Tag Archives: risk

Tim Birmingham, Almond Board of California
In the Food Lab

10 Years, 0 Salmonella Outbreaks

By Tim Birmingham
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Tim Birmingham, Almond Board of California

Almond Board of California (ABC) tackled food safety head-on in the wake of emerging Salmonella concerns in the early 2000s. Conventional wisdom of the time suggested that low-moisture foods like almonds presented a minimal threat, but rather than simply accepting this, ABC engaged in research to better understand the risks. The resulting best practices and groundbreaking mandatory pasteurization program developed by ABC remain the gold standard for other sectors—and drive continued food safety and quality efforts for California Almonds.

In 2017, ABC marked the 10-year anniversary of its mandatory almond pasteurization program – and, most importantly, 10 years free of Salmonella recalls and outbreaks attributed to California Almonds. The almond industry is proud of its unified efforts over the last decade, as well as the food safety record we’ve been able to achieve. However, the work to protect and improve food safety and quality continues. Looking back at our initiatives and successes reminds us of how important this work is and drives our exploration of what’s next.

Understanding and Addressing the Risk

Outbreaks of Salmonella in 2001 and 2004 raised questions and concerns about food safety and quality across industries. For California Almonds, one of the biggest challenges was determining the true level of risk. The easy answer seemed to be that risk should be low, that, based on accepted conventions of the time, pathogens should not be able to grow in almonds and other low-moisture foods. However, ABC investigated further and quickly realized that the pathogen could present a problem. The organization decided to take action and tackle Salmonella and other potential threats.

In collaboration with food safety experts and research partners, ABC began research in 2001 to better understand the prevalence and concentration of contamination in almonds, conducted in tandem with efforts to develop strategies for contamination control. ABC was able to gather enough survey data over the course of several years to show that Salmonella was indeed present in about 1% of the almonds tested at very low concentrations. This data was fed into ABC’s risk assessment work, which enabled identification of appropriate performance criteria for ensuring consumer safety (>4-log reduction).

At the same time, ABC also worked to identify effective processing technologies and the best means of validating them. A technical expert review panel was assembled to help ABC develop a plan, assess research needs, establish standards and create guidelines for the industry. Extensive work went into determining how to validate equipment, including the determination of an appropriate surrogate (non-pathogenic microorganisms) that could be used in lieu of Salmonella in the plant. Concurrently, researchers worked to determine the specific time and temperature combinations needed for a >4-log (and 5-log) reduction for a range of pasteurization processes, including oil roasting, blanching and dry roasting, some steam processes and PPO processing. ABC and partners invested significant time and effort into this research, which culminated in the development of the groundbreaking mandatory pasteurization program for Salmonella reduction, and validation guidelines.

Process Implementation and Ongoing Education

Voluntary compliance with the pasteurization program began in 2004, well in advance of September 2007, when it became mandatory. By that time, pasteurization was established as the industry norm and laying the groundwork for ongoing food quality and safety efforts. Today, ABC has more than 1 billion pounds of validated pasteurization capacity for processes that maintain the raw characteristics of almonds, including steam, moist heat and propylene oxide (PPO). It also has close to 1 billion pounds of validated capacity for processes such as dry roasting, oil roasting and blanching. All reduce the level of potential contamination in almonds without diminishing the product’s quality, nutritional value or sensory qualities (taste and crunch).

ABC also developed a comprehensive round of updates to recommended food safety practices, creating a powerful program with tools that help growers and processors achieve their desired results. These tools include Good Agricultural Practices, Good Manufacturing Practices, HACCP guidelines and Pathogen Environmental Monitoring resources.

In total, ABC has made a $5 million investment in food quality and safety research and validated more than 200 treatment processes, to date. It remains committed to this mission, maintaining close connections with the scientific and regulatory communities to stay current on food safety in the broader context as well as issues specific to California Almonds. All relevant insights and information are disseminated to growers and processors in the form of clear, practical resources, including print publications and digital communications, and workshops and one-on-one field trainings.

What’s Next: Research, Tech and Regulatory Practices

The mandatory pasteurization program is now well established, but it isn’t static – ABC continues to stay on top of the latest methods, regulations and needs impacting California Almonds. Industry investment continues to increase, particularly in processes that maintain the raw characteristics of the product. And, while much information regarding processes and technologies are company-specific and confidential, equipment manufacturers continue evolving and growing their offerings, with a particular focus on maximizing almond quality and throughput.

On the regulatory side, FSMA continues to roll out for growers and processors. ABC helps growers and other stakeholders understand which rules apply, what actions to take to ensure compliance and when specific requirements come into effect for different operations, with FSMA-related resources, Preventative Controls and Produce Safety trainings and timely information available online. Many processors and non-farm huller/shellers started 2018 already meeting FSMA Preventive Control requirements, but the number of impacted orchards and huller/shellers expanded in January as the Produce Safety rule came into effect. At this point, the almond industry and the larger community of food and beverage industries have had time to assess the impact on their stakeholders and take action to ensure FSMA compliance.

FSMA reflects the evolving role of FDA in ensuring food safety. Traditionally, FDA has taken a reactive approach to food safety. The agency now has the authority to investigate farms and facilities regularly to ensure food safety regulations are followed. For the first time, growers and huller/shellers falling under the farm definition may be audited by FDA or FDA-designated agencies. While some growers may choose the exemption option, ABC encourages almond growers to understand the rule’s requirements and develop food safety plans appropriate to their farms. It will be new and uncertain territory for some, but with the FDA’s proactive approach, staying ahead of the curve on food safety and quality will be beneficial.

Currently, almonds are the only tree nut with a mandatory pasteurization program and defined performance criteria accepted by FDA. They have paved the way for validation of other tree nuts, and those industries should also consider implementing appropriate preventive controls for Salmonella. ABC’s work can be considered a road map for other nuts and low-moisture foods, but what works for almonds will not always work for other foods. Research specific to each type of nut needs to be conducted to uncover pathogen prevalence and concentration, as well as pathogen/surrogate resistance to various processes. We will continue to be proactive, as well, evaluating current practices and engaging in research to improve how we understand and control microbial contamination in almonds.

Even with a track record to take pride in, the responsibility and work of food quality and safety never end. We will continue to update and evolve programs, not only as a function of compliance, but to protect the almond customers who support us every day.

Food Safety Supply Chain panel 2017

Registration Open for 4th Food Safety Supply Chain Conference

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Food Safety Supply Chain panel 2017

Do you trust your suppliers? What about your supplier’s suppliers? Strengthening the links within your supply chain can be a challenging task, but it is necessary with FDA, and FSMA, recognizing the risk that exists.

Key topics, including vulnerabilities, inspections & audits, traceability, supplier verification, transportation, and recalls will be addressed at the 4th Food Safety Supply Chain conference from June 12–13 in Rockville, MD. The event will be held at the U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention.

This year’s agenda will be posted by March 1. In the meantime, the following are some topics covered at last year’s event:

Industry Experts Weigh in on Supply Chain Issues

Import Safe Food, Stay Out of Trouble with FDA


Pathogenic Contamination Among Top Food Safety Hazards for Cannabis

By Steven Burton
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“As more people gain access to and ingest cannabis products, it’s only a matter of time before food safety becomes a primary concern for producers and regulators,” says Steven Burton, CEO and founder of Icicle Technologies, Inc. Without federal regulation, there are so many questions about the food safety hazards associated with the use of cannabis in food products. In an article published in Food Safety Tech’s sister publication, Cannabis Industry Journal, Burton discusses the Top Four Safety Hazards for the Cannabis Industry, which includes pathogenic contamination from pests and improper handling.

Erin Mann, Food Protection and Defense Institute
FST Soapbox

Improving Food Supply Chain Resilience Through Proactive Identification Of Risks

By Erin Mann, MPH
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Erin Mann, Food Protection and Defense Institute

There was a time not long ago when most of the food Americans ate came from close to home. Consumers primarily ate what was in season and there were less processed and manufactured foods in general. That has all changed. Our world is more accessible, people are traveling more frequently, and as they do, they are also expanding their palates. Consumers can have Thai food for lunch, Ecuadorian for dinner, and enjoy fresh produce year round regardless of the growing season near home. Similar changes in diet and consumption patterns can be observed across the world. This global “shrinking” (globalization) demands longer and more complex food supply chains to move product and provide ingredients.

Attend the Food Safety Supply Chain Conference | June 12–13, 2018 | Rockville, MD | Learn moreTo support changes in consumer demands, food supply chains that support movement of ingredients and products from farm to fork are becoming increasingly global, dynamic and complex. These supply chains are comprised of complicated networks of farms, production or processing facilities, and storage and distribution channels with product moving via road, rail, ship and air across the globe. These supply chains provide the global food and agriculture sector with efficient access to suppliers and consumers around the world. Unfortunately, however, food supply chains are vulnerable to disruptions such as natural disasters, transportation hazards, cyber attacks, product contamination, theft and unexpected shutdowns of key supply chain nodes. Any of these disruptions could lead to significant public health and economic consequences.

Many supply chain risks and vulnerabilities are directly related to the way a supply chain is constructed. First, there are often several degrees of separation between the point of production and the source of raw ingredients with limited visibility of the pathways in between. Spices are an illustrative example of this supply chain challenge. Spice supply chains are notoriously long with product moving through a complex web of farmers, brokers, processors, wholesalers and exporters. By the time a spice reaches a manufacturer for use in a processed food product, the manufacturer may have adequate visibility and information only about the supplier from whom the spice was most immediately purchased. The manufacturer may not have good visibility of supply chain components further upstream. Depending on the nature of the manufacturer’s customers and distribution channels, the same manufacturer may also have limited visibility of downstream supply chain components. This limited visibility up and downstream could be true for every step of the chain. Without end-to-end supply chain visibility, stakeholders cannot adequately assess risks related to supplier quality and reliability. Tracing product forward and backwards becomes a very difficult task. In the event of a supply chain disruption or contamination event, limited supply chain visibility not only impedes mitigation and response efforts, but also exacerbates the event.

Second, supply chains are often constructed in such a way that certain components of the supply chain are more critical than others. For example, a supply chain may rely upon a single manufacturing plant through which all ingredients and all finished product are routed; a shutdown or failure at that point in the supply chain would greatly impact normal operations. Likewise, a supply chain may rely exclusively on a particular transportation route; a disruption to that route from a disaster could significantly delay delivery of product to consumers. A supply chain may also source the majority of a raw ingredient from a single supplier; a disruption to that supplier could force a producer to scramble to identify and vet alternative suppliers.

CRISTAL (Criticality Spatial Analysis). Photo: Food Protection and Defense Institute

Forward-thinking approaches are needed to address supply chain challenges related to supply chain complexity and poor visibility. While some supply chain risks cannot be avoided entirely, understanding supply chain structure and proactively identifying supply chain hazards based on the structure of the supply chain will ultimately improve supply chain resilience. For example, end-to-end, geo-spatial mapping of the supply chain of a particular product line would allow stakeholders to identify risks such as exclusive reliance upon a single supply chain node. However, such an approach is not easy. End-to-end geo-spatial mapping of a supply chain requires data and information from multiple stakeholders. Sharing information across organizations is both culturally and logistically difficult.

To address these challenges, the Food Protection and Defense Institute (FPDI) has developed technology that allows private food companies and the government to document, visualize and compare supply chains in support of risk and criticality assessments, mitigation efforts and event response. With support from the Department of Homeland Security, FPDI developed CRISTAL or Criticality Spatial Analysis. CRISTAL is a geo-spatial web application that allows organizations to document supply chains from end-to-end, including supply chain components owned by other entities such as suppliers or distributors. Additionally, CRISTAL allows users to visualize the geo-spatial structure of a supply chain alongside hazard layer data, including cargo theft and natural disaster hazards. By increasing supply chain visibility, CRISTAL ultimately facilitates supply chain documentation, product tracing, and event response. Finally, CRISTAL supports efforts to identify where mitigation resources are most needed during potentially catastrophic supply-chain failures.

More information about the CRISTAL technology is available on the FPDI website. Organizations interested in using the technology may contact FPDI at fpdi@umn.edu.

World Factbook of Food

As Food Fraud Grows, More Comprehensive Tools Emerge

By Maria Fontanazza
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World Factbook of Food
World Factbook of Food
The World Factbook of Food is a central reference location for data related for food. (Click to enlarge image of homepage)

Many foods, from honey to olive oil to spices, fall victim to fraudsters each year. Often a time-consuming process, conducting research about each product or ingredient can involve combing through many websites and databases for information. To save companies from doing all that heavy lifting, newer tools are aggregating the data into single platforms. One most recent example is the World Factbook of Food, developed by the Food Protection and Defense Institute (FPDI) and funded by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The tool was released earlier this year, and Erin Mann, project manager at FPDI, explains how it is helping food companies mitigate the risk of food fraud in their supply chain.

Food Safety Tech: What are the fundamental advantages of using the World Factbook of Food and how is it different from other tools that companies can use to assess their risk?

Erin Mann: The World Factbook of Food is a central reference location for data related for food. It pulls together a lot of high quality data points from a lot of different sources into a single tool.

Companies can look for information on a lot of different food products and a lot of different sourcing regions and countries. We have more than 125 food profiles (and growing) and more than 75 country profiles (also growing). [There are 10 food profiles and 10 country profiles that are available for free] Each of the profiles covers a large number of topics. On the food profile side, there are data points on how the product is used, codes, information about standards and grades; and a lot of data about trends and consumption, production and trade patterns; there’s information about processing and supply chain characteristics; and another section about food defense and food safety.

Erin Mann, Food Protection and Defense Institute
Erin Mann, Food Protection and Defense Institute

It’s a resource that can be used anytime a company needs to get up to speed quickly on a product, because it covers a lot of different types of risks. If a company wanted access to information related to risk about past economically motivated adulteration (EMA) or intentional adulteration (IA) incidents, the Factbook has that. There’s also data on past recalls, information about major producing countries around the world—a wealth of information in one place that companies can use broadly for risk assessment—basically any use case where they want access to a lot of information from lots of sources, the Factbook can be a great place for that.

FST: Can you expand on the food defense component of the Factbook?

Mann: One of the primary sources that we pull for the food defense section comes from a complementary tool that we use here at FPDI—our food adulteration incidence registry, called the FAIR tool, which is a database of past EMA and IA incidents. On the technology side, the Factbook is directly linked with the FAIR tool. If you’re looking at a profile for a particular product, it will access the FAIR tool and display relevant incidents for that product. It won’t give you access to the entire FAIR database, but it will give you a high-level summary of what food defense incidents have happened in the past with the product, where they happened, the year and a summary.

What we’ve seen with the FAIR tool is high incidents of food adulteration in products like oils, spices, seafood—those are the major products impacted by food adulteration, particularly EMA.

Food Adulteration Incidents Registry
Food Adulteration Incidents Registry (FAIR) tool

FST: From what sources are the data curated?

Mann: There’s a source list at the bottom of each profile and all the data points are referenced throughout. In terms of a high-level description of where we pull data from, it includes the USDA, FDA, Codex, the U.S. International Trade commission, United Nations data, and other industry and trade groups. It also pulls data from the World Bank and the FAIR tool.

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FST: How can companies use the Factbook as part of their overall risk mitigation process?

Mann: One of primary strengths of the Factbook is that companies can use it in many different ways. Our institute has done a lot of work with big data and using multiple data sources, and one of the biggest takeaways we learned through several years in this field is that whenever you use big data or you use lots of data sources, they must produce intelligence and information that is actionable. All of the data and information doesn’t do much good if there’s not a clear summary of what to do with that information.

The Factbook aims to do that. It’s a collection and synthesis of data and clean information that’s in an easy to use and easy to navigate user interface. From there, companies can take a look and see how to use the Factbook where they see a gap in their processes. It’s a great place to access lots of information about a food product in a single place. If we can see several points in an overall risk mitigation process where the Factbook can be used, it could be used to inform decisions related to procurement. [For example], if a company suddenly needed to procure a product from a new source region or if they were developing a new product and had to procure an ingredient that they hadn’t worked with before, the Factbook would be a great place to get smart quickly on that ingredient.

The Factbook could be used for understanding supplier review and specific risks related to that ingredient, or simply horizon scanning—if companies want to take a look at some of the products they’ve determined to be high risk and learn more about the product from a holistic perspective.

As stated in the Q&A, 10 food profiles and 10 country profiles are available for free. Subscribers to the World Factbook of Food pay $600 annually for full access to the tool, and bundled pricing is available for users who are interested in access to both the Factbook and the FAIR tool.

Katy Jones, Foodlogiq
FST Soapbox

3 Ways to Make Transparency a Successful Business Strategy

By Katy Jones
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Katy Jones, Foodlogiq

Transparency. It’s been top of mind for years. But because of the shift in public’s interest in healthy ingredients and where they come from, businesses are responding by making transparency part of their strategic business initiatives. This includes providing a complete list of ingredients, known allergens and their nutritional information. They also want to know where and how products are sourced and handled. If this information isn’t available, it creates an air of distrust with today’s savvy consumers.

FoodLogiQ, FoodSafety Tech
EXCLUSIVE VIDEO: Food Safety Tech recently spoke with Katy Jones about consumer preferences and their expectations during a product recall. Watch the video

This information is becoming increasingly mandatory, not just because of FSMA and other regulations but because customers are demanding it. With globalization and increased imports from foreign suppliers, regulations as well as consumer expectations for food quality and safety has dramatically risen in the past few years. It is now one of the most critical ways you can earn consumer trust and loyalty. Here are three ways to incorporate transparency into your business plan.

1. Supplier Engagement Makes Good Business Sense

To offer transparency to customers, you must engage with your suppliers. You can’t offer your consumers the transparency they are demanding if you are not getting the information from your suppliers. Plus, it is critical to know who your suppliers’ suppliers are to mitigate risk.

Leveraging a supplier management technology solution will save you time by automating processes such as supplier onboarding and will help you keep track of documents, certificates and audits that you require.

It also helps support supplier communications so you can establish an open dialogue, which is critical when problems arise. You can’t expect a supplier to fulfill your requirements around safety and brand promise if you aren’t open about your expectations. It’s a two-way relationship that can make a huge difference in your business.

FoodLogiQ’s recent survey, “A Food Company’s Guide to What Consumers Care About in the Age of Transparency” (click to enlarge)

2. Label Transparency

FoodLogiQ recently published a survey that revealed supply chain transparency by food companies is a critical driver in consumer purchasing decisions and brand loyalty. Fifty-four percent of respondents want as much information as possible on the label, and nearly 40% want country of origin, allergen alerts and GMOs all identified on the label.

In this survey, those who identify as “caring deeply about the quality of food they eat,” are overwhelmingly in favor of more transparent labeling, with 86% of that demographic expecting country of origin, allergen alerts and genetically modified ingredients to be noted, and they ask that “as much information as possible” be included on the label (or menu) itself.

If a brand doesn’t provide this information, consumers will look elsewhere for it. This puts companies in a vulnerable position.

3. Building a Transparent Culture and Backing Marketing Claims

Food safety professionals and the marketing department are now working together to communicate their transparent farm-to-fork story. This cross-departmental collaboration will not only meet business goals but the teamwork strengthens the overall business.

To maintain a positive reputation, it starts with being open and honest, and engaging your customers in an authentic way. And once a brand establishes itself as being transparent, consumers are more open to trying other products from that company. Building a culture of transparency that is focused on safety and quality can be an incredible marketing advantage and give food companies an edge over competitors.

A recall, stock withdrawal or a report of a foodborne illness can wreak havoc on a business. But the worst thing you can do is hide it. If a brand has ever been under fire for false information, low-quality ingredients or a major recall, consumers know. They are more informed about your products through their online research and social media. It is better for consumers to receive this information directly from the brand than through a third-party site.

If a company is faced with a recall, it is important to involve multiple business units that each have a stake in resolving the issues as quickly as possible. Include the marketing department in your food safety plan and preventative controls so if you are faced with a recall, you have a communication plan in place.

How to Meet Transparency Business Goals

For food companies to provide this transparency, protect their brand image and earn their customers’ trust, they need full end-to-end supply chain traceability technology to modernize their processes and access real-time data. Centralizing your data creates a single source of truth to make data-informed decisions and remain compliant, all while empowering consumers to make safer, more informed decisions about the food they eat.

The good news is that food companies making transparency a priority are being rewarded by customer loyalty, as consumers are willing to pay more for those products. The previously mentioned survey revealed that 88% of respondents—from all demographics, Millennials to Boomers—were willing to pay more for healthier foods including those that are GMO-free, have no artificial coloring/flavors and are deemed all natural.

Transparency transcends all categories: From restaurant menus to labels on consumer package goods. So no matter what business you are in, implement these strategies to systematically impact on your bottom line and keep your food chain safe.

John Sammon, ParTech
FST Soapbox

Keeping Food Safe using IoT in the Digital Supply Chain

By John Sammon III
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John Sammon, ParTech

Technology advancement continues to mature at a fairly predictable rate in terms of processing speed, size, battery life and perhaps most importantly, costs. Whereas 100 years ago the telephone, followed by the radio, were just being invented, today we are steadily marching toward a 100 gigabyte / second transfer rate. These conditions are what originally launched the Information Age and it now clears a path for 50 billion connected devices in the next three to five years.

To me, “Internet of Things” (IoT) is one of those catch-all phrases that encompasses so many different technologies, value propositions and solution sets. This means that when we discuss IoT, we can be talking about a device in your home or a device used to monitor the stability of a section of the Alaskan pipeline between Coldfoot and Deadhorse. Therefore, we should condense the topic at hand down to cold chain logistics and IoT.

The cold chain is an uninterrupted supply chain we control so temperature is maintained to ensure both quality and safety of food. This includes all segments of food production, transport, warehousing, distribution, handling, preparation and storage.

Environmental conditions are essential in both quality and safety for proper food logistics, and therefore this industry was among the first to proliferate IoT. It began 15 years ago in the “over the road” and “rail” transport space when companies began to use satellite and cellular technologies to track and monitor the status, well-being and health of temperature-controlled cargos. The real-time nature of these solutions and the cloud-based historical records were the foundation of IoT as we understand it today.

Whereas these earlier solutions focused on the segments of supply chain where risks are most high, today IoT technology is implemented from source to destination. Smart devices are showing up all over the supply chain. These independent devices can work independently or collectively to capture and even halt food contamination before it happens. Temperature is essential, but more and more food safety IoT will detect gases, along with other environmental conditions that can predict and accurately report the evidence of pathogens.

But what is driving the IoT adoption? How do these disparate technologies come together in a cohesive way to build solutions that are proficient and economical? And perhaps most importantly, what is next?


Consumer demand for fresher, safer and responsibly sourced foods are driving much of the IoT adoption. More retailers are focusing on customer loyalty and trust as key metrics for success. So whether it is blueberries 12 months out of the year, or whole meal replacements such as a vegetarian lasagna, people want more than low cost; they= want transparency and quality. This demand drives behavior throughout the supply chain.


The technology required to make this happen is ubiquitous and indeed, fascinating. Starting with the sensor technology first, we are seeing more “things” that can detect. In addition, the intelligence embedded in the devices provides accurate performance while preserving battery life, by reporting on exceptions.

The delivery of information has improved with multi- modes using cellular, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, RFID, and various other scan/read technologies. Wireless is everywhere.

We are also seeing the explosion of APIs in all IoT solution sets. API stands for “Application Programing Interface”. Web APIs are a framework that allows for future functionality within applications. APIs allow the building of HTTP services that are compatible with a broad range of clients (sensors, mobile devices and browsers). This framework sets a standard for how different components of software should interact with one another.

The development and advancement of cloud technology acts as the backbone of all IoT. These central repositories of data (which becomes information) virtually never go down, are endlessly scalable and elastic without which there would be no internet.

Lastly, we have mobility. Mobility can be wearable or a handheld. The app plays a critical role in the proliferation of IoT. Smart devices are essential to solutions when stakeholders are everywhere throughout the supply chain. The application to see real-time information and track progress lives in Google Play and iTunes stores. Mobility coupled with wireless allows for real-time alerting and alarming directly to responsible stakeholders.

What’s Next

I believe that we will begin to see more “Solutions of Solutions”: Systems created out of many different technologies that when brought together generate widespread value.

As an example, global sourcing coupled with sophisticated, informed consumers has yielded technologies such as IBM’s Blockchain, which is designed for a single version of truth about a product from source to origin. Similar to Bitcoin, this technology allows for a decentralized exchange of valuable information whereby all participants benefit in the sharing of data.

The largest U.S.-based retailers are investing millions of dollars in these traceability technologies, not just to protect their brands, but because consumers expect transparency, demand quality and seek sustainability. The laws of economics (supply and demand) dictate that those that source these foods, such as meats, fishes, fruits and vegetables, must then also invest in technologies that share data.

However, because the Blockchain concept is designed such that no one single entity controls enterprise-wide information, the entire supply chain becomes transparent, which yields trust that everyone owns access and visibility. Each source of data in the chain is interdependent upon other sources, therefore all are compelled to behave rationally and responsibly. At its foundation, Blockchain is a database of information from (n) sources whereby a decentralized structure yields shared values for all stakeholders.

Risk, food safety

Does Your Risk Control Program Meet FSMA’s Demands?

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Risk, food safety

Identifying, prioritizing and managing supply chain risks is critical to maintaining FSMA compliance. Under the Preventive Controls rules, food companies must implement a hazard identification system for any known or foreseeable hazards. During an upcoming webinar, David Acheson, Ph.D. and Miles Thomas will discuss how data can help companies manage supply chain risk, methods for analyzing and prioritizing hazards, and mitigating risk to achieve FSMA compliance. They will also shine a spotlight on global trends in food safety and authenticity threats.

Learn more during the webinar, Don’t Get Blindsided by FSMA! April 27, 2017, 1 pm ET.

Sean Crossey, arc-net
FST Soapbox

5 Problems Facing the Global Food Supply Chain

By Sean Crossey
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Sean Crossey, arc-net

The food we eat is a lot less secure than we would like to imagine. According to PricewaterhouseCoopers, food fraud is estimated to be a $40 billion a year problem, with instances of fraud becoming worryingly frequent—from wood shavings discovered in our parmesan to the 2013 horsemeat scandal in the UK.1-3 Not only do these incidents damage the faith consumers have in their food, but as seen in the 2009 salmonella peanut butter outbreak, which resulted in the death of 9 Americans and sickening of 714, they can have fatal consequences.4 Indeed, the World Health Organization estimates that nearly 1 in 10 people become ill every year from eating contaminated food.5

While it may be uncomfortable to imagine our food supply can be susceptible to such high profile attacks, what is more unsettling is that our food supply chain has grown so complex that it has become almost impossible for food producers to guarantee the provenance of their products—meaning consumers can never entirely trust in the food they eat. In this article I will identify five main issues the global food supply chain faces, and what steps can be taken to address them.

Exchange knowledge about managing your supply chain at the Best Practices in Food Safety Supply Chain conference | June 5–6, 2017 | LEARN MORE1. Consumer demand for traceability

Traceability is no longer a request from consumers, but a demand, and one that is only growing stronger. A recent transparency survey found that consumers want to see everything from a complete ingredient breakdown to sourcing information, with 94% of respondents saying they are likely to be more loyal to a brand that offers complete transparency.6 While a new study discovered that more than half of Canadians are concerned about food fraud.7

If we take seafood products as an example, almost half (46%) of respondents to an independent research survey conducted by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) agreed that they trust brands that use ecolabels (a form of third-party certification) more than those that do not.8 The survey also found that 66% of respondents felt that traceability of the product was the primary factor determining seafood purchasing decisions.

This kind of consumer driven, high-quality information opens up a world of possibilities for companies that recognize the significance of its demand. Brand protection, demand forecasting and consumer loyalty all becomes possible for early adapters who show themselves to be taking practical steps to guarantee the authenticity of their products.

2. Lack of communication between actors

One of the biggest challenges preventing full traceability of our food is the fragmented nature of the supply chain. For even the most seemingly simple of food items there can be a huge number of actors involved that are spread around the globe with little to no knowledge of one another’s actions.

For instance, to trace your hamburger from farm to fork may involve tracing your lettuce back to the farm in which it was grown (but not what happens to it before it reaches your supermarkets shelves), tracing the beef back to the cattle (with no guarantee, as seen with the horsemeat scandal, that the end product is 100% beef) and any number of logistical barriers.

It is vital then that stakeholders within the chain prioritize communication with their suppliers, either through the implementation of traceability solutions, or the commitment to engage only with suppliers they know they can trust. Not only is this beneficial to the end consumer, but to the food producers themselves, allowing them to ensure that their organizational reputation remains solely their responsibility and not left in the hands of unknown and uncontrollable third parties.

3. Influence of organized crime

When one thinks of the Mafia, it’s rare that olive oil is the first thing that comes to mind. Currently, however, it is the fraudulent manufacture of this and many other Italian exports (cheese, wine, etc.) that is fueling organized crime and ending up on our shelves.9

High-scale food fraud is not a naturally occurring phenomenon but rather exists as a result of highly organized criminal activity. In his 2014 UK government report, Professor Chris Elliot notes that “food fraud becomes food crime when it no longer involves random acts by “rogues” within the food industry, but becomes an organized activity by groups that knowingly set out to deceive and or injure, those purchasing food”.10

This is not just a problem for Italy; counterfeit food and drink occurs on a massive scale throughout the whole of Europe. A joint initiative by EUROPOL and INTERPOL last year led to the largest ever seizure of fake and adulterated projects. This project, known as OPSON V resulted in 11,000 tons and 1,440,000 liters of hazardous fake food and drink seized across 57 countries.11

In order to combat the growing threat organized crime has on our food supply, it is vital that governments devote resources to organizations with the sole responsibility of identifying food crime. In response to the horsemeat scandal, the UK government launched its National Food Crime Unit within the Food Standards Agency in London, while the FDA has a special focus on food defense.

The establishment of these organizations is important, as police forces traditionally have struggled to combat food fraud, either through a lack of time, resources, or simply understanding of the complexities of how fraud affects the supply chain. The creation of specialist taskforces not only legitimizes the fight against food fraud, but allows for easier intelligence share.

4. Lack of transparency throughout the supply chain

In her work on trust for the digital age, Racheal Botsman tells us that trust has evolved from an institutional based system to a distributed system. Nowhere has this more potential than with our food supply.

In such a complex system it becomes necessary to consider how the food industry can begin to move away from traditional systems of centralized trust. As Botsman points out, “institutional trust is not designed for the digital age”, the emergence of new technologies, most notably the blockchain, highlights the potential to introduce more trust in our food.12

Originally the technology underpinning Bitcoin, the blockchain has wide ranging applications beyond the world of FinTech. Blockchain is a transformative tool in the fight against food fraud, allowing an open and transparent ledger of our food products journey. This allows unalterable trust to be introduced into an untrustworthy system, ensuring every actor in the chain records and shares their interactions with our food.

This represents a huge opportunity for those companies who see the advantage of early adoption of blockchain infused traceability systems. Indeed by 2022, Gartner estimates an innovative business built on a blockchain will be worth $10 billion.13

5. Need for strong legislation

Steps have already been made in legislation to allow for earlier prevention of food safety incidents occurring, such as FSMA. While it is important that lawmakers are proactive in their response, the focus has primarily been on food safety, and there is still a difficulty in treating food fraud as its own separate entity.

Legislation regarding food labelling could also be more stringent, especially in Europe. At present only olive oil, fish (unless it’s canned or prepared), beef (fresh, chilled, frozen or minced), fresh or frozen poultry of non-EU origin, wine, most fresh fruit and vegetables, honey and eggs are required to be labelled. This means that origin information is largely missing on foods such as meat products (e.g., ham and sausages), yogurts and cheese, kitchen staples (e.g., oil, flour, sugar and pasta), biscuits and confectionery, or ready-meals.

Tighter legislation, leading to significant punitive measures taken against actors found to be committing fraud, would be a vital catalyst in ensuring that food in our supply chain is as secure as possible.


The growth of the global food supply chain may bring with it complexity and challenges, but also great opportunities. If actors can interject their processes with the kind of joined up thinking outlined above, with the help of technological tools that are becoming more and more accessible, the benefits will be significant, not just for them, but for all of us.


  1. PWC. (2016). Fighting $40bn food fraud to protect food supply [Press Release]. Retrieved from http://press.pwc.com/News-releases/fighting–40bn-food-fraud-to-protect-food-supply/s/44fd6210-10f7-46c7-8431-e55983286e22
  2. Mulvany, L. (February 16, 2016). The Parmesan Cheese You Sprinkle on Your Penne Could Be Wood. Retrieved from https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-02-16/the-parmesan-cheese-you-sprinkle-on-your-penne-could-be-wood
  3. Grierson, J. (August 26, 2016). Three men charged over UK horsemeat scandal. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2016/aug/26/three-men-charged-over-uk-horsemeat-scandal
  4. Andrews, J. (April 16, 2016). 2009 Peanut Butter Outbreak: Three Years On, Still No Resolution for Some. Retrieved from http://www.foodsafetynews.com/2012/04/2009-peanut-butter-outbreak-three-years-on-still-no-resolution-for-some/#.WD7tE6KLTpJ
  5. World Health Organization. (2015). WHO’s first ever global estimates of foodborne diseases find children under 5 account for almost one third of deaths [Press Release] Retrieved from http://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/2015/foodborne-disease-estimates/en/
  6. Label Insight (2016). The 2016 Label Insight Transparency ROI Study. Retrieved from https://www.labelinsight.com/hubf /2016_Transparency_ROI_Study_Label_Insight.pdf?t=1486676060862
  7. Sagan, A. (February 21, 2017). Study finds 63 per cent of Canadians are concerned about food fraud. Retrieved from http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/study-finds-63-per-cent-of-canadians-are-concerned-about-food-fraud/article34094664/
  8. MSC (2014). MSC Consumer Survey 2014. Retrieved from https://www.msc.org/newsroom/news/new-research-shows-increasing-appetite-for-sustainable-seafood
    Bacchi, U. (February 21, 2017). Italian police break mafia ring exporting fake olive oil to U.S. Retrieved from http://www.reuters.com/article/us-italy-crime-food-idUSKBN1602BD
  9. HM Government (2015) Elliot Review into Integrity and Assurance of Food Supply Networks. Retrieved from https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/350726/elliot-review-final-report-july2014.pdf
    EUROPOL (2016) largest ever seizures of fake food and drink in INTERPOL-EUROPOL operation [Press Release]. Retrieved from https://www.europol.europa.eu/newsroom/news/largest-ever-seizures-of-fake-food-and-drink-in-interpol-europol-operation
  10. Botsman, R. (October 20, 2015). The Changing Rules of Trust in the Digital Age. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2015/10/the-changing-rules-of-trust-in-the-digital-age
  11. Panetta, K. (October 18, 2016) Gartner’s Top 10 Strategic Technology Trends for 2017. Retrieved from http://linkis.com/www.econotimes.com/Zk8mh
Elise Forward, Forward Food Solutions
FST Soapbox

Take Food Defense Concepts Beyond Your Four Walls

By Elise Forward
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Elise Forward, Forward Food Solutions

The new food defense regulations have caused quite a stir in the food industry and have left many scratching their heads. Many companies are worried about how to implement these programs. The regulations have created a format and structure in which many companies can adapt within their existing food defense programs to comply with the new law. Still, one of the biggest challenges of food defense is merely the idea of developing the food defense plan and coming into compliance with the FDA’s new Food Defense rule. The FDA received many comments from industry in response to the draft guidance. Many of these comments asked the agency for additional time to come into compliance, and the FDA responded by delaying the compliance dates well beyond what was proposed in the draft rules.

According to the regulations, companies are required to implement a food defense plan that focuses on the vulnerabilities in their facility. If you follow the FDA’s template, a food defense plan will look very similar to the traditional HACCP plan. The term, VACCP, Vulnerability Analysis Critical Control Points, is a term that is being tossed around as of late. The FDA wants companies to make sure that they consider an internal attacker, one that has inside access to the buildings, processes and products that are being produced. For many companies, this is stretching them beyond their current paradigms and may force some to implement new procedures. In reality, this paradigm shift is not insurmountable when the items to be controlled are within the four walls of their facility. Even subcontractors, such as pest control providers, maintenance subcontractors, auditors, etc., can be included in these programs. However, is this enough to ensure the safety of the product you are selling, the one you are putting your name on, and the one you are personally standing behind?

The goal of current risk-based thinking is to find the weakest link in the process, evaluate the risk and likelihood of a threat to food safety, and respond appropriately to control the risk. Unlike the Preventive Controls rule and the FSVP rule, the Food Defense rule focuses on the processes occurring in a facility and does not take into account the processes involved in the supply chain.  CargoNet Command Center found that there were 1500 security breaches in the transportation industry in the United States and Canada in 2015. The data was categorized by types of product and the highest percentage of any group of products was the food and beverage products which comprised 28% of the cargo thefts.  On average, that is greater than one food or beverage cargo theft per day. CargoNet Command Center provides a nice map on their website showing the location of these instances and I encourage you to review this map.  If your product passes along the hot spots of cargo theft, as well as having risk factors such as being valuable or in limited supply, it would be very beneficial to build systems and programs in place to address these additional risks to your product.

In another study presented at the Food Defense conference, there was a statistically significant link between breaches in IT systems to a follow-up cargo theft. Many quality and food safety professionals, much less executives, fully understand the interdependence of all business units on food safety. Many companies have problems with siloed departments, and unfortunately, this increases the vulnerabilities to attacks on the food we are trying to protect. This is a great example of how food safety is everyone’s job, and having this mentality is key to the success of food safety programs.

Of course, the requirement to the Food Defense rule must be addressed, but I challenge the industry to look beyond the walls of our facilities and instead, take a whole business approach and apply the principals of food defense to all inputs of the process that impacts the finished product. As food safety professionals, we need to work with our suppliers and our customers to ensure that the whole supply chain is protected from an attack.