Tag Archives: public health

Pratik Soni, Omnichain
Retail Food Safety Forum

Top Three Visibility Challenges in Today’s Food Supply Chain

By Pratik Soni
No Comments
Pratik Soni, Omnichain

To say that COVID-19 has been disruptive would be putting it mildly. The pandemic’s sudden and seismic impact has brought major upheaval across industries—the food industry and its supply chain included.

There was the initial panic buying that drove upticks in consumer demand for which few manufacturers and grocers were prepared, resulting in widespread product shortages. With restaurants closed, distributors and suppliers were left with considerable excess inventory—most of which ended up as waste and losses. Inside production sites and plants, many had to try and maintain their output with a reduced workforce, even as demand continued to climb. Meanwhile, some plants unfortunately have had to shut down operations on account of employees testing positive for COVID-19.

In the time since the outbreak, the food supply chain has stabilized to an extent. Store shelves are continuously being replenished with products. Restaurants have started reopening with new health and safety measures. Yet even as the industry takes gradual steps toward recovery, the underlying problem that led to the magnitude of COVID-19’s impact persists: Lack of visibility. There was lack of visibility into supply and demand and what was happening upstream and downstream across the supply chain, which prevented timely, proactive action to optimize operations in face of disruption.

Looking ahead, participants across the food supply chain will need enhanced end-to-end visibility so that they can work together to get ahead of the curve. As part of gaining this visibility, they will need the transparent exchange of information and cohesive collaboration to adapt especially as the food industry continues to see shifts in consumer behavior and the marketplace in the wake of COVID-19—particularly in the following three key areas.

Food Distribution

While food producers have been working tirelessly to keep grocery store shelves and restaurant kitchens well stocked, there continues to be fluctuating availability on certain products, such as eggs, dairy, poultry and meat. This has led distributors and suppliers to increase their prices when selling these goods to stores and restaurants, who have had to then pass the additional costs on to consumers through their own price increases and surcharges, respectively. One report from CoBank, a cooperative bank part of the Farm Credit System, notes there could be as much as a 20% increase in the price of pork and beef this year due to supply issues.1 Many grocers have also implemented purchase limitations on consumers to combat shortages.

These downstream implications stem largely to uncertainty in the supply chain, with stores and restaurants unsure about available supply upstream and when they can expect to receive shipments. But if there was clearer visibility and transparency between production, distribution, transportation, food service and retail, then all parties could better anticipate and plan for supply shortages or delays. For instance, if a meat processing plant has to temporarily close due to cases of COVID-19, they can immediately communicate to the rest of the supply chain so that parties downstream can readily find alternative sources and minimize any necessary price inflations or other implications to consumers.

Consumer Demand

Even with the reopening of restaurants, people will likely choose to cook more of their meals at home. It was a trend that began with restaurant closures and will continue for the foreseeable future as consumers remain cautious of dining out. While this may bring tough times ahead for the food service industry, the grocery sector is seeing a huge lift in business. Research from restaurant management platform Crunchtime shows that, towards the end of June, restaurants were only seeing 64.5% of their pre-COVID-19 sales levels.2 At the same time, a study by Brick Meets Click and Mercatus reveals U.S. online grocery sales reached a record $7.2 billion in June, up nearly 10% over May.3

For food companies and brands, growth in the grocery sector has presented a challenge in the way of demand planning and forecasting. I’ve personally spoken with several company executives who have seen significant upticks in orders from their grocery channel partners—an increase for which they didn’t forecast—and are now struggling to adjust production levels accordingly to avoid the risk of excess production that would lead to unnecessary costs, wastes and losses. In such instances, real-time visibility into transactional activity and stock levels at the retail level would help production planners improve the accuracy of their forecasts and enable them to think steps ahead before orders come in and thereby optimally balance supply with demand. Stores would remain well stocked and the supply chain could flow in a more efficient and profitable way for all participants.

Food Handling

Without question, public health is the number one priority right now. Participants at each point in the food supply chain today need to communicate with each other, as well as to consumers, that they’re following best practices for social distancing, disinfecting and other precautions. It’s not to prevent the possible transfer of the virus via actual products, as the FDA notes there is currently no evidence of transmission through food or packaging. But rather, it’s to build greater confidence in the food supply chain—that everyone is doing their part to support individual and collective health and safety, which in turn prevents possible facility closures or other case-related bottlenecks that would inhibit consistent supply to the market.

There also has to be confidence that, amid these countermeasures for COVID-19, companies are still upholding their commitments to food safety, integrity and proper handling. What can support that confidence is data—shared data from every point in a product’s journey from source to shelf. The data should be transparent and available to all supply chain participants as well as immutable so that it is tamperproof and fully traceable should there be any problem, such as mislabeling or a foodborne illness. The data ultimately holds everyone accountable for their role in ensuring a safe food supply chain.

To achieve the level of visibility outlined above, the food industry will have to break away from legacy processes involving the siloed management of operational systems and databases. Instead, the disruption seen during COVID-19 and ongoing shifts in the marketplace should encourage companies to consider digital transformation and technologies that can enable a more cohesive and nimble food supply chain. These are technologies like blockchain, which provides a decentralized, distributed ledger to publish and share data in real time. Moreover, artificial intelligence that can leverage incoming real-time data to guide next-best actions, even when the unexpected occurs. Personally, I always return to the notion that the supply chain is a team sport. You need visibility to know what each team member is doing on the field and how to align everyone on a gameplay. The digital solutions available today offer that visibility and insight, as well as the agility to pivot as needed to obstacles along the journey from source to shelf.

References

  1. Taylor, K. (May 6, 2020). “The American meat shortage is pushing prices to unprecedented heights — here’s how it could affect your grocery bill.” Business Insider.
  2. Maze, J. (July 7, 2020). “As the coronavirus resurges, restaurant sales start slowing again.” Restaurant Business.
  3. Perez, S. (July 6, 2020). “US online grocery sales hit record $7.2 billion in June.” TechCrunch.
Recall

More than 500 Reported Ill, Red Onions Named in Salmonella Outbreak Investigation

By Food Safety Tech Staff
No Comments
Recall

–UPDATE: August 10, 2020 —

Last week USDA’s FSIS issued a public health alert concerning ready-to-eat meat and poultry products that contain the onions recalled by Thomson International, Inc. (see below news brief). The products have been distributed by retail establishments that include Walmart, Kroger, HEB and Amana Meat Shop & Smokehouse. The USDA has made available the full list of products subject to the public health alert.

–END UPDATE–

A multistate outbreak of Salmonella Newport has been traced back to red onions from Thomson International, Inc. a company based in Bakersfield, CA. As of July 31, 396 illnesses were reported in the United States, with 59 hospitalized across 34 states. In Canada, 120 cases have been confirmed, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada.

As a result, Thomson International is recalling all varieties of its onions (red, white, yellow and sweet) that “could have come in contact with potentially contaminated red onions”, according to an FDA alert.

The FDA, CDC, state and local agencies, as well as the Public Health Agency of Canada are investigating the outbreak. FDA recommends that consumers, restaurants and retailers refrain from eating, selling or serving any onions from Thomson International. The agency also states that any surfaces, containers or storage areas that may have come into contact with these products be cleaned and sanitized.

Sean O'Leary, FoodLogiQ

The Value of a One Percent Improvement

By Food Safety Tech Staff
No Comments
Sean O'Leary, FoodLogiQ

During the past year, the headlines have been filled with stories of foodborne illness, product recalls, and consumers becoming sick from tainted food. In a Q&A with Food Safety Tech, Sean O’Leary, CEO at FoodLogiQ, talks food safety, traceability, and how small percentages can translate into big victories for the food industry and for the people they serve.

Food Safety Tech: From your perspective, what is the current sentiment of consumers with regard to food safety?

Sean O’Leary: Over the last few years, the consumer mindset has changed about food in general. We’ve watched fad diets come and go; however, the interest in healthy ingredients and the concern about where food comes from has graduated from a passing trend to a full shift into the public consciousness. Consumers are much more discerning about what they eat; they also demand to know where their food comes from, how it was produced, and how it got to their table. We are living in the age of transparency, and consumer expectations are high.

And who can blame them? CDC statistics tell us that approximately 48 million people get sick every year from foodborne illnesses—and that’s just in the United States; 128,000 of them end up in the hospital. When a person is admitted to the hospital, it affects more than just that one individual. If the patient is the sole breadwinner of their family, their illness affects the entire family. If the person who gets sick is a child, there can be long-term consequences that trickle down to his or her whole community. And when you consider that 3,000 people die every year from foodborne illness—that’s one 9/11 every year. That’s unacceptable, because this is a preventable issue, and unfortunately, these illnesses are an underreported public health problem.

My challenge to the food industry is simple: What if we made just a 1% improvement in the number of cases of foodborne illness? That seems like such a small percentage, but when you do that math, that’s 480,000 people who don’t get sick this year; 1,280 people who aren’t admitted to the hospital; and 30 people who don’t die. Those are significant numbers.

Sean O'Leary, FoodLogiQ
Sean O’Leary joined FoodLogiQ as CEO in January 2019 with more than 25 years of experience in the technology industry.

FST: To help shed additional light on this subject, FoodLogiQ conducted a national survey to tap into how U.S. consumers feel about issues related to food transparency. What did you learn from those consumer responses?

O’Leary: We polled more than 2,000 people to gauge their sentiment around food traceability and their expectations for food companies regarding foodborne illness and product recalls. The survey also posed questions around consumer preferences regarding their food sources and how they are identified on food labels and menus. The results were enlightening, to say the least.

We learned that a brand or restaurant will pay a high price in terms of customer loyalty if they experience a food recall due to consumer illness. And those customers have some strong opinions regarding how quickly the brand or restaurant should address a food safety issue.

  • 35% of survey respondents told us they would avoid an affected brand or restaurant for a few months, and maybe they would return after the issue had been resolved. Meanwhile, nearly 25% admitted they would never use the brand or visit the restaurant again.
  • Of the respondents who say they care about the quality of the food they eat, 55% say they expect a recall to be executed within 24 to 48 hours.

In reality, it sometimes takes weeks for a product to be pulled from the store or restaurant. This is frequently due to communication issues, since everyone along the supply chain—the grower, supplier, packing and distribution centers, corporate office, and the retailer or restaurant—all must be notified, and a recall plan must be set in motion. Unfortunately, that communication process takes time. When that communication takes place via email or by phone call, the people responsible for pulling product may not have the information they need or may have received misinformation. This can result in lag time, and potentially unsafe product can still get into the hands of consumers.

The faster a food company can address a recall situation and return to business as usual, the faster customers will come back. But comprehensive supply chain transparency is needed to be able to make swift, accurate decisions during this time of crisis. By having a robust end-to-end traceability program and technology that provides real-time data and visibility, companies facing a recall can isolate and surgically withdraw the tainted product out of the supply chain without recalling more items than necessary. That limits the disruption and the waste of good food, which saves the company money.

FST: You recently attended the FDA’s “A New Era of Smarter Food Safety” public meeting in Maryland. What do you think this new campaign will mean for the food industry?

O’Leary: FoodLogiQ was honored to have the opportunity to share our intricate knowledge of the food supply chain, as well as best practices regarding whole chain traceability during this monumental meeting with the FDA with more than 250 food industry leaders.

In retrospect, one thing is clear—we’re in the midst of a pivotal time of change for the world’s food supply chain. In the United States, the food industry remained status quo for decades, but the introduction of FSMA has brought increased scrutiny and accountability; I think it’s made every food company pause and evaluate where they are with regard to food safety, and that’s a good thing. And now, with the launch of the “New Era” campaign, we’re coming together in a collaborative fashion to map out how technology tools, prevention measures, new business models, and an evolving culture of food safety can be merged as a framework for a long term food safety solution. I agree with the FDA; ‘Smarter Food Safety’ is people-led, FSMA-based, and technology-enabled. It will take all of us working together to reach that goal.

Alec Senese, Bayer Crop Science, Digital Pest Management
Bug Bytes

If You Think Plague Is a Thing of the Past, Think Again

By Alec Senese
No Comments
Alec Senese, Bayer Crop Science, Digital Pest Management

Rodents are vectors of more than 50 pathogens, including plague.1 While plague may be considered a problem of the past, according to the World Health Organization, between 2010 and 2015, there were 3,248 cases of reported plague worldwide and 584 deaths. While it is clearly not the 1300’s when the plague killed millions, the CDC confirms, “plague occurs in rural and semi-rural areas of the western United States, primarily in semi-arid upland forests and grasslands where many types of rodent species can be involved.” While the fact that plague is still lurking is a bit surprising, it should be no surprise that rodents can spread more than 50 diseases. Not the least of these diseases is Salmonella braenderup, the cause of recall of approximately 206,749,248 eggs in 2018. The good news: In the age of IoT, new technology can enable an immediate response to help prevent infestations from growing out of control.

With rodent populations on the rise due to climate change and the resultant public health issues in major cities across the United States, public health officials and pest managers face unimaginable challenges in staying ahead of rapidly growing and spreading rodent infestations. Earlier this year, Los Angeles had a typhus outbreak that resulted from a rat infestation near an encampment for those experiencing homelessness. The unsanitary conditions created a harborage for rats that spread the flea-borne illness. Cases of typhoid have doubled in the area since 2012. When and where will the next pathogen outbreak from rodent activity hit?

If that’s not frightening enough, it is important to highlight that once an infected, flea-carrying rodent enters a facility, eliminating the rodent does not always necessarily mean eliminating the presence of plague pathogens. The World Health Organization explains that once vectors have been introduced through rodents and their fleas, it is not enough to eliminate rodents. Vector control must take place before rodent control because “killing rodents before vectors will cause the fleas to jump to new hosts.”

Controlling the spread of pathogens via rodents is becoming increasingly important, particularly in sensitive environments like food processing and manufacturing facilities. Effective management begins with early and accurate detection and sustained through continuous monitoring. However, the traditional method of manual rodent inspection by its very nature cannot provide facility and pest managers with either early detection or continuous monitoring.

Thanks to IoT, monitoring systems can now be used in a wide variety of rodent monitoring devices inside and outside a facility. The systems transmit messages in real time over wireless networks and provide pest managers, facility management and public health officials with 24/7 visibility of rodent activity in a monitored location, which will enable more timely responses and help improve the effectiveness of mitigation efforts. Digital IoT technologies are rapidly becoming the modern proactive tool used to help predict and control rodent issues before they occur in an age when traditional, reactive methods are insufficient.

Reference

  1. Meerburg, B.G., Singleton, G.R., and Kijlstra, A. (2009). “Rodent-borne Diseases and their Risk for Public Health”. Crit Rev Microbiol.
Susanne Kuehne, Decernis
Food Fraud Quick Bites

I Have a Beef with You

By Susanne Kuehne
No Comments
Susanne Kuehne, Decernis
Food Fraud, Decernis, Prime beef
Find records of fraud such as those discussed in this column and more in the Food Fraud Database. Image credit: Susanne Kuehne

Over the course of three years, wholesale meat fraudsters in Brooklyn, NY, removed the USDA stamp on “Choice” beef and applied a counterfeit USDA “Prime” stamp to sell the fraudulently labeled meat at a premium price. A conviction can get the defendants a prison sentence of up to 20 years, even public health was not endangered, however, the USDA is taking integrity and quality of food very seriously.

Resources

  1. John Marzulli, U.S. Attorney’s Office (September 24, 2019). “Two Defendants Charged in Scheme to Sell Fraudulently Misbranded Beef Products”. Department of Justice, U.S. Attorney’s Office, Eastern District of New York

FDA’s CAPT Palmer Orlandi Promoted for Public Health Leadership

By Food Safety Tech Staff
No Comments

Palmer A. Orlandi, Jr., Ph.D., senior science officer and research director in FDA’s Office of Foods and Veterinary Medicine, has been promoted to the rank of Rear Admiral and the U.S. Assistant Surgeon General. Orlandi received the flag-grade promotion during a ceremony held Thursday afternoon in the FDA Wiley Building.

“As the senior ranking officers in the Commissioned Corps, flag officers exemplify the core values for which Commissioned Officers of the U.S. Public Health Service are held in high esteem. Flag officers provide executive-level leadership within the Department and within the Agencies in which they serve. Our flag officers also carry the title of Assistant Surgeon General and, as such, we rely on them to support special initiatives and exhibit the highest caliber of public health leadership.” – Commissioned Corps of the U.S. Public Health Service

Palmer Orlandi, FDA, Food Safety Consortium
WATCH THE VIDEO: Palmer Orlandi discusses FSMA and laying the groundwork for data acceptance in lab partnerships at the Food Safety Consortium.

Orlandi joined FDA 20 years ago, beginning his work at a research lab for CFSAN. It was there that he developed rapid and molecular detection methods for Cyclospora and Cryptosporidia and the Microsporidia (emerging food-and waterborne protozoan parasites). In 2008 he became the science coordinator in the Division of Field Science in FDA’s Office of Regulatory Affairs (ORA) where he oversaw collaborative analytical methods programs for ORA and the Food Emergency Response Network. In 2012 Orlandi took on the role of senior science advisor to the chief scientist officer at the Office of Food and Veterinary Medicine. He played an active role in integrating science and research efforts across the agency’s foods program, and working to align research and lab programs to regulatory field lab needs.

Orlandi received a Commission as an officer in the U.S. Army in 1981. He has been an officer in the Commission Corps of the Public Health Service since 1991.

Deirdre Schlunegger, CEO of STOP Foodborne Illness
Food Safety Culture Club

Creating a Food Safety Culture

By Deirdre Schlunegger
No Comments
Deirdre Schlunegger, CEO of STOP Foodborne Illness

Thanks to Walmart, I recently had the good fortune to attend a course titled “Creating a Food Safety Culture” at Michigan State University. Presented by Frank Yiannas, vice president of food safety for Walmart, the course was an invigorating gathering of food safety professionals and included striking conversations about culture, food safety, and behavior-based modalities. Frank even mentioned this blog in class, saying, “I am in” in reference to the Food Safety Culture Club. We found time for some fun in the evenings, which included a night out with “Sparty” the MSU mascot and a dinner at the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum on Campus. What a great time!

After introductions, Frank started the two-day class with a definition of culture. He presented it as defined by the Social & Behavioral Foundations of Public Health: “Culture is shared patterns of thought and behavior that characterize a social group, which are learned through socialization processes and persist through time.”

This launched a delivery and discussion of attributes of a food safety culture, diving deeper into each attribute. We learned about the Science of Influence and discussed a proposed divergence between the terms “accountability” and “responsibility”. Frank framed the presentation by contrasting Traditional verses Behavior-Based Food Safety Management. We thought about how the world, the food supply and food safety is changing. In the view of STOP Foodborne Illness, one thing remains the same: Food Safety only exists because humans can and have become ill from eating, which instigates a string of consequences, none of which are positive. And only humans can make a difference—OK, well, with the help of technology.

Frank shared the slide from the STOP Foodborne Illness website that portrays the faces of those who have perished, those with life-long consequences, and the survivors of foodborne illness. From the perspective of STOP Foodborne Illness, the most important food safety attribute is human life, and it must lead, be at the forefront, and be integrated into each and every attribute, goal and measurement so that the consequence is not serious illness or the loss of life.

Image courtesy of STOP Foodborne Illness
Image courtesy of STOP Foodborne Illness

Frank shared the quote from the 2003 Investigation Board of the Space Shuttle Columbia (the incident when the shuttle Columbia broke up upon returning to Earth, killing seven astronauts on board. The board cited cultural traits and organizational barriers that prevented effective communication and thus affected safety). “In our view, the NASA organizational culture had as much to do with this accident as the foam.” This certainly is relevant in food safety environments, and there is much to be learned.

This is just a snippet of the course—there is so much more to share, and just not enough room here. Hats off to Frank, to my colleagues, to Michigan State University, and to Walmart. I came home with many thoughts, ideas and planned actions to share with the staff, board and constituents of STOP Foodborne Illness. Let’s keep the conversation going and grow membership in the club!

Cities Using Social Media to Police Restaurants

The U.S. is catching on, using Yelp to check health inspection scores for eateries in San Francisco, Louisville, Kentucky, and several other communities.

Yelp-barfblogWhile cities like Guelph, Ontario, are being dragged into the age of public disclosure, countries like Singapore have been training and using restaurant patrons as gumshoes for a decade to help public health types identify possible infractions through the use of cell phones (with nifty cameras).

The U.S. is slowly catching on, reports The Bulletin in Oregon, using Yelp to check health inspection scores for eateries in San Francisco, Louisville, Kentucky, and several other communities.

Local governments increasingly are turning to social media to alert the public to health violations and to nudge establishments into cleaning up their acts. A few cities are even mining users’ comments to track foodborne illnesses or predict which establishments are likely to have sanitation problems.

“For consumers, posting inspection information on Yelp is a good thing because they’re able to make better, informed decisions about where to eat,” said Michael Luca, an assistant professor at Harvard Business School who specializes in the economics of online businesses. “It also holds restaurants more accountable about cleanliness.”

In recent years, dozens of city and county health departments have been posting restaurant inspection results on government websites to share with the public. Turning to Yelp or other social media, or using crowd-sourced information to increase public awareness, is the next logical step, some officials say.

“Yelp is a window into the restaurant. The restaurateurs don’t want a bad (health) score on Yelp. They’ll be more attentive about getting the restaurants cleaned up and safer,” said Rajiv Bhatia, former environmental health director for the San Francisco Department of Public Health.

“It’s also valuable because it allows the public to see the workings of a government agency, and puts some pressure on the agency to do its job,” said Bhatia, a physician who is now a public health consultant.

The National Restaurant Association, the industry’s trade group, said that while it supports transparency and consumers’ access to information, it worries that because inspection standards differ from city to city, Yelp users might not be familiar with rating terminology and therefore could draw incorrect conclusions.

David Matthews, the association’s general counsel, also said the timing of postings is crucial because restaurants often correct findings and generate different ratings after a re-inspection.

Luther Lowe, Yelp’s director of public policy said putting health scores and inspection results in an accessible place where consumers already are searching for restaurant information makes a lot more sense than “relying on those clunky (health department) dot-gov websites.”

This article originally appeared in barfblog.com

GFSI Position on Mitigating the Public Health Risk of Food Fraud

By Michael Biros
No Comments

New Food Fraud mitigation elements will be added to the next revision of the GFSI Guidance Document.

The GFSI board has decided to add two new key elements to the GFSI Guidance Document that address food fraud mitigation according to a recently published white paper. 

The additions to the Guidance Document will require a company to perform a food fraud vulnerability assessment and to have a control plan in place. The vision for the mitigation of food fraud to become an integral part of a company’s food safety management program. 

During a food safety certification audit, conducted against GFSI recognized schemes, the auditor will review the documentation related to the vulnerability assessment process and confirm that a comprehensive control plan has been developed and implemented by the company. 

Food fraud, including the subcategory of economically motivated adulteration, is not the same as food defense. Food defense protects against tampering with intent to harm whereas food fraud concerns the deception of consumers and includes substitution, unapproved enhancements, misbranding, counterfeiting, and stolen goods. The food safety risks associated with food fraud can be more dangerous and challenging to address than traditional food safety risks because the contaminants are unconventional. Some high profile food fraud incidents include the melamine tainted milk crisis, mislabeled recycled cooking oil, and knowingly shipping Salmonella contaminated peanuts. 

The new food fraud mitigation key elements will be included in the next revision of the GFSI Guidance Document (Version 7) to be released in 2016.