I’ve always believed that words we use are important,” he said. As the day’s various discussions would be around the new era of smarter food safety, Yiannas gave the audience a definition to consider: “A new era is a memorable or important date or event, especially one that begins with a new period in our history.”

FDA held breakout sessions centered on areas critical to the initiative:

  • Tech-enabled traceability and outbreak response
  • Smarter tools and approaches for prevention
  • Adapting to new business models and retail modernization
  • Food safety culture

During each session, FDA facilitators asked the audience questions. The following are some key points brought out during the breakouts.

Tech-Enabled Traceability and Outbreak Response

  • FDA should consider all parts of the supply chain when thinking about traceability
  • Take into account considerations for sharing sensitive data along the supply chain
  • Speaking a common language and creating data standards, along with necessary minimum data elements for traceability is critical
  • Better communication related to data sharing as well as more meetings with FDA and stakeholders, especially during outbreaks
  • Show industry the ROI of the data
  • Provide a roadmap or recommendation for companies on where they can begin on their traceability journey
  • Request for unity across government agencies (i.e., FDA, USDA), as it would provide more clarity during an outbreak

Smarter Tools and Approaches for Prevention

  • Trust and transparency are key
  • Safeguards that address privacy concerns and liability
  • Data
    • Data sharing: Concern about retroactive investigations
    • Types of data: With the “treasure trove” of existing data out there, which is the most important and helpful in improving food safety?
  • Environmental assessments and root cause analysis—more dialogue between FDA and industry

Adapting to New Business Models and Retail Food Safety Modernization

  • More need for collaboration
  • Globalization and use of best practices
  • Establishing a common standard to level the playing field
  • Establish best practices for tamper resistance
  • The last mile: Food safety training for food delivery personnel as well as harmonization for last mile delivery
  • More consumer education

Food Safety Culture

  • Emphasis on behavior and humanizing the work: Focusing on what happens within organizations at all levels
  • Clarity and communication are important
  • Leveraging current food safety culture best practices as well as any relevant existing standards (i.e., ISO, Codex)
  • Partnerships are critical, finding the balance between compliance and collaboration

Other Factors FDA Must Consider

The FDA meeting also included panel discussions that drew out the realities FDA must consider in this rapidly changing environment. “These are exciting times and this initiative is recasting our thinking in a whole new light,” said CFSAN Director Susan Mayne, adding, “We need to get ahead of these challenges and not be in reactive mode.”

Consumer awareness and demands for healthy, locally sourced and minimally processed food, for example, are creating increased pressures on food companies and retailers. In addition, the digital savvy and diverse Generation Z (the population born between 1990 and 2010, which will comprise nearly 40% of the U.S. population by 2020) has buying habits and a strong desire for transparency that is shifting how food companies will need to do business, according to Mary Wagner, president of MX Wagner & Associates.

“Trust represents safety, quality and commitment on a much more personal level to our consumers,” said Dirk Herdes, senior vice president at the Nielsen Company, emphasizing the need to communicate with authenticity. “Consumers have never been more informed, but never have been more overwhelmed with information. It’s not data—it’s trust. Trust is the new currency with which we’ll operate.”

FDA and USDA also remain committed to building a stronger relationship between the agencies, said Mindy Brashears, Ph.D., deputy undersecretary for food safety at USDA. “As science moves forward, we have to allow our policies to move forward to keep consumers safe,” she added.

The comments shared during yesterday’s meeting, along with written and electronic comments (with a deadline of November 20), will be considered as FDA puts together its blueprint document for a new era of smarter food safety. More information about providing comments can be found on the Federal Register page.