Tag Archives: recalls

FDA

FDA Final Guidance Informs Companies on When to Notify Public about Food Recalls

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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FDA

FDA has issued a final guidance that reviews the situations in which a company should warn the public about a voluntary food recall. This includes the appropriate timeframe for issuing the warning and what information a company should include in the warning. The guidance, “Public Warning and Notification of Recalls”, also discusses when the FDA may decide to take action to issue a public warning, should one that a company issues is not sufficient.

In an agency statement, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, MD., also addresses the buzz around folks feeling that there have been more recalls. “In actuality, for fiscal year 2018, there were a total of 7,420 recalls with 831 that were classified as the highest risk. That figure represents a five-year low in recalls. However, the reason why recall notices might seem to have increased is that our publicizing of these events has become more prominent,” said Gottlieb. “We’re routinely providing more information on recalls and other safety issues that have happened.” He added that the ability to detect, track and trace product issues has improved with the help of technology, including whole genome sequencing.

“Our labs are currently testing cutting-edge technology that can screen for multiple allergens simultaneously and even technology that shrinks the genetic testing of pathogens from machines that were once the size of an entire room to a device that’s smaller than many smart phones. We’ll also be working to improve product traceability by tapping into modern approaches, such as blockchain technology, to further advance our mission of protecting public health.” – Scott Gottlieb, M.D., FDA

In addition, the agency is looking at how new technologies can be used notify consumers about whether a product they purchased has been recalled.

Maria Fontanazza, Douglas Marshall, Food Safety Consortium, Eurofins

Top Questions Food Companies Should Ask Prospective Suppliers

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Maria Fontanazza, Douglas Marshall, Food Safety Consortium, Eurofins

Building a supply chain verification program can be a complicated task. In the following exclusive video with Doug Marshall, Ph.D., chief scientific officer at Eurofins, we learn the top questions that should be asking their suppliers during the process. Marshall also gives his perspective on the integration of data into the supply chain and how it can mitigate risk, along with where he’s sees the future of food safety testing headed.

Video shot at the 2018 Food Safety Consortium.

Gisli Herjolfsson, Controlant
FST Soapbox

How Supply Chain Digitalization and Data Helps Prevent Costly Recalls

By Gisli Herjolfsson
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Gisli Herjolfsson, Controlant

Recalls are something that food brands plan for but hope to never experience. They are an important public safety issue, but they also have a significant economic impact as well. At best, a product recall is a benign mistake that causes little more than aggravation and inconvenience for a few angry customers. At worst, the consequences can be tragic, both in terms of human and financial impact.

Industry research conducted by the Food Marketing Institute and Grocery Manufacturers Association places the average cost of a single recall at $10 million. That calculation includes only the direct costs of a recall. For the full, long-term costs, including direct and indirect liabilities, you’d need to further account for the immediate loss in sales, litigation costs, as well as any long-term damage caused from a loss in consumer confidence in your brand.

Consumers’ relationship with food is ever changing. They demand transparency about its contents, origin and safety, and for good reason. The World Health Organization estimates that nearly 1 in 10 people are sickened yearly from eating contaminated food, leading to 420,000 deaths. Consumers have long memories for businesses that poison them. The larger the size of your company and the more attention it receives, the potentially greater impact on your long-term business prospects. With the recent E. coli outbreaks tied to romaine lettuce, food safety is top of mind for consumers, and it is impacting entire market segments.

One of the easiest ways to prevent recalls associated with perishable foods is to ensure that food and beverage products are safely produced and continually kept at the right temperatures. Sounds easy, right? In reality, it is far from it.
Gaining end-to-end supply chain visibility can help you prevent costly recalls altogether. Data that today’s technology provides will be important for mitigating risk and protecting a brand’s reputation.

Get Proactive

The idea of prevention is paramount to FSMA. It’s clear that the FDA expects that once a producer or supplier discovers that something has gone wrong, they go back and figure out exactly what happened so that they can put measures in place to prevent it from happening again.

While current FDA guidelines and various EU safety regulations generally require that food can be tracked one step up and one step down the supply chain, this remains a very siloed approach to traceability and is open to risks—risks that producers, food retailers and restaurant brands cannot afford to take.

For USDA-regulated products, HACCP employs a similar process. Prevention is key, and if your monitoring measures miss an issue that could compromise food safety, you’ll need to go back and determine the root cause of the problem.
A cold food manufacturer can do a lot to control risks under its own roof, but how do you avoid costly recalls with ingredients or with temperature abuse after a product leaves the facility? Regulations or not, knowing where your ingredients and food products come from and being assured of their safety is critical in protecting your brand and company from the financial and reputational damage caused by a food recall.

Looking forward in the supply chain, maintaining the cold chain is necessary for many products, including fresh produce, frozen and deep frozen foods, and also those that must be kept at room temperature but still require temperature control. Even if you and your suppliers are incredibly careful and practice prudent safety measures, you may not have full visibility over who else is handling your products. If temperature mishandling by someone else necessitates a food recall or results in a food safety incident, it is still associated with your brand, even if you weren’t the direct culprit.

For many food retailer and restaurant chains, it is common practice for them to share their internal food safety guidelines with their suppliers and partners, and require that they prove a product’s source of origin, lifespan, how those products are stored and transported from point A to point B, as well as the environmental conditions in which foods are kept. Allowing suppliers and logistics partners to self-manage their supply chain does nothing to proactively ensure that they and a food brand aren’t in the headlines due to a food safety incident.

Digitally Connect the Supply Chain

This is where technology and data can play a critical role in managing your temperature-controlled food and beverage products. More and more food enterprises are utilizing Internet of Things (IoT) technologies that talk to the internet so they can collect supply chain data into dashboards and access it on demand.

IoT can be considered as a central nervous system for the supply chain. Through IoT, you can track shipments or trace temperature, moisture or other factors that can have an impact on food quality. Not only can you discover problems more rapidly with this technology, you can narrow the scope of recall. For businesses transporting temperature-sensitive products, this means they can manage product movement data in real-time and respond to issues before they lead to a food safety incident or product waste.

From a food production standpoint, IoT solutions can substantially reduce recalls from issues like labeling, processing and contamination. One of the primary causes of a food recall is microbiological in nature, with the majority of cases involving fruits and produce. IoT data can help detect issues further upstream in the supply chain and, since products will change hands several times before they reach a consumer, it can give you a complete picture of the product’s lifecycle—something that cannot be done with clipboards and ad hoc or periodic inspections.

Through cloud technology, food businesses can connect their end-to-end supply chain, analyze data, discover trends, illuminate weak points and directly respond to them to improve their overall processes.

Track and Trace Everything

Continuous and consistent tracking and tracing through technology not only simplifies recalls, it helps prevent them altogether. The only thing worse than being faced with a food recall is not knowing which products are affected or where exactly they are located.

Real-time temperature monitoring and product movement traceability technology can give you the confidence that foods are continuously kept at their required temperatures and remain safe for consumption. When you need to track and trace an ingredient or product, time is often of the essence. Delays may mean more resources and efforts are spent in producing something that may be rejected, or worse, recalled, or that the potentially impacted product isn’t isolated in time.

The digital integration of suppliers and other partners is vital if a food enterprise wants to have more control over its cold chain. Consumer demand for social responsibility and ethical business operations means that businesses need to provide greater visibility and transparency into the origins of their products. With today’s supply chains, having data—essentially, a horizontal IT layer that lets people share and access data—removes the barriers of communication among stakeholders.
IoT serves as a tool to remove the barriers to collaboration between food manufacturers, food logistics businesses, restaurant and food retail chains, regulatory agencies, and the end consumer. It increases the transparency of information and helps to deliver better products throughout the food supply chain.

Get Started

Acknowledging that most food companies have limited resources, food brands can still face their efforts only on the suppliers and customers that are of the greatest concern. Often this means looking at the combination of “high-risk product” with “high-risk supplier/partner” and prioritizing that part of the supply chain. This prioritization will help food brands allocate their resources and focus their time and money on the highest risks to their customers and brand. Once they’re able to reap the benefits of a preventive food safety program, they’re better able to justify allocating additional resources to other parts of the cold chain.

While IoT, cloud monitoring and traceability technology has been around for some time, real-time data is now becoming standard. Traditionally, the cost of IoT technology and data infrastructure could be quite expensive. However, different business models like subscription are on the rise, which lower the cost of entry for new prospects and can connect a broader range of products, not only high-value goods.

Although many food brands already have some proactive food safety programs in place, it only takes one incident to lead to a major food recall—even if it isn’t your company’s product—and it can negatively impact your business.
As an industry, food brands need to continue raising the bar in terms of what is considered standard and “best practice” when building an effective, proactive food safety strategy. Utilizing best-in-class technology can ensure the delivery of safe foods to the market, prevent recalls, protect business interests, and most importantly, protect consumers.

sad face

Notable Outbreaks and Recalls of 2018

By Maria Fontanazza
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sad face

As stated by CDC’s John Besser, Ph.D. last month at the Food Safety Consortium, “It’s been quite a year for outbreaks.” Here’s a not-so-fond look back at some of the noteworthy outbreaks and recalls of 2018.

Romaine Lettuce –E.coli O157:H7

2018 was not a good year for romaine lettuce. In the spring, a deadly multistate outbreak of E.coli O157:H7 was linked to romaine lettuce that came from the Yuma, Arizona growing region. “We knew right away that this was going to get bad and that it would get bad quickly,” said Matthew Wise, deputy branch chief for outbreak response at the Outbreak Response and Prevention Branch of the CDC at the 2018 Food Safety Consortium. Although the CDC declared the outbreak over at the end of June, the total number of illnesses had reached 210, with five deaths.

Then in November it was revealed that contaminated lettuce was coming from growing regions in northern and central California. According to the latest update from FDA, there have been 59 reported illnesses, with 23 hospitalizations, across 16 states. No deaths have been reported. Earlier this month Adam Bros Farming, Inc. recalled red leaf lettuce, green leaf lettuce and cauliflower, because it may have come into contact with water from the reservoir where the E. coli outbreak strain was found.

Raw Beef Products – Salmonella

At the beginning of the month, JBS Tolleson, Inc. expanded a recall of its non-intact raw beef products due to concerns of contamination with Salmonella Newport. More than 12 million pounds of product have been recalled. The latest CDC update put the reported case count at 333, with 91 hospitalizations across 28 states.

Shell Eggs – Salmonella

In April, Rose Acre Farms recalled more than 206 million eggs after FDA testing determined that eggs produced from the company’s farm were connected to 22 cases of Salmonella Braenderup infections. A total of 45 cases were reported across 10 states, with 11 hospitalizations, according to the CDC.

Pre-cut Melon – Salmonella

In June Caito Foods recalled its pre-cut melon products after a multi-state outbreak of Salmonella Adelaide infections were traced back to the products. A total of 77 cases across nine states, with 36 hospitalizations, were reported.

Vegetable Trays – Cyclospora

In July, Del Monte recalled its vegetable trays that contained broccoli, cauliflower, carrots and dill dip following confirmed cases of cyclosporiasis in people who consumed the products. The CDC declared the outbreak over in September, with a final case count at 250 people across four states.

Salad Mix – Cyclospora

Fresh Express salad mix served at McDonalds was linked to a multistate outbreak of cyclosporiasus. The outbreak was declared over in September, with the final illness count at 511, and 24 hospitalizations.

Raw Turkey – Salmonella

Just before Thanksgiving an outbreak of Salmonella linked to raw turkey products was announced. Jennie-O Turkey Store Sales recalled more than 255,000 pounds of raw ground turkey products, however the CDC has not identified a single, common supplier that can account for this outbreak. As of the agency’s latest update on December 21, 216 cases have been reported across 38 states. The outbreak is responsible for 84 hospitalizations and one death.

Honey Smacks Cereal – Salmonella

The early summer outbreak of Salmonella Mbandaka linked to Kellogg’s Honey Smacks cereal got a lot of press, and it didn’t help that even though the company recalled the product, many retailers continued to keep the cereal on their shelves. The last illness onset was reported at the end of August. A total of 135 people were reported ill, with 34 hospitalizations.

Duncan Hines Cake Mix – Salmonella

The company recalled four varieties of its cake mixes after a retail sample tested positive for Salmonella Agbeni.

Johnston County Hams – Listeria monocytogenes

The company recalled more than 89,000 pounds of RTE deli loaf ham products over concerns of adulteration with Listeria monocytogenes.

Other outbreaks involving Salmonella this year included dried and frozen coconut, pasta salad, chicken salad and raw sprouts.

2018

The Future of Food Safety: A Year in Review

By Mahni Ghorashi
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2018

We started this Q&A series earlier this year with a clear vision—to gather the success stories, best practices, hurdles and achievements from the best in our industry. Our hope is that as the series expands and evolves, food safety professionals everywhere will be informed and inspired by what the future holds.

Over the course of the year, I had the pleasure of interviewing three such experts: Bob Baker, corporate food safety science and capability director at Mars, Inc, Frank Yiannas, vice president of food safety at Walmart, and Mike Robach, vice president, corporate food safety, quality & regulatory for Cargill.

I encourage you to read the interviews for their unique perspectives, but here are a few of the biggest insights that we can all take with us into 2019.

The Continued Rise of New Technologies

Mike Robach: I am very excited about the application of new technology to our food safety programs. In-line, real-time testing gives an opportunity to manage our processes and make immediate adjustments to assure process control. This allows us to prevent product that is out of control from reaching the marketplace.

Frank Yiannas: The emergence of blockchain technology has also enabled food system stakeholders to imagine being able to have full end-to-end traceability at the speed of thought. The ongoing U.S.-wide romaine lettuce E.coli outbreak showed us, once again, that our traditional paper-based food tracking system is no longer adequate for the 21st century. An ability to deliver accurate, real-time information about food, how it’s produced, and how it flows from farm to table is a game-changer for food safety.

Blockchain has the potential to shine a light on all actors in the food system. This enhanced transparency will result in greater accountability, and greater accountability will cause the food system to self-regulate and comply with the safe and sustainable practices that we all desire.

The Most Exciting Shifts

Baker: What’s encouraging is we’re seeing is a willingness to share information. At Mars we often bring together world experts from across the globe to focus on food safety challenges. We continue to see great levels of knowledge sharing and collaboration.

There are also new tools and new technologies being developed and applied. Something we’re excited about is a trial of portable ‘in-field’ DNA sequencing technology on one of our production lines in China. This is an approach that could, with automated sampling, reduce test times.

Yiannas: While there is no doubt that there are numerous new and emerging challenges in food safety, the many advancements being made should give us hope that we can create a safer, more efficient and sustainable food system.

There is progress being made on many fronts: Whole genome sequencing is becoming more accessible; new tools are being developed for fraud detection; and FSMA is introducing stringent public-health surveillance measures that have dramatic implications for U.S. retailers and suppliers and our import partners.

Most importantly, consumers are now overwhelmingly interested in transparency. People today are further removed from how food is grown, produced and transported than at any other time in human history. Plus, they increasingly mistrust food and food companies due to the food outbreaks and scares we have faced in recent years.

Recalls and the Role of Regulation

Robach: I think FSMA implementation is going okay right now. There’s still a long way to go, and I am always concerned about making sure investigators are applying the rules and regulations in a consistent manner. I see the intentional adulteration rule as an upcoming challenge. It is one thing to conduct a vulnerability assessment and adjust your programs based on the results. It’s another to develop and implement a program that will prevent intentional adulteration as you would to reduce or prevent microbiological contamination.

I believe that food safety management programs are constantly improving and that our food is as safe as it has ever been. However, we still have a lot of work to do. At GFSI, we are continually improving our benchmarking requirements and increasing transparency in the process. We have better public health reporting and our ever-improving analytical technology allows us to detect contaminants at lower and lower levels. The industry is working collaboratively to share best practices and promote harmonized food safety management systems throughout the supply chain.

Baker: At Mars, quality is our first principle and we take it seriously—if we believe that a recall needs to be made in order to ensure the safety of our consumers, then we will do it. We also share lessons from recalls across our business to ensure that we learn from every experience.

Unfortunately, there does not seem to be a safe place for businesses to share such insights with each other. So although we are seeing more collaboration in the field of food safety generally, critical knowledge and experience from recalls is not being shared more broadly, which may be having an impact.

Looking Ahead

Baker: The food safety challenges facing us all are complex and evolving. Water and environmental contaminants are areas that industry and regulators are also looking at, but all of these challenges will take time to address. It’s about capturing and ensuring visibility to the right insights and prioritizing key challenges that we can tackle together through collaboration and knowledge sharing.

We’re looking forward to continuing our quest in the new year and already have a few exciting experts lined up. Stay tuned!

Deirdre Schlunegger, Stop Foodborne Illness
Food Safety Culture Club

How We Use the Word ‘Recall’ Matters

By Deirdre Schlunegger
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Deirdre Schlunegger, Stop Foodborne Illness

“Recalls”. This topic got me thinking, what is the literal meaning of recall? So, I looked it up:

Verb

  1. Bring (a fact, event or situation) back into one’s mind, especially so as to recount it to others, remember.
    “I can still vaguely recall being taken to the hospital”
  2. Officially order (someone) to return to a place
    “the Panamanian ambassador was recalled from Peru”

Noun

  1. An act or instance of officially recalling someone or something
    “the recall of the ambassador”
  2. The action or faculty of remembering something learned or experienced.
    “their recall of dreams”

Many people think of FDA when hearing the word “recall”, and many consumers believe that the FDA often or even always orders recalls. In fact, the FDA relies on responsible parties to voluntarily recall food products when a threat exists, but FSMA’s mandatory recall authority allows FDA to mandate a recall only when the criteria under section 423 of the FD&C Act are met.

For most, the word “recall” is all too familiar. We hear it so often that I wonder if we are becoming desensitized to it. Almost daily we hear this item or that item has been recalled due to XXX, allergy, Salmonella, Listeria, foreign matter, and the list goes on. I counted 45 human and three pet food-related recalls just since May 1, 2018—that’s in just 84 days as I write this. So, for consumers (and we are all consumers), how do we hear the word recall and what is our visceral reaction when we hear the word? What actions if any do we take? Does it become too overwhelming? Are we becoming immune from the word? We are required to eat for survival sake and we don’t know if there is a problem with the food we are eating until after it has been recalled. At Stop Foodborne Illness, we send out recall notices every time there is a recall announced, which is typically a few times a week. Recently, a friend asked, “So, do I just quit eating to avoid contamination?”

I wonder if we can start a conversation about the term, how we use it and how to use the word and related action effectively. What does it mean for consumers? Is it only meaningful after the fact? The word and action of the word “prevention” is so much more powerful. Just “food” for thought.

magnifying glass

Avoiding Total Recalls: Regulatory Labeling for the Food and Beverage Industry

By Josh Roffman
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magnifying glass

In recent memory, no time has more effectively demonstrated the challenges facing the food and beverage industry than spring 2018. In addition to a widely publicized recall of romaine lettuce, several other companies have instituted noteworthy product recalls. For example:

While demoralizing for food and beverage manufacturers, these recalls may also be an unavoidable part of doing business. Plants are grown outdoors, livestock lives outdoors, and no method of sterilization or disinfection is perfect. This is why regulations exist, such as FSMA or EU 1169, so that when recalls do occur, companies can efficiently find and eliminate their contaminated products, and then find the point in the supply chain where the contaminants were introduced.

Despite their necessity, food labeling and packaging regulations represent a huge challenge for food and beverage (F&B) manufacturers—and these challenges don’t exist in a vacuum. The labeling and packaging process is already a huge challenge, which includes customer requirements such as branding, cultural and linguistic localization, 2-D barcodes, and more. How can F&B companies enmesh their regulatory requirements with these existing challenges without adding to the complexity and expense of the entire undertaking?

Challenges of the Regulatory Environment

Since 2011, FSMA has been changing the way that F&B manufacturers produce, package, ship and sell food. In a departure with previous tradition, government inspectors no longer form the first line of defense against contaminated or mislabeled food. Rather, food producers and manufacturers themselves must bear the responsibility to implement procedures that prevent foodborne illness.

In short, FSMA will force F&B manufacturers to implement full transparency and traceability within their supply chains. Artwork and product labeling must be used to support these endeavors—ideally, one would be able to scan the barcode on a food package to instantly determine its origin as well as the chain of distributors that it passed through in order to reach your hands. Right now, the industry standard is well below this benchmark.

Right now, a seven-day timeline is the best-case scenario for traceability throughout the F&B supply chain. Although the endpoints of the supply chain—grocery stores and restaurants—may use modern digital records, you’ll find growers and transportation companies still using Excel and paper records.

In the meantime, a new European Union regulation known as EU 1169 went into effect in December 2016. It made a number of changes to food labeling laws, creating a uniform standard for nutritional facts information. Manufacturers must meet minimum standards for legibility, attain a minimum font size, and notify consumers about potential allergens.

Purely by coincidence, a new FDA food labeling law has also recently gone into effect. Announced in May 2016, this rule will update serving sizes found on most food packaging, alert consumers to added sugars, and more. Although these rules were originally slated to take effect in 2018, they’ve been delayed to 2020 for companies with more than $10 million in revenue, and delayed to 2021 for smaller F&B manufacturers.

To encapsulate, F&B manufacturers must now adjust to the following factors:

  • The FDA is becoming much more serious about preventing foodborne illnesses
  • To this extent, it’s begun to demand instant traceability from F&B manufacturers
  • In addition, the EU will force manufacturers to update their nutritional labeling
  • Manufacturers must update their nutritional labels in the United States as well—but differently

Barcodes and labeling already pose a complicated challenge for manufacturers, causing product recalls and packaging write-offs. Putting additional regulation on top of that solves problems in one sense, by making recalls less likely, but also creates problems in another sense—by putting pressure on artwork and labeling departments that are already overworked. After all, regulations alone aren’t the only sources of change and challenge when it comes to labeling and packaging.

Other Stressors on Labeling and Packaging within F&B Manufacturers

Changing consumer tastes, changing marketing methods, and changing technologies all play their role in adding stress to the job of labeling and packaging within the F&B manufacturing industry.

  • New Branding Needs. Packaging drives 36% of purchase decisions, which means that new and eye-catching label designs are always a must. Good design is subjective, however, and tastes change. For example, most Americans are now driven towards brands that are driven towards social and environmental causes. In other words, many F&B manufacturers may soon reorient their product artwork design to reflect this new concern.
  • International Expansion. If EU 1169 is a concern for you, it probably means that you’re selling into countries where English isn’t the only language. It’s easy to make missteps in this realm. For example, it’s possible to accidentally approve poorly translated copy, or to approve copy that’s in the wrong language entirely.
  • New Technologies. In addition to the UPC, many brands are now incorporating 2-D barcodes (such as QR codes), which provide product information when scanned by a smartphone. Although these codes are supposed to provide more information to consumers, only 34% of consumers actually scanned them as of 2014. The challenge for the labeling department is to make these codes more useful and user-friendly.

These new techniques, regions and branding requirements pose challenges. Think about the possibility of approving the right logo for the wrong country, approving out-of-date artwork, or substituting an FDA-compliant label for one that should comply with EU-1199. These things will happen, and they will necessarily lead to recalls. Here’s the question: How do you structure your artwork and labeling departments to minimize these risks?

Minimize Risks with Standardized, Centralized Labeling and Artwork Management

The secret to producing compliant labeling with up-to-date branding and correct localization is to create a system that gives you as little choice as possible. In other words, you should not find yourself wandering through a nest of file folders wondering which asset is the most up-to-date or find yourself developing separate label templates for each separate region you sell into.

Instead, your labeling and packaging artwork should be able to integrate with other business applications and content libraries to ensure your accessing the correct, most up-to-date approved content and assets. In an ideal world, if you start creating a label and select “Spain” as your target market, your labeling solution would immediately retrieve the relevant content for that target market. With the right kind of integrated, dynamic, data-driven solution you can be confident that you’ll only be dealing with complete with approved Spanish-language content for your packaging and your labeling. You would have peace of mind that your solution would generate an EU 1199-compliant nutrition label template, auto-populated with the appropriate nutrition facts. Additionally, if this label is intended for food sold only by a particular supermarket chain, you would feel confident that your solution would retrieve all of the correct content, images and barcodes required for that brand.

Improve Traceability by Replacing Sources of Confusion with Sources of Truth

To ensure accuracy and consistency, your labeling solution should integrate with your “sources of truth,” namely your ERP systems, but also potentially including your manufacturing execution systems, warehouse management systems, and more. You should be able to leverage existing business processes and vital data sources to drive labeling—to avoid replication of data and potential error, and instead automate and streamline your processes.

Recalls may be a fact of life, but using the right labeling and packaging solution will let you narrow their scope—and trace contamination to its source within a much faster window. The fastest solve for this problem involves creating a true “closed loop” for artwork and labeling—a comprehensive, integrated and automated solution to provide accurate and consistent labeling.

Melanie Nuce, GS1 US
FST Soapbox

Blockchain: Separating Fact from Fiction

By Melanie Nuce
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Melanie Nuce, GS1 US

Over the course of the past two years, blockchain has shown promise across nearly every industry—far beyond the confines of its cryptocurrency origins. The food industry is no exception, with key stakeholders like Walmart, Cargill, Tyson, Coca-Cola and Starbucks all announcing pilot programs this year.

 Melanie Nuce and other industry experts will participate in a blockchain panel discussion at this year’s Food Safety Supply Chain Conference | June 12–13, 2018 | Learn moreAlthough blockchain has tremendous potential to speed up food recalls and enable the information transparency that consumers demand, there are important building blocks that must be in place before planning a blockchain implementation. Test your blockchain knowledge with these statements below to see if you can separate fact from fiction. Armed with the right information, you’ll be able to better understand the value of blockchain and how it fits into an entire ecosystem of data sharing before jumping immediately to its application.

Blockchain is basically a shared database. This is true. While it’s no secret that shared databases have benefits, what makes blockchain special is that it is a distributed and immutable ledger. There is no single point of failure in a distributed ledger—it is a consensus of replicated and synchronized digital data geographically spread across multiple sites. This decentralized structure makes the data resilient to a technology or organizational failure.

Blockchain also supports “smart” supply chain contracts, meaning an automated execution of terms, conditions and business rules. Through this feature, trading partners can automatically enforce terms and conditions as previously defined, eliminating the errors and inefficiencies associated with the current manual processes based on legacy systems. A trading partner is prevented from writing a business transaction to the blockchain ledger that is outside of the rules specified in the smart contract. For retail grocery, this means far fewer item substitutions, more certainty around what is being shipped and when, and fewer discrepancies downstream.

GS1 US
Image courtesy of GS1 US

Blockchain will do for the supply chain what email did for communication. This is also true—but Rome wasn’t built in a day. It will take time for blockchain to become a ubiquitous technology on par with email, and it is likely another decade away. However, given the amount of pilot programs underway, and the commitment from technology providers like IBM, Microsoft, and SAP to develop blockchain enterprise programs, many industry analysts believe blockchain will breakthrough to start to solve business process challenges in the next three to five years.

Purchasing blockchain software is all you need to create a traceability program. This is completely false! Industry stakeholders already leverage GS1 Standards, which enable traceability by ensuring all trading partners communicate in a uniform manner. Standards ensure systems interoperability, and provide a singular approach to creating, sharing and maintaining product information that supports, at the very least, “one up/one down” visibility of the product’s movement through the distribution channel. The internal data and processes a company uses to track products is integrated into a larger system of external data exchange that takes place between trading partners. Blockchain represents an opportunity for traceability to move faster—smart contracts and immutable ledgers expedite the flow of data between supply chain partners.

Blockchain can reduce food recalls from weeks to minutes. This is true, but only with a food traceability program already in place. Traceability has been achievable without blockchain, and many leading retailers have a long history working with farmers, distributors and processors on effective food traceability programs in order to assure consumers of food safety. Product recalls are significantly faster with standards in place to help break down any barriers caused by proprietary numbering systems and manual business processes.

Ultimately, now is the time to stay educated on blockchain and follow its development closely to uncover its many opportunities.

For more details on blockchain in the food supply chain, attend the blockchain panel discussion at this year’s Food Safety Supply Chain Management Conference, on June 13 at 8:30. I will be joined by Kathleen Wybourn, Director, Food Safety Solutions, DNV Business Assurance, and Darin Detwiler, Director: Regulatory Affairs of Food and Food Industry, Northeastern University for a realistic discussion of blockchain’s ability to boost the food supply chain.

Steven Burton, Icicle Technologies
FST Soapbox

Food Recall Strategies: What You’re Missing (And What You’re Risking)

By Steven Burton
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Steven Burton, Icicle Technologies

You’ve heard the horror stories of product recalls: The Peanut Corporation of America in 2009, Blue Bell ice cream in 2015, and Darwin’s Raw Pet Foods this year. Beyond the nightmare scenario, the truth is that food recalls are common—even for companies that take food safety seriously, train effectively and keep excellent records. Yet all of these things, when done properly and efficiently, go a long way to reduce the impact and severity of a recall.

Unfortunately, many food manufacturers, although required to have a written recall plan, aren’t ready for the challenge. Without the proper systems in place, businesses needlessly risk their customers, reputation, revenue and future.

Risks Of Inadequate Recall Strategies

Resolving a recall can take years and potentially millions of dollars in fines, product shipping and disposal cost, production line downtime, lawsuits, and lost market share as consumers lose trust in the company. But there are two strategic errors that can amplify these consequences—and they both have to deal with traceability.

The first problem we frequently see is lot codes not being specific enough. Rather than breaking up production into discrete lot codes so the scope of recalls can be as limited as possible, some facilities just run the same lot code for many production runs. The record we have seen so far is three years! When a recall occurs,this results in a recall of massive scope that can easily bankrupt a company.

The second problem that is even more common is a lack of dynamic documentation. Assembling transactions using disconnected records from different departments can be time-consuming and error-prone. When you’re under pressure from regulators or auditors to connect the dots between an ingredient and customers through complex, multi-stage production processes using such a record system, it can cause stress and potential audit failures.

These two missing pieces make recalls larger, more time-consuming, and more expensive than necessary due to a lack of precise traceability. Let’s take a look at the two ways you can fill these gaps in your system and mitigate the consequences of recalls.

Get Specific with Ingredients, Suppliers and Lot Codes

Streamlining your product lines and packaging options lists is a straightforward way to reduce potential headaches in the event of a recall. The more products and packaging options with which you work, the more complex it will be to pinpoint and resolve food safety failures. Anyway, this type of housekeeping is beneficial as far too many companies have large lines where only a small subset of their products sell well at decent margins. Larger, more mature organizations tend to thin down their lines to optimize for profitability, and smaller companies can often benefit from doing the same.

The next strategy you can employ to mitigate the consequences of a recall is by being ultra-precise when it comes to your records and lot codes. The more narrowly you refine your lot coding system, the fewer items you’ll have to recall. Let’s look at a specific example of how this could have saved two companies millions of dollars.

In 2010, Hillandale Farms and Wright County Egg recalled about 550,000,000 eggs, one of the largest recalls in the history of the United States. Although the company was able to resolve the specific dates and facilities where the contaminated product originated, they had 53 million hens laying, so this level of resolution may not have been adequate enough. Had they implement traceability lot codes down to the hen house level, they may have been able to contain the recall.

Automate Your Traceability To Be Audit Ready, All The Time

The challenge of maintaining an overly broad product line or providing customized packages is that you create hundreds or thousands of variants in your products. When records are maintained manually, it becomes extremely difficult to manage recalls effectively. An Excel spreadsheet may keep a record of everything, but it’s certainly not dynamic or time-efficient when undertaking mass balance calculations.

The key here is to adopt software that you can incorporate into every department. Shipping, receiving, accounting, production—when all the records are kept in a central database, checking and updating those records becomes much easier. But the best systems don’t just centralize your collected data; they automate your data collection.

Dynamic documents automatically update each other. When a supplier changes, an ingredient lot gets swapped out, or products are shipped out, all the connected records for every department are automatically updated. No user mistakes, no failure to update the notes—just seamless, streamlined, auto-updating records.

There’s no better way to track complex production processes, control hazards, and collect all the necessary information necessary to breeze through audits than by using an automated system. With all your documentation interconnected, you don’t have to piece together the puzzle or play connect the dots—it’s all done for you, and that means you won’t waste millions on recalling products unnecessarily because you couldn’t pinpoint the exact path every ingredient took on the way to the customer.

Recalls are detrimental in every way, but they happen, so don’t get caught off guard. A little bit of proactive technology will go a long way in keeping your business afloat if you ever do face the nightmare of a recall.

Francine Shaw, Savvy Food Safety, Inc.
FST Soapbox

Foodborne Illnesses and Recalls on the Rise

By Francine L. Shaw
3 Comments
Francine Shaw, Savvy Food Safety, Inc.

The last word a manufacturer wants to hear is “recall”. During 2017, recalls involved everything from salad mix contaminated with a dead bat to hash browns infused with shredded golf balls.

Not all recalls are created equal. Both the USDA and the FDA have three classifications of recalls to indicate the relative degree of health hazard presented by the product being recalled:

  • Class I: A Class I recall is the most serious classification, involving a health hazard situation in which there is a reasonable probability that eating the food will cause health problems or death.
  • Class II: A Class II recall involves a potential health hazard situation in which there is a remote probability of adverse health consequences from eating the food.
  • Class III: A Class III recall involves a situation in which eating the food will not cause adverse health consequences.

During 2017, there were 456 recalls recorded in the United States. The number one reason for those recalls was undeclared allergens.

Identify the weak links in your supply chain: Attend the Food Safety Supply Chain Conference | June 12–13, 2018 | Rockville, MD | Learn moreFoodborne illnesses continue to be widespread, as well. In 2017, we saw Robin Hood flour contaminated with E.coli, Soygo yogurt with Listeria, tomatoes, cantaloupe, and ground turkey tainted with Salmonella, and even shredded coconut was responsible for causing a Salmonella outbreak in the United States and Canada. Foodborne illness outbreaks can happen at restaurants, corporate events, private parties, schools and cruise ships—anywhere and everywhere food is served.

Recalls and foodborne illnesses are 100% preventable. Incidents occur because of human error, and all it takes is one weak link to cause serious—and potentially fatal—problems. That’s it. One weak link can cause the traumatic deaths and/or illnesses of customers, and cost your company billions of dollars, loss of sales, plummeting stocks, negative media coverage and a severely damaged reputation.

When there’s a recall or a foodborne illness, products must be destroyed, which is lost revenue for manufacturers, retailers, restaurants, etc. Finding the source of the contamination can be a massive undertaking. The manufacturer may need to close all of their plants for cleaning until the source is identified, which adds up to a tremendous financial burden, and also requires significant time and effort. Class 1 recalls can cost hundreds of millions of dollars or more, to identify the source of contamination, recall products, sanitize facilities, and keep consumers safe.

It takes years for companies to establish a solid reputation, and food recalls and foodborne illness outbreaks can obliterate a brand’s reputation overnight. Consumers lose confidence much faster than they gain it, and bad news travels fast (especially in this time of social media where news spreads instantly and widely). And on top of that, there may be litigation as a result of the recall, incident or outbreak, which will result in attorney fees and potential settlements that could be very significant. If the risk of massive expense and bankruptcy isn’t enough, for the past few years, the U.S. District of Justice has been issuing fines and prison terms to company leaders involved in foodborne illnesses outbreaks and food recalls.

The government, media and general public are holding companies (and their leadership) accountable now, so you’d think that recalls and foodborne illness incidents would be on the decline but, unfortunately, that’s not the case. And with advancements in technology, why are we still having so many issues surrounding the safety of our food?

Many media outlets report that foodborne illnesses have been rising considerably in the past few years. However, according to the CDC, a study showed that the six most common foodborne illnesses have actually declined in frequency by 25% over the last two decades. Having said that, though, the severity of foodborne illness outbreaks seems to be increasing, and the number of outbreaks connected to produce has risen, as well. Some experts believe the increases may be due to better reporting processes rather than an actual increase in the number of foodborne illnesses.

There are various theories as to why foodborne illnesses may be getting worse. Some government agencies indicate it has to do with farming policies. The CDC disagrees. More widely accepted beliefs are the increase in popularity of organic produce—grown with manure rather than chemical fertilizer—which can transfer bacteria to the produce. Additionally, there’s debate that the use of antibiotics can cause bacteria that causes foodborne illnesses to become resistant.

Recalls may occur for a variety of reasons. Products may be pushed beyond their shelf life by the manufacturer, or maybe the design and development around the product was insufficient (equipment, building, etc.). Is the manufacturing facility designed in a manner that can prevent contamination—structurally and hygienically? Maybe the production quality control checks failed. Did the manufacturer conduct an adequate food safety risk assessment prior to launching the new product? Profit margins are often thin—did financial incentives prevent the company from implementing a thorough food safety program?

Getting back to the basics of food safety would reduce recalls and foodborne illnesses significantly. Manufacturers must be certain about food safety as well as the integrity of the ingredients they use. They need to be honest with themselves and understand the risks of the ingredients, processes and finished products that they are handling.

Human error is a given. It’s the corporation’s responsibility to minimize the risk. Implement ongoing food safety education and training for all employees, explaining the proper food safety protocols and processes. Develop internal auditing systems, using innovative digital tools. Get rid of the pen and paper forms, where it’s more likely for errors to occur and for pencil whipping to happen. Digital solutions provide more effective internal auditing, meticulousness in corrective action systems including root cause analysis, allergen management, and controls relating to packing product into the correct packaging format—all fundamental to keeping foods, consumers and businesses healthy and safe.