Tag Archives: safety

Kari Hensien, RizePoint
FST Soapbox

How to Enhance Your Food Safety Culture, Now More Important than Ever

By Kari Hensien
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Kari Hensien, RizePoint

I don’t have to tell you that COVID-19 is a crisis, and the consequences have been immediate and difficult. But as I speak to clients and look beyond the immediacy of the problems the food industry is facing, I am seeing positive insights that can help us now and in the future.

Food safety culture hasn’t always been clearly defined, nor has it been a “must” in many food safety systems. But the reality is that food safety culture—and the buy-in that needs to happen in your entire organization—is a direct and important element for staying up to date with new rules and being consistent and compliant at every location.

Food safety culture is a key issue being discussed during the 2020 Food Safety Consortium Virtual Conference Series | Join the conversation every Thursday until December 17 | Register nowWhat Does Food Safety Culture Mean Now?

The definition I have liked most is “food safety culture is what you’re doing when no one is watching.” But with the coronavirus pandemic, everyone is always watching, so the definition must expand.
Customers are carefully watching every employee at every location to gain a feeling of safety and trust at restaurants and eateries. And if employees aren’t up to speed or don’t have buy-in to your food safety culture, or even food safety in general, a single incident can turn away customers for good.

As an example, I recently visited a favorite taco joint. After the cashier rang me up, he put hand sanitizer on his gloves and proceeded to put handfuls of chips into my takeaway bag with those same “sanitized” gloves. I will not be going back.

So, food safety culture is still about what you do when no one is watching and when everyone is watching, making participation from every member of your organization critical.

What Can You Do Now to Enhance Food Safety Culture?

Practices that enhance food safety culture should initiate a shift in perspective before you implement more tangible activities. These shifts will be more challenging because they require your entire organization to be on board.

Perspective Shifts for Food Safety Culture

One or more paradigm shifts may be necessary to make enhancing your food safety culture successful. Sometimes initiatives like food safety culture can feel more like another addition to your to-do list rather than an asset that ultimately makes the job of a quality manager easier. So, consider these suggested shifts as you move forward.

  1. Food safety culture is part of your food safety system and your corporate social responsibility plans. With any crisis, not just the current pandemic, the values and expectations you instill in your employees can give you an immovable base, even if the surface is in constant fluctuation. And whether you’re dealing with an outbreak or a pandemic, showing you put customers and location employees first demonstrates good corporate citizenship.
  2. Location employees can be your biggest asset or your biggest liability. Employees perform better when they know the purpose behind what they’re doing rather than following rules that may seem arbitrary if they don’t have a clear understanding of why.
  3.  Punitive systems encourage hiding problems; supportive systems encourage collaboration and trust. If employees feel safe reporting issues or problems at their location, the more likely they’ll catch small issues before they become huge liabilities.
  4. Food safety culture can be a huge asset. In other words, instead of looking at food safety culture as another chore in your already crowded list, see it as an asset that improves food safety and creates better work environments, which inherently decreases risk and protects your brand.

In-Practice Shifts for Food Safety Culture

The paradigm shifts suggested above help build a support perspective for a strong food safety culture. The following shifts I suggest can help you implement tangible actions that benefit every level of your organization.

  1. Take great care of location employees. These employees are in direct contact with customers the most, and they are truly your first line of defense. Which means they can be an incredible asset or the weakest link.
  2. Consider audit and checklist software over laminated or paper checklists. The right software or app can instantly push new policies or standards to every location and employee at the same time, so everyone is always on the same page. Choose software or other tools that 1) makes it easy for all employees to get the information they need; 2) helps them quickly build behaviors that serve your quality and safety programs; and 3) empowers them to confidently share issues that need to be corrected so you get a true view of the health of any location.
  3. Consider quality management system software. With a platform (there are many that include audit and checklist tools), you can collect data points more quickly and from more sources to create a single source of truth and deepen insights. Software can directly support food safety culture, helping you:
    • Find new insights and continually improve your processes
    • Systematically rollout new policies and procedures
    • Drive adoption of new policies and “build muscle memory” so employees build good habits
    • Validate that your policies and practices are followed in every location
    • Identify locations or policies that need increased focus while you reward areas of successful performance.
  4. Look at your organization from a 30,000-foot perspective. This is not so easy to do if you are using manual processes such as paper, file cabinets or even spreadsheets. With those tools, you can see data points, but it takes a lot of work to build a big-picture view. Again, this is where software is invaluable. Many quality management system software options include built-in analytics and reporting, which means much of the work is done for you, saving you valuable time.

I hope your main takeaway from this article is that surviving a crisis requires a strong food safety culture. It helps unify employees across your organization, so everyone knows what’s expected of them and how their work affects the big picture. I see strong evidence that enhancing your food safety culture is more than the “next thing on your to-do list.” It’s a tool that you can put to work to decrease risk, increase compliance, and find small issues before they become huge problems.

Dave Premo, Birko Corp.
FST Soapbox

How to Maintain Food Safety and Protect Your Brand During Construction

By Dave Premo
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Dave Premo, Birko Corp.

If your food processing facility needs an expansion or update, construction can be a disruptive event. Throughout the process, a variety of food safety hazards can be present, potentially putting your products at risk. While the contractors you work with are skilled at their trade, protecting your brand is ultimately your responsibility.

Construction, food safety
Developing a thorough plan can keep products, the facility and your employees safe during construction. Images courtesy of Birko.

Extra precautions are needed to minimize the food safety risks during construction, but by developing a thorough plan and following it diligently, you can keep your products, facility and employees safe.

Preparation: The Important First Steps for Safety

Having an established environmental plan before construction starts will make the construction process go smoothly and help maintain safety. If the plan your staff is following needs changes or improvements, make updates in advance of construction and be sure that your staff is up to speed before the project begins.

First, remove any equipment that can be moved from the construction zone and cover all electrical panels, open conduit and electrical outlets to minimize areas that might harbor dust or bacteria during construction.

Next, taking steps to separate the construction and production areas is crucial. Installing heavy gauge plastic sheeting or even temporary walls to isolate the construction area will help prevent cross-contamination. Any doors or wall openings on the temporary barriers should be sealed on both sides, and the gaps between the base of the barriers and the floor should be adequately sealed to keep the surrounding production areas safe. Do whatever is necessary to minimize organisms from traveling by air outside of the construction zone.

The HVAC and air handling system in the construction area should also be evaluated for cross-contamination potential. Be sure to close off or divert the airflow to prevent air movement from the construction zone to any production areas. In addition, make sure the system will be able to accommodate additional areas or space after construction is complete and make any upgrades if necessary. Thoroughly clean the HVAC system and filters before the construction process starts.

Similarly, evaluate any drains that are present in the construction zone for cross-contamination potential and take precautions to keep pathogens from passing from the construction area to the food production areas.

Make Contractors Part of Your Plan

While contractors might have years of experience in their trade, they don’t know your food safety plan. Schedule a formal food safety training session with the contractor and all members of the construction staff. Don’t allow anyone to work in the facility before completing the training. Determine which protective clothing contractors and their team will need, such as frocks, boot covers or hairnets, and provide a separate bag or place to store them during the construction process.

Designating a single entrance for contractors and construction staff will minimize confusion and avoid mistaken entries into prohibited areas. Educate them on the appropriate traffic flow as they arrive, enter the facility, and conduct their work. Their entrance should be separate from those used by office and food production employees. Have quat or alcohol hand and tool sanitizers stationed at the designated contractor entrance, and require them to sanitize any tools, materials or equipment before entering the facility. Emphasize that no mud or other debris should be tracked into the facility. Provide the necessary guidance and monitor the entrance area to prevent that from happening.

Shoe coverings, food safety, construction
Effectively communicate safety plan with all contractors involved.

Construction staff and in-house food production staff should be separated at all times. To prevent cross-contamination, there shouldn’t be any direct paths from the construction area to the production area. No material from the construction area should ever be brought into the food production area. Contractors and construction staff should also be prohibited from using the break rooms or restrooms that are used by the facility employees. Because they won’t have access to other areas, temporary hand wash sinks may be needed for construction employees to follow frequent hand washing and sanitizing procedures.

Best Practices for Sanitation During Construction

Before demolishing and removing any walls during the construction process, apply a foam disinfectant at 800–1000 ppm without rinsing. If any equipment needs to be moved, or if there will be new equipment brought into the area, clean and disinfect it with quat at 800–1000 ppm without rinsing.

Quat should also be applied heavily on the floors around the designated construction team entrances. Foam or spray contractors’ walkways and the construction area floor every four hours at 800–1000 ppm. Allow contractors, forklifts, dollies or other wheeled carts to regularly travel through the disinfectant to keep their feet and wheels sanitized as they move throughout the construction area.

If your construction project involves new equipment installation, discuss the sanitation requirements and restrictions with a sanitation chemical provider before purchasing this equipment to ensure you have the right chemistry on hand. Any new equipment should be cleaned and sanitized, as well as the area where it will be installed, before bringing the equipment into the area. Make sure all the surfaces of the new equipment are compatible with your current cleaning chemistry and that the installation follows proper food safety guidelines. If necessary, upgrade your food safety process to accommodate the new equipment.

Transitioning from Construction to Safe Food Production
Once the construction project is complete, remove all construction materials, tools, debris, plastic sheeting and temporary walls. Seal any holes that might have occurred in the floors, walls and ceilings where equipment was moved, and repair or replace epoxy or other floor coverings. Inspect any forklifts or man lifts used during the construction, and clean and sanitize them.

Clean the HVAC and air handling system and return it to either its pre-construction settings or an updated configuration based on what the new area requires.

Continue cleaning everything in the construction area, from ceiling to floor, including lights, walls, drains, refrigeration units and all equipment following SSOPs. Note that different cleaning products containing solvents may be needed for the initial cleaning to remove cutting oil, welding flux residues, greases, and other elements from the construction process. Be sure to have those cleaning products on hand before you get to this step to avoid delays of a thorough sanitation process. Where necessary, passivate any stainless steel equipment.

Finally, test the environment. Collect a special set of swabs and monitor the results. Apply post-rinse sanitizer and then begin food production. Implement an enhanced environmental monitoring program in all areas disrupted by the construction until the data shows a return to the baseline levels. Revise your facility SSOPs in light of any changes based on the new construction.

Achieving Seamless Productivity

Expansion can mean new capabilities for your business, but lax food safety processes during construction can jeopardize the new opportunities your expansion brings. By having a strong plan in place, following it diligently, educating contractors on your plan, monitoring activity, and using effective sanitizing chemistry, you will be able to expand while protecting your brand and avoiding food safety issues.

Angelica Grindle, DEKRA

Four Steps for Utilizing Behavioral Science to Control Exposure to COVID-19

By Angelica Grindle, Ph.D.
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Angelica Grindle, DEKRA

Safety is defined as controlling exposure for self and others. Going into 2020, the food industry battled safety concerns such as slips and falls, knife cuts, soft-tissue injuries, etc. As an “essential industry”, food-related organizations now face a unique challenge in controlling exposure to COVID-19. Not only must they keep their facilities clean and employees safe, they must also ensure they do not create additional exposures for their suppliers or customers.

These challenges increase at a time when employees may be distracted by stress, financial uncertainties, job insecurity, and worry for themselves and their families. Additionally, facilities may be understaffed, employees may be doing tasks they do not normally do, and we have swelling populations working from home.

While there is much we cannot control with COVID-19, there are specific behaviors that will reduce the risk of viral exposure for ourselves, our co-workers, and our communities. Decades of research show the power of behavioral science in increasing the consistency of safe behaviors. The spread of COVID-19 serves as an important reminder of what food-related organizations can gain by incorporating a behavioral component into a comprehensive exposure-reduction process.

Whether you have an existing behavior based safety process or not, follow these four steps.

Step 1: Pinpoint Critical COVID-19 Exposure Reduction Behaviors

It is critical to clearly pinpoint the behaviors you want to see occurring at a high rate. In the food industry, an organization must control exposure both within their facilities as well as during interactions with suppliers and customers. Controlling exposure within facilities will typically include those behaviors recommended by the CDC such as:

  1. Maintain six feet of separation at all times possible.
  2. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.
  3. Minimize personal interactions to reduce exposure to transmit or receive pathogens.
  4. Frequent 20-second hand washing with soap and warm water.
  5. Make hand disinfectant available.
  6. Use alternatives to shaking hands.
  7. Frequently clean and disinfect common areas, such as meeting rooms, bathrooms, doorknobs, countertops, railings, and light switches.
  8. Sneeze and/or cough into elbow or use a tissue and immediately discard.
  9. Conduct meetings via conferencing rather than in person.
  10.  If you are sick, stay home.
  11. If exposed to COVID-19, self-quarantine for precaution and protection of others.

Supplier/Customer exposure-reduction behaviors will vary depending upon your specific industry and may include pinpointing the critical behaviors for food preparation, loading dock delivery, customer home delivery, and customer pick up. When creating checklists to meet your unique exposures, be sure the behaviors you pinpoint are:

  • Measurable: The behavior can be counted or quantified.
  • Observable: The behavior can be seen or heard by an observer.
  • Reliable: Two or more people agree that they observed the same thing.
  • Active: If a dead man can do it, it is not behavior.
  • Influenceable: Under the control of the performer.

Once you have drafted your checklists, ask yourself, “If everyone in my facility did all of these behaviors all the time, would we be certain that we were controlling exposure for each other, our suppliers, and our customers?” If yes, test your checklists for ease of use and clarity.

Step 2: Develop Your Observation Process

To do this, you will want to ask yourself:

  • Who? Who will do observations? Can we leverage observer expertise from an existing process and have them focus on COVID-19 exposure reduction behaviors or should we create a new observer team?
  • Where? Which specific locations, job types, and/or tasks should be monitored?
  • When? When will observers conduct observations?
  • Data: How will you manage the data obtained during the observations so that it can be used to identify obstacles to safe performance? Can the checklist items be entered into an existing database or will we need to create something new?
  • Communication: What information needs to be communicated before we begin our COVID-19 Exposure Reduction process and over time? How will we communicate it?

Step 3: Conduct Your Observations and Provide Feedback

Starting the Observation
Your observers should explain that they are there to help reduce exposure to COVID-19 by providing feedback on performance.

Recording the Observation
Observers should note on the checklist which behaviors are occurring in a safe manner (protected) and which are increasing exposure to COVID-19 (exposed).

Provide Feedback
Feedback is given in the spirit of reducing exposure. It should be given as soon as possible after the observation to reinforce protected behaviors and give the person to opportunity to modify exposed behaviors.

Success Feedback
Success feedback helps reinforce the behaviors you want occurring consistently. Effective success feedback includes:

  • Context: The situation in which the behavior occurred.
  • Action: The specific behaviors observed which reduce exposure to COVID-19.
  • Result: The impact of those behaviors on themselves or others—in this case, reduced COVID-19 exposure for themselves, their families and community.

“I care about your safety and do not want to see you exposed to COVID-19. I saw you use hand sanitizer prior to putting on eye protection. By doing that, you reduced the likelihood of transferring anything that might have been on your hands to your face which keeps you safe from contracting COVID-19.”

Guidance Feedback

Guidance feedback is given for exposed behaviors to transform that behavior into a protected one. Effective guidance feedback includes Context, Action, Result, but also:

  • Alternative Action: The behavior that would have reduced their exposure to COVID-19.
  • Alternative Result: The impact of that alternative behavior, such as reduced COVID-19 exposure for themselves, their families, and community.

“I care about your safety and do not want to see you exposed to COVID-19. I saw that you touched your face while putting on eye protection. By doing that, you increased the likelihood of transferring anything on your hand to your face which increases your risk of exposure to COVID-19. What could you have done to reduce that exposure?”

When giving guidance feedback, it is important to have a meaningful conversation about what prevented them from doing the safe alternative. Note these obstacles on the checklist.

Step 4: Use Your Data to Remove Obstacles to Safe Practices.

Create a COVID-19 exposure reduction team to analyze observation data. This team will identify systemic or organizational obstacles to safe behavior and develop plans to remove those obstacles. This is critical! When an organization knows that many people are doing the same exposed behavior, it is imperative that they not blame the employees but instead analyze what is going on in the organization that may inadvertently be encouraging these at-risk behaviors.

For example, we know handwashing and/or sanitizing is an important COVID-19 exposure reduction behavior. However, if your employees do not have access to sinks or hand sanitizer, it is not possible for them to reduce their exposure.
Similarly, the CDC recommends that people who are sick not come to work. However, if your organization does not have an adequate sick leave policy, people will come to work sick and expose their co-workers, customers and suppliers to their illness.

Your COVID-19 exposure reduction team should develop plans to remove obstacles to safe behavior using the hierarchy of controls.

Conclusion

Consistently executing critical behaviors is key to reducing exposure to COVID-19 as flattening the curve is imperative in the worldwide fight against this pandemic. Regardless of the type of behavior or the outcome that the behavior impacts, Behavior based safety systems work by providing feedback during the observations and then using the information obtained during the feedback conversation to remove obstacles to safe practices.

By using these tips, you can add a proven and powerful tool to your arsenal in the fight against COVID-19 and help keep your employees, their families, and your community safe.

Megan Nichols
FST Soapbox

Machine Vision Training Tips to Improve Food Inspections

By Megan Ray Nichols
1 Comment
Megan Nichols

As machines become more intelligent, every industry on earth will find abundant new applications and ways to benefit. For the food industry, which has an incredible number of moving parts and is especially risk-averse, machine vision and machine learning are especially valuable additions to the supply chain.

The following is a look at what machine vision is, how it can play a role in manufacturing and distributing foods and beverages, and how employers can train workers to get the most out of this exciting technology.

What Is Machine Vision?

Machine vision isn’t a brand-new concept. Cameras and barcode readers with machine vision have long been capable of reading barcodes and QR codes and verifying that products have correct labels. Modern machine vision takes the concept to new levels of usefulness.

Barcodes and product identifiers have a limited set of known configurations, which makes it relatively straightforward to program an automated inspection station to recognize, sort or reject products as necessary. Instead, true machine vision means handlers don’t have to account for every potential eventuality. Machine vision instead learns over time, based on known parameters, to differentiate between degrees of product damage.

Consider the problem of appraising an apple for its salability. Is it bruised or discolored? Machine vision recognizes that no two bruises look precisely alike. There’s also the matter of identifying different degrees of packaging damage. To tackle these problems, it’s not possible to program machine vision to recognize a fixed set of visual clues. Instead, its programming must interpret its surroundings and make a judgment about what it sees.

Apples, machine vision
On an apple, no two bruises are alike. Machine vision technology can help. Photo credit: Pexels.

The neural networks that power machine vision have a wide range of applications, including improving pathfinding abilities for robots. In this article, I’ll focus on how to leverage machine vision to improve the quality of edible products and the profitability of the food and beverage industry.

Applications for Machine Vision in the Food Industry

There are lots of ways to apply machine vision to a food processing environment, with new variations on the technology cropping up regularly. The following is a rundown on how different kinds of machine vision systems serve different functions in the food and beverage sector.

1. Frame Grabbing and 3-D Machine Vision
Machine vision systems require optimal lighting to carry out successful inspections. If part of the scanning environment lies in shadow, undesirable products might find their way onto shelves and into customers’ homes.

Food products sometimes have unique needs when it comes to carrying out visual inspections. It’s difficult or impossible for fallible human eyeballs to perform detailed scans of thousands of peas or nuts as they pass over a conveyor belt. 3-D machine vision offers a tool called “frame grabbing,” which takes stills of — potentially — tens of thousands of tiny, moving products at once to find flaws and perform sorting.

2. Automated Sorting for Large Product Batches
Machine vision inspection systems can easily become part of a much larger automation effort. Automation is a welcome addition to the food and beverage sector, translating into improved worker safety and efficiency and better quality control across the enterprise.

Inspection stations with machine vision cameras can scan single products or whole batches of products to detect flaws. But physically separating these products must be just as efficient a process as identifying them. For this reason, machine vision is an ideal companion to compressed air systems and others, which can carefully blow away and remove even a single grain of rice from a larger batch in preparation.

3. Near-Infrared Cameras
Machine vision takes many forms, including barcode and QR code readers. A newer technology, called near-infrared (NIR) cameras, is already substantially improving the usefulness and capabilities of machine vision.

Remember that bruised apple? Sometimes physical damage to fruits and vegetables doesn’t immediately appear on the outside. NIR technology expands the light spectrum cameras can observe, giving them the ability to detect interior damage before it shows up on the exterior. It represents a distinct advantage over previous-generation technology and human inspectors, both of which can leave flaws undiscovered.

Tips on Training Workers to Use Machine Vision

Implementing machine vision into a productive environment delivers major benefits, but it also comes with a potentially disruptive learning curve. The following are some ideas on how to navigate it.

1. Take Advantage of Third-Party Training Courses
Don’t expect employees to hit the ground running with machine vision if they’re not familiar with the fundamentals of how it works. Google has a crash course on machine learning, and Amazon offers a curriculum as well to help companies get their employees up to speed on the technology and how to use it.

2. Get the Lighting Right
Having the appropriate intensity of light shining on the food product is essential for the machine vision cameras to get a clear photo or video. The most common types of lighting for machine vision are quartz halogen, LEDs, metal halide and xenon lights. Metal halide and xenon are better for larger-scale operations because of their brightness.

Train employees to check the amount and positioning of the lighting before each inspection station starts up for the day, so that no shadows obscure products from view.

3. Single Out Promising Subject Matter Leaders
Companies today don’t seem to have much confidence in how well they’re preparing their workforce for tomorrow, including future innovations. According to Deloitte, just 47% of companies in the world believe they’re doing enough to train their employees on the technologies and opportunities of Industry 4.0.

Machine vision does not involve buying a camera or two, setting them up, then slapping the “autopilot” button. As products turn over, and manufacturing and distribution environments change and grow over time, machine vision algorithms require re-training, and you might need to redesign the lighting setup.

Employers should find individuals from their ranks who show interest and aptitude in this technology and then invest in them as subject matter experts and process owners. Even if an outside vendor is the one providing libraries of algorithms and ultimately coming up with machine vision designs, every company needs a knowledgeable liaison who can align company needs with the products on the market.

Machine Vision Is the Future of Food Inspections

The market for machine vision technology is likely to reach $30.8 in value by 2021, according to BCC Research.

It is important to remember that neither machine learning nor machine vision are about creating hardware that thinks and sees like humans do. With the right approach, these systems can roundly outperform human employees.

But first, companies need to recognize the opportunities. Then, they must match the available products to their unsolved problems and make sure their culture supports ongoing learning and the discovery of new aptitudes. Machine vision might be superior to human eyesight, but it uses decidedly human judgments as it goes about its work.

Doug MacDonald, Oracle Retail
Retail Food Safety Forum

To Protect Food Quality, Start With the Data

By Doug Macdonald
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Doug MacDonald, Oracle Retail

Last month, the FDA held a public meeting to discuss its New Era of Smarter Food Safety initiative, with a rallying call to create a more “digital, traceable and safer food system.”

FDA Deputy Commissioner for Food Policy and Response Frank Yiannas made it clear that the FDA is not replacing FSMA. Rather, the goal is to build on it, recognizing changes in the food industry over the last 10 years and the technologies available to tackle new challenges.

This isn’t surprising given continuing quality issues resulting in food recalls and shelf withdrawals. Last year, two major outbreaks of E. coli that were tied to consumption of romaine lettuce made a mark on industry perceptions, impacting customer trust, brand loyalty and the bottom line of companies involved were affected. Research by Allianz found recall costs could reach $10,000,000 for significant events.

To achieve the FDA’s goal of end-to-end traceability, the amount of information carried by every food item needs to increase, as will information about its location and condition in the supply chain. Grocers are at the sharp end of the food chain, meaning everything the FDA is proposing will impact them. As well as being merchandisers, they are brand-owners in their own right. They work directly with farmers and growers, they are directly involved in food safety, storage and distribution, and they feel the impact of recalls more than most. Unlike others in the food chain, they interact with consumers daily. This is important to note, since consumers are expecting communication on recalls immediately. In a recent study of more than 15,800 global consumers, 66% of respondents noted that they expect immediate notification of a product recall and another 28% stated they expect notification within a week.1 Furthermore, 88% said if a retailer immediately informed them of an issue, they would be more likely or slightly likely to trust them. The study also found that only 16% of consumers completely trust the product information provided to them from retailers today. In short, the impact of recalls extends far beyond the empty store shelf, and gives the industry even more reason to strive for safety.

High-Tech Next Steps

The FDA plans to publish a strategic blueprint early in 2020 of planned actions to meet its goal, but food brands and grocers need not wait to act. Proven technologies like brand compliance solutions, combined with emerging blockchain track and trace solutions and Internet of Things (IoT) sensors can add new depth and detail to traceability in the food supply chain, and these new technologies are already helping grocers and retailers keep consumers safe.

As retailers have sought a better means to track supply chain movements, blockchain technology has emerged as a potential way forward. Originally developed to manage financial transactions involving cryptocurrency, blockchain has proven to be capable of providing a verifiable record of the movement of goods through a supply chain. In fact, one major retailer has been piloting blockchain for more than a year and has already proven its value on produce items, cutting traceability times from more than a week to a matter of seconds. Some want to go even further and use IoT sensors to monitor the condition (e.g., temperature) of food products in the supply chain. Together, blockchain can help trace the path a product took through the supply chain and IoT can monitor the environmental conditions en route, providing a more cohesive picture of its supply chain journey.

But while supporting a few simple products with one ingredient and a one-step supply chain, such as fruits or vegetables, is one thing, scaling to address the needs of the average private brand retailer—now handling more than 10,000 active products from 2,000 production sites globally—is another. Managing the complexity of a product like tiramisu or a ready-made meal with dozens of ingredients, all coming from different sources, needs a different approach. To address the complexity, many are turning to brand compliance solutions—trusted, real-time repositories of information spanning the entire supply chain. For example, those using brand compliance solutions now have complete visibility of the ingredients in their private label products, helping them ensure labeling accuracy and transparency for consumers. Brand compliance tools also bring improved visibility of the food supply chain, enabling them to verify the status of manufacturing sites and respond quickly to food quality issues.

This combination of detailed product and supplier information makes brand compliance a foundational enabler for any blockchain/IoT-based initiative to improve supply chain visibility and traceability. For example, using brand compliance solutions, grocers can:

  • Confirm the ethical compliance of the supply chain at the point of selection or review, while using blockchain/IoT to monitor the ongoing conformance to these standards
  • Validate shelf life claims during formulation, while blockchain/IoT monitors logistical movement and environments to optimise products’ freshness
  • Record products’ formulation and ingredients to ensure safety, legal compliance and labeling accuracy, with blockchain/IoT monitoring the ongoing conformance to these standards
  • Rapidly identify potential risks across the entire formulation and supply chain, while tracking the affected batches to stores using blockchain and IoT

This convergence of static factual data (e.g., formulation, nutrition and allergens) linked to near real-time traceability and checking offers grocers confidence in the data and supports the consumer’s confidence of an actual product in their basket.

Looking Ahead

It seems clear that the food business is moving in the same direction as airlines and banks and becoming much more data driven. For grocers looking to keep pace, they will need to:

  • Treat data as a core competency. This means hiring information experts, investing for the future, and using data to identify ways to deliver better, safer products.
  • Create a customer-centric value promise. Grocers must go beyond regulatory compliance and use data to improve consumer transparency, support ethical sourcing initiatives, expand sustainable packaging and speed innovation.
  • Go above and beyond. Rather than waiting for FDA direction or simply complying with requirements, brands should take matters into their own hands, hold themselves to high markers and get started now.

In the future, improving the way that we manage the food supply chain is not just about how well we work with trucks and warehouses; it’s about how use information. The FDA’s initiative makes a clear statement that now is the time to modernize our food supply chains. As we look ahead to a new decade, the industry can come together to improve food safety and protect consumers, and we need not wait for the FDA’s blueprint or even the new year to get started.

Reference

  1. Setting the Bar: Global Customer Experience Trends 2019. (2019). Oracle Retail. Retrieved from https://go.oracle.com/LP=86024.
Jill Ellsworth, Willow Industries
FST Soapbox

Modeling Cannabis Safety from Food and Beverage Quality Regulations

By Jill Ellsworth
1 Comment
Jill Ellsworth, Willow Industries

There’s a reason you can eat or drink pretty much anything you want from American grocery stores and not get sick. Food manufacturing is highly regulated and subject to rigorous quality control.

Before food and beverages hit store shelves, the manufacturer must have a Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) system in place. The HACCP system requires that potential hazards—biological, chemical and physical— be identified and controlled at specific points in the manufacturing process. In addition, fresh foods undergo a kill-step. This is the point in the manufacturing or packaging process where food is treated to minimize and remove deadly pathogens like bacteria, mold, fungus and E. coli.

Generally speaking, when cannabis hits dispensary shelves, a less stringent set of rules apply, despite the fact that cannabis is ingested, inhaled and used as medicine. Cultivators are required to test every batch, but each state differs in what is required for mandated testing. Compared to the way food is regulated, the cannabis industry still has a long way to go when it comes to consumer safety—and that poses a considerable public health risk. In the early stages of legalization, the handful of legal states did not have rigid cannabis testing measures in place, which led to inconsistent safety standards across the country. State governments have had a reactionary approach to updating testing guidelines, by and large implementing stricter standards in response to product recalls and customer safety complaints. While local regulators have had the best intentions in prioritizing consumer safety, it is still difficult to align uniform cannabis testing standards with existing food safety standards while cannabis is a Schedule I substance.

The stark differences in safety measures and quality controls were first obvious to me when I moved from the food and beverage industry into the cannabis industry. For five years, I operated an organic, cold-pressed juice company and a natural beverage distribution company and had to adhere to very strict HACCP guidelines. When a friend asked me for advice on how to get rid of mold on cannabis flower, a light bulb went off: Why was there no kill step in cannabis? And what other food safety procedures were not being followed?

What to know more about all things quality, regulatory and compliance in the cannabis industry? Check out Cannabis Industry Journal and sign up for the weekly newsletterThe current patchwork of regulations and lack of food safety standards could have dire effects. It not only puts consumer health in jeopardy, but without healthy crops, growers, dispensaries and the entire cannabis supply chain can suffer. When a batch of cannabis fails microbial testing, it cannot be sold as raw flower unless it goes through an approved process to eliminate the contamination. This has severe impacts on everyone, starting with the cultivator. There are delays in harvesting and delivery, and sometimes producers are forced to extract their flower into concentrates, which really cuts into profits. And in the worst cases, entire crop harvests may have to be destroyed.

So, what do cannabis cultivators and manufacturers have to fear the most? Mold. Out of all the pathogens, mold is the most problematic for cannabis crops, perhaps because it is so resilient. Mold can withstand extreme heat, leaving many decontamination treatments ineffective. And most importantly, mold can proliferate and continue to grow. This is commonplace when the cannabis is stored for any length of time. Inhaling mold spores can have serious adverse health effects, including respiratory illness, and can even be deadly for immunocompromised consumers using it for medical reasons.

What the industry needs is a true kill step. It’s the only way to kill mold spores and other pathogens to ensure that they will not continue to grow while being stored. States that mandate microbial testing will benefit from the kill step because more cultivators will be in compliance earlier in the process. In states that don’t require comprehensive microbial testing, like Washington and Oregon, the kill step is a critical way to provide consumers with a preemptive layer of protection. Microbial testing and preventative decontamination measures encourage customer brand loyalty and prevents negative press coverage.

Adopting a HACCP system would also build additional safeguards into the system. These procedures provide businesses with a step-by-step system that controls food safety, from ingredients right through to production, storage and distribution, to sale of the product and service for the final consumer. The process of creating HACCP-based procedures provides a roadmap for food safety management that ultimately aligns your staff around the goal of keeping consumers safe.

It’s high time for the cannabis industry to adopt FDA-like standards and proactively promote safety measures. Cannabis growers must implement these quality controls to ensure that their products are as safe to consume as any other food or drink on the market. Let’s be proactive and show our consumers that we are serious about their safety.

Don Groover, DEKRA OSR
FST Soapbox

Why Changing Workplace Safety Culture Must Start From the Top

By Don Groover
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Don Groover, DEKRA OSR

Workplace safety in the food industry can be challenging. The precision required of workers in slaughter, meat packing or wholesale processing facilities can lead to serious harm or worse. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the potential hazards in this industry are many: Knife cuts to the hands and the torso, falls, back injuries, exposure to toxic substances, carpal tunnel syndrome, and even infectious diseases.

This industry may have more challenges in safety than any other industry. Yet, there are companies that excel in safety performance, even given these challenges.

Organizations that are serious about protecting their workers must do far more than react after an injury or rely on awareness-based safety efforts. Typically this approach only delays the next injury. Safety is not just about responding to injuries, but is about the ongoing identification of exposure, the implementation of control systems, and assuring these controls are used to neutralize the exposure.

The challenge is that the root of why an exposure exists or can even thrive in an organization maybe due to culture, organizational urgency, operational instability or a lack of understanding about the concept of exposure, to mention a few. Because the issue is bigger than safety programs, safety excellence requires all levels of an organization, from the C-Suite to the frontline worker, committing to a process that focuses on exposure. This needs to be done in a way that creates trust that safety is a value and if there is a values conflict, that safety has top priority.

Ultimately, it’s about shifting culture by making a safety excellence a priority.

Oftentimes leaders articulate that they want a safe culture, but they may not fully understand their role in creating the culture they desire and how they sustain the change. Senior leaders must go beyond a catch phrase approach to safety and actually articulate what are the cultural attributes they want to see firmly embedded in their organization.

These may be:

  • Workers watching out for each other and a willingness to step in if somebody is at risk.
  • Excellent housekeeping.
  • Workers stepping up to address physical hazards without being asked.
  • A willingness to report safety concerns and incidents.

Once the attributes are defined, then the organization is ready to understand what it takes to support that culture.
However, senior leadership needs to drive that change. Once upper management understands that accountability starts with them and not with the worker, they can move forward and create a culture that reinforces practices that identify potential exposure before incidents take place and not after. Doing so not only has the potential to lower incident rates, but it also:

  • Boosts morale. Workers believe the company has their backs and will commit to safety principles.
  • Strengthens trust between workers and management. Workers believe that safety excellence is a shared responsibility.
  • Increases commitment to all organizational objectives. Social theory research has shown that if you do something for someone else, they experience a pull to reciprocate. The more we do, the stronger the pull. When management shows that they can be trusted with employee safety, employees are free to reciprocate in other areas.

Our strongest and deepest relationships are built on a foundation of safety—not just physical safety but also psychological safety. If we come to believe that another person is interested in our physical or mental wellbeing, the foundation strengthens.

When leadership uses the power of safety they will see employee engagement increase. And the safety implications of worker engagement are profound: Disengaged workers are focused on their own safety. Involved workers are concerned with their own safety but are likely also concerned with the safety of their workmates and perhaps certain other people they interact with. Fully engaged workers are concerned with the safety of everyone around them and without prompting take proactive actions to help others.

Engaged workers are more likely to follow rules and procedures, be more receptive to change, and give discretionary effort. It seems like all companies are doing some type of engagement survey, yet the actions they develop to try and raise their scores are often lacking. Organizations that are serious about having an engaged workforce must fully understand how safety is foundational to engagement. More importantly, safety involvement activities need to be designed and implemented in a way that moves employees beyond mere involvement to full on engagement.

When a company demonstrates it values safety, workers will volunteer to get involved. Leadership must carefully consider what safety involvement activity is right for the culture. When employees participate in a successful and rewarding involvement activity, their personal level of engagement will move upward. Leadership must then figure out how to expand safety involvement. This isn’t done by demanding involvement. It requires purposeful planning and patience.

Megan Nichols
FST Soapbox

How Automation Benefits the Food and Beverage Industry

By Megan Ray Nichols
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Megan Nichols

During seasonal volume and demand peaks in the food and beverage industry, common practice is to increase labor and mobile equipment supplies temporarily. While this works great for small- to medium-sized businesses even in the current landscape, it’s not ideal for larger teams. This is primarily due to the evolution of technology, especially in the automation sector.

Adding more labor and machines can help increase volume, but it comes with a sizeable cost, one that could be shaved with the right process and system updates. As one might expect, adopting advanced automation systems, robotics and processes that can be controlled via machinery or software is the answer. Believe it or not, these systems can be made to work alongside and improve performance of existing laborers and teams.

In fact, automation is taking many industries by storm, and it’s about time food and beverage companies climbed aboard. Automotive, construction and healthcare are just three examples of industries already being disrupted by automation and AI.

But how is the technology being adopted or implemented in the food industry, and how will companies benefit from incorporating such systems?

Better Quality Control

Along the food and beverage supply chain, there are so many involved processes, workers and touchpoints that it can be difficult to not only keep track of food, but also to monitor its quality. As you know, quality is of incredible importance in the industry. You don’t want faulty or contaminated foods entering the market because it can be detrimental. Food must always remain traceable and safe, and it’s difficult to guarantee a system that has so many working cogs.

Automation, however, can change that completely. With the appropriate systems, defects and issues can be noticed much earlier in the supply chain. By detecting problems during packaging or processing, you can cut down on the total number of problematic goods that enter the market. Better yet, you can accurately identify when and where those problems are coming from and remedy the issue for improved performance in the future. If something along your supply chain is the culprit, automation will help you hone in.

Eliminating contamination can be controlled — and achieved — by deploying the appropriate cooling and air compressor systems. However, that also means understanding where this hardware must be utilized for maximum reliability. Automation and analytics systems can be helpful in discerning this information, better protecting foods and goods along the chain.

It’s not a pipe dream, either — systems are already being adopted and implemented to achieve such a thing.

End-To-End Traceability

While we touched on the idea of traceability a little in the point above, it’s the lion’s share that’s really going to make a difference. Automation and modern analytics tools can be deployed to track products and goods from inception to fulfillment. Because the systems in question are designed to track and monitor on their own with little to no input, you can tap in anywhere along the chain to seek the information you need.

Have a contaminated shipment that was discovered too late? You can use the modern analytics and automation tools at your disposal to find exactly where they are shipped or headed. This way you can head off a massive health problem before it even starts.

This, in turn, can help alleviate compliance costs and stressors, as well as improve the overall performance of the supply chain and various key processes. You could, for example, see how long a particular stop or touchpoint along the supply chain is taking and use the information provided to speed up performance.

End-to-end traceability and all the data that comes with it is about more than just watching where food comes from, where it is handled and where it goes. You can use the data provided to build an accurate profile and predictive system for future gains.

Improved Worker Safety

Automation systems, AI and modern robotics are often used to control rote, repetitive and sometimes even dangerous tasks. In this way, you can save human laborers from the dangers of a particular activity or even the monotony of busy work. It frees them up to handle more important demands, which is another benefit.

Of course, increased safety and protection for your loyal workforce can also work to alleviate operation or maintenance costs in the long run. It can lead to faster and more widespread adoption of new standards and regulations for your workforce at large as well. Traditionally, such a change might require additional training, new equipment or even better protection for your workers.

In the case of automation, you can simply update the existing hardware and software to be compliant and save the trouble of maintaining everything else, such as updating safety gear for your workers, which would no longer be necessary.

Efficiency Boost

It’s no secret that when deployed and developed properly, a machine or automation system can perform work faster and better than human laborers, at least in some cases. A machine never tires, never gets bored and can never slack off—unless it has a malfunction. That’s not to say modern technologies will be used to replace workers outright, but instead, they might be deployed alongside them to help them work faster, better and safer.

Take Amazon, for instance, which has deployed an army of AI and automation robots inside their warehouses to improve the efficiency of their order fulfillment process. It has the added benefit of speeding up the entire system, so customers get their items faster. It also improves safety and performance for the workers, effectively eliminating unsafe tasks or rote work.

Automation can provide benefits across the board for the food and beverage industry. It will be interesting to see how technological developments unfold.

RFID tags on drying marijuana flowers

Marijuana Edibles: Update on a Rapidly Developing Market

By Aaron G. Biros
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RFID tags on drying marijuana flowers

A lot has changed since last year’s article, “Marijuana Edibles: A Regulatory Nightmare.” Marijuana has since catapulted into mainstream thinking via activism, state decriminalization, and medical reforms while investors and banks are beginning to trust the market more, further legitimizing the nascent industry. According to an article from the Washington Post, Colorado’s legal marijuana industry reached $700 million in 2014 and is expected to grow to $1 billion by 2016.

Innovators are beginning to analyze trends on a national level, looking toward federal rescheduling of the drug as a catalyst for more state reforms and wider legalization measures. Federal legalization is in the back of many minds, as the introduction of pivotal state and federal legislative reforms promises more access to banking services, medical research, and more state independence.

While a black market mentality remains prevalent, widespread state reforms, increased venture capital investment, and further legitimization of an industry with less barriers of entry have fostered a perceived reduction in risk. States like Oregon, Washington, and Colorado that have already legalized marijuana for recreational and medical sales are beginning to implement strict packaging rules, requirements for traceability, QA programs, testing and laboratory monitoring requirements, and other regulations that would suggest FDA oversight down the road.

marijuana buds drying in racks biotrackthc
Dried marijuana buds curing with RFID tags as part of the traceability system of BiotrackTHC

State regulatory bodies such as the Colorado Marijuana Enforcement Division (MED) have matured and expanded their oversight to include certifications and requirements for lab testing and analysis. Marijuana testing facilities can now be certified by the MED to test for residual solvents, poisons or toxins, harmful chemicals, dangerous molds, mildew or filth, harmful microbials such as E. coli or Salmonella, pesticides, and THC levels and Cannabinoid potency.

According to an article from theCannabist.com, edible marijuana took 45% of the market share in 2014 and continues to grow, proving that food manufacturers and processors will gain a bigger share of the market.

BioTrackTHC develops a seed-to-sale traceability system that is the state-mandated reporting system used by any business that touches the plant in compliance with Washington’s i502 regulations (The company also won the contract bid for New Mexico’s and New York’s state-run traceability systems). “From day one, all retail products under i502, including infused edibles, must have laboratory-submitted passing test results and data in the traceability system before it can be unlocked for shipment to retailers,” says Patrick Vo, CEO of BioTrackTHC.

RFID tags on drying marijuana flowers
RFID tags on drying marijuana flowers, from BioTrackTHC

Regulations, especially those addressing traceability, are crucial for advancing the industry and fighting the black market, performing recalls, and improving product quality and safety. Vo adds, “As more states adopt a centralized traceability system, food safety will improve as we see the industry grow.”

“Most of the marijuana edibles producers we advise are working comfortably within their state health department regulations versus a year ago when they were struggling to implement routine compliance,” says Stephen Goldner, CEO of Regulatory Affairs Associates.  “But there is a long way to go to make this new marketplace meet the standards routinely met by US food producers in other markets such as nutritional supplements and medical foods.”

Many edible producers are sadly mistaken to ignore FDA labeling and production regulations just because the producer only ships within their own state, according to Goldner. “Whenever FDA has found label or food safety violations of products, whether they are food, drugs or any other product, it has always acted quickly to seize the product, inspect the producer and insist that violative labeling or production practices be remedied,” he says, adding that it won’t be surprising to see FDA start to “seize marijuana-infused food products that make drug claims, especially from the leading current producers” as a way for the agency to insert itself into the inspection and compliance process. “These companies need to have FDA food GMP’s solidly in place and properly documented,” says Goldner.

“Those who have experienced the most consistent and long term success in this industry are those who play above board, those who take the extra effort and make the investment in effort, time, and money to treat their business as if it was already federally legal and had to adhere to standards that other industries must follow,” says Vo. He agrees with the view held by many that long term planning is vital in this industry. “Those who have implemented best practices, QA programs, and traceability software will succeed in the long run, and the bad actors will eventually, by their own poor practices, be filtered out by regulatory and market forces.”

In the near future, the industry will look to other states in regulatory experiments on opposite sides of the spectrum. “New York, which legalized medical marijuana in 2014, is handing out 5 licenses to operate 4 dispensaries each, and allowing licensees to have a grow facility to supply their respective dispensaries. The Commissioner of the New York State Department of Health will have authority on licensing, testing, and medical requirements for patients seeking treatment with medical marijuana,” says R. David Marquez, who operates a Long Island law firm focusing on the cannabis industry.

New York is implementing very strict rules regarding cultivating and processing the plant. California, on the other side of the spectrum, already operates a somewhat loosely regulated medical marijuana market and has been doing so since 1996. The bill to legalize marijuana recreationally in the state is widely expected to pass vote and be implemented in 2016. This would open up an enormous market potential and contribute to the growth of the industry on a national level.

Because marijuana edibles are theoretically both a food and a drug, it is only appropriate that the FDA should look to regulate the industry in the future. In the meantime “Those who have invested the time and money in staying compliant now will be far ahead of the game tomorrow,” says Patrick Vo, who is looking toward federal legalization.

It seems that manufacturers and processors at the forefront of quality and safety testing will succeed in the long run.

Footnote: This is a regulatory update on the cannabis industry with an emphasis on edible marijuana. CannabisIndustryJournal.com, the newest publication, will be launched in September of this year. CannabisIndustryJournal.com will educate the marketplace covering news, technology, business trends, safety, quality, and the regulatory environment, aiding in the advancement of an informed and safe market for the global cannabis industry. Stay tuned for more!

GM Apples and Potatoes are ‘Safe’: FDA

Arctic Apples have ‘silenced’ genes that prevent them from turning brown when bruised, while genetic modification of Innate potatoes reduces the activity of genes that cause tubers to turn brown.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has completed its evaluation for two varieties of apples genetically engineered by Okanagan Specialty Fruits, Inc., and for six varieties of potatoes genetically engineered by J. R. Simplot Company and concluded that these foods are “as safe and nutritious as their conventional counterparts.”

Okanagan’s Granny Smith and Golden Delicious varieties of apples, known collectively by the trade name “Arctic Apples,” are genetically engineered to resist browning associated with cuts and bruises by reducing levels of enzymes that can cause browning.

Simplot’s varieties of Ranger Russet, Russet Burbank and Atlantic potatoes are collectively known by the trade name “Innate” and are genetically engineered to reduce the formation of black spot bruises by lowering the levels of certain enzymes in the potatoes. In addition, they are engineered to produce less acrylamide by lowering the levels of an amino acid called asparagine and by lowering the levels of reducing-sugars. Acrylamide is a chemical that can form in some foods during high-temperature cooking, such as frying, and has been found to be carcinogenic in rodents.

Foods derived from genetically engineered plants must meet the same legal standards, including safety standards, as foods derived from traditional plant breeding methods. Though producers of genetically engineered foods are not compelled to submit their products for FDA approval, both Okanagan, of British Columbia, Canada, and Simplot, of Boise, Idaho, submitted to FDA a summary of their safety and nutritional assessments.

“The consultation process includes a review of information provided by a company about the nature of the molecular changes and the nutritional composition of the food compared to traditionally bred varieties,” said Dennis Keefe, Ph.D., director of the FDA’s Office of Food Additive Safety. “This case-by-case safety evaluation ensures that food safety issues are resolved prior to commercial distribution.”

The changes are expected to make the produce healthier, more palatable and easier to transport and sell without spoilage, and hence result in less food waste. But the approval is expected to spark controversy among critics who argue that genetically modified foods will introduce potentially dangerous unknowns into the American food supply. Okanagan and Simplot may label their products as GMO, something that many consumer groups have advocated for.

Source: FDA.gov