Tag Archives: standards

Kari Hensien, RizePoint
FST Soapbox

7 Trends Expediting Modernization in Food Industry

By Kari Hensien
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Kari Hensien, RizePoint

For a long time, companies could effectively run food safety programs using only manual methods of quality management, such as pen, paper, spreadsheets and emails. Those practices have served the food industry well, but it was only a matter of time before food safety and quality management systems became mostly an exercise of technology.

Even before COVID-19, industry trends and government requirements (e.g., FSMA, the FDA’s New Era of Smarter Food Safety) were setting roadmaps for modernizing food safety and quality management with technology. Additionally, the food industry is thirsty for better performance, more insights and data-based decisions—all things that need more sophistication than manual systems.

As we continue through the throes of the pandemic, it’s abundantly clear that the tech-based future we were planning for five to ten years in the future is happening now. It’s both unavoidable and imperative for the food industry to quickly adapt to the new landscape in front of us. It’s as the CEO of Airbnb, Brain Chesky, recently said: Because of the pandemic, he had to make “10 years’ worth of decisions in 10 weeks.”

From my viewpoint, I see at least seven additional trends that are also expediting modernization in our industry.

1. A shift toward proactive mindset versus reactive habits. Always reacting to what’s happening around you is precarious and makes it difficult to mitigate risks, for you as well as your location employees. The benefits of being more strategic and prepared for different scenarios can shore up your foundation, making you more ready for crises at the corporate and location level. Gathering, combining and analyzing data with technology gives you more insights, so you can make data-based decisions quickly and with more confidence.

Kari Hensien, RizePoint Kari Hensien and Matt Regusci of Rizepoint will be participating in a Q&A with Dr. Darin Detwiler, Assistant Dean, Northeastern University College of Professional Studies, during the final episode of the 2020 Food Safety Consortium Virtual Conference Series on December 17. 

2. Empowerment of employees to act as chief quality officers. This comes down to the difference between training employees versus coaching them. Giving employees rules (training) is one thing but showing them the reason why a rule exists (coaching) is another. In other words, when you add more coaching, you’re empowering employees to identify and act on the right thing to do for themselves—which is chief quality officer behavior.

It is important to reassure employees during coaching that honest assessments will result in managers’ support rather than punishment when things go wrong. When all employees proactively watch for quality and compliance issues and get the right support when bringing up these issues, you’re more likely to catch (and fix) small issues before they become huge liabilities.

3. An increase in virtual audits and self-assessments. I don’t believe the corporate audit will ever go away, but our customer data is showing a marked increase in location self-assessments and virtual audits before the pandemic, and even more since March.

Right now, these audit types are a necessary stopgap while the health and safety of auditors is in question. However, I’m also confident that virtual audits and self-assessments will continue to rise. The reason? These audits can start giving you a continuous view of food safety initiatives instead of a single point-in-time view.

Even though corporate audits are still part of best practices, shorter self-assessments and other evaluations can help you glean more data and gain more visibility on a continual basis, especially if you use technology to store and analyze your data in one place.

4. Continuous quality monitoring is overtaking point-in-time audits. Let’s expand on this trend. Manual processes may provide some valuable data, but it’s impossible to build real-time, integrated views into your business with only a yearly audit. It merely shows you a single (but important) point in time rather than what’s going on at each location right now. Additionally, since everyone is watching every employee at all store locations due to COVID-19, it is critical to have a checks and balances system to continually correct small issues and to find coaching opportunities.

Again, it’s virtually impossible to do this with paper checklists and email blasts because the daily-gathered data can easily be misfiled, deleted or otherwise lost. Many quality management software systems are built to integrate, store and analyze your data in a continuous manner.

5. Consolidation of multiple programs into single software solutions. As you think about updating your programs and systems from manual processes, it is important to remember that you don’t need a different solution for every activity. For example, you don’t necessarily have to invest in an auditing app, an analytics platform, and a document storage solution (and still probably manage many spreadsheets). There are many quality management software companies that have solutions built to combine and streamline all the activities you need to manage food safety or other quality management programs.

6. Innovations to share costs with suppliers. Budgets have not likely increased due to COVID-19, so investing in modernization may seem like a pipe dream. But many companies are offsetting their costs in a new way. They are requiring suppliers to use a specific software system to submit their qualifying documents, and then these companies are charging reasonable fees for suppliers’ use of the software.

Additionally, there more benefits to managing suppliers within your quality management system. First, it can streamline document collection and storage, and second, it gives you an opportunity to communicate and collaborate with your suppliers on a deeper level.

7. Standards bodies are accelerating plans to update requirements. As seen with GLOBAL.G.A.P. this year, some standards bodies are updating their digital submission requirements to streamline certification submissions as well as start building up sharable industry data so certification bodies can do their jobs better. Additionally, GLOBALG.A.P has already partnered with existing quality management software companies to make the integration and submission process even easier, and other standards bodies are sure to follow.

It’s clear to me that these trends are of a long-term nature, and each one requires updating manual food safety and quality programs to quality management system software solutions. Acting on these trends in any number will require modernization and digital transformation to have a lasting impact on your programs and your business. The mode of “just keeping the doors open” is not sustainable and will not last forever, so now is the time to start building a better food safety future.

Karil Kochenderfer, LINKAGES
FST Soapbox

GFSI at 20 YEARS: Time for a Reboot?

By Karil Kochenderfer
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Karil Kochenderfer, LINKAGES

The marketplace has experienced dramatic changes that were barely on the horizon 20 years ago—by that, I mean mobile phones, Instagram, Facebook, climate change, consumer transparency, globalization, novel new products delivered to your doorstep and now COVID-19, too.

I write from a perspective of both pride and concern. I had the privilege of representing GFSI in North America and helping the organization expand beyond Europe as new food safety laws were implemented in both the United States and Canada.

Questionable Utility of Multiple, Redundant and Costly Certifications

However, I also sympathized with small and medium food companies that struggled with minimal resources and food safety expertise to understand GFSI and then to become certified not once, but multiple times for multiple customers. GFSI’s mantra, “Once Certified, Accepted Everywhere,” was far from their GFSI reality…or, frankly, the reality of many food companies. My concern was not insignificant. The food industry is populated by a majority of small businesses, each seeking that one big break that could possibly, maybe open up access to retail shelves. Their confusion about being audited and certified to one standard was significant. Certification to multiple and redundant standards presented a daunting and costly endeavor for these start-ups. I heard their anxiety in their voices as I served as GFSI’s 1.800 “customer service rep” in North America for years.

Karil Kochenderfer will present “GFSI at 20 Years: Time for a Reboot?” during the 2020 Food Safety Consortium Virtual Conference Series | Her session takes place on December 17Transparency

In the 20 years since GFSI was established, the world has become much more transparent. Today, entire industries operate on open, international, consensus-based ISO management standards in far bigger and more complex sectors than the food sector (e.g., the automotive, airline and medical device sectors). And, in the 20 years since GFSI was established, an ISO food safety management system standard has been developed that is now used widely throughout the world with more than 36,000 certifications (i.e., ISO 22000).

Auditing and certifying a facility to a single, international, public standard would enhance GFSI transparency. It also would help to hurdle government concerns related to the lack of public input into the development of private standards, enabling private certifications like GFSI to be used efficiently as a compliance tool—a benefit to both government and food interests and to consumer health, safety and trade.

New Technologies

Many new technologies, such blockchain, artificial intelligence, sensors and the Internet of Things are being heralded widely now as well, particularly for businesses with complex supply-chains like those in like the fast-moving food and retail sectors. The benefits of these technologies are predicated on the use of a common digital language…or standard. Multiple and diverse standards, like GFSI, complicate the use of these new technologies, which is why FDA is examining the harmonizing role of standards and data management in its proposed New Era of Smarter Food Safety.

Sustainable Development

Today, food safety often is managed in tandem with other corporate environment, health and safety programs. The Consumer Goods Forum, which oversees GFSI, should take a similar approach and merge GFSI with its sustainability, and health and wellness programs to help CGF members meet their existing commitments to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and to encourage others to do the same. Here, once again, adoption of a single, transparent ISO standard can help. Adoption of ISO 22000 as the single and foundational standard for GFSI makes it easy to layer on and comply with other ISO standards—for example, for the environment (ISO 14000), worker protection (ISO 45001), energy efficiency (ISO 50001) and information/data security (ISO 27001)— and to simultaneously meet multiple SDGs.

Globalization

As I write, the COVID pandemic rages. It may re-align global supply chains and set back global trade temporarily, but the unprecedented rise in consumer incomes and corresponding decrease in poverty around the world attests to the importance of the global trade rules established by the World Trade Organization (WTO). Among these rules is a directive to governments (and businesses) to use common standards to facilitate trade, which uniquely recognizes ISO standards as well as those of Codex and OIE. When trade disputes arise, food interests that use ISO 22000 are hands-down winners, no questions asked. So, why use many and conflicting private standards?

Supply Chain Efficiency

Finally, ISO 22005, part of the ISO 22000 family of food management standards, also is aligned with GS1 Standards for supply-chain management, used throughout the food and retail sectors in North America and globally to share information between customers and suppliers. GS1 is most well known for being the administrators of the familiar U.P.C. barcode. The barcode and other “data carriers” provide visibility into the movement of products as well as information about select attributes about those products—including whether they have been certified under GFSI. Both GS1 and ISO GS1 standards are foundational to the new technologies that are being adopted in the fast-moving food, consumer products, healthcare and retail sectors both in the United States and globally. That alignment puts a spotlight on safety, sustainability, mobility, efficiency and so much more.

Focus Less on the Change, More on the Outcome

My proposal will surely set tongues in motion. Proposals to switch things up generally do. Disruption has become the norm, however, and food businesses are prized for their agility and responsiveness to the endless changes in today’s fast-moving marketplace. Still, ISO and Codex standards already are embedded in the GFSI benchmark so what I’m proposing should not be so disruptive and no one scheme or CPO should benefit disproportionately. And, less differentiation in the standard of industry performance will compel scheme or certification owners to shift their focus away from compliance with their standards and audit checklists to working with customers to truly enhance and establish “food safety-oriented cultures.” If they do, all of us emerge as winners.

The New Normal?

Around us new food businesses are emerging just as old businesses reinvent theirs. Trucks now operate as restaurants and athletes deliver dinner on bicycles. For a long time, we’ve operated businesses based on 20th century models that don’t resonate in the 21st century world. Are we at an inflection point, with both small and large businesses paying for costly and inefficient practices that no longer apply, and is it time for GFSI to change?

I welcome your thoughts. I truly do. Better, let’s discuss on a webinar or video call of your choosing. I look forward to connecting.

Submit questions you want Karil to answer during her session at the 2020 Food Safety Consortium Virtual Conference Series in the Comments section below.

LIMS, Laboratory information management system, food safety

How Advanced LIMS Brings Control, Consistency and Compliance to Food Safety

By Ed Ingalls
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LIMS, Laboratory information management system, food safety

Recent food scandals around the world have generated strong public concerns about the safety of the foods being consumed. Severe threats to food safety exist at all stages of the supply chain in the form of physical, chemical and biological contaminants. The current pandemic has escalated the public’s concern about cross contamination between people and food products and packaging. To eliminate food risks, manufacturers need robust technologies that allow for reliable monitoring of key contaminants, while also facilitating compliance with the ISO 17025 standard to prove the technical competence of food testing laboratories.

Without effective data and process management, manufacturers risk erroneous information, compromised product quality and regulatory noncompliance. In this article, we discuss how implementing a LIMS platform enables food manufacturers to meet regulatory requirements and ensure consumer confidence in their products.

Safeguarding Food Quality to Meet Industry Standards

Food testing laboratories are continually updated about foodborne illnesses making headlines. In addition to bacterial contamination in perishable foods and ingredient adulteration for economic gains, chemical contamination is also on the rise due to increased pesticide use. Whether it is Salmonella-contaminated peanut butter or undeclared horsemeat inside beef, each food-related scandal is a strong reminder of the importance of safeguarding food quality.

Food safety requires both preventive activities as well as food quality testing against set quality standards. Establishing standardized systems that address both food safety and quality makes it easier for manufacturers to comply with regulatory requirements, ultimately ensuring the food is safe for public consumption.

In response to food safety concerns, governing bodies have strengthened regulations. Food manufacturers are now required to ensure bacteria, drug residues and contaminant levels fall within published acceptable limits. In 2017, the ISO 17025 standard was updated to provide a risk-based approach, with an increased focus on information technology, such as the use of software systems and maintaining electronic records.

The FDA issued a notice that by February 2022, food testing, in certain circumstances, must be conducted in compliance with the ISO 17025 standard. This means that laboratories performing food safety testing will need to implement processes and systems to achieve and maintain compliance with the standard, confirming the competence, impartiality and consistent operation of the laboratory.

To meet the ISO 17025 standard, food testing laboratories will need a powerful LIMS platform that integrates into existing workflows and is built to drive and demonstrate compliance.

From Hazard Analysis to Record-Keeping: A Data-Led Approach

Incorporating LIMS into the entire workflow at a food manufacturing facility enables the standardization of processes across its laboratories. Laboratories can seamlessly integrate analytical and quality control workflows. Modern LIMS platforms provide out-of-the-box compliance options to set up food safety and quality control requirements as a preconfigured workflow.

The requirements set by the ISO 17025 standard build upon the critical points for food safety outlined in the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) methodology. HACCP, a risk-based safety management procedure, requires food manufacturers to identify, evaluate and address all risks associated with food safety.

LIMS, laboratory information management system
LIMS can be used to visualize control points for HACCP analysis according to set limits. Graphic courtesy of Thermo Fisher Scientific.

The systematic HACCP approach involves seven core principles to control food safety hazards. Each of the following seven principles can be directly addressed using LIMS:

  • Principle 1. Conduct a hazard analysis: Using current and previous data, food safety risks are thoroughly assessed.
  • Principle 2. Determine the critical control points (CCPs): Each CCP can be entered into LIMS with contamination grades assigned.
  • Principle 3. Establish critical limits: Based on each CCP specification, analytical critical limits can be set in LIMS.
  • Principle 4. Establish monitoring procedures: By defining sampling schedules in LIMS and setting other parameters, such as frequency and data visualization, procedures can be closely monitored.
  • Principle 5. Establish corrective actions: LIMS identifies and reports incidents to drive corrective action. It also enables traceability of contamination and maintains audit trails to review the process.
  • Principle 6. Establish verification procedures: LIMS verifies procedures and preventive measures at the defined CCPs.
  • Principle 7. Establish record-keeping and documentation procedures: All data, processes, instrument reports and user details remain secured in LIMS. This information can never be lost or misplaced.

As food manufacturers enforce the safety standards set by HACCP, the process can generate thousands of data points per day. The collected data is only as useful as the system that manages it. Having LIMS manage the laboratory data automates the flow of quality data and simplifies product release.

How LIMS Enable Clear Compliance and Optimal Control

Modern LIMS platforms are built to comply with ISO 17025. Preconfigured processes include instrument and equipment calibration and maintenance management, traceability, record-keeping, validation and reporting, and enable laboratories to achieve compliance, standardize workflows and streamline data management.

The workflow-based functionality in LIMS allows researchers to map laboratory processes, automate decisions and actions based on set criteria, and reduce user intervention. LIMS validate protocols and maintain traceable data records with a clear audit history to remain compliant. Data workflows in LIMS preserve data integrity and provide records, according to the ALCOA+ principles. This framework ensures the data is Attributable, Legible, Contemporaneous, Original and Accurate (ALCOA) as well as complete, consistent and enduring. While the FDA created ALCOA+ for pharmaceutical drug manufacturers, these same principles can be applied to food manufacturers.

Environmental monitoring and quality control (QC) samples can be managed using LIMS and associated with the final product. To plan environmental monitoring, CCPs can be set up in the LIMS for specific locations, such as plants, rooms and laboratories, and the related samples can then be added to the test schedule. Each sample entering the LIMS is associated with the CCP test limits defined in the specification.

Near real-time data visualization and reporting tools can simplify hazard analysis. Managers can display information in different formats to monitor critical points in a process, flag unexpected or out-of-trend numbers, and immediately take corrective action to mitigate the error, meeting the requirements of Principles 4 and 5 of HACCP. LIMS dashboards can be optimized by product and facility to provide visibility into the complete process.

Rules that control sampling procedures are preconfigured in the LIMS along with specific testing rules based on the supplier. If a process is trending out of control, the system will notify laboratory personnel before the product fails specification. If required, incidents can be raised in the LIMS software to track the investigation of the issue while key performance indicators are used to track the overall laboratory performance.

Tasks that were once performed manually, such as maintaining staff training records or equipment calibration schedules, can now be managed directly in LIMS. Using LIMS, analysts can manage instrument maintenance down to its individual component parts. System alerts also ensure timely recalibration and regular servicing to maintain compliance without system downtime or unplanned interruptions. The system can prevent users from executing tests without the proper training records or if the instrument is due for calibration or maintenance work. Operators can approve and sign documents electronically, maintaining a permanent record, according to Principle 7 of HACCP.

LIMS allow seamless collaboration between teams spread across different locations. For instance, users from any facility or even internationally can securely use system dashboards and generate reports. When final testing is complete, Certificates of Analysis (CoAs) can be autogenerated with final results and showing that the product met specifications. All activities in the system are tracked and stored in the audit trail.

With features designed to address the HACCP principles and meet the ISO 17025 compliance requirements, modern LIMS enable manufacturers to optimize workflows and maintain traceability from individual batches of raw materials all the way through to the finished product.

Conclusion

To maintain the highest food quality and safeguard consumer health, laboratories need reliable data management systems. By complying with the ISO 17025 standard before the upcoming mandate by the FDA, food testing laboratories can ensure data integrity and effective process management. LIMS platforms provide laboratories with integrated workflows, automated procedures and electronic record-keeping, making the whole process more efficient and productive.

With even the slightest oversight, food manufacturers not only risk product recalls and lost revenue, but also losing the consumers’ trust. By upholding data integrity, LIMS play an important role in ensuring food safety and quality.

food safety tech

Food Labs/Cannabis Labs Virtual Conference Includes FDA Comments on Proposed Lab Accreditation Rule

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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food safety tech

Next month join Food Safety Tech and Cannabis Industry Journal for the virtual conference, Food Labs / Cannabis Labs. The event is complimentary for attendees and will be held Tuesday, June 2 through Friday, June 5 (each day the event begins at 11 am ET). The event was originally planned as an in-person event but was converted to a virtual conference as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The event kicks off with FDA’s comments on the proposed FSMA laboratory accreditation rule, which will be presented by FDA’s Timothy McGrath and Donald Burr. Other session highlights include FSMA’s impact on labs; navigating the regulatory pitfalls of cannabis lab testing; the evolution of the lab testing market; documentary standards and reference materials; and vulnerability assessment frameworks and food fraud mitigation strategies. Many of the educational sessions will be followed by Tech Talks, which will be provided by sponsors in the laboratory technology or service provider fields, who will educate attendees about solutions that can assist in the food lab and/or cannabis lab environment.

More than 500 people have already registered to attend! Don’t miss this unique opportunity and register now. Please note that only registrants who attend the live event will have access to the recording.

For companies interested in Tech Talk opportunities, Contact RJ Palermo (203-667-2212). Tuesday and Wednesday are sold out.

John McPherson, rfxcel
FST Soapbox

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

By John McPherson
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John McPherson, rfxcel

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

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

A Global Movement for Seafood Traceability

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

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

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

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

Why Transparency Is Critical

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why Seafood Traceability Supports the Whole Supply Chain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Transparency, Technology, Trust and Collaboration

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

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

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

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

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

The Importance Of Cleanrooms in the Food Industry

By Steve Gonzalez
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The health and well being of millions depends on manufacturers’ and packagers’ ability to maintain a safe and sterile environment during production. This is why professionals in this sector are held to much stricter standards than other industries. With such high expectations from consumers and regulatory bodies, a growing number of food companies are opting the use cleanrooms.

Cleanrooms are sealed off from the rest of a laboratory or production facility. Through stringent ventilation and filtering systems, they protect against contaminants that might be found in an unrestricted environment. Mold, mildew, dust and bacteria are sifted from the air before they can enter the space.

Personnel who work in a cleanroom are required to adhere to rigorous precautions, including clean suits and masks. These rooms also closely monitor temperature and humidity to ensure the optimal climate.

Cleanrooms can be found in numerous applications throughout the food industry. Specifically, they are used in meat and dairy facilities, as well as in the processing of foods that need to be gluten and lactose free. By creating the cleanest possible environment for production, companies can offer their customers peace of mind. Not only can they keep their products free from contamination, but they can extend shelf life and increase efficiency.

If you want to learn more about cleanrooms and their classifications, take a look at the accompanying infographic. It details the essential requirements and standards for facilities in the food industry and beyond.

Cleanroom requirements, food safety
Infographic courtesy of Technical Safety Services
Megan Nichols
FST Soapbox

Four Ways To Improve Your Food Safety Management System

By Megan Ray Nichols
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Megan Nichols

Foodborne illnesses cost billions of dollars each year in the United States. A lack of standards can lead to severe consequences, including loss of customers, negative impact on brand reputation and employees missing work due to illness. As a result, safety is vital for any brand that is committed to high-quality food and maintaining a positive brand image.

Food safety management systems—the processes and procedures that companies set up to prevent contamination—are essential in reducing the risk of foodborne illness and ensuring the safest products possible.

By FDA regulation, most food processors must have HACCP as well as corrective actions/preventive action (CAPAs) plans in place. Even with the right safety guidelines, however, contamination or exposure to food hazards can still occur. The following are four ways to improve the quality of your food safety management system.

1. Conduct Regular Audits

Even if your business’s HACCP is highly effective in theory, it won’t prevent contamination unless actual practice lines up with documentation. Regular audits can ensure employee practice complies.

HACCPs are structured around identifying both potential food hazards and critical control points (CCPs) where your system has the opportunity to prevent, mitigate or eliminate a potential issue. Usually, this means storing food items or performing some biological, physical or chemical action to a target limit— like a specific temperature—to prevent or mitigate contamination.

For example, in the manufacturing of chicken products, cooking and hot-holding are critical control points at which the product needs to be heated to a certain temperature to eliminate or prevent potential hazards. Here, an audit would be a chance to ensure employees cooked and hot-held foods at the proper temperatures. If they aren’t, the food safety management team can make policy changes that ensure practice lines up with planning.

The audit process should be consistent and occur regularly. It should also cover every aspect of your HACCP strategy and place a particular focus on potential hazards and CCPs. These audits can be a way to uncover the strengths and weaknesses of your current HACCP strategy. Companies can use this information to build upon existing practices or demonstrate how procedures could be more effective.

Stainless steel
Stainless steel is popular in food handling due to impermeable surface and resistance to corrosion, two characteristics that help reduce the risk of food contamination. (free image from Splash)

2. Consider a CCP Monitoring System

You can use automated or digital systems to ensure that CCPs aren’t deviating from control limits. With the right sensors, it’s possible to ensure that food remains between target limits at each CCP. For example, automated sensors can quickly alert plant staff if the temperature of food in cold storage rises above a certain threshold, or if there is a deviation from a given CCP.

These alerts can help staff quickly respond to deviations, ensuring compliance, and reducing the risk of contamination by food hazards.

3. Review and Maintain Equipment

An thorough equipment program can be highly effective in reducing the risk of food contamination. To minimize risk, your plan should look at the equipment needed in your plant, as well as how it’s constructed and maintained. For example, choosing industry-standard or food-safe materials can help prevent contamination. Investing in the right kind of stainless steel can both improve operating costs and help reduce the risk of food exposed to hazards.

Preventive maintenance plans for food safety equipment can also reduce the risk of contamination by ensuring the proper functioning of site equipment.

4. Provide Employee Support and Encourage Buy-In

Training programs are an essential component of any HACCP. If your employees don’t know how to handle food properly or aren’t aware of HACCP documentation or the CCPs in the food processing pipeline, they won’t be able to execute the plan and prevent contamination.

While training programs are crucial, they don’t necessarily guarantee compliance. Common pitfalls exist that can discourage employees from following the plan. To encourage employee buy-in, training should begin by discussing the importance of food safety and the potential risks of contamination.

The training should also be robust enough that employees feel confident when executing the HACCP. Training staff should be sure to provide visual demonstrations and opportunities for employees to practice before they become responsible for food safety. Tests or evaluations both during and after training can be useful tools in determining how well your employees understand your business’s HACCP strategy. Regular follow-ups on training can also ensure compliance and reduce the risk of contamination.

Improving Food Safety Management Systems

For any business that works with food, safety programs are essential in ensuring the safest and highest quality product possible. Existing food safety management systems can often improve with the right methods. For example, automated monitoring systems can reduce the risk of deviating from CCP limits. Employee training and regular audits can also ensure that a plant’s food safety practices line up with the documented plan.

April Kates, EAS Consulting
Retail Food Safety Forum

Labeling Impact of FDA’s Nutrition Innovation Strategy

By April Kates
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April Kates, EAS Consulting

On March 29, 2018, FDA announced the Nutrition Innovation Strategy, which signaled their intention to take a fresh look at what can be done to “reduce the burden of chronic disease through improved public nutrition.” The agency wants to facilitate consumers making better food choices to improve their health. At the same time, FDA has acknowledged that in many cases, changes in food processing technology has rendered outdated certain provisions of the regulations once written to both inform and protect the public. Therefore, FDA has developed a plan to move ahead to update its policy toolkit.

This multi-pronged approach includes modernizing food labeling, including food standards, health claims policy, ingredient labeling requirements and continuing implementation of the updated nutrition facts label, menu labeling, and reducing sodium in processed food products.

In particular, in trying to gather information to help determine the best approach to revising food standards of identity, FDA held a public meeting on September 27, 2019. FDA is attempting to provide room in the regulations for industry to be able to use modern and hopefully more healthful manufacturing methods while at the same time retaining the traditional characteristics and nutritional value of standardized food products.

During the public meeting, consumer advocacy groups, food industry trade groups and medical associations expressed many points of view as to what FDA should do to make the more than 250 food standards of identity more applicable to the modern food supply. FDA also took comments on updating food ingredient labeling requirements, including simplifying terms for ingredients such as vitamins. Because each food standard of identity is a regulation, it will be no small effort for the agency to update, remove or add standards of identity as needed. This meeting was a way to get input to help guide their decisions and priority—making for food standards and ingredient labeling revisions.

Obviously, with such a broad-based effort, the revisions and changes will be incremental. But the thing to keep in mind is that it all points to an effort to improve public health through the food supply as well as an effort to impactfully modernize the regulations. What follows is a very brief summary of some of FDA’s recent actions in this regard.

On December 30, 2019, FDA announced the final guidance on Serving Sizes, Dual-Column Labeling, which provided additional information about when dual column labeling for nutrition is required and what exemptions are in place to provide relief for certain products or package sizes.

On December 27, 2019, FDA reopened the comment period on the use of ultrafiltered (UF) milk in certain cheeses. When the proposed rule for UF milk in cheeses originally published in 2005, FDA received many comments. Essentially, ultrafiltration was a means to enhance the speed of cheese production, and the standard of identity cheeses were written before this technology was common and did not permit this type of process. FDA seeks to modernize the cheese standards while keeping intact the nature of these cheeses, and so the agency is eager to learn about what can be done to accommodate the new technology without losing the essence of the standards that consumers have come to expect. Because of the time lapse since the previous comment period, FDA is seeking more information to inform their rulemaking.

On October 25, 2019, FDA released a final rule revising the type size for calorie declarations on front of pack labeling for glass-front vending machines. The 2014 rule establishing calorie labeling for products sold from vending machines had provisions that were difficult for certain products to meet. This new rule recognizes those challenges and was an attempt by the agency to provide a middle ground for the industry to meet the requirements of visible calorie labeling on small packages sold in vending machines.

On August 15, 2019, FDA announced final guidance on converting units of measure for Folate, Niacin, and Vitamins A, D and E on the nutrition and supplement facts labels. The guidance provides help to the industry in meeting the requirements of the revised nutrition facts label.

Regarding updating the “healthy” claim on food products, when this term was originally defined by the agency, saturated fat was the nutrient of focus for these claims. However, since then, there are new focuses on health, such as added sugar and calories. In September 2016, FDA sought to modernize the claim, and provided an interim policy to guide its use.

In May 2019, FDA published a draft guidance to provide enforcement discretion for the use of the term “potassium chloride salt” on ingredient statements. In addition, in April 2019, FDA provided a draft guidance for the calculation of calories from a newer sweetener, Allulose.

As you can see, there are a lot of moving parts to FDA’s effort. What will be the impact on the food industry? Changes will most likely be gradual. Over time, there will be modifications to food standards of identity, and potentially claims, and both of these will cause label revisions. And, typically, there may be enforcement discretion by FDA to allow the industry time to revise their products and /or labeling as needed.

You will see FDA requests for information from the public and the industry on various related topics to the Nutrition Innovation Strategy, and guidance documents will be updated.

Ben Schreiber, ActiveSense
Bug Bytes

How ERM Can Simplify Pest Management

By Benjamin Schreiber
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Ben Schreiber, ActiveSense

Whether you work in food manufacturing, distribution or retail, pests are both a fact of life as well as a regulatory disruption. At the same time, pest management solutions aren’t always clear-cut: While there are a variety of effective strategies employed by pest management professionals (PMPs) servicing the food industry, industry challenges—shifting regulatory standards, a lack of proper documentation and more—can complicate the process. For these reasons, short-term rodent problems can become long-term logistical nightmares, leaving food manufacturers in an undesirable situation when a third-party food plant auditor arrives.

Fortunately, emerging technologies in pest management practices are helping facility managers streamline their food and beverage quality assurance processes, reducing the risk of product loss, regulatory action, improper brand management and more. Specifically, electronic remote monitoring (ERM) allows PMPs to detect and monitor rodents in real time, providing you with important information to help reduce risk and increase audit compliance. As such, the value of food safety pest management strategies that incorporate ERM systems is only growing. Seeking out PMPs who use ERM allows you to invest in technologies that protect your margins, ensure the quality of your product and, ultimately, safeguard your most important asset—your reputation.

Modernizing Pest Management With ERM

At first glance, it might seem like pest management practices haven’t drastically changed since they were first implemented in the food manufacturing industry. Many rodent trapping systems remain similar to their original design: Devices designed to trap or kill that must be individually inspected and serviced by professional technicians. Technicians must then relay any risks to facility managers, who have to determine if additional resources are needed to avoid product loss or audit-based infractions.

Upon closer examination, it’s clear that while pests themselves have not significantly changed, both the pest management industry and the modern food supply chain have become increasingly complex. Food facility managers must contend with increasingly stringent food safety standards, and PMPs must rise to meet these needs with evolving pest management strategies.

In many ways, ERM technologies are the structural pest control industry’s response to these challenges, providing technicians with real-time notifications about rodent behavior and allowing them to make risk-based assessments that identify and treat problems before infestations occur. Unlike pest control strategies that rely on periodic service visits from technicians, PMPs who utilize ERM technology can monitor pest activity around the clock, 24/7/365, in virtually any environment. Instead of monitoring individual traps, PMPs can use ERM technology to know exactly when and where pest activity occurs, including in hard-to-monitor areas such as drop ceilings, crawlspaces, shelving undersides and other traditionally overlooked spaces. Technicians then receive valuable analytics from each trap they install, as well as documentation and reporting, that help managers achieve audit and regulatory compliance.

FSMA and ERM

In 2015, the FDA issued the final component of preventative control for human food under FSMA, officially enacting legislation that requires food safety plants to focus on risk-based pest prevention instead of reactive pest control strategies. As a result, quality assurance professionals and facility managers are often tasked with reallocating personnel toward proactive pest control activities in addition to their day-to-day responsibilities.

In many ways, ERM systems go hand-in-hand with FSMA and GFSI regulations. While preparing for a situation that hasn’t yet occurred can be a costly and time-consuming process, ERM has helped PMPs develop custom pest management strategies that assess and control situations in accordance with FSMA and other auditing firm guidelines. In many ways, ERM can provide all parties—PMPs, in-house auditors and third-party regulators—with a track record of pest history that all parties can cross-reference when assessing a facility.

From Risk-Averse to Risk-Based

When it comes to food safety rules and regulations, the only constant is change. In the structural pest control industry, auditors have historically implemented strict guidelines about trap placement that are frequently changing: For instance, traps should be placed every 10, 15, or 20 feet, regardless of facility susceptibility to various pest conditions. Failure to comply with regulations can result in point deductions on audits, even if the conditions that might lead to an infestation are not present. As such, food processing plants often choose to abide by the most stringent audit guidelines imposed upon them by other parties, such as retailers. By utilizing ERM technologies, food safety and quality assurance professionals can use additional pest monitoring analytics to focus on specific compliance issues, rather than spending additional time and money on other strategies.

Additionally, ERM allows PMPs to focus their efforts not only on weekly service visits and station checks, but also on important tasks, including assessing facility vulnerabilities, tracking rodent access points, and providing consultation and additional management strategies to their client—you.

Approaching the Audit with ERM

Food plant managers and retailers alike know that auditor approval is everything. Because ERM is a fast-developing technology, many quality assurance managers and facility owners are curious to know if ERM is audit approved. In truth, there are many kinds of audits, each with different goals, assessment techniques and regulatory standards. When it comes to audits, the gold standard is not necessarily the assessment of the facility and production line itself, but rather how well the assessment matches records kept by the food production plant.

To this end, ERM might be the answer to a streamlined audit process. No matter what kind of audit a plant is currently undergoing, ERM allows PMPs to provide records auditors need to verify that all systems are working properly. ERM can mean the difference between a streamlined process and a laborious audit, acting as a documentation system that helps officials conduct a PMP-verified “second-check.” This kind of verification is invaluable in an industry where there are already more than enough regulatory categories to consider without having to further worry about potential pest infestations.

ERM-Oriented Solutions

Thanks to the many advantages they offer, ERM and other remote pest monitoring technologies are growing in popularity. Many facility managers appreciate that ERM allows them to assess pest activity, prevent infestations before they occur, gather data that helps them remain industry-compliant, and acquire and share information with additional parties. If you’re a facility manager, quality assurance professional or other food safety decision-maker interested in the opportunities ERM technologies provide, consider starting the conversation about your pest prevention system with your PMP and how ERM might help improve it.

Trust, But Verify

There is an overwhelming consensus in the pest control industry that technology should be developed to provide end-users with more information. ERM systems are a natural extension of this belief, providing each component of the food production and distribution supply chain—manufacturers, distributors, retailers, quality assurance officials, technicians and others—with more data about how pest control decisions are made. Without data, it can be difficult to ensure technician service visits end in greater transparency about the issues facility owners will face as they prepare for an audit.

Fortunately, ERM can help provide the level of trust and assurance plant managers need to feel confident in their day-to-day operations. ERM is an important step forward for manufacturer-regulator relations, which require a strong combination of data, trust and transparency to ensure that communication systems don’t break down. After all, there are many industries in which miscommunication can lead to catastrophic consequences, and food production is no exception.

While each manufacturing facility, processing plant, distribution center, storage warehouse and retail outlet is different, none are insusceptible to pest infestations, and none can avoid audits required to keep them compliant. Because rigorous oversight is crucial for food producers and consumers alike, working with your PMP to develop pest monitoring strategies that utilize ERM systems and other cutting-edge technologies should be part of your larger pest control consideration process.

In the end, the pest infestation that causes the least damage to your product, profit potential and industry reputation is the infestation that never occurs.

Steve Wise, InfinityQS
FST Soapbox

How SQF Certification Can Be a Contract Manufacturer’s Greatest Advantage

By Steve Wise
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Steve Wise, InfinityQS

Well-known food and beverage brands will often turn to contract manufacturers to produce the quality products that their customers expect and enjoy. With their brand names on the line, these brand owners need assurance that their suppliers can deliver safe and high-quality goods and mitigate the looming threat of recalls.

How do they know if they’re working with a reliable contract manufacturer? Well, many will look to see if they hold certifications from a reputable third-party organization, such as the Safe Quality Food Institute (SQFI). In fact, one in four companies today require that their suppliers have SQF certification, making it one of the most important certifications in contract manufacturing.

SQF certification demonstrates that a supplier has met benchmarked standards—set by the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI)—for upholding quality and controlling food safety risks. It’s a form of validation of an organization’s ability to consistently produce safe and high-quality products. Contract manufacturers that have SQF certification are more likely to win contracts and can bid for business on a national or global scale. Thus, it presents a clear competitive advantage to those certified in the various levels of SQF certification.

Certification Tiers
SQF is a three-level certification program, with each tier progressively more rigorous than the last.

  • Level 1: The SQF Safety Fundamentals Program is an introduction to food safety standards for small- to medium-sized food suppliers. Ideal for those with low-risk food products, the program doesn’t meet GFSI standards but establishes a foundation for doing so. Suppliers certified at this level typically sell their services to smaller, local purveyors.
  • Level 2: The SQF Food Safety Program follows GFSI-benchmarked food safety standards. It helps sites implement preventive food safety measures according to Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) regulations, which ensure scientific analysis of microbiological, physical and chemical hazards are applied at each step of the supply chain. This level is ideal for businesses that would like to work with purveyors that require adherence to GFSI benchmarked standards.
  • Level 3: The SQF Food Safety and Quality Program shows an ability to not only contain safety risks through the HACCP system, but also monitor and control threats related to food quality. This highest level of certification is ideal for large-scale producers, manufacturers, food packaging facilities and distributors that have successfully deployed an SQF Food Safety Program and want to go above and beyond in their quality efforts.

While it’s the most demanding of the three, Level 3 certification is what most contract manufacturers should aspire to because it’s required by many of the world’s largest food and beverage brands. In order to attain this level of distinction, contract manufacturers need an effective way to demonstrably meet all GFSI benchmarked standards and readily access their quality data during an audit. This is where statistical process control (SPC) comes in.

The SPC Gamechanger

SPC is a proven methodology for monitoring and controlling quality during the manufacturing process. SPC enables manufacturers to chart real-time quality data against predefined control limits to identify unwanted trends and product or process variations. If there is an issue, timely alerts will notify responsible parties to take remedial action early on, preventing unsafe or poor-quality goods from entering the supply chain and triggering a recall. This establishes strong controls for food quality and safety in accordance with a Level 3 SQF Program. Audits also become a breeze, as all historical data are stored digitally in a centralized repository. Suppliers can thereby quickly and easily produce auditor-requested reports showing compliance with SQF requirements and GFSI standards.

Statistical process control, InfinityQS
Statistical process control (SPC) is a method for monitoring and controlling quality during the manufacturing process. Image courtesy of InfinityQS

But beyond quality monitoring and facilitating audits, SPC can deliver greater impact by providing suppliers with analytical tools useful for mining historical data for actionable insights. They can run comparative analyses of the performance of different lines, products, processes, or even sites, revealing where and how to further reduce risk, improve consistency, streamline operations, and lower production costs. In this way, SPC lends itself to a profit-positive business model—driving additional savings through process improvement while increasing new business opportunities through contracts won via SQF certification.

A Snacking Success

One contract manufacturer of savory and healthy snacks previously struggled with large variations in product quality. These inconsistencies often resulted in quality holds or process aborts that generated high waste and costs. By implementing SPC, the snack supplier was able to take advantage of a wide range of data—including incoming receiving tracking and quality inspection tracking—to finetune its production processes with effective controls for food quality and safety. In addition to a 30% reduction in customer complaints, SPC has helped the supplier realize a $1 million reduction in product waste and attain Level 3 SQF certification, the latter of which has generated continued new business from several well-known snack food brands.

This snack supplier is a clear example of SQF certification as a competitive differentiator. Working with such SQF-certified and SPC-powered contractors is important to food and beverage brands because they can protect their reputations and ensure continued customer retention by way of safe, consistent, high-quality products. Ultimately, it builds greater trust and integrity in the supply chain among companies and consumers alike.