Tag Archives: retail

Jennifer van de Ligt, Food Protection and Defense Institute, University of Minnesota

Q&A: Pandemic Puts Worker Health & Safety, Leadership Skills and Business Adaptability at Forefront

By Maria Fontanazza
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Jennifer van de Ligt, Food Protection and Defense Institute, University of Minnesota

Issues with the health of frontline workers, supply chain disruptions, and changes in consumer behavior are just a few vulnerabilities that the food industry is experiencing as a result of COVID-19. Food Safety Tech recently had a conversation with Jennifer van de Ligt, Ph.D., director of the University of Minnesota Integrated Food Systems Leadership Program and Food Protection and Defense Institute about the hurdles that the industry is experiencing and where we go from here.

Food Safety Tech: What challenges is the food system facing in light of the COVID-19 pandemic? Where are the vulnerabilities?

Jennifer van de Ligt, Ph.D.: The food system is facing primary, secondary and tertiary challenges right now. I see two main drivers as disruptors as a result of COVID-19. The health and safety of employees is the first primary driver. As COVID-19 has more broadly spread through the U.S., ensuring the health and safety of employees in the food system has become essential; however, the pandemic has shown us the food system has struggled with that.

The other big primary challenge facing the food system has been the swift change in consumer behavior. Pre-COVID-19, nearly half of food was consumed away from home. When restaurants closed, and stay-at-home orders were in place, it put extreme amounts of pressure on our food retail segment, causing supply and demand issues.

Regarding the health and safety of employees: We’ve seen meat processing struggle with production demands because the health of their employees has been impacted by the virus. In mid-April, the beef and pork capacity in this country went down by over 40%. They are making great improvements and are approaching normal harvest capacity range for both [beef and pork production]. Meat cuts being produced are slightly different than normal, as this part of the meat plants are very labor intensive. This has really highlighted the need to make sure that we keep the health and safety of our food system employees front and center.

During the 2020 Food Safety Consortium Virtual Conference Series, Jennifer Van de Ligt will participate in a panel discussion on November 5 about Professional Development and Women in Food Safety | Register Now Now that the meat supply chain is beginning to recover, we’re also beginning to see increasing effects on non-meat supply manufacturing. This isn’t isolated to food manufacturing; as we experience broader community spread, COVID-19 will impact all aspects of our food system.

On consumer behavior: As consumers shifted to food retail, immense pressure was quickly put on our food supply chain logistics, manufacturing timing and processes, the speed to warehouses and delivery, etc.

One example that demonstrates a challenge in manufacturing and consumer demand is the difference in volumes for food services versus retail. I like to use the example of shredded cheese. At a grocery store, you’ll find a one-pound pack, but shredded cheese in food service might be in a 10-pound bag. There are not a lot of consumers who want to buy a 10-pound bag of shredded cheese. Well, why can’t cheese manufacturers just package bulk product into one-pound packs? There are several reasons that don’t allow producers to pivot quickly: They may not have the machinery or packaging to do that. Also, changing packaging from food service to retail requires different labels and regulatory approvals. Examples like this led to many of the spot outages consumers found in grocery stores. In the produce sector, it led to produce being plowed under in fields because they didn’t have the distribution channels to go into retail instead of into food service.

In the Integrated Food System Leadership (IFSL) program, we’ve recently discussed food equity and food injustice as a result of COVID-19. As food retail became stressed and unemployment increased, we saw a huge demand for our food assistance networks. Because food retail is one of the primary contributors to the food assistance networks, there wasn’t enough volume being donated. In addition, food service foods are not appropriately packaged to go into the food assistance networks and food banks, similar to the issue in moving to food retail. This led to tremendous pressure and innovative solutions to source and distribute food to a newly vulnerable population.

As we look ahead into the coming months, many of the vulnerabilities in the food system will be the same. We have to continuously monitor the health and safety of our employees to keep our food system as a whole functional. There’s a growing recognition that our primary agriculture workers are also at risk—the people in fields harvesting and planting. There are many groups providing recommendations on how to protect agriculture employees and communities where they work and reside.

We’ll see continued adaptation in the food system to the new reality of how restaurants and food service engage with their consumers with the shift in behavior to limited restaurant dining and increases in online ordering.

FST: In what areas do food manufacturers, processors or growers need to adapt moving forward in order to thrive?

Van de Ligt: There are several. First, I think this crisis has really brought worker health and welfare to the forefront, and there will be more emphasis on the essentiality of food system workers. They were previously a behind-the-scenes workforce. The issue of worker health and welfare is going to accelerate in many industries, but I also see a push to more automation. The human workforce is necessary, and people do a really wonderful job, but are there areas that might benefit from automation? I think those go hand in hand.

I also think the global food system needs to rethink how it remains resilient. In the past, there’s been a focus on resilience and efficiency through economy of scale. That still exists and may look different moving forward. Using the meat industry as an example, that economy of scale was also its biggest weakness that had gone unrecognized. Going forward, I think there are many companies that are going to consider alternative supply chains. Should multiple, smaller plants be utilized instead of one large plant to provide a more resilient framework for production? Other companies are going to think about installing equipment or processing lines that could more quickly pivot between food service and food retail. There’s also a huge opportunity now for local and smaller markets to really make an impact as people look for alternative supply chains and sources. We found that many of the local food markets and co-ops, especially those that provided into food service, pivoted pretty quickly to pop-up online marketplaces to provide food direct to consumer. I think we’ll see that trend increase as well.

In order to feed billions of people worldwide, it’s essential that the food industry take a broader systems approach versus the siloed approach path we’ve been using. The pandemic has highlighted how the food system is an intricately functioning balance and requires collaboration. Our food system will only be able to move forward faster with less disruption when we have food system leaders who understand the intricacies and the ripple effects of the challenges we face. Leaders who understand the impacts of decisions outside of their sphere will be essential to plan for impacts from natural disasters, another pandemic, etc.—and to create a more responsive and resilient food system in the future.

FST: Where does this leave folks who are either beginning or rising in their careers in food safety? Do you think the pandemic has changed food safety careers as they’ve historically functioned?

Van de Ligt: I like to say that ‘what got us here is not going to get us there.’ In general, if you think about where food safety careers have been in the past, the roles have been all about consistency, understanding regulations, making sure we do everything precisely right all of the time so we don’t have a food safety outbreak.

The focus on doing things precisely right all of the time will absolutely continue. What I think will shift is the need for food safety professionals to think more broadly than just the regulations that are required for compliance. Food safety professionals need to understand more about the system that is happening outside their facility; the impact of their work going backwards and forwards in the supply chain.

How things have worked historically in a food safety role has been having a consistent supplier network that provides the same type of product every time; you know what to expect, how to produce and distribute safe food for the customers you serve. In a situation like COVID-19, because of the disruptions from farm to fork, the suppliers you need to work with may be different and you need to quickly make decisions spontaneously as supply shifts. Having the knowledge and skills to navigate changes is essential to ensure the quality and safety of your product.

A highly technical focus that many professionals have when they start their career is often too narrow and won’t be enough for emerging food system leaders. Leadership skills are vital as well. In the IFSL program we teach food system professionals how to explore proactive viewpoints, not just managing people or responsibilities. Managers make sure things are done things correctly; leaders make sure we do the right thing. In order to learn how to do the right thing, we teach skills and tools on how to navigate uncertainty; practicing active listening, constructive feedback; and understanding the concerns of a supplier or customer are examples.

We emphasize and teach in the IFSL program that food system professionals and leaders need to be much more proactive. This means equipping them with the food system knowledge and leadership skills so they can predict and prepare for how decisions affect upstream and downstream. Having a broader viewpoint is critical to adaptivity, which will build resilience and help limit disruption.

FDA

FDA Unveils Blueprint for New Era of Smarter Food Safety

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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FDA

Today FDA released the New Era for Smarter Food Safety Blueprint. The much-anticipated document was originally scheduled for release in March but was delayed due to the agency’s response to COVID-19. Although the agency’s plan places a lot of focus on the use of new technology, FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn, M.D., stressed that it is also about enabling more effective methods and processes.

FDA’s Blueprint for the Future breaks down the four core elements of the plan:

  • Tech-Enabled Traceability. A lesson learned during the coronavirus pandemic was that there is a need for greater traceability and visibility in the supply chain. “One of the challenges we’ve faced over the years is recurring outbreaks of illnesses associated with the consumption of certain foods,” said Hahn. “What this daunting problem underscores is the critical importance of the FDA working with industry so that we can rapidly trace a contaminated food to its source. And when I say rapidly, I mean minutes, not days, weeks, or even longer.
  • Smarter Tools and Approaches for Prevention and Outbreak Response. Here, the FDA is emphasizing the “power of data”. “The plans embraced by the blueprint include strengthening our procedures and protocols for conducting the root cause analyses that can identify how a food became contaminated and inform our understanding of how to help prevent that from happening again,” said Hahn.
  • New Business Models and Retail Modernization. This element address food production and delivery, as well as food safety in restaurants and the retail setting.
  • Food Safety Culture. “The pandemic has given us a new perspective on what we mean by food safety culture,” said Hahn. He stated that beyond influencing human behavior, food safety culture must also address worker safety and consumer education.

View the New Era of Smarter Food Safety: FDA’s Blueprint for the Future.

Megan Nichols
FST Soapbox

COVID-19 Led Many Dairy Farmers to Dump Milk

By Megan Ray Nichols
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Megan Nichols

Much of the news coverage surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic mentions infection numbers and fatalities. Those are undoubtedly important for showing parts of the overall impact. However, it’s easy to overlook the ramifications felt by some professionals. One recent example concerns the instances of dairy farmers dumping milk.

Numerous Factors Contributing to the Problem

The pandemic drastically and dramatically disrupted life. Many of the associated changes affected milk producers, but perhaps not in the ways people expect. As schools closed and restaurants operated on delivery or a takeaway-only basis, the demand for milk typically consumed in the food and educational sector went down.

Consider, too, that the pandemic forced the closure of enterprises that did not necessarily serve large quantities of milk every day but still likely placed ongoing orders with suppliers. For example, a daycare center might give toddlers boxes of dairy beverages each day during snack time. Coffee shops often add milk to their lattes or set out bottles for people who want to put some in their coffee.

When coronavirus cases emerged in the United States, many people panicked and flocked to grocery stores for essentials. Milk is often one of the staples people buy before winter storms hit, and they wanted it to prepare for the pandemic, too. One Target store in New Jersey sold out of its entire stock of milk in only five minutes. Stores responded by imposing per-person limits on the product.

If the demand exists, what caused the milk surplus? Part of it boils down to a lack of space at milk processing plants. A related issue is that processors typically serve particular markets. One might cater to retail buyers while another primarily addresses needs in the food service sector. They lack the infrastructure to pivot and begin accepting milk orders from a new type of customer, particularly if the milk-based product is substantially different, like sour cream versus ice cream.

A First-Time Phenomenon

Farmers discarding milk is not unheard of, but it’s not something many producers do regularly. Andrew Griffith, a professor at the University of Tennessee, said that some farmers had to do it recently for the first time in careers spanning decades. He explained, “It’s not that [dumping] hasn’t occurred from farm to farm.” Adverse weather conditions can delay pickups, and unexpected supply spoilages might lead to too much milk.

“But we’re talking about a level of dumping that is not common at all. There [are] a lot of farmers that are experiencing dumping milk for the first time in their 30- or 40-year careers,” Griffith said in an article published on The Counter.

The highly perishable nature of milk poses another problem contributing to the milk surplus. That aspect hit dairy harder than some other types of agricultural goods. People could put grain into silos, but storage is more complicated for dairy products.

Any exposure to higher-than-recommended temperatures causes spoilage. The subsequent risk to consumers means farmers must throw it away. Cold storage facilities are essential for the dairy industry. Statistics from 2018 indicated an average of 10.67 cents per kilowatt-hour for energy consumption at commercial facilities. However, cold storage facilities operate 24/7, so their energy needs are often higher than those of other commercial buildings.

Cows, dairy, farms
The coronavirus is only one of the challenges likely to impact the dairy industry in the coming months and years. Dairy consumption has been trending down for years. (Pexels image)

The delicate nature of the product is another unfortunate aspect that may lead to dumping milk. If a processor has no room to accept the raw goods, there’s nowhere for them to go. In April The Wall Street Journal reported that in one week, producers threw out as much as 7% of the milk in the United States from that period. The same story highlighted how a specialty cheese factory saw sales of its chèvre and ricotta drop by 95% in one day.

Coping With Dairy Industry Fluctuations

The coronavirus is only one of the challenges likely to impact the dairy industry in the coming months and years. A Statista chart profiles the progressive decline of milk consumption in the United States. The average amount of milk per person in 1975 totaled 247 pounds. It plunged to 149 pounds by 2017.

There’s also the issue of people showing a growing preference for plant-based milk alternatives. One industry analysis tracked sales of traditional and oat milk during mid-March. Purchases for the first category rose by 32%, while oat milk sales soared by 476%. A potential reason for that huge increase in the latter category is that supermarkets sell shelf-stable milk alternatives. Those often stay in date for months when unopened.

People can get them in the refrigerated section, too, but they may have preferred not to as they cut down their shopping trips due to COVID-19. Consumers also noticed the increasing number of milk-like beverages made from hemp, hazelnuts and other options. If a person tries one and doesn’t like it, they may try a different option.

Despite those challenges, some dairy farmers anticipated favorable trends—at least before the coronavirus hit. Producers get paid per 100 pounds of milk. Katie Dotterer-Pyle, owner of Cow Comfort Inn Dairy, said 2013 was a particularly good year for the rates. Back then, farmers received about $30 for every 100 pounds, although the price has stayed at approximately $17 per 100 over the past two years.

When Might the Milk Surplus Ease?

This coverage emphasizes the lack of a quick fix for the dairy industry strain. As restaurants reopen, that change should help address the problem, but it won’t solve it entirely. Some enterprises refocused their efforts to better meet current demands. One Dallas-based plant that handles dairy products more than halved its output of cardboard milk cartons and increased production of whole and 2% milk for the retail sector. It is now back to normal manufacturing runs.

As mentioned earlier, though, many processors can’t make such changes. Dumping milk becomes a heart-wrenching practice for hard-working producers. Many tried to compensate by selling their least-profitable cows for slaughter or making feeding changes to reduce the animals’ production. Some private entities committed to purchasing milk from farms and getting it to food banks. Other analysts say the government should step in to help.

People in the farming community support each other with tips and reassurance, but most know they could be in for a long struggle. As supply chains recovered from the initial shock of COVID-19, most people stopped panic buying, and stores no longer set product limits. Things are moving in the right direction, but the impacts remain present.

A Complicated Issue

Many state leaders have let businesses reopen, and others are following. Any step toward a new kind of normal is a positive one that should gradually help the dairy sector. However, much of what the future holds remains unknown, mainly since this is a new type of coronavirus, and scientists still have plenty to learn about mitigating it.

Mice, pests

Pests Don’t Rest During a Pandemic

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Mice, pests

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced the closure of hundreds of restaurants, food processors and other businesses nationwide. As weeks went on, increased rodent activity plagued many businesses, some of which has been attributed to a change in food sources and availability—so much so that the CDC released a warning about rodent control in restaurants and other commercial businesses that have either been closed or have had limited service during the pandemic. “Environmental health and rodent control programs may see an increase in service requests related to rodents and reports of unusual or aggressive rodent behavior,” the CDC stated last month.

As the American economy reopens, many food establishments and facilities must consider three key points that will affect pest management during this time:

  • Pest pressure continues. Rodents are on a never-ending search for food, water and harborage.
  • Change in business patterns. Different inbound and outbound shipments; changes in employee shifts and production schedules; new supply chain partners.
  • Service provider access. Access to facilities and secure areas; changes in facility structure, equipment and storage

Factoring the many changes that COVID-19 has prompted, the role of pest management is more important than ever. We invite you to join us for Food Safety Tech’s upcoming complimentary virtual conference, “Integrated Pest Management: Protect Food Safety and Prevent the Spread of Pathogens”, on June 30. Our Technical Service Lead, Joe Barile, will discuss pest management and risk mitigation in the COVID-19 world; he will be followed by Orkin’s VP of Quality Assurance and Technical Services, Judy Black, on the key components to successful IPM and pest management programs, and Angela Anandappa, Ph.D. of the Alliance for Advanced Sanitation on how an effective sanitation program can protect against pest and food contamination. Register now.

Retail Food Safety Forum

The New Normal for Grocery Store Health and Safety

By Todd Frantz
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Grocery stores have become some of the most important retail establishments over the past few months. They’ve kept people fed and provided access to essential supplies such as toilet paper, cleaning agents and over-the-counter medications. Grocery retailers have taken extraordinary steps to help protect the health and safety of their workers and customers during the worldwide pandemic, understanding that viruses can spread quickly with high customer traffic.

While many grocery stores made operational changes to stay open during this time, more adjustments are needed to help stem future infections. Guest occupancy limits, face-covering recommendations and single-directional aisles are here to stay, at least for the near term. Customers are likely to continue online shopping, which has its own set of challenges for food and delivery safety. It will be critical for retailers to obtain reliable information, specific to the store’s location and to follow local, state and federal mitigation guidelines. Trusted sources of such information include the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the CDC and the World Health Organization (WHO), plus state and local health departments.

Grocery retailers should also consider how and when employees interact with customers. Acrylic barriers at checkout lines are one method of physical control. Providing personal protective equipment and appropriate training on its use is another good method for maintaining infection control. As regulations relax, retailers need to evaluate what, if any, other changes should occur to keep safety at the forefront.

There are many other common sense practices retailers can adopt to help minimize the spread of any virus. Viral illnesses spread primarily between individuals, so the most important act of prevention is to keep employees healthy and safe. Hand washing is one of the most important steps we can take to help prevent the spread of illnesses. Most states require grocery stores to post restroom signs mandating that employees wash their hands, but these signs typically lack specific instructions. The CDC recommends cleaning hands in a specific way to avoid getting sick and spreading germs to others. The steps are the following:

  1. Dispense a paper towel, so it is ready before wetting hands
  2. Wet hands with warm (100°F/38°C) water
  3. Apply an appropriate amount of soap
  4. Rub hands vigorously together for 20 seconds
  5. Clean between the fingers, the backs of the hands and the fingertips
  6. Rinse hands under warm water to remove soap
  7. Dry hands with the paper towel
  8. Turn off faucet with a paper towel
  9. Use the paper towel to contact door surfaces to exit
  10. Throw away paper towel in a trash receptacle

Because grocery store workers touch food, increasing their handwashing frequency can help prevent the transmission of other types of illnesses beyond respiratory viruses. Employees should take care to wash their hands before donning gloves for any food preparation, after touching exposed skin, after handling soiled utensils and after engaging in any other activities that could soil hands.

Facility sanitization is another essential aspect in preventing the spread of illnesses. Grocery stores already have rigorous cleaning protocols that explain how to mix and use chemicals correctly. Additional instruction on how to apply cleaning agents to surface areas as well as visual reminders reminding workers how long a cleaning solution needs to remain before wiping with a cloth. To prevent the spread of infection, many stores have added more frequent cleaning for high-touch surfaces like door handles, touch screens and carts.

When approved sanitizers run low, however, some people turn to chlorine sanitizing agents like unscented bleach. Bleach can be a highly effective sanitizer, but it can also be potentially hazardous when misused. Specifically, when mixed with other cleaning products that contain ammonia, it creates a highly toxic chlorine gas. The cleaning staff needs proper training on how to mix and use cleaning solutions, use the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE), such as wearing gloves or a protective outer garment, and to provide appropriate ventilation in rooms where sanitizers are mixed and stored.

Grocery stores have been at the forefront of the pandemic response for some time and they will be the first to adopt “new normal” procedures. Specific guidelines around health and safety evolve, but the fundamentals of health and safety stay the same. Stores that strive to maintain high standards around cleanliness and sanitation are likely to be better positioned for the inevitable next time.

Bob Bentley, Crisp
FST Soapbox

Predictions: Planning for Increased Demand with Limited Supply

By Bob Bentley
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Bob Bentley, Crisp

We are seeing the beginning of a limited supply of certain products as containment of the COVID-19 pandemic keeps manufacturers, processing plants, and other suppliers in global stasis. But what does that mean for these manufacturers and other members of the supply chain? It means continued planning of master resources such as demand management, sales and operations planning and production scheduling, but with a greater focus on efficiency.

This process of master resource planning results in a detailed blueprint for manufacturing products to meet anticipated demand, accounting for various constraints such as limited supply of raw materials and purchase parts.

So what should manufacturers do if they run into serious shortages of raw materials or purchase parts? What can retailers do to cover operating expenses if they don’t have enough products to sell? We’ll take a look at these anticipated complications and possible methods for solving them.

Limited Supply

The current COVID-19 crisis has led to mandatory business closures that have already caused a shortage of supply. So far, we’ve gotten by with inventories that had already been sitting in various places up and down supply chains prior to the shutdowns, not just on warehouse and retail store shelves. Once all inventories within supply chains are depleted, we will start to notice more stockouts.

Some businesses can endure long-term production cessations without stockouts. For example, manufacturers in critical industries such as pharmaceuticals have a policy of stockpiling inventory in case of unforeseen events. Most businesses, however, cannot afford to miss months of production time because the lean manufacturing principles they adhere to include keeping minimal inventory.

For instance, automobile manufacturers and retailers do not hold excess inventory due to the expected annual product line changes from the previous year’s models, which are typically sold at a large profit reduction at the turn of the year. Clothing and other fashion-related businesses also keep inventory minimal due to a yearly change in styles.

Another source of upcoming shortages will be the sell-off of supplier facilities due to the downturn in revenue caused by emergency closures. Food is a particularly interesting case. Farmers are reconstructing the way their supply chains work to better serve their new target consumers—grocery retail. Some farmers may run into issues with transporting livestock or may need to repurpose crops that are nearing their harvest. Many of those that are pushing to endure and come out of the pandemic disruption with minimal casualties are starting to get creative by creating small farmers’ markets (pop-ups) or marketing directly to the consumer via direct subscription boxes.

It will take some time to re-establish farms, manufacturing plants, and other suppliers who were hit hardest during the months without revenue. However, refocusing on demand planning and forecasting could aid in spurring a regeneration of these industries.

Demand Management

Demand management is the first of three steps taken during the master resources planning process. Demand management includes demand forecasting, distribution channel planning and customer demand management.

Both suppliers and retailers need to know what demand they can expect, especially during uncertain times. After COVID-19, consumer demand will be high, supplies will be limited, and accurate demand forecasting will be especially important to getting businesses back on their feet.

Inaccurate forecasting will cause waste when businesses overestimate future demand for items that have a short shelf life. For instance, a grocery store that overestimates how much produce they will be able to sell within a certain time frame will end up throwing some of that produce away due to spoilage.

Consumer behavior during a crisis can complicate demand forecasting, though. In an earlier phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, worried customers over-purchased toilet paper and paper towels. This caused a shortage for everyone else, and the demand for those items was much higher than anticipated/forecasted. More recently, the same buyers bought up meat when they heard about the disruption in the food supply chain, and they expected the prices for meat to go up. Demand spikes like these cause lost sales for stores that don’t anticipate them.

Demand forecasting will remain tricky in the short-term for both suppliers and retailers whenever a retailer re-opens to the public with the imposed 25% capacity constraint. Overhead expenses will likely remain relatively the same, but 25% of the normal revenue may not cover expenses. Whether a full 25% of a retailer’s former customer base would return during a pandemic is also an unknown factor.

Companies will see high demand when the world opens their doors for business. The most efficient way for companies to plan during these times is by utilizing high-performance, demand forecasting software that will offer the best information available to deal with volatile demands, given the various known and predicted factors.

Sales and Operations Planning

After demand management is performed, manufacturers go through a sales and operations planning process that integrates sourcing, manufacturing, sales, marketing and financial plans, and resource planning. This process results in the creation of an approved production plan (at the product family level), purchase plan, sales plan and backlog plan that satisfies the anticipated level of demand within supply constraints.

In the early days following the end of the pandemic, some manufacturers won’t have the initial supply to meet the high demand for their goods. Some may find contingencies for creating their goods and products, while others may run into supplier issues when it comes to recreating their products and goods post-closure.

Getting manufacturers back up to speed will depend on building up the supplies of raw materials and purchase parts. Sometimes out-of-the-box solutions such as part designs can eliminate the need for some unavailable purchase parts and dependency on some suppliers. Additionally, accurate demand planning information will enable manufacturers to accommodate their retailer customers as much as possible without overpromising incoming goods.

Master Scheduling

In the master scheduling phase, the production and purchasing plans are taken from the family level into a specific product level. This process involves a computer repeatedly simulating production and purchasing as planned during the S & OP step until optimal bills of materials are created. This process includes testing of the plans against constraints of critical resources (rough-cut capacity planning) until a master production schedule is derived.

Fortunately for the retailers, manufacturers who have done accurate demand planning and have taken their production plans through the master scheduling stage will know the maximum number of goods they can ensure without overreaching.

Conclusion

The current COVID-19 pandemic required many business closures to help contain the spread of the virus. As a result, many consumer goods are in limited supply. When the crisis ends, the demand may very well overtake the supply. Businesses will need to practice patience while supplies build back up. Thinking outside the box, using accurate demand forecasting, preventing waste, and executing good demand planning will be crucial steps in reinstating a synergistic supply chain model.

Karen Everstine, Decernis
Food Fraud Quick Bites

COVID-19 and Food Fraud Risk

By Karen Everstine, Ph.D.
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Karen Everstine, Decernis

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.

Supply chains have seen major disruptions. Primary food production has generally continued, but there have been challenges within the food supply chain that have led to empty store shelves. Recent reports have noted shortages of people to harvest crops, multiple large meat processing facilities shut down due to COVID-19 cases, and recommendations for employee distancing measures that reduce processing rates. One large U.S. meat processor warned of the need to depopulate millions of animals and stated “the food supply chain is breaking.” (An Executive Order was subsequently issued to keep meat processing plants open).

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.

Reconstructed supply chain
Figure 1. Reconstructed supply chain based on recall data following the identification of Sudan I in the chili powder supply chain in 2005. Data source: Food Standards Agency of the U.K. National Archives and The Guardian. Figure from: Everstine, K. Supply Chain Complexity and Economically Motivated Adulteration. In: Food Protection and Security – Preventing and Mitigating Contamination during Food Processing and Production. Shaun Kennedy (Ed.) Woodhead Publishing: 26th October 2016. Available at: https://www.elsevier.com/books/food-protection-and-security/kennedy/978-1-78242-251-8

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.

Reference

  1. Food Safety Tech. (April 24, 2020). “COVID-19 in the Food Industry: Mitigating and Preparing for Supply Chain Disruptions “. On-Demand Webinar. Registration page retrieved from https://register.gotowebinar.com/recording/1172058910950755596

*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.”

John McPherson, rfxcel
FST Soapbox

Clear Waters Ahead? The Push for a Transparent Seafood Supply Chain

By John McPherson
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John McPherson, rfxcel

The seafood supply chain handles 158 million metric tons of product every year, 50% of which comes from wild sources. Operating in every ocean on the planet, the industry is struggling to figure out how to overcome the numerous obstacles to traceability, which include unregulated fishing, food fraud and unsustainable fishing practices. With these and other problems continuously plaguing the supply chain, distributors and importers cannot consistently guarantee the validity, source or safety of their products. Furthermore, there are limits to what a buyer or retailer can demand of the supply chain. Niche solutions abound, but a panacea has yet to be found.

In this complex environment, there are increasing calls for better supply chain management and “catch to plate” provenance. One problem, however: The industry as a whole still regards traceability as a cost rather than an investment. There are signs this attitude is changing, however, perhaps due to pressure from consumers, governments and watchdog-type organizations to “clean up” the business and address the mounting evidence that unsustainable fishing practices cause significant environmental problems. Today, we’ve arrived at a moment when industry leaders are being proactive about transparency and technologies such as mobile applications and environmental monitoring software can genuinely help reform the seafood supply chain.

A Global Movement for Seafood Traceability

There are several prominent examples of the burgeoning worldwide commitment to traceability (and, by default, the use of new technologies) in the seafood supply chain. These include the Tuna 2020 Traceability Declaration, the Global Tuna Alliance, and the Global Dialogue on Seafood Traceability. Let’s focus on the latter to illustrate the efforts to bring traceability to the industry.

The Global Dialogue on Seafood Traceability. The GDST, or the Dialogue, is “an international, business-to-business platform established to advance a unified framework for interoperable seafood traceability practices.” It comprises industry stakeholders from different parts of the supply chain and civil society experts from around the world, working together to develop industry standards to, among other things, improve the reliability of information, make traceability less expensive, help reduce risk in the supply chain, and facilitate long-term social and environmental sustainability.

On March 16, 2020, the Dialogue launched its GDST 1.0 Standards, which will utilize the power of data to support traceability and the ability to guarantee the legal origin of seafood products. These are guidelines, not regulations; members who sign a pledge commit themselves to bringing these standards to their supply chains.

GDST 1.0 has two objectives. First, it aims to harmonize data standards to facilitate data sharing up and down the supply chain. It calls for all nodes to create Electronic Product Code Information Services (EPCIS) events to make interoperability possible (EPCIS is a GS1 standard that allows trading partners to share information about products as they move through the supply chain.). Second, it defines the key data elements that trading partners must capture and share to ensure the supply chain is free of seafood caught through illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing and to collect relevant data for resource management.

Why Transparency Is Critical

By now it’s probably clear to you that the seafood sector is in dire need of a makeover. Resource depletion, lack of trust along the supply chain, and the work of global initiatives are just a few of the factors forcing thought leaders in the industry to rethink their positions and make traceability the supply chain default.

However, despite more and more willingness among stakeholders to make improvements, the fact is that the seafood supply chain remains opaque and mind-bogglingly complex. There are abundant opportunities for products to be compromised as they change hands over and over again across the globe on their journey to consumers. The upshot is that the status quo rules and efforts to change the supply chain are under constant assault.

You may ask yourself what’s at stake if things don’t change. The answer is actually quite simple: The future of the entire seafood sector. Let’s look at a few of the most pressing problems facing the industry and how transparency can help solve them.

Illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing. IUU fishing includes fishing during off-season breeding periods, catching and selling unmanaged fish stocks, and trading in fish caught by slaves (yes, slaves). It threatens the stability of seafood ecosystems in every ocean.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, IUU fishing accounts for as much as 26 million tons of fish every year, with a value of $10–23 billion. It is “one of the greatest threats to marine ecosystems” and “takes advantage of corrupt administrations and exploits weak management regimes.” It occurs in international waters and within nations’ borders. It can have links to organized crime. It depletes resources available to legitimate operations, which can lead to the collapse of local fisheries. “IUU fishing threatens livelihoods, exacerbates poverty, and augments food insecurity.”

Transparency will help mitigate IUU fishing by giving buyers and wholesalers the ability to guarantee the source of their product and avoid seafood that has come from suspect sources. It will help shrink markets for ill-gotten fish, as downstream players will demand data that proves a product is from a legal, regulated source and has been reported to the appropriate government agencies.

International food fraud. When the supply for a perishable commodity such as seafood fluctuates, the supply chain becomes vulnerable to food fraud, the illegal practice of substituting one food for another. (For seafood, it’s most often replacing one species for another.) To keep an in-demand product flowing to customers, fishermen and restaurateurs can feel pressure to commit seafood fraud.

The problem is widespread. A 2019 report by Oceana, which works to protect and restore the Earth’s oceans, found through DNA analysis that 21% of the 449 fish it tested between March and August 2018 were mislabeled and that one-third of the establishments their researchers visited sold mislabeled seafood. Mislabeling was found at 26% of restaurants, 24% of small markets, and 12% of larger chain grocery stores. Sea bass and snapper were mislabeled the most. These results are similar to earlier Oceana reports.

Consumer health and food safety. It’s difficult to guarantee consumer health and food safety without a transparent supply chain. End-to-end traceability is critical during foodborne illness outbreaks (e.g., E. coli) and recalls, but the complex and global nature of the seafood supply chain presents a particularly daunting challenge. Species substitution (i.e., food fraud) has caused illness and death, and mishandled seafood can carry high histamine levels that pose health risks. Consumers have expectations that they are eating authentic food that is safe; the seafood industry has suffered from a lack of trust, and is starting to realize that the modern consumer landscape demands transparency.

Why Seafood Traceability Supports the Whole Supply Chain

Most seafood supply chain actors are well-intentioned companies. They regard themselves as stakeholders of a well-managed resource whose hardiness and survival are critical to their businesses and the global food supply chain. Many have implemented policies that require their buyers to verify—to the greatest extent possible—that the seafood they procure meets minimum standards for sustainability, safety and quality.

This kind of self-regulation has been an important first step, but enforcing such standards has been hampered by the lack of validated traceability systems in a digital supply chain. Of course, it costs money to implement these systems, which has been a sticking point, but industry leaders are starting to realize the value of the investment.

Suppliers. A key benefit of traceability for suppliers (i.e., processors and manufacturers) is that it allows them to really protect their business investments. Traceability achieves this because it demonstrates to consumers and trading partners that suppliers are doing things the correct way. Traceability also gives them better control over their supply chains and improves the quality of their product—other important “indicators” for consumers and trading partners.

These advantages also create opportunities for suppliers to build their brand reputations. For example, they can engage with consumers directly, using traceability data to explain that they are responsible stewards of fish populations and the environment and that their products are sustainably sourced and legitimate.

The bottom line is that suppliers that don’t modernize and digitize their supply chains probably won’t be able to stay in business. This stark realization should make them embrace traceability, as well as adopt practices that comply with the regulations that govern their operations. And once they “get with the program,” they should also be more inclined to follow initiatives and guidelines such as the GDST 1.0 Standards. This will invariably create more trust with their customers and partners.

Brands (companies) and distributors. These stakeholders also have a lot to gain from traceability. In a nutshell, they can know exactly what they’re purchasing and have peace of mind about the products’ origins, sustainability, and legitimacy. Like suppliers, they can readily comply with regulations, such as the U.S. Seafood Import Monitoring Program (SIMP), a risk-based traceability effort that requires importers to provide and report key data about 13 fish and fish products identified as vulnerable to IUU fishing and/or seafood fraud.

And, of equal importance to their own fortunes, brands and distributors can use traceability to bolster their reputations and build and solidify their relationships with customers. Being able to prove the who, what, when, where, how, and why of the products they’re selling is a powerful branding and communications tool.

The end of the supply chain: Retailers, food service groups/providers, and consumers. High-quality products with traceable provenance mean retailers and food service companies will have better supply chain control and more “ammunition” to protect their brands. As with the stakeholders above, they’ll also garner more customer loyalty. For their part, consumers will know where their seafood comes from, be assured that their food is safe, feel good about being responsible buyers, and be inclined to purchase only products they can verify.

Transparency, Technology, Trust and Collaboration

The seafood industry is at a critical point in its very long history. It’s not a new story in business: Adapt, adopt and improve or face the consequences—in this case, government penalties, sanction from environmental groups, consumer mistrust and abandonment, and decreased revenues or outright failure.

There is one twist to the story, however: What the industry does now will affect more than just its own interests. The health of all fish species, the environment, and the future of the food supply for an ever-growing population hang in the balance.

But as we’ve demonstrated, there is good news. Supply chain transparency, driven by international initiatives and new technologies, is catching on in the industry. Though companies still struggle to see transparency as an investment, not a cost, their stances seem to be softening, their attitudes changing. The writing is on the wall.

The message I want to end with is that supply chain stakeholders should know that transparency is attainable—and it needn’t be painful. Help is available from many quarters, from government and global initiatives like the GDST to consumers themselves. Working with the right solution provider is another broad avenue leading to supply chain transparency. Technology is at the point now that companies have solid options. They can integrate their current systems with new solutions. They can consider replacing outdated and expensive-to-operate systems with less complicated solutions that, in the long run, do more for less. Or they can procure an entirely new supply chain system that closes all the gaps and jumps all the hurdles to transparency.

Whatever path the industry decides follow, the time to act is now.

Roelof Koopmans, Semtech
Retail Food Safety Forum

How Technology Simplifies Food Safety Operations

By Roelof Koopmans
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Roelof Koopmans, Semtech

To get to the restaurant table, food must travel great lengths to preserve that farm fresh quality and in many cases, IoT-enabled sensors are being used to do this. This is especially important as the World Health Organization estimates that one in 10 people fall ill every year from eating contaminated food.

When we think of our favorite dish, we often associate it with delicious flavors, pleasant scents and even memories of a night out with friends. What we likely don’t consider is technology, something that’s critical in ensuring the meal on our plate is safe to consume. Technology plays an essential role in guaranteeing that restaurants are serving fresh food to customers. From identifying operational deficiencies to protecting the overall brand of an organization, there are certain measures restaurants are taking—whether local or country-wide chains—to ensure food quality remains a top priority.

Restaurants are perhaps held to an even higher standard than your local supermarket when it comes to the quality of food on the table. Therefore, it’s imperative that perishables are cared for properly throughout the entirety of the food supply chain and that starts well before the food ever enters the restaurant’s front door. With long-range, low-power wireless IoT technology, farmers can get insights into a number of variables that may impact the growth of their crops. Armed with that knowledge, they can make real-time decisions to optimize crop growth and ultimately produce a greater yield. For example, farmers today can set up a series of sensors throughout their farm to measure real-time soil conditions, including humidity and pH levels. If they notice an especially high pH, for example, they can immediately remedy the situation and provide the crop with the proper nutrients or conditions it needs to grow.

For food safely to arrive at restaurants, it must be kept in a controlled environment during its journey from the farm or warehouse, and carefully monitored during that time. The temperature of refrigerated shipping units or storage facilities is an incredibly important factor, as bacteria growth can increase even by simply opening the refrigerator door or with a slight temperature shift, and employees are often tasked with managing this. With large facilities comes increased labor for employees, which can lead to inefficient temperature monitoring. To eliminate food waste and contamination, IoT sensors deployed throughout facilities can eliminate human error, and deliver more consistent monitoring, via real-time updates when temperatures enter unsafe territories.

Numerous international food handling and food safety laws have been implemented to reduce the risk of foodborne illness resulting from bacterial growth. A major component of most “farm-to-fork” regulations is the ability to track, report and maintain appropriate temperature conditions inside refrigeration and freezer units throughout the entire cold chain—including when the food finally makes it the restaurant.

This is a universal priority for restaurants around the world, including Hattie B’s Hot Chicken, a southern-style food chain, which started in Nashville and now has locations nationwide. To successfully do this, the restaurant turned to technology. They used a supplier of wireless connectivity solutions with integrated long range, low power technology for temperature monitoring sensors. The sensors, which are capable of penetrating stainless steel doors and concrete walls, can monitor temperatures in refrigerators and freezers. This is essential, as the technology eliminates possible human error in manually checking temps and other food safety procedures. In instances where refrigerator temperatures shift out of range, the technology remotely notifies restaurant managers in real-time, allowing them to act quickly, ensuring their perishables remain fresh and safe for customers at all times.

Food waste in restaurants is closely tied to food safety. In the United States alone, food waste is estimated to be between 30–40% of the food supply, according to the USDA. In the restaurant industry in particular, human error is one of the most notable reasons for food waste. To eliminate the human error when handling food and monitoring storage, an IoT solution provider for the industrial, smart city and smart energy segments, integrated long-range low power technology into smart refrigeration solutions for restaurant applications. This IoT solution is designed for humidity and temperature monitoring, delivering real-time updates to managers to ensure the shelf life of food is maximized and it remains safe to consume, ultimately leading to a decrease in food waste.

From farm to table, technology plays an essential role in ensuring restaurants are delivering the highest quality of fresh, safe food. It allows organizations to identify operational deficiencies and reduce overall food safety risk, which is imperative when maintaining a strong business in a competitive industry.

Susanne Kuehne, Decernis
Food Fraud Quick Bites

Fraudulent Dinner Is Served

By Susanne Kuehne
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Susanne Kuehne, Decernis
Olive Oil, Food Fraud
Find records of fraud such as those discussed in this column and more in the Food Fraud Database.
Image credit: Susanne Kuehne

Due to extensive opportunities for fraud, the lack of an adequate monitoring system, cost pressures in the industry, and lack of transparency in the food supply chain, amongst other factors, fraudulent food products still pose a significant risk within the hospitality industry. A recent study discusses the food service food fraud vulnerability assessment (FS-FFCA), showing as an example that one-third of extra virgin olive oil samples at restaurants and catering facilities were adulterated. More tools are urgently needed to protect consumers and legitimate operations from illicit activities.

Resource

  1. van Ruth, S.M., et al. (March 9, 2020): “Feeding fiction: Fraud vulnerability in the food service industry”. Food Research International, Volume 133, July 2020, 109158