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.
The food industry is adapting in completely new ways as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Retailers are scrambling to keep certain items on store shelves and manufacturers are adjusting their production strategies based on realistic and ever-shifting needs. In a recent discussion with Food Safety Tech, Angela Fernandez, VP of community engagement at GS1 US and FST editorial advisory board member, talks about how companies can improve relationships with trading partners in the face of COVID-19.
Food Safety Tech: What issues do you see happening in the supply chain right now?
Angela Fernandez: Our food supply chain is experiencing overwhelming demand. As an organization that collaborates with both the retail grocery and foodservice sectors to solve supply chain challenges, we’re working with industry on how we can make our supply chain more efficient in the short term, and make it more resilient in the long term.
Consumers are frustrated by empty shelves and the demand created by the pandemic is changing the movement of products. Right now, products are not always accounted for in transit, there are production issues depending on category, and food produced for foodservice outlets like restaurants, schools, and hotels can’t always be easily diverted to a supermarket. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is lifting restrictions on the sale of food so that it is possible for items that may have been produced for foodservice “sale” to be sold in a supermarket.
FST: In what particular areas are you seeing inventory shortages that are impacting retailers and suppliers?
Fernandez: We’re seeing a couple of different dynamics. For suppliers that produce products for both retail and foodservice channels, we see a shift in reducing production on foodservice items and an increasing manufacturing on their retail product lines. We’re also seeing foodservice suppliers that have not serviced the retail channel previously are now looking to establish new relationships with retailers and recession-proof their businesses. This is not happening as fast as consumer demand for perimeter products like dairy and produce, so we see shortages and products expiring before they can be sold to these new retail customers.
Additionally, food product variation and customization is decreasing. If you think about your own experience going to the grocery store today, or arranging for a delivery, you’re seeing fewer flavors of a product available and fewer brand names you’re familiar with. Suppliers are continuing to shift back to mainstream production of their core product lines just to keep store shelves stocked. I think that’s what we’re going to continue to see—the reduction of customized and specialty items.
For retailers, they have a prioritized the focus on ramping up their e-commerce strategy to relieve the pressure on their stores and service more consumers online. This poses a particular challenge when retailers have limited IT resources and a need to set up a new item supplied from a new foodservice manufacturer that is trying to divert their products to the retail channel to support the demand. And in some cases unfortunately, foodservice suppliers maybe unable to redirect some of their products due to the fact they are not marked for individual sale with the traditional U.P.C. and other retailer requirements.
FST: Is there a better way that food companies, retailers and suppliers can work together during this pandemic?
Fernandez: Food companies can improve the way they work together if they focus on supply chain visibility and data quality. Visibility is key as suppliers are ramping up production on those mainstream products and trying to get them to the proper locations when retailers need them. That’s where I would look at GS1 Standards such as the Global Trade Item Number (GTIN) for product identification and the advance ship notice (ASN) transaction, which lets a partner know when something is ready and being shipped. Global data standards enable the visibility to what delivery a retailer can expect and when, and being able to account for that inventory once it’s inside the DC [distribution center] location so that they can update an online platform. This can help ensure that a retailer has accurate information for the consumer and ability minimize the substitutions that can occur.
The second piece is the data quality aspect—making sure we have the right information around those core items that we are trying to keep stocked on the shelves for consumers who are purchasing those items today. The retail grocery and foodservice industries have been working on making product data more complete and accurate for a number of years, but we’ve seen a heightened focus on it now, knowing that consumers are relying on digital information to be correct since they cannot see the product in person right now. Expanding the data set for the consumer is critical.
FST: What is GS1 US doing right now to help customers better navigate today’s environment?
Fernandez: GS1 US is helping trading partners work with the capabilities they have to implement greater supply chain visibility, improve data quality and ramp up e-commerce operations. Depending on what was already implemented by the manufacturer or retailer, we’re looking at how we can leverage existing capabilities to help partners work together more efficiently to meet demand. How we can help connect the physical product and the digital data, knowing how important that is online right now, not only for trading partners but also for consumers?
One example of how GS1 Standards can be extended is if a retailer is looking to shorten their supply chain and purchase from a local farm. Standards provide a blueprint for supply chain partners to work together in a consistent way. We want to help these companies leverage and extend the standards instead of proprietary systems and abandoning useful processes for item setup, data exchange and point of sale checkout. Those are the types of discussions that we’re having—how GS1 US members can extend the standards that lead to operational efficiency and more easily bring in new partners to help fulfill demand.
While foodborne transmission of the novel coronavirus is unlikely , the virus has significantly affected all aspects of food production, food manufacturing, retail sales, and foodservice. The food and agriculture sector has been designated as a “critical infrastructure,” meaning that everyone from farm workers to pest control companies to grocery store employees has been deemed essential during this public health crisis.* As a society, we need the food and agriculture sector to continue to operate during a time when severe illnesses, stay-at-home orders and widespread economic impacts are occurring. Reports of fraudulent COVID-19 test kits and healthcare scams reinforce that “crime tends to survive and prosper in a crisis.” What does all of this mean for food integrity? Let’s look at some of the major effects on food systems and what they can tell us about the risk of food fraud.
Equally concerning are reports of supply disruptions in commodities coming out of major producing regions. Rice exports out of India have been delayed or stopped due to labor shortages and lockdown measures. Vietnam, which had halted rice exports entirely in March, has now agreed to resume exports that are capped at much lower levels than last year. Other countries have enacted similar protectionist measures. One group has predicted possible food riots in countries like India, South Africa and Brazil that may experience major food disruption coupled with high population density and poverty.
Supply chain complexity, transparency and strong and established supplier relationships are key aspects to consider as part of a food fraud prevention program. Safety or authenticity problems in one ingredient shipment can have a huge effect on the market if they are not identified before products get to retail (see Figure 1). Widespread supply chain disruptions, and the inevitable supplier adjustments that will need to be made by producers, increase the overall risk of fraud.
Regulatory oversight and audit programs have been modified. The combination of the public health risk that COVID-19 presents with the fact that food and agriculture system workers have been deemed “critical” has led to adjustments on the part of government and regulatory agencies (and private food safety programs) with respect to inspections, labeling requirements, audits, and other routine activities. The FDA has taken measures including providing flexibility in labeling for certain menus and food products, temporarily conducting remote inspections of food importers, and generally limiting domestic inspections to those that are most critical. USDA FSIS has also indicated they are “exercising enforcement discretion” to provide labeling flexibilities. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) announced they are prioritizing certain regulatory activities and temporarily suspending those activities determined to be “low risk.” GFSI has also taken measures to allow Certification Program Owners to provide certificate extensions due to the inability to conduct in-person audits.
While these organizations have assured stakeholders and the public that food safety is of primary importance, the level of direct regulatory and auditing oversight has been reduced to reduce the risk of virus transmission during in-person activities. Strong auditing programs with an anti-fraud component are an important aspect of food fraud prevention. Adjustments to regulatory and auditing oversight, as necessary as they may be, increase the risk of fraud in the food system.
There is a focus on safety and sustainability of foods. The food industry and regulatory agencies are understandably focused on basic food safety and food sustainability and less focused on non-critical issues such as quality and labeling. However, there is a general sense among some in industry that the risk of food fraud is heightened right now. Many of the effects on the industry due to COVID-19 are factors that are known to increase fraud risk: Supply chain disruptions, changes in commodity prices, supplier relationships (which may need to be changed in response to shortages), and a lack of strong auditing and oversight. However, as of yet, we have not seen a sharp increase in public reports of food fraud.
This may be due to the fact that we are still in the relatively early stages of the supply chain disruptions. India reported recently that the Food Safety Department of Kerala seized thousands of kilograms of “stale” and “toxic” fish and shrimp illegally brought in to replace supply shortages resulting from the halt in fishing that occurred due to lockdown measures.
High-value products may be particularly at risk. Certain high-value products, such as botanical ingredients used in foods and dietary supplements, may be especially at risk due to supply chain disruptions. Historical data indicate that high-value products such as extra virgin olive oil, honey, spices, and liquors, are perpetual targets for fraudulent activity. Turmeric, which we have discussed previously, was particularly cited as being at high risk for fraud due to “‘exploding’ demand ‘amidst supply chain disruptions.’”
How can we ensure food sufficiency, safety, and integrity?FAO has recommended that food banks be mobilized, the health of workers in the food and agriculture sector be prioritized, that governments support small food producers, and that trade and tax policies keep global food trade open. They go on to say, “by keeping the gears of the supply chains moving and actively seeking international cooperation to keep trade open, countries can prevent food shortages and protect the most vulnerable populations.” FAO and WHO also published interim guidance for national food safety control systems, which noted the increased risk of food fraud. They stated “during this pandemic, competent authorities should investigate reported incidences involving food fraud and work closely with food businesses to assess the vulnerability of supply chains…”.
From a food industry perspective, some important considerations include whether businesses have multiple approved suppliers for essential ingredients and the availability of commodities that may affect your upstream suppliers. The Acheson Group recommends increasing supply chain surveillance during this time. The Food Chemicals Codex group recommends testing early and testing often and maintaining clear and accurate communication along the supply chain.1 The nonprofit American Botanical Council, in a memo from its Botanical Adulterants Prevention Program, stated “responsible buyers, even those with relatively robust quality control programs, may need to double- or even triple-down on QC measures that deal with ingredient identity and authenticity.”
Measures to ensure the sufficiency, sustainability, safety and integrity of foods are more closely linked than ever before. In this time when sufficiency is critical, it is important to avoid preventable food recalls due to authenticity concerns. We also need to stay alert for situations where illegal and possibly hazardous food products enter the market due to shortages created by secondary effects of the virus. The best practices industry uses to reduce the risk of food fraud are now important for also ensuring the sufficiency, sustainability and safety of the global food supply.
*Foodborne transmission is, according to the Food Standards Agency in the U.K., “unlikely” and, according to the U.S. FDA, “currently there is no evidence of food or food packaging being associated with transmission of COVID-19.”
Workplace safety in the food industry can be challenging. The precision required of workers in slaughter, meat packing or wholesale processing facilities can lead to serious harm or worse. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the potential hazards in this industry are many: Knife cuts to the hands and the torso, falls, back injuries, exposure to toxic substances, carpal tunnel syndrome, and even infectious diseases.
This industry may have more challenges in safety than any other industry. Yet, there are companies that excel in safety performance, even given these challenges.
Organizations that are serious about protecting their workers must do far more than react after an injury or rely on awareness-based safety efforts. Typically this approach only delays the next injury. Safety is not just about responding to injuries, but is about the ongoing identification of exposure, the implementation of control systems, and assuring these controls are used to neutralize the exposure.
The challenge is that the root of why an exposure exists or can even thrive in an organization maybe due to culture, organizational urgency, operational instability or a lack of understanding about the concept of exposure, to mention a few. Because the issue is bigger than safety programs, safety excellence requires all levels of an organization, from the C-Suite to the frontline worker, committing to a process that focuses on exposure. This needs to be done in a way that creates trust that safety is a value and if there is a values conflict, that safety has top priority.
Ultimately, it’s about shifting culture by making a safety excellence a priority.
Oftentimes leaders articulate that they want a safe culture, but they may not fully understand their role in creating the culture they desire and how they sustain the change. Senior leaders must go beyond a catch phrase approach to safety and actually articulate what are the cultural attributes they want to see firmly embedded in their organization.
These may be:
Workers watching out for each other and a willingness to step in if somebody is at risk.
Workers stepping up to address physical hazards without being asked.
A willingness to report safety concerns and incidents.
Once the attributes are defined, then the organization is ready to understand what it takes to support that culture.
However, senior leadership needs to drive that change. Once upper management understands that accountability starts with them and not with the worker, they can move forward and create a culture that reinforces practices that identify potential exposure before incidents take place and not after. Doing so not only has the potential to lower incident rates, but it also:
Boosts morale. Workers believe the company has their backs and will commit to safety principles.
Strengthens trust between workers and management. Workers believe that safety excellence is a shared responsibility.
Increases commitment to all organizational objectives. Social theory research has shown that if you do something for someone else, they experience a pull to reciprocate. The more we do, the stronger the pull. When management shows that they can be trusted with employee safety, employees are free to reciprocate in other areas.
Our strongest and deepest relationships are built on a foundation of safety—not just physical safety but also psychological safety. If we come to believe that another person is interested in our physical or mental wellbeing, the foundation strengthens.
When leadership uses the power of safety they will see employee engagement increase. And the safety implications of worker engagement are profound: Disengaged workers are focused on their own safety. Involved workers are concerned with their own safety but are likely also concerned with the safety of their workmates and perhaps certain other people they interact with. Fully engaged workers are concerned with the safety of everyone around them and without prompting take proactive actions to help others.
Engaged workers are more likely to follow rules and procedures, be more receptive to change, and give discretionary effort. It seems like all companies are doing some type of engagement survey, yet the actions they develop to try and raise their scores are often lacking. Organizations that are serious about having an engaged workforce must fully understand how safety is foundational to engagement. More importantly, safety involvement activities need to be designed and implemented in a way that moves employees beyond mere involvement to full on engagement.
When a company demonstrates it values safety, workers will volunteer to get involved. Leadership must carefully consider what safety involvement activity is right for the culture. When employees participate in a successful and rewarding involvement activity, their personal level of engagement will move upward. Leadership must then figure out how to expand safety involvement. This isn’t done by demanding involvement. It requires purposeful planning and patience.
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