With the COVID-19 pandemic continuing to take a toll on live events, Innovative Publishing Company, Inc. has made the careful decision to convert the Food Safety Consortium, which historically has taken place in Schaumburg, IL, to a virtual conference. This move takes into consideration Illinois’ COVID-19 plan to reopen its economy, which is a Five-Phase Plan. Phase 5 occurs when groups larger than 50 (conferences and conventions specifically mentioned) will be allowed. The state enters Phase 5 only when a vaccine or an effective treatment is in place. The decision to take the Food Safety Consortium virtual is based on the Illinois reopening plan, along with considering the safety and well being of staff, attendees, speakers and sponsors.
Every Thursday, beginning on September 10 through November 12, the Food Safety Consortium Virtual Conference Series will host two presentations and two sponsored Tech Talks, followed by a panel discussion with attendees. Food Safety Tech is the media sponsor.
“This will be much more than a bunch of webinars. We are excited to offer a virtual platform that facilitates greater human interaction,” says Rick Biros, president of Innovative Publishing and director of the Food Safety Consortium. “Whether it’s a random connection in a hotel lobby, a stroll by a booth at a trade show, or a seat next to a new friend in a learning session, we recognize that human connection is important for events. That’s why we’ve invested in new tools for the FSC Conference Virtual Platform to ensure those discussions, discoveries and connections can go on whether our event is offline or online. The new platform provides attendees with a way to keep track of live sessions, connect with sponsors and engage with peers, all in a familiar way. It will also include an event App that offers interactive features.”
Frank Yiannas, FDA deputy commissioner for food policy and response, will remain a keynote speaker, with the new presentation date to be announced.
Call for Abstracts
We are accepting abstracts for participation in the Food Safety Consortium Virtual Series. On the Submit an Abstract page, select Food Safety Consortium 2020 in the drop-down menu.
Food safety supply chain management
Lessons learned COVID-19
C-suite executive forum
Tech Talk Sponsorship
Companies that are interested in sponsoring a 10-minute technical presentation during the series can also submit their abstract through the portal. For pricing information, contact IPC Sales Director RJ Palermo.
Food Safety Tech publishes news, technology, trends, regulations, and expert opinions on food safety, food quality, food business and food sustainability. We also offer educational, career advancement and networking opportunities to the global food industry. This information exchange is facilitated through ePublishing, digital and live events.
About the Food Safety Consortium Conference and Expo (The live event)
Food companies are concerned about protecting their customers, their brands and their own company’s financial bottom line. The term “Food Protection” requires a company-wide culture that incorporates food safety, food integrity and food defense into the company’s Food Protection strategy.
The Food Safety Consortium is an educational and networking event for Food Protection that has food safety, food integrity and food defense as the foundation of the educational content of the program. With a unique focus on science, technology and compliance, the “Consortium” enables attendees to engage in conversations that are critical for advancing careers and organizations alike. Delegates visit with exhibitors to learn about cutting-edge solutions, explore three high-level educational tracks for learning valuable industry trends, and network with industry executives to find solutions to improve quality, efficiency and cost effectiveness in the evolving food industry.
Since the early 20th century, food safety has been a paramount concern for consumers in the United States. Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, which painted a bleak, brutal, and downright disgusting picture of turn-of-the-century food processing facilities led to the creation of some of the country’s first food safety laws. Today, federal agencies and statutes make up a comprehensive food safety system to ensure that the growth, distribution and consumption of foods are safe from start to finish.
While food safety has significantly improved in the century since Sinclair’s time, stories of major outbreaks of foodborne illnesses continue to pop up across the country. Over the past few years, a significant number of outbreaks as a result of pathogens have made the headlines. To mitigate the threat of public health crises and ensure food production and distribution is safe and secure, companies must rely on modern technology to trace the movement of food across the entire supply chain.
How Technology Is Changing the Food Industry
Technology is a powerful, innovative force that has changed the way even well established companies must do business in order to stay relevant. From easier access to nutritional information to digital solutions that make food manufacturing and distribution more efficient, greater consumer awareness driven by technology empowers consumers to make decisions that can greatly affect the food industry’s bottom line.
Technology-driven accountability is playing one outsized role in allowing consumers to make better choices about the foods they consume and purchase. Social media and smartphone apps connect consumers to a wealth of resources concerning the harmful effects of certain ingredients in their food, the source of products, and how particular items are made and produced. In 2015, for example, The Campbell Soup Company removed 13 ingredients from its traditional soup recipes as a result of a greater public demand to understand food sources. Neither food giants nor small producers should expect to remain immune from greater public scrutiny over food health and safety.
Nutritional research is also helping change the conversation around food, granting nutritionists and consumers alike greater access to food-related data. Through easily accessible scholarly journals, apps that provide real-time nutrition information, and meal tracking apps that help users log and understand what they’re eating, consumers can gain a better understanding of nutrition to make more informed choices about their daily food intake. Researchers can also use food-tracking apps to make discoveries about consumer behavior and foods that are eaten.
Technology is also being used to tackle food waste, one of the most pervasive problems facing the food industry. One-third of the total amount of food produced globally, amounting to nearly $1.2 trillion, goes to waste every year. Solving this pervasive crisis has become an industry imperative that is being tackled through a variety of innovative technologies to improve shelf-life, dynamically adjust pricing based on sell-by dates, and allow restaurants to automatically monitor their daily waste.
In the food manufacturing sector, digitally-connected supply chain systems are providing greater visibility into the production of foods and beverages. Supplier management technology delivers data that can be used to optimize processes and improve quality in real-time, making it easy to adjust to consumer demands, respond to logistics challenges, and boost government compliance. The enhanced operational benefits offered through improved supply chain visibility allows manufacturers to produce products faster, safer, and with greater transparency.
Online ordering has also ushered in a new era of food industry behavior. The growing assortment of online ordering apps has just given the consumer more control over quickly ordering their next meal. The trend in online ordering has also allowed restaurants to experiment with new business models like virtual kitchens that offer menus that are only available online.
IoT: The Future of Food Safety
From the farm to the carryout bag, the impact of technology on the greater food industry is already evident in daily practice. Through enhanced access to data, food producers can run an efficient supply chain that reduces waste, boosts productivity, and meets consumer demand in real-time. Using a variety of online resources, consumers are empowered to quickly make well-informed food purchases that are healthier, more convenient and more sustainable than ever before.
The Internet-of-Things (IoT) adds a layer of technology to the food manufacturing process to ensure greater food safety. A broad series of networked sensors, monitors, and other Internet-connected devices, IoT technology can oversee the entire food manufacturing and distribution process from the warehouse to the point of sale. Boosting transparency across the board, intelligent sensors and cameras can transform any food manufacturing operation into a highly visible, data-backed process that allows for better decision-making and improved real-time knowledge.
While IoT technology is a powerful tool that can improve the efficiency of restaurants and provide enhanced customer experiences, some of its greatest potential lies in its ability to safely monitor food preparation and production. Live data from IoT devices makes it possible to closely monitor food safety data points, allowing manufacturers and restaurants to reduce the risks of foodborne illness outbreaks through enhanced data collection and automated reporting.
Domino’s Pizza, for instance, embraced IoT technology to enhance management processes and monitor the food safety of its products. In the past, restaurants have relied on workers to record food temperatures, a practice that was occasionally overlooked and could lead to issues with health inspectors. Using IoT devices for real-time temperature monitoring, Domino’s automatically records and displays temperature levels of a store’s production, refrigeration, and exhaust systems, allowing employees to view conditions from a live dashboard.
In addition to boosting food safety, the comprehensive monitoring offered by IoT technology can help food companies reduce waste, keep more effective records, and analyze more data for improved operations.
IoT isn’t just a safe solution for improving food safety: It’s a smart solution.
Blockchain: The Future of Food Traceability
The ubiquity of QR codes has made it easy for consumers to quickly gain access to information by scanning an image with their smartphone. From accessing product manuals to downloading songs, QR codes make it simple to provide detailed and relevant content to users in a timely manner.
Blockchain technology provides a powerful opportunity to provide consumers with similar information about food safety. Able to instantaneously trace the lifecycle of food products, blockchain can report a food’s every point of contact throughout its journey from farm to table. By scanning a QR code, for instance, users can quickly access relevant information about a food product’s source, such as an animal’s health, and welfare. Shoppers at Carrefour, Europe’s largest retailer, area already using blockchain traceability to track the stage of production of free-range chickens across France.
Walmart piloted a blockchain implementation by tracing a package of sliced mangoes across every destination until it hit store shelves, from its origin at a farm in Mexico to intermittent stops at a hot-water treatment plant, U.S processing plant, and cold storage facility. Real-time product tracing can be conducted in just two seconds, enabling Walmart and other vendors to provide consumers with access to food safety information that could easily be updated should an outbreak or contamination occur.
Blockchain’s inherent transparency not only makes it possible to identify the safety of food production; it also enhances the safety of the business of food production itself. Because blockchain is based upon an immutable, anonymous ledger, record keeping and accounting can be made more secure and less prone to human error. Payments to farmers and other food suppliers can also become more transparent and equitable.
The High Tech Future of Food
Unlike the days of Sinclair’s The Jungle, food transparency is the name of today’s game. As consumers continue to demand greater access to better food on-demand, food producers must continue to find innovative ways of providing safe, healthy, and ethical solutions.
IoT devices and blockchain present food manufacturers with powerful technological solutions to solve complex problems. Brands choosing to rely on these innovations, such as Domino’s and Walmart, are helping ensure that food is produced, prepared and distributed with a foremost emphasis on health and safety. As these technologies continue to become more intelligent, well-connected, and embraced by leading food producers, consumers should rest assured that they’ll always be able to know exactly what they’re eating, where it’s from, and whether it’s safe.
Modern food supply chains are inherently complex, with products typically passing through multiple suppliers and distributors, as well as countries and continents, before they end up on the supermarket shelf. While global supply chains offer consumers greater choice and convenience, they also make protecting the security of food products more challenging. With additional stakeholders between farm and fork, products are exposed to an elevated risk of biological or chemical contamination, as well as food counterfeiting and adulteration challenges—potentially putting consumer health and brand reputation in jeopardy.
Given the importance of maintaining the safety, quality and provenance of food products, global regulatory bodies are placing the integrity of supply chains under increased scrutiny. In the United States, for example, the adoption of FSMA moved the focus from responding to foodborne illnesses to preventing them by prioritizing comprehensive food testing measures, enforcing inspections and checks, and enabling authorities to react appropriately to safety issues through fines, recalls or permit suspensions.1 Similarly, China’s revised Food Safety Law (known as FSL 2015) is widely considered to be the strictest in the country’s history, and seeks to drive up quality standards by empowering regulators, and enhancing traceability and accountability through robust record-keeping. 2 The European Union continues to closely regulate and monitor food safety through its General Food Law, which is independently overseen by the European Food Safety Authority from a scientific perspective.
Achieving the Highest Standards of Food Security, Integrity and Traceability
For producers, manufacturers and distributors, the heightened regulatory focus on the security and integrity of the food supply chain has placed additional emphasis on accurate record-keeping, transparent accountability and end-to-end traceability. To meet the needs of the modern regulatory landscape, food chain stakeholders require robust systems and tools to manage their quality control (QC), environmental monitoring and chain of custody data. Despite this, many businesses still handle this information using paper-based approaches or localized spreadsheets, which can compromise operational efficiency and regulatory compliance.
The fundamental flaw of these traditional data management approaches is their reliance on manual data entry and transcription steps, leaving information vulnerable to human error. To ensure the accuracy of data, some companies implement resource-intensive verification or review checks. However, these steps inevitably extend workflows and delay decision-making, ultimately holding up the release of products at a high cost to businesses. Moreover, as paper and spreadsheet-based data management systems must be updated by hand, they often serve merely as a record of past events and are unable to provide insight into ongoing activities. The time lag associated with recording and accessing supply chain information means that vital insight is typically unavailable until the end of a process, and data cannot be used to optimize operations in real-time.
Furthermore, using traditional data management approaches, gathering information in the event of an audit or food safety incident can be extremely challenging. Trawling through paperwork or requesting information contained in spreadsheets saved on local computers is time-consuming and resource-intensive. When it comes to establishing accountability for actions, these systems are often unable to provide a complete audit trail of events.
Digital Solutions Transform Food Security and Compliance
Given the limitations of traditional workflows, food supply chain stakeholders are increasingly seeking more robust data management solutions that will allow them to drive efficiency, while meeting the latest regulatory expectations. For many businesses, laboratory information management systems (LIMS) are proving to be a highly effective solution for collecting, storing and sharing their QC, environmental monitoring and chain of custody data.
One of the most significant advantages of managing data using LIMS is the way in which they bring together people, instruments, workflows and data in a single integrated system. When it comes to managing the receipt of raw materials, for example, LIMS can improve overall workflow visibility, and help to make processes faster and more efficient. By using barcodes, radiofrequency identification (RFID) tags or near-field communication, samples can be tracked by the system throughout various laboratory and storage locations. With LIMS tracking samples at every stage, ingredients and other materials can be automatically released into production as soon as the QC results have been authorized, streamlining processes and eliminating costly delays.
By storing the standard operating procedures (SOPs) used for raw material testing or QC centrally in a LIMS, worklists, protocols and instrument methods can be automatically downloaded directly to equipment. In this way, LIMS are able to eliminate time-consuming data entry steps, reducing the potential for human error and improving data integrity. When integrated with laboratory execution systems (LES), these solutions can even guide operators step-by-step through procedures, ensuring SOPs are executed consistently, and in a regulatory compliant manner. Not only can these integrated solutions improve the reliability and consistency of data by making sure tests are performed in a standardized way across multiple sites and testing teams, they can also boost operational efficiency by simplifying set-up procedures and accelerating the delivery of results. What’s more, because LIMS can provide a detailed audit trail of all user interactions within the system, this centralized approach to data management is a robust way of ensuring full traceability and accountability.
This high level of operational efficiency and usability also extends to the way in which data is processed, analyzed and reported. LIMS platforms can support multi-level parameter review and can rapidly perform calculations and check results against specifications for relevant customers. In this way, LIMS can ensure pathogens, pesticides and veterinary drug residues are within specifications for specific markets. With all data stored centrally, certificates of analysis can be automatically delivered to enterprise resource planning (ERP) software or process information management systems (PIMS) to facilitate rapid decision-making and batch release. Furthermore, the sophisticated data analysis tools built into the most advanced LIMS software enable users to monitor the way in which instruments are used and how they are performing, helping businesses to manage their assets more efficiently. Using predictive algorithms to warn users when principal QC instruments are showing early signs of deterioration, the latest LIMS can help companies take preventative action before small issues turn into much bigger problems. As a result, these powerful tools can help to reduce unplanned maintenance, keep supply chains moving, and better maintain the quality and integrity of goods.
While LIMS are very effective at building more resilient supply chains and preventing food security issues, they also make responding to potential threats much faster, easier and more efficient. With real-time access to QC, environmental monitoring and chain of custody data, food contamination or adulteration issues can be detected early, triggering the prompt isolation of affected batches before they are released. And in the event of a recall or audit, batch traceability in modern LIMS enables the rapid retrieval of relevant results and metadata associated with suspect products through all stages of production. This allows the determination of affected batches and swift action to be taken, which can be instrumental in protecting consumer safety as well as brand value.
Using LIMS to Protect Security and Integrity of the Food Supply Chain
Increasingly, LIMS are helping businesses transform food security by bringing people, instruments and workflows into a single integrated system. By simplifying and automating processes, providing end-to-end visibility across the food supply chain, and protecting the integrity of data at every stage, these robust digital solutions are not only helping food supply chain stakeholders to ensure full compliance with the latest regulations; they are enabling businesses to operate more efficiently, too.
The FSMA HARPC regulation has been in the implementation phase for approximately a year. Many small and entrepreneurial businesses are in the process of starting or finalizing the development of a food safety plan to comply with FSMA requirements. This includes program development, operational awareness and employee training. Often, small companies find this development more challenging compared to mature companies for several reasons, including a lack of resources or simply not knowing where to start.
The following eight tips can help small businesses that are developing a food safety plan to comply with FSMA.
1. Don’t be scared.
FSMA Preventive Controls is nothing scary. It is simply a series of food safety protocols and related documentation. It might seem overwhelming at the beginning with many documents and changes; however, it is actually a good method and tool to help strengthen operation lines and management.
FSMA helps businesses sustain and streamline processes. It is helpful to first map out the production process from the very beginning (when raw materials are received) through the end (when finished products leave the facility). The more details that are documented on the process, the easier and less time consuming it will be later to prevent potential risks.
2. Be familiar with the process and the FDA hazard types.
Once all processes are mapped, take time to study and get familiar with them. It will be helpful to have a team of individuals with different job functions review process maps together. The objectives are to identify the following:
Where is the weakness?
Where can weaknesses be controlled?
What should be monitored?
When is a good time to monitor each process step?
According to FDA, five hazard types need to be considered and prevented: Physical, chemical, biological, intentional adulteration and radiological. These five types should always be kept in mind when reviewing and analyzing the direct production and non-direct production processes.
3. Thoroughly understand the entire supply chain.
Supply chain management is one of the key preventive controls required by FSMA. Just like mapping out the process, FDA requires each business to have a thorough understanding and control of its supply chain to ensure the risks are minimized from raw materials to end consumers. Whether you have foreign suppliers, distribution centers or co-manufacturers, finished product safety must not be compromised by any party. If foreign suppliers are being used, FSVP (Foreign Supplier Verification Program) must be implemented and communicated to vendors.
4. Think in food safety mindset.
If your business has just been established, then congratulations! You have the opportunity to start everything right from the beginning. Take food safety into consideration throughout every step in the process and operation. Considering food safety aspects and preventing hazard types might help you make your next good business decision.
5. Get everyone involved!
Food safety is not only the food safety and quality departments’ responsibilities; it reflects the entire company’s operational structure—from building structure, security, production line, and supply chain to procurement, HR and finance. Get everyone involved, from top management to line workers. Their expertise, experiences and feedback will help the entire program’s implementation and execution. With the inputs from each department function, the food safety program will be more practical to the entire business operation and, therefore, will be more solid and sustained, especially when it comes to ongoing implementation.
6. Designate one project leader.
If FSMA program development is considered a project that the whole company engages in, a project leader is required to make the journey efficient and smooth. The leader needs to have both the company operational experience, as well as food safety knowledge. The leader plays an important role in leading the project, coordinating the timeline, prioritizing work across departments, and communicating with all levels of employees.
7. Keep everything documented and recorded.
Documentation and recordkeeping are core to the entire program. Say what you do by writing down all procedures, policies, programs and SOPs. Do what you say by demonstrating what is contained in all records kept onsite. This is not only for audit purposes, but also for your own business growth. Your own operation data is the best data to improve and modify your processes, if needed. Records can be used for trend study and analysis after years in business. Records can reveal whether methods or programs implemented are working effectively and helping the business. Records can also provide strong support/evidence when there is an unexpected event.
8. Utilize free third-party resources.
There are many technologies linking the entire world together—leverage them to learn from your peers. GFSI-recognized certification programs, such as SQF, FSSC22000 and IFS, are releasing a global market program to specifically help small business start their programs. Webinars and trainings are available on many program development and food safety hot topics to help address challenges, and there are many tools and templates available for download to assist with documentation and recordkeeping.
Although there are a lot of perspectives and aspects to be considered to comply with FSMA, compliance can be achieved one step at a time. Start by mapping out your own production process today.
Preparation is the key to success for any ongoing endeavor. In an industry where your enemies are fighting for survival at the expense of your business, you must be ready for anything. Your opponents are crafty, adaptable and more prevalent than you think.
No, I’m not describing your competitors. I’m talking about pests—a major threat to the integrity of food products and a threat to any facility’s bottom line. Whether it’s stored product pests contaminating inventory or rodents spreading pathogens as they skitter across equipment, pests are a risk that should be minimized.
With FSMA in full effect, preparation is more important than ever. FSMA mandates a proactive approach to food safety, and by extension, pest management. It’s important that the pest management program is exhaustive and integrates seamlessly into the overarching food safety plan.
Most, if not all, food processing facilities currently use an integrated pest management (IPM) program to help minimize the chance of pest problems, but FSMA puts more emphasis on being proactive to keep pests far from products at all times. Naturally, this doesn’t mean that a pest sighting in a facility is the end of the world, but it means that it should be resolved quickly, investigated and documented to help prevent such an occurrence from happening again.
Specifically, FSMA has numerous stipulations that trickle down to pest management.
Hazard analysis. First, a comprehensive inspection should be done to identify the high-risk areas in your facility where pests may take residence. Entry points, potential food and water sources and harborage areas should all be noted.
Preventive controls. Include regular facility maintenance reviews and a strict sanitation regimen in your food safety plan to help minimize the use of chemical pest management treatments.
Monitoring. Use devices and employees to keep tabs on pest activity and conducive conditions to ensure preventive controls are working and executed across the facility.
Corrective actions. Implement and enforce pest management solutions such as exclusion strategies (e.g., weather-stripping, door sweeps, vinyl strip doors), traps (e.g. pheromone traps, insect light traps, bait boxes), air curtains and repellants to help manage pest activity.
Verification. Schedule regular service visits with your pest management professional to verify corrective actions are working to reduce pest problems over time. These visits should include an annual facility assessment and pest trend analysis, both of which help determine potential areas of improvement over time.
6. Record keeping and documentation. Document every action taken to prevent pests. That includes corrective actions and their results to prove that your written IPM and food safety plan has been implemented and is effective in helping to manage pests at the facility.
With these key components accounted for, it will be easier to be prepared for pests. But, even still, the real-world implementation of these tactics might not be abundantly clear. That being the case, let’s take a look at what food processing facility managers can start doing today to help protect their facilities and demonstrate a proactive approach to food safety.
So, what’s the best way to be more proactive in preventing pests?
Well, that question has a plethora of possible answers, but four of the most important are sanitation, exclusion, staff training and monitoring.
Perhaps the most important of all, sanitation helps to eliminate two key attractants—food and water—that draw pests inside a facility. Any spot where food particles or moisture is collecting, pests will be looking to find.
But sanitation shouldn’t seem daunting. Here are some actions you can start doing today to step up your sanitation program:
Wipe down equipment regularly to break down the buildup of organic materials.
Wipe off countertops and sweep floors in common areas where food is present, then sanitize with an organic cleaner afterwards to eliminate any remaining odors.
Take out the garbage at least daily, and keep dumpsters at least 50 feet away from the building to avoid giving pests a harborage location nearby with an easy path to get indoors. Make sure to cleanse garbage bins and dumpsters regularly, or they’ll become attractive to pests, too!
A big part of preventing pests from getting inside a facility is simply blocking them out using exclusion.
During an inspection, a pest management provider will walk around the interior and exterior of the facility and look for any potential entry points for pests. They should recommend you seal any cracks and crevices they notice, as many pests can fit through extremely tiny gaps. For example, mice can fit through a hole the size of a dime. Gaps should be sealed with a water-resistant sealant to keep pests and moisture out.
In addition, make sure to keep windows and doors closed as much as possible or use screens to block pests. Automatic doors can help in this way, especially when paired with an air curtain to blow flying pests away from entrances. Pests can often come in through the biggest gap of all: The front door!
It’s always better to have a team behind you. Training employees on the basics of an IPM program and what they can do to help will take some of the weight off your shoulders.
Many pest management providers offer free staff training sessions, which can help employees understand what to look for around their work areas and what to do in the case of a pest sighting. Consider creating your own pest sighting protocol to make it clear what employees should do if and when a pest is spotted. They’ll need to record when, where, how many and what kind of pest(s) were seen at the time to give your pest management provider the best chance to create a customized solution to resolve the issue. If you can catch one of the pests in a container for future identification, that’s even better.
While employees can help by keeping an eye out for pests, it’s important to have ongoing monitoring techniques to measure pest activity around the facility.
Monitoring devices are a great way to do this, and your pest management professional can help you place them strategically around the hot spots in your facility. Fly lights, bait stations, pheromone traps and more can capture pests and serve a dual purpose. First, they’ll reduce pest populations around the facility, and, second, they’ll allow you and your pest management provider to see how many pests are present in certain areas.
Over time, this will give you a feel for which pest issues have been resolved and which continue to be a problem. That can determine the corrective actions taken and the long-term food safety plan, which will demonstrate a commitment to constant improvement. That’s a great thing to have on your side, especially when an auditor happens to stop by.
I know, I know—this wasn’t one of the four “answers” listed, but it’s still incredibly important! Documentation helps ensure you get credit for being so prepared.
It’s recommended that facility managers keep a few documents on hand to keep things simple. The food safety plan, annual assessments, sighting reports, a list of service changes over time, a list of monitoring devices and proof of your pest management professional’s certification are all important documents to keep updated and ready to go. That way, you can rest easy knowing you’re prepared at a moment’s notice.
It is never too early to start preparing. Pests aren’t going to stop searching for a food source anytime soon, so don’t stop your proactive efforts to keep them at bay. Your financial department will thank you.
From farm to fork, food produced today goes through more hands than ever before. A greater number of players in the production of even a single product could increase that the risk for foodborne illness. Not only do companies need to check incoming and outgoing products from their own facilities, but they also need to consider whether products that they are importing from other countries are compliant with local regulations, and whether the products that they are exporting are compliant with the regulations of the destination country.
The current traceability standard of “one step forward, one step back’”is less and less suited for the current global marketplace, and governments are demanding more. Handling all this information is a challenge for food producers of all sizes, around the world.
Taking Traceability Global with FSVP
Needless to say, with 600 million people contracting foodborne illnesses every year, there is a dire need for food traceability and transparency in the food supply chain. If and when something goes wrong, traceability gives oversight agencies greater visibility investigating the root causes of an outbreak to prevent further risk to the public. It also allows companies to minimize the financial impact of a recall if they are able to pinpoint exactly which lot numbers of their products are affected.
In response to the changes in the food industry, in 2011 the USFDA introduced FSMA to implement a more proactive food safety regulatory system. With FSMA came the Foreign Supplier Verification Program (FSVP), which basically extends FSMA regulations to companies supplying food to the United States. All U.S. importers are now required to monitor and manage their foreign suppliers through six steps of hazard analysis, record keeping and more. Given the complexity of the global food supply chain, this is by no means an easy undertaking and it is clear that technology is crucialto achieving this granular level of data management alone. Blockchain technology, however, might be the answer to this problem—and many other related ones.
What is Blockchain Technology?
Evolving from the digital financial world, blockchains are distributed databases that build a growing chain of ordered records, called blocks. This means that any type of information can be stored in a chronological, consistent and secure way; even if multiple users are involved, it is extremely difficult to alter a blockchain.
Since any information on the blockchain is shared with all of its users, they can view any transactions made historically and in real-time. Theoretically, this could allow authorities to pinpoint food problems within minutes, when previously it would take days, potentially saving many lives in the process.
Blockchain in Action in the Food Industry
In 2016, retail giant Walmart started using a pilot version of the technology in its stores, tracking two products using blockchain: A packaged produce item in the United States and pork in China. Walmart announced that the results were “very encouraging,” noting that using blockchain technology could dramatically increase the speed of traceability from days to minutes. In fact, Walmart is now taking it to the next level with a collaboration with one of China’s largest retailers, JD.com, and their suppliers, to bring a higher level of food safety to China.
Other major food suppliers and retailers—Dole, Driscoll’s, Golden State Foods, Kroger, McCormick and Company, McLane Company, Nestlé, Tyson Foods and Unilever—have also signalled their intention to work with IBM to create blockchain-based solutions. Blockchain technology is even being used to track the movement of tuna through the ocean and all the way to the consumer.
At the same time, implementing blockchain technology throughout the industry is a mammoth task. As of now, blockchain technology has a problem with scaling up and can only process a limited number of transactions per second, which would not be sufficient given the needs of the global supply chain. According to Coindesk, each transaction costs about $0.20, and can only store 80 bytes of data, so the bill might become quite hefty as well.
There’s also the fact that the food industry is traditionally slow to adopt new technologies. It’s not just about big players like Walmart—small, medium, and large businesses alike need to come onboard in order for this to become an industry-wide standard.
Can FSVP Unlock the Potential for Blockchain Technology?
There are several reasons why blockchain technology could be the key to tackling the complex challenge that is tracking and verifying foreign suppliers. Blockchains can help increase transparency and communication across the food supply chain, ensuring that there are no gaps and that records are widely available and up to date. When all the information about suppliers and products is easily accessible, the potential to increase the speed of recall response is very high.
Blockchain technology is also suited to FSVP’s goals, specifically. One of the main goals of FSVP and FSMA generally is to tackle the issues of food fraud, intentional adulteration and bioterrorism that are unique problems of our time, in terms of scale if nothing else. Such a modern problem requires modern solutions. Because the blockchain, forming the basis of cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, focuses on security, it could mean that blockchains can help close the gaps that would be exploited by food companies employees, or other actors who harbor ill intent.
The reality, however, is that the level of industry-wide coordination—and voluntary transparency—that would be necessary to deliver real benefits is extremely high. The theoretical possibilities are exciting and hugely impactful; the practical reality is more complex. For blockchain to reach its full potential, it has to be universally mandated, which is highly unlikely given the current circumstances. It seems more likely that adoption in this area could be driven by industry organizations and/or government, but unfortunately, the recently proposed budget cuts for the FDA might block progress in the latter area.
Still, with major food suppliers and retailers leading the charge and taking blockchain technology for a test run, the rest of the industry is waiting with bated breath to see what happens next.
Increasingly, we turn to technology to simplify tasks in our personal and business lives. Platforms like Facebook and Twitter allow us to connect, shop, advertise and publish with just a few clicks. LinkedIn is where people turn to prospect for new business, publish articles, discuss issues within industry groups, and look for a job. Need a ride? Apps like Uber and Lyft can usually get you where you’re going cheaper and more easily than a taxi. Devices like Google Home and Amazon Echo can listen to your voice commands to play music, manage your shopping list, adjust your lights, or tell a joke. And experiments are underway for driverless cars, which could make us the last car-owning generation.
With technology automating and solving so many tasks, how is it possible that food production is still dependent on paper-driven and manual processes?
The current way of doing things in the food and beverage industry is outdated, labor intensive, and—most importantly—error-prone. Under FSMA, companies need to be able to justify their decisions and processes, and of course, document them. It’s not only critical for brand protection—it’s a regulatory requirement. Ignorance is not bliss. Now, senior management is obligated to demonstrate their commitment to food safety and they risk criminal prosecution if their operations don’t measure up. There’s too much at risk to keep doing things the same old way. The following are some signs that your quality department is still in the Dark Ages.
1. You’re using clipboards.
In defense of clipboards, they were a wonderful invention. They are quite well suited for gathering signatures on petitions to save the whales or signing up for a PTA bake sale. But if you’re still using clipboards to log temperatures or document sanitation procedures, then your food safety records are not as current and organized as they could be. Inputting data later is not an effective use of time. Processes like these not only take away from the core competencies of your quality team, but they also make staff spend more time analyzing everything manually, which could lead to costly mistakes or inaccuracies. Tablets and PCs have replaced paper-based logs and other quality recordkeeping. Why make your staff do a task twice? By digitizing these records, you can ensure that your records are up-to-date in real time and reduce the likelihood of errors made during transcription. Trust me, your staff will thank you for rescuing them from extra data entry. Plus, the modern workforce expects digital solutions.
2. You’re still using a physical filing cabinet to store food safety documentation.
If you’re putting your food safety plan, supplier documents and certificates of authenticity (COAs) in a filing cabinet, you have a transparency problem. Your department isn’t the only one that needs access to those critical documents. And if everyone has their own paper copy, then you are going to have problems with version control. Solve your transparency and version control problems by keeping critical documents in the cloud where the data can be extracted, analyzed and shared internally and externally across your supply chain.
3. Three-ring binders are for middle school, not food safety.
If your idea of ensuring compliance involves keeping COAs in a three-ring binder, you probably still have a flip phone, too. Seriously, 1980 called and they want their Trapper Keeper back. Whether your documents are in filing cabinets or binders, you still don’t have the transparency you need to efficiently share that information with your peers and other departments. Plus, your audits are sure to drag on longer than necessary if you are doing audits with stacks of three-ring binder instead of using an online platform where you can show the auditor any documentation they need with just a few clicks of a mouse.
4. Your suppliers send critical food safety documents to you via e-mail.
Email is a great way to communicate. It’s just not the best way to gather and manage supplier documents. Admit it; we all get behind on email, and sometimes things slip through the cracks. What happens if an out-of-spec allergen declaration gets buried under the 586 emails you receive each day? I can tell you, it’s certainly not good. The alternative is allowing your suppliers to upload those documents into a platform, so they are immediately available to you and anyone else in the company that you’ve given access to the system. Leveraging a platform, you also have access to a dashboard that can quickly show you which suppliers are in compliance and which ones have issues that need to be addressed. And if you have incoming certificates of authenticity (COAs), you can sit back and rely on software to read those documents for you and spot anything that doesn’t match your specifications or purchase order details. Isn’t it time that you not only collected supplier documents, but really use that data within the documents to better manage your incoming material to ensure food safety and quality?
5. You rely on file sharing to store your food safety and quality documentation.
SharePoint and other file sharing systems may look more modern than the paper alternative, but they weren’t designed specifically for vendor management or supply chain transparency. They can file and retrieve, but it’s not automated document management. Ask yourself how long do you or fellow employees spend searching for requested documents? Perhaps you need certain documentation for your GFSI/FDA audit, but different pieces of information are stored in various locations, either in a shared drive like SharePoint or a custom vendor portal. Every minute counts when it comes to document retrieval. These systems are often a little more than an electronic filing cabinet. They can store the information electronically, but unless it’s gathering, analyzing, validating and sharing that data across all departments, you still don’t have an automated system.
6. Spreadsheets are the main source of tracking your data.
While quality managers at competing companies are investing in the latest technology, other food companies are still inputting supplier lists and data in spreadsheets. Often, managers are reluctant to move their data to the cloud, opting instead to stick with what they know by using a spreadsheet that lacks a comprehensive system to track supplier performance in real time. This is a major disadvantage when different departments need one source of the truth about supplier performance and trend data about incoming material. Not only are spreadsheets hard to share and keep up-to-date, but the majority of them also contain errors.
A report by Ray Panko, a professor of IT management at the University of Hawaii, found that 88% of spreadsheets contained errors.
Coopers & Lybrand found that 91% of spreadsheets with 150 rows or more produced results that were off by more than 5%.
In a sample of 22 spreadsheets, KPMG found that 91% contained serious errors.
If your executives think automated supplier, compliance and quality systems are a “nice-to-have,” chances are you are still operating in the Dark Ages. This final advice is true no matter what software your business is thinking of implementing. Whatever the aims of the system, you must choose a long-term partner. Make sure your vendor can solve these six problems and meet the needs of your business now and in the future.
One stringent component of FSMA and the Final Rule on Sanitary Transportation of Human and Animal Food is record keeping. Depending on the type and size of business, the FDA can demand proof of record anywhere from under one year and upwards to two years, all while needing to address their inquiry within 24 hours. Failure to do so will be considered a “prohibited act” and violators can be tried for civil and criminal penalties.
This new rule, put in place by the FDA, will put immense pressure on the food transportation industry, not only to make food safety a priority, but also to ensure that proper food safety practices and measures are being properly implemented, by way of record keeping.
While the litany of rules and regulations pertaining to record keeping best practices is intense, let us break down the basic requirements applying to records in layman’s terms:
If HACCP procedures aren’t documented, it didn’t happen
Records must be verbatim accounts of what happened
The need for real-time recording is paramount
Corrective actions must be executed immediately if an issue occurs
If not, liability risk increases exponentially
Companies must determine the most efficient and plausible manner by which they will comply. Traditional storage of records in filing cabinets and input of data in spreadsheets is antiquated, and leads to errors and the potential for misplaced records. Now, more than ever, is the time for businesses along the food chain to deliver value to their organization via digital technologies and automated data gathering solutions. This will ensure constant visibility and ensure quality control throughout the process from farm to fork.
Where Does Waste Happen?
While covering a lettuce farm in central California, National Geographic discovered that numerous loads were dumped each day due to procedural mistakes , including improperly filled, labeled and sealed containers.1 Due to the mishaps, the loads were then dumped. Between April and November that year, the local Waste Authority landfilled 4–8 million pounds of fresh vegetables from those fields.
The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that:
54% of world food waste occurs during production, handling and storage
46% occurs during processing & distribution
These numbers are not only staggering, but they illustrate the seriousness of this issue.
Many of these mishaps occur when standard recording procedures are done manually, which leads to improper documentation that invalidates the integrity of shipments—to which the above figures illustrate and corroborate.
But can shippers, loaders, receivers and the like secure their procedures and eliminate wasted product by implementing stricter digital HACCP solutions?
While improper execution of best practices can lead to FDA imposed sanctions and profit loss, it also perpetuates the problem of food waste globally. This issue has become an epidemic and one that greatly affects the lives of many.
In a recent National Geographic article, The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) suggests the following:1
One-third of food produced for global human consumption is annually lost or wasted along the supply chain
Food waste equates to 2.8 trillion pounds each year, which is enough to feed 3 billion people per year
Consider this: The World Food Programme estimates that nearly 795 million people in the world do not have access to the proper amount of food needed to live a healthy, active life, which equates to roughly one in nine people on earth.
The amount of waste created along the supply chain each year is enough to feed the hungry and malnourished people of the world three-times over. While waste is inevitable, even a 50% improvement would be able to feed those most in need.
We understand the nature of business is overcoming competition while expending the least capital possible, ultimately leading to profit. However, food-related businesses along the supply chain must ask themselves whether or not they are their own competition. Are best practices being properly executed? How can they ensure this in order to mitigate waste?
Ultimately, however, it becomes a human issue. Companies must be responsible and possess the empathy to understand this. While domestically we may not feel the effects of global hunger as much as other third-world countries, these businesses must be aware of the epidemic in order to elucidate this topic while simultaneously maximizing its businesses potential.
By leveraging new food safety solutions such as mobile devices, the cloud, IoT, sensors and more, you can better protect your customers while also gaining a tangible ROI. Wherever consumers purchase and shop for food today, they are likely to find a larger selection than ever before. From the bread aisle to the cheese counter to the produce section, food options and manufacturing processes today are more diverse than ever. While variety is positive on a consumer and cultural level, it can create challenges for food safety from farm to fork.
Don’t miss the Plenary Mock Food Safety Trial: Sam I Am who made Green Eggs and Ham is represented by Shawn Stevens vs. Food Safety victims represented by Bill Marler. Judged by Steve Sklare | November 30 at the 2017 Food Safety Consortium | Learn moreWith FSMA regulations coming into effect, food companies must prepare for the arrival of FDA investigators, as the agency has made it a priority to inspect U.S. food facilities, and they won’t always show up announced. Prior to an investigator’s arrival, it’s important to iron out several details in order to be adequately prepared. The following are 10 questions that every company should add to its pre-inspection checklist and make sure they are addressed before the inspection.
Where will you meet? Pinpoint a place where you will host the FDA investigators. It should be a space that has enough room for them to review records, but it should not provide access to records (paper or digital) that could be viewed unsupervised.
Who are the Designated Individuals? Assign a primary and secondary Designated Individual (DI) for each facility. This person serves as the liaison with the FDA investigators and should coordinate vacation time to ensure that one DI will always be available if FDA arrives. Although not required, the DI should also complete Preventive Control Qualified Individual Training.
Has the written food safety plan been finalized? And, do the primary and secondary DIs know its components (i.e., GMPs, Sanitation Programs, Preventive Control Plan, Recall Plan, Environmental Monitoring Program, Foreign Supplier Verification Plan, Sanitary Transportation Plan, Food DefensePlan, and Produce Safety Plan)?
Are records readily accessible? The DI should be able to immediately access any supporting records from the past three months for FDA review (FDA requires that most records are maintained for at least two years, but investigators usually ask to review the preceding three months).
Have corrective actions been documented? When a deviation occurs, you must document all corrective actions. These actions should identify the deviation’s root cause and actions to prevent recurrence. If product safety is not affected, this should include a written conclusion that the deviation “does not create an immediate or direct food safety issue.”
Have you conducted environmental monitoring and environmental sampling? If your company processes ready- to-eat food products that are exposed to the environment prior to packaging, FDA will require you to have an environmental monitoring program. In addition, the agency will collect 100–200 microbiological samples from your facility, so you need to know exactly what FDA will find before it arrives. By conducting your own FDA-style facility swabbing, you’ll be able to identify and immediately correct any hidden problems. It’s also important to develop your swabbing and testing plan with the help of legal counsel so that the final testing results are confidential.
Do you have a “No Photographs” policy? If not, you should. FDA Investigators will often insist on taking photographs while inspecting the processing environment. If your corporate policy prohibits visitors from taking photographs, you may in some cases be able to prevent FDA from taking pictures as well.
Do you have a “Do Not Sign” policy? Sometimes, FDA Investigators will insist that a company representative sign a statement or affidavit during an inspection. You’re not legally obligated to do sign such a document. You should develop a policy stating you will neither sign nor acknowledge any written statements presented by FDA Investigators.
Have you identified a suitable “on call” food industry lawyer? Add a food industry lawyer familiar with the inspection process to the company’s emergency contact list. This lawyer should be notified and remain “on call” during the inspection and serve as a resource to help answer any regulatory or investigator-related questions that arise during the process.
Did you conduct a mock FDA inspection? One of the most effective ways to prepare for an FDA visit is to conduct a mock inspection. Food industry consultants and/or lawyers can visit your facility and play the role of the Investigator. Ask them to review your programs to identify possible regulatory shortfalls, and work with you to implement strategies that will strengthen your programs and reduce your regulatory exposure.
Compliance to FSMA has presented a new and difficult challenge for industry, the public and the FDA since it passed on January 4, 2011. With compliance dates for the initial FSMA rule—Preventive Controls—coming in September 2016, food sites must establish plans now to meet the impending deadline.
Complying with the Preventive Controls Rule
The Preventive Controls Rule was published September 17, 2015, with the compliance date for registered companies (more than 500 employees) scheduled for September 19, 2016. The compliance date is one year later for companies with fewer than 500 employees, unless otherwise specified under FSMA.
Under the FSMA rules, registered food facilities must evaluate and implement preventive control provisions and meet the requirements and the approaching deadline. The most urgent concerns for companies subject to the Preventive Controls Rule include developing a Preventive Controls Program, identifying a Preventive Control Qualified Individual (PCQI), and implementing a Food Safety Plan.
The following areas are all included under the FSMA Preventive Controls Rule:
Hazard Analysis. Companies must identify and evaluate known and reasonably foreseeable hazards.
Preventive Controls. Preventive controls must be implemented to significantly minimize or prevent the occurrence of hazards.
Monitoring. Preventive controls must be monitored for effectiveness.
Corrective Actions. Procedures for addressing failures of preventive controls and prevention of affected food from entering commerce are required.
Verification. Facilities are required to verify that preventive controls, monitoring and corrective actions are adequate.
Recordkeeping. Records must be kept for two years.
Written Plan and Documentation. A written plan must document and describe procedures used to comply with requirements.
Qualified Individual. A Qualified Individual who has been adequately trained must be present at the facility to manage the preventive controls for the site and the products processed and distributed at/from the site.
Failure to implement Preventive Controls (a.k.a., Hazard Analysis and Risk-based Preventive Controls (HARPC)) for qualified sites may result in fines and possible jail sentences.
Self-Diagnostic Assessment Tool
The following self-diagnostic assessment tool can help organizations better determine their current state of planning for FSMA compliance (see Table I). To complete your own planning assessment, review your progress compared to the questions below.
Companies must have their training, planning and development underway to comply, or face possible violations, fines, and penalties under FDA enforcement. The questions in Table I will help companies identify the areas in which they need to focus attention. Kestrel can also help answer questions, provide input on solutions, discuss how to better manage the preventive controls program—and change “No” responses into “Yes” responses that promote best practices for FSMA compliance.
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