Last week industry gathered for the Food Safety Supply Chain conference at USP in Rockville, MD. The following are some quick highlights of insights they shared.
Most Common Form 483 Observations
Following FSVP inspections, the most common Form 483 observation was a company’s failure to develop an FSVP. From FY 2017 to present, the observation was cited 552 times, outweighing any other observation and underscoring the need for an educational component. – AJ Seaborn, supervisory consumer safety officer, division of import operations, ORA, FDA
Top Citations for FY 2018
Hazard analysis (when a facility is not identifying a hazard that requires a preventive control)
Lack of a food safety plan. “There’s still work to be done on the education and outreach on this one.”
Equipment and utensils (GMP deficiency)
Allergen controls monitoring
Sanitation control verification procedures
Personnel (usually, this is related to a repeated issue)
– Priya Rathnam, supervisory consumer safety officer, CFSAN, FDA
Critical Supplier Questions Must Be Asked
How do you choose and approve your suppliers?
What must be done to ensure that we aren’t receiving hazards from suppliers?
What requirements must be defined?
Does every supplier need to be audited?
Should we treat all suppliers equally? (No, it depends on their risk profile)
How do we ensure that our program is effective?
When working with suppliers, it’s important that your decisions are reproducible and that you apply the same risk methodology across the board. – Erika Miller, food safety specialist, D.L. Newslow & Associates, Inc.
“Before you can do anything to transform your business, you have to have visibility in your supply chain.” – George Dyche, senior director, innovations & solutions, Avery Dennison
“’Compliance’ should be replaced in industry with ‘commitment’…when you’re committed, compliance will follow.” – Felix Amiri, food sector chair, Global Coalition for Sustained Excellence in Food & Health Protection (GCSE-FHP)
Putting the “P” in CAPA = Getting out in front of issues before they happen. “Don’t wait for the consumer to get sick… if you have a recall, it means you haven’t done your work on the CAPA side.” – Andrew Kennedy, director, Global Traceability Center, IFT
On critical success factors to establish a traceability program: Technology will never fix a company’s data quality or process issues. If you don’t already have it defined, you won’t get there. And after you understand the KPIs and goals, don’t give up. This doesn’t happen overnight. Engage your leadership, because the vision has to be from the top for others to also allocate the time and effort. “It’s a journey, not a destination. If you take your eyes off data quality, data quality goes down.” – Lucy Angarita, director, supply chain traceability, IPC/Subway
In 2018, 47% of recalls were allergen related, and this rate has increased. “People still don’t get [allergen labeling]”. – Barry Parsons, senior consultant, PTI Consulting Group (Division of Paster Training)
On the significance of teaching truck drivers the importance of food safety risks: “They are part of our supply chain, and we need to incorporate them. It shouldn’t be out of sight, out of mind.” – Holly Mockus, senior industry analyst, Alchemy
The popularity of cannabis edibles and infused beverages as a socially accepted and convenient method of marijuana consumption has grown exponentially for consumers in states with a legalized market for both recreational and medicinal cannabis. The edibles industry’s success has been met with many challenges however, as the absence of federal regulation has provided little guidance regarding food safety practices. With consumers generally expecting these products to have the same safety expectations as they do with other food and beverages they consume, many manufacturers have elected to follow FSMA best practices to ensure cannabis edibles’ integrity in the marketplace. Proactive cannabis growers, processors and dispensaries are seeking out ERP software solutions in greater numbers to utilize the technological tools and vendor experience in the food and beverage market to establish greater accountability and plan for current and future compliance requirements.
Cannabis-derived edibles are food or beverage products that are made with cannabis or infused with cannabis extract—either consumed recreationally or to manage or alleviate health concerns. Cannabis extractions used in edibles include tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is psychoactive, and cannabidiol (CBD), which is not, as well as many derivatives when speaking of “whole plant” benefits. While there are a variety of edibles including gummies, candies, cookies, energy drinks, teas and chocolates, the defining characteristic of these products is that they are meant for human consumption. Public perception is that these products are held to the same safety and quality considerations as mainstream food and beverage products available in the market. With these expectations and lack of oversight, the responsibility falls on the manufacturer to meet those expectations and ensure a safe, consistent, quality edible product.
Safety and Quality Concerns
An unregulated industry at the federal level has resulted in a lack of consistency, predictability and safety in the edibles market. Frequently, it has been found that edibles don’t always produce the same experience from one consumption to the next, resulting from inconsistent appearance, taste, texture and potency. These variances pose a problem from a marketing perspective, as it impacts brand recognition, loyalty and returning customers. Similar to the food and beverage industry, foodborne illnesses, outbreaks, undeclared ingredients and inaccurate labeling provide further concern in an unregulated manufacturing environment. Specific safety issues of the cannabis industry include extraction processes, mold and bacteria growth, chemical exposure, pest and pesticide contamination, employee handling of products and the unintentional ingestion of cannabis edibles. With the high risks associated with this market, it is necessary for proactive growers, processors and dispensaries to adequately address quality and safety concerns that mitigate risk until the eventuality of regulatory oversight.
How ERP Can Help
Implementing an industry-specific ERP software solution that provides security and standardizes and automates business functions helps support cannabis manufacturers by providing the proper tools to track operations from seed-to-sale. With support for best practices and streamlined and documented processes, companies can incorporate safety and quality initiatives from cultivation to the sale of edible products and beyond. Utilizing the expertise of ERP vendors in the area of food safety management, edible manufacturers are provided with the same benefits that food and beverage companies have experienced for decades with ERP solutions. Cannabis ERP software allows your company to track all aspects of growing, manufacturing, packaging, distribution and sales—providing functionality that manages inventory, traceability, recipes and labeling to support quality initiatives.
The following areas supported by ERP can lead cannabis edible manufacturers to succeed in the realm of food safety:
Inventory Control. ERP’s automatic recording and tracking of inventory attributes, including balances, expiration dates, plant tag ID’s, serial and lot numbers and end-to-end traceability, allows cannabis edible manufacturers to maintain appropriate raw material and product levels, reduce waste, evaluate inventory flow, facilitate rotation methods and avoid overproduction. It provides accurate ingredient and cost tracking throughout the greenhouse operations and supply chain by use of barcode scanning that links product information to batch tickets, shipping documents and labels. Maintaining real-time and integrated information facilitates the ability to locate items in the event of contamination or recall. This detailed level of continuous monitoring mitigates the risk of unsafe consumables entering the market.
Labeling. Accurate product labeling is essential for food safety in the cannabis edibles industry, and its importance cannot be understated. Proper labeling and transparency ensure that consumers are provided a consistent experience and also help to mitigate unintentional consumption of cannabis-infused products. Certain states have enacted labeling requirements to increase accountability and mitigate the misrepresentation of cannabis edibles on the label with unverified, misleading or inaccurate information. Employing an automated ERP system assists with label creation that includes nutrient analysis, ingredient and allergen statements, testing notification for bio-contaminants and pathogens and expiration dates to ensure quality—providing a faster and more efficient method for labeling. Accurate labeling is also an imperative component of product recall planning, as traceability and labeling history documented in ERP software helps to identify and locate items quickly in the event of a recall.
Recipe and Formulation Management. To achieve consistency of products in taste, texture, appearance, potency and intended results, complex recipe and formula management are maintained with a real-time ERP solution that delivers tightly managed control. Raw material data, version and revision information and production notes are documented for each batch. The monitoring of key quality specifications such as THC and CBD percentage, containment and impurities testing, etc. are readily handled within the system and allows for the scalability of recipes as needed. Direct access to the calculation of specific nutritional values, which includes ingredient and allergen information, provides accurate labeling and consumer information for product packaging—a valuable asset in the cannabis edibles market. R&D functionality supports the creation of new and innovative edibles and marijuana-infused beverages in a sandbox environment to meet the demands of this consumer-driven market.
Approved Supplier Relationships. Assurance of cannabis edible safety is enhanced through the acquisition of quality raw materials from trusted vendors. An ERP solution plays an essential role in the process as it maintains a supplier list by documenting detailed supplier information and test results to assure in-house qualifications and potency standards are met. A fully-integrated ERP system regulates quality control testing to ensure consistent and approved materials are being used and undeclared substances, harmful chemicals and impure ingredients are unable to infiltrate the supply chain. Failure to meet quality control standards results in ingredients being quarantined, removed from production and disposed of safely, and indicates that a search for alternate vendors is needed. This detailed level of documentation is a best practice for maintaining current and accurate supplier information in the event of a product recall.
Current Good Manufacturing Practices (cGMPs). As the bedrock for the food and beverage industries, following cGMPs establishes an important foundation for the edibles market. An ERP efficiently documents processes to ensure safe and sanitary manufacturing, storage and packaging of food for human consumption. This includes monitoring equipment status, establishing cleaning and hygienic procedures, training employees, reporting illnesses, maintaining food and cannabis handling certifications and eliminating allergen cross-contact risks. Validating procedures within an ERP solution automates documentation of an audit trail and addresses food safety concerns more efficiently than manual methods.
Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points (HACCP) Requirements. Establishing a food safety team that develops a HACCP plan to enact procedures that protect consumers from the biological, chemical and physical dangers of edibles is a recommended best practice for quality assurance, despite the current lack of federal regulations. Critical control points recorded within an ERP solution prevent and control hazards before food safety is compromised. Parameters within the ERP system can be utilized to identify potential hazards before further contamination can occur. Applying these best practices historically used by food and beverage manufacturers can provide an enhanced level of food safety protocols to ensure quality, consistent and safe consumables.
Food Safety Plan. As a requirement of FSMA, a food safety plan provides a systematic approach of identifying and addressing food safety hazards by implementing preventative food safety procedures throughout the manufacturing, processing, packing and storage of products. With a trained Preventative Control Qualified Individual (PCQI) at the helm to coordinate the company-specific plan, an ERP solution automates and records preventative controls, full forward and backward lot traceability, recall plans and employee training records within an integrated system to ensure that food safety policies and procedures are being followed.
With the growth of the edibles and infused beverage market expected to skyrocket over the next four years, the success of growers, processors and manufacturers will continue to thrive off of technological tools and established best practices. Employing the industry experience of ERP software providers that have implemented food safety and quality control procedures will follow suit of the market and be a sought-after resource when federal regulations are imposed. Proactive cannabis businesses are already experiencing a return on investment in their ability to provide quality, consistent products that meet cannabis enthusiasts’ high expectations and keep them ahead of this trending market.
The old adage coined by Benjamin Franklin nearly three centuries ago rings truer today than ever before: “Time is money.” For food plant managers, there are few greater job challenges than ensuring the kind of operational efficiency that fuels productivity and engenders real profitability for the company.
Every element of the manufacturing process—from supplier intake and product storage to processing, packaging, labeling and transporting—must run at peak performance in order to meet productivity expectations. Factor in the responsibilities of equipment maintenance, personnel management, resource allocation and food safety compliance, and you’re facing a torrent of barriers to increased plant productivity.
Even so, there are some practical changes you can make in order to meet your goals, and they’re not the kind that take months of planning and preparation (translation: more time out of your already busy schedule). The following are six expert recommendations you can roll out this week to increase plant productivity and rectify the inefficiencies that may be hindering your success.
1. Be Proactive
Here’s another valuable proverb to live by: “A stitch in time saves nine.” By proactively addressing quality control risks within the facility, you’re able to thwart more monumental issues down the line, like production halts, recalls and non-compliances. Outcomes like these epitomize inefficiency and often result in severe profitability consequences.
So, what change can you make this week to avert the fallout of a reactive approach? Focus on prevention. It may seem like speed is the ultimate goal, but not if it comes at the price of quality and safety, as oversights in these areas typically lead to damaging efficiency and profitability failures on the back end. Here are some simple steps to emphasize prevention right away:
Revise your HARPC to reflect any changes to date, like new employees or equipment sanitation hazards that have emerged; new ingredients that may pose allergen risks; the team’s pinpointing of ineffective control measures; production flow processes that deviate from the documented ones; and evolved compliance mandates or industry standards.
Optimize your documentation process by trading in outdated, manual processes for a more streamlined and reliable digital alternative—one that features automated reporting for extracting hidden insights and trends that can be leveraged to improve your prevention plan.
Designate a team or individual to revamp the training program, ensuring comprehensive education for employees spanning every department and level of the company. Direct them to develop initiatives that foster a culture of food quality and safety, with ongoing efforts to promote awareness and guidance.
2. Embrace the Value of Technology
It’s not easy to abandon the tried-and-true processes of yesterday and accept a new reality. This is why some plants struggle to meet the demands of today’s highly connected and technologically advanced society. In truth, technology has changed the industry, and the ability to increase productivity in your facility hinges on your willingness to learn the new rules and equip your team with the right tools.
Big data, agricultural tech, management software, augmented reality, digital reporting… the list goes on. These are the types of technology trends that are emerging in the food manufacturing industry and forging a path to immeasurable gains in quality and efficiency. Of course, you won’t be able to transform your entire operation in a week, but one thing you can do right away is open your mind to the potential that can be found in embracing technology. Come to an acceptance of the critical role that digitization and automation plays so that you can identify valuable opportunities to take advantage of them.
It’s impossible to effectively manage your productivity risks without first identifying them. You must be able to facilitate a historical view of disparities in your floor plan in order to determine the areas of greatest risk and/or loss. What factors within your facility are posing the greatest threats to productivity? Consider:
Are they food quality and safety deterrents, such as undeclared allergens, detected pathogens, residue contamination, lack of proper sanitation policies and enforcement, mismanaged temperature and moisture controls, etc.?
Are they related to equipment failures? Is there machinery that requires updates or replacement?
Are they employee elements, like insufficient staffing, human error, misappropriation of resources, subpar performance or lack of training?
The only way to answer these questions is to look at your floor plan holistically, and utilize historical data to identify potential causes of productivity lapses.
Let’s face it, no plant’s processes are perfect, and no organization runs a flawless operation. Non-conformances and inefficiencies will always occur. It’s the ability to focus on these problems and use the data to improve your process that makes the difference between a strong, productive operation and a weak, futile one. Data collection and analysis that highlight hot spots on your floor plan enable you to communicate effectively with your team and execute process iterations that advance quality, productivity and profitability.
4. Print Testing Labels with Sample Details
If your team is manually writing out labels for samples that are collected for testing, there are a number of efficiency challenges getting in the way of overall plant productivity. First and foremost, filling out testing labels by hand requires much more time from technicians and plant workers than is actually necessary. Over a duration, these minutes become hours, which turn into days, slowly eroding the profitability of your operations. What could you save in productivity losses if your workers no longer had to write out labels?
There’s also the issue of often-illegible handwriting and the heightened risk of human error. When the lab receives samples that are difficult to read, incomplete, inaccurately marked or smudged during transit, there are extra steps needed to inquire about and resolve the discrepancies. Otherwise, the lab is left to guess at what they’re seeing, and we can all agree there’s a hefty price to be paid for inaccuracies in this area.
This is a prime example of how food safety software can increase plant productivity. With the ability to utilize auto-labeling for testing samples, all of these productivity impediments disappear. You could begin saving precious time and closing the gap on errors immediately, just by using a smart software solution that enables you to print testing labels.
5. Automatically Assign Corrective Actions
As non-conformances arise in the production process, corrective action must follow. But even with the best intentions, corrective action goals can fall behind schedule or consume so much time and energy that they curtail operational productivity. Without an automated, streamlined approach, there’s likely to be confusion over who is expected to manage a particular action and what they need to do, which precipitates avoidable mistakes and a whole lot of wasted time.
With a food safety management system that allows you to automatically assign next steps to the appropriate individual for resolving a positive test result, there’s much to be gained in terms of efficiency. The right people are instantly notified of their corrective action assignments, with direction on how to proceed. This kind of powerful communication reaps big productivity returns. It also maintains a focus on proactive quality control, the benefits of which we’ve already explored.
6. Use a Food Safety Audit Template
Sometimes it feels like there’s no end to the cycle of preparation required for managing the plant’s continual food safety audits. On the one hand, you’ve got government regulators, like the FDA, USDA and CFIA, heightening compliance enforcement and performing regular inspections. On the other, you’re subject to client-administered audits intended to verify supplier food quality and safety. Then in between the two, you’re tasked with conducting a number of internal audits.
Amid all of this complex data acquisition and reporting, your operations are suffering from the effects of lost time and resources. As each food safety audit approaches, it can be a significant struggle to get everything in order—one that ultimately takes your productivity objectives off course. The key to avoiding this scenario is implementing an organized process, and one of the most effective tools you can use is a standard food safety audit template.
With a comprehensive checklist of categories and requirements, you’re able to systematically address each area of food safety responsibility, survey your team, assemble the necessary materials and pull relevant data. From compiling documents, logs and reports to making visual verifications, a template that facilitates the audit preparation process is a significant productivity booster. It helps you assimilate efforts to:
Verify the plant’s actions for analysis and control of biological, chemical and physical hazards, from raw material production, procurement and handling to manufacturing, distribution and consumption of finished product
Methodically examine all aspects of the plant’s system for maintaining industry, company and government standards of practice for manufacturing, holding and distributing foods fit for human consumption
Review the elements of your supplier verification program to ensure completeness, accuracy and organization, as well as collect proof of your suppliers’ quality systems
Compile information that reflects the plant’s approach to enforcing an expedient and reliable recall process
There’s no reason to allow productivity to falter while handling everyday plant responsibilities. By executing some of these steps within the next few days, you can kick start better efficiency patterns and get your operations moving toward increased productivity. This is the direction in which you should be headed in order to develop greater control throughout the plant and turn time into money.
In a two-question format, the authors discuss pressing issues in food fraud.
1. Where are the current hot spots for food fraud?
Food fraud activities have been known for centuries. For example, in ancient Rome and Athens, there were rules regarding the adulteration of wines with flavors and colors. In mid-13th century England, there were guidelines prescribing a certain size and weight for each type of bread, as well as required ingredients and how much it should cost. In the United States, back in 1906, Congress passed both the Meat Inspection Act and the original Food and Drugs Act, prohibiting the manufacture and interstate shipment of adulterated and misbranded foods and drugs. However, evidence and records of actions taken over those events were not officially collected.
It was not until 1985, when the presence of diethylene glycol (DEG) was identified in white wines from Austria, that authorities, retailers and consumers started to have serious concerns about the adulteration of food and the severity of its impact on consumers. In addition, there was increased interest to regulate, investigate and apply efforts to enforce requirements.
Other examples include the following:
2005: Chili powder adulterated with Sudan (India)
2008: Dairy products adulterated with melamine (China)
2013: Beef substituted with horsemeat (UK)
2013: Manuka honey where it was known that bees were not feeding from pollen of the Manuka bush (New Zealand)
2016: Dried oregano adulterated with other dried plants (Australia)
This list can go on and on.
Lately there have been more cases of food fraud. Fortunately, even limited international databases are helping to identify the raw material origins of products in the supply chain that could be more exposed to adulteration. Also, food manufacturers, brokers and agents are conducting assessments to ensure that they are buying ingredients and products from sources, where food fraud could be prevented. The following products are identified as having more adulteration notifications:
Vegetable products with claims of “Organic”
Honey and maple syrup
Coffee and tea
2. What can companies do to mitigate the risk?
Control measures to prevent food fraud activities include the adequate evaluation and selection of suppliers, as well as the ‘suppliers of the suppliers’. Typical risk matrices of likelihood of occurrence versus consequence can be used to measure risk—and determine priorities for assessing and putting control measures in place. Assessments can be focused on points of vulnerabilities such as food substitution, mislabeling, adulterations and/or counterfeiting, usually due to economic advantages for one or more tiers in food chain production.
Other food fraud activities include effective traceability systems, monitoring current worldwide news and notifications on food fraud using international databases (EU-RASFF, USA- EMA NCFPD and USP, etc.), and product testing.
Product testing is becoming an important tool for the food industry to become confident in sourcing raw materials, ensuring the management of food fraud control measures, fulfilling applicable legal requirements, and ensuring the safety of consumers.
Product testing laboratories offer different kinds of testing methods depending on the required output; for example, if it is possible and requested, a targeted or non-targeted result.
Targeted analysis involves screening for pre-defined components in a sample:
Mass spectrometry (LC-MS and GC-MS)
Nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy (NMR).
Non-targeted analysis aims to see any chemical present in the sample:
Isotopic measurement-determination of whether ethanol and vinegar and flavorings are natural or synthetic
Metabolomics: Maturation and shelf life
Proteomics: Testing for pork and beef additives in chicken, confectionery and desserts
Due to the importance of food fraud for a food safety management system, GFSI published Version 7.1 of Benchmarking Requirements, including subjects on food fraud, as vulnerability assessment. In 2018 all certification schemes have incorporated such requirements and started enforcing them.
Fraud cases threat consumer trust in products and services. Companies are learning to “think like a criminal” and put in place measures to prevent fraud and protect their products, their brands and their consumers.
You’ve heard the horror stories of product recalls: The Peanut Corporation of America in 2009, Blue Bell ice creamin 2015, and Darwin’s Raw Pet Foods this year. Beyond the nightmare scenario, the truth is that food recalls are common—even for companies that take food safety seriously, train effectively and keep excellent records. Yet all of these things, when done properly and efficiently, go a long way to reduce the impact and severity of a recall.
Unfortunately, many food manufacturers, although required to have a written recall plan, aren’t ready for the challenge. Without the proper systems in place, businesses needlessly risk their customers, reputation, revenue and future.
Risks Of Inadequate Recall Strategies
Resolving a recall can take years and potentially millions of dollars in fines, product shipping and disposal cost, production line downtime, lawsuits, and lost market share as consumers lose trust in the company. But there are two strategic errors that can amplify these consequences—and they both have to deal with traceability.
The first problem we frequently see is lot codes not being specific enough. Rather than breaking up production into discrete lot codes so the scope of recalls can be as limited as possible, some facilities just run the same lot code for many production runs. The record we have seen so far is three years! When a recall occurs,this results in a recall of massive scope that can easily bankrupt a company.
The second problem that is even more common is a lack of dynamic documentation. Assembling transactions using disconnected records from different departments can be time-consuming and error-prone. When you’re under pressure from regulators or auditors to connect the dots between an ingredient and customers through complex, multi-stage production processes using such a record system, it can cause stress and potential audit failures.
These two missing pieces make recalls larger, more time-consuming, and more expensive than necessary due to a lack of precise traceability. Let’s take a look at the two ways you can fill these gaps in your system and mitigate the consequences of recalls.
Get Specific with Ingredients, Suppliers and Lot Codes
Streamlining your product lines and packaging options lists is a straightforward way to reduce potential headaches in the event of a recall. The more products and packaging options with which you work, the more complex it will be to pinpoint and resolve food safety failures. Anyway, this type of housekeeping is beneficial as far too many companies have large lines where only a small subset of their products sell well at decent margins. Larger, more mature organizations tend to thin down their lines to optimize for profitability, and smaller companies can often benefit from doing the same.
The next strategy you can employ to mitigate the consequences of a recall is by being ultra-precise when it comes to your records and lot codes. The more narrowly you refine your lot coding system, the fewer items you’ll have to recall. Let’s look at a specific example of how this could have saved two companies millions of dollars.
In 2010, Hillandale Farms and Wright County Egg recalled about 550,000,000 eggs, one of the largest recalls in the history of the United States. Although the company was able to resolve the specific dates and facilities where the contaminated product originated, they had 53 million hens laying, so this level of resolution may not have been adequate enough. Had they implement traceability lot codes down to the hen house level, they may have been able to contain the recall.
Automate Your Traceability To Be Audit Ready, All The Time
The challenge of maintaining an overly broad product line or providing customized packages is that you create hundreds or thousands of variants in your products. When records are maintained manually, it becomes extremely difficult to manage recalls effectively. An Excel spreadsheet may keep a record of everything, but it’s certainly not dynamic or time-efficient when undertaking mass balance calculations.
The key here is to adopt software that you can incorporate into every department. Shipping, receiving, accounting, production—when all the records are kept in a central database, checking and updating those records becomes much easier. But the best systems don’t just centralize your collected data; they automate your data collection.
Dynamic documents automatically update each other. When a supplier changes, an ingredient lot gets swapped out, or products are shipped out, all the connected records for every department are automatically updated. No user mistakes, no failure to update the notes—just seamless, streamlined, auto-updating records.
There’s no better way to track complex production processes, control hazards, and collect all the necessary information necessary to breeze through audits than by using an automated system. With all your documentation interconnected, you don’t have to piece together the puzzle or play connect the dots—it’s all done for you, and that means you won’t waste millions on recalling products unnecessarily because you couldn’t pinpoint the exact path every ingredient took on the way to the customer.
Recalls are detrimental in every way, but they happen, so don’t get caught off guard. A little bit of proactive technology will go a long way in keeping your business afloat if you ever do face the nightmare of a recall.
Do you trust your suppliers? What about your supplier’s suppliers? Strengthening the links within your supply chain can be a challenging task, but it is necessary with FDA, and FSMA, recognizing the risk that exists.
Key topics, including vulnerabilities, inspections & audits, traceability, supplier verification, transportation, and recalls will be addressed at the 4th Food Safety Supply Chain conference from June 12–13 in Rockville, MD. The event will be held at the U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention.
This year’s agenda will be posted by March 1. In the meantime, the following are some topics covered at last year’s event:
Cryptocurrency is a favorite topic in the business world currently, but it’s not the coins or currency that are the star of the show. Bitcoin in and of itself is exciting and promising from several perspectives. However, the foundation of what these technologies run on is much more important. You likely already know what we’re going to talk about next: Blockchain.
To understand why blockchain is considered so crucial, you first need to delve into the core components of the technology. It’s basically a digital ledger, except it has some incredibly useful properties that make it uniquely lucrative. For starters, it’s public and transparent, so anyone with access to the network can see what’s happening in the moment, or what has been happening while they were away. However, the parties involved in a transaction or entry remain private, as do the materials or items exchanging hands.
Finally, because of the nature of blockchain, it’s secured and valid. The ledger itself is thoroughly protected, and no one can alter data save the parties involved. Even then, the relevant parties only weigh in with pertinent information such as time and date of the transaction and the amount transferred.
Most of what we’re talking about here is in reference to currencies and more traditional transactions. But it’s important to remember that we’re merely scratching the surface. As we speak, various organizations are working to adapt this technology for alternate industries and applications.
Still, what does any of this have to do with your average food supply chain?
Blockchain May Evolve the Food Supply Chain As We Know It
Believe it or not, blockchain can help improve the transparency and management of the food supply chain. It’s definitely needed. The world’s population continues to grow, and it’s expected to reach 10 billion by 2050. In food requirements, that means we’ll need to be increasing food production by as much as 70% to keep up. This puts a demand on the food supply chain to evolve and become more efficient, more accurate and more reliable.
The following are several ways blockchain can help achieve better transparency in and management of the food supply chain.
IBM has teamed up with several major suppliers including Wal-Mart, Dole and Nestle to come up with a blockchain-powered system that can be used to track a product’s journey from farm to store shelves. The goal is to create a more transparent deployment and transportation process so that interested parties can see exactly when and where certain foods might become contaminated.
Tracking this information will achieve a couple of things. For starters, public health officials, suppliers and management teams can help limit and prevent contagions from spreading. After the detection of Salmonella, for instance, they could mark all related goods as a risk and stop both stores from selling them and consumers from buying faster than ever before.
Second, it will help identify problematic systems and processes, hopefully cutting down on the risk of contamination in the future. If they know certain foods are going bad in transport, they can discern that it’s something to do with how they’re handled or stored along that segment of the journey. This would further enable them to identify and fix or optimize the issue. In other words, suppliers and retailers will use blockchain to keep food fresh. This is especially important since FSMA calls for reliable hygiene and storage methods during transportation.
More Accurate Inventory Tracking for Distributors
Unexpected shortages pose significant challenges to the food supply chain. A variety of external factors can contribute to a supply block, including inclement weather, poor soil, insect infestations, equipment failures and much more. When this happens, distributors are left to pick up the slack, but sadly, they often can’t do much to fix the problem.
Blockchain technologies, however, make the supply chain more transparent, which helps distributors get the information they need to address shortages. Through the use of blockchain, they’ll know exactly how much supply is available and what they need to do to ramp up their offerings.
For example, in the event of a shortage, they might connect with local farmers to make up the difference. Gathering the information needed to find the right partner, however, can take a long time when using traditional methods. Through blockchain, though, distributors could easily see product types, farming practices, harvest dates and amounts, treatment info, fair-trade certifications and other information. This would allow them ample time to find a suitable replacement or additional partner.
Transparent Safety Protocols
The food supply chain is lengthy, includes a lot of different parties and involves a lot of metrics and details that need to be recorded and monitored. The problem with having so many factors is that it can muddy the waters. It’s hard to keep track of what every party is doing, where problems exist and what improvements can be made.
Many modern food supply providers are as transparent as they can be with partners and colleagues, but it’s not an element you would describe as streamlined or accessible to all. Blockchain can completely alter and disrupt this for the better.
Since food safety is an enormous concern for suppliers, distributors and retailers, blockchain can offer more than just peace of mind. It can help organizations perfect the entire process, improving safety for consumers and even enhancing the freshness or quality of the products provided. Improper storage or transport, for instance, can have a detrimental effect on quality, before the goods even reach store shelves. Blockchain will enable better tracking and monitoring, and make the resulting details much more accessible and transparent.
It’s Time for the Food Supply Chain to Evolve
The coming change is warranted and welcomed by many. A more transparent process means a much more accessible system. Suppliers can better communicate with farmers and food sources. Distributors and retailers can keep a close eye on the goods they’re acquiring and offering to consumers. Furthermore, safety, quality and quantity can be more accurately monitored and measured by everyone along the way. It’s time for the food supply chain to evolve in this way — it’s been a long time coming.
In today’s risk-based world, companies can’t just trust a third-party auditor based on a handshake, according to Melanie Neumann of Neumann Risk Services and Matrix Sciences. It is also a manufacturer’s responsibility to verify the auditor. Watch the following video, shot at this year’s Food Safety Consortium, to hear Neumann’s take on “trust but verify” and the importance of inspection and audit readiness both today and in the future.
Randy Fields, Chairman & CEO of Park City Group and CEO of ReposiTrak, will be featured in the keynote panel on the past, present and future of food safety journey at the upcoming Food Safety Consortium November 29, 2017 in Schaumburg, Il. He will discuss how to leverage technology and an approved supplier program to reduce a company’s risk. Here’s a preview of some of that content.
Everyone in the extended food supply chain, from ingredient and packaging suppliers through manufacturers and ultimately to the retailers or foodservice operators work hard to ensure the safety of the consumer. It’s why they’re in business. These companies also work to understand the various risks inherent in the supply chain and deploy comprehensive and repeatable processes designed to reduce the potential impact of those issues.
Selecting suppliers has inherent risks, so a comprehensive process is needed to mitigate any threats. Without properly vetting potential suppliers, companies may encounter existential challenges without the right tools needed to survive.
One of the most important areas for this risk mitigation is the approved supplier program which helps to ensure product quality standards are met. These programs are also required under the Preventive Controls portion of the Food Safety Modernization Act.
A best-in-class supplier approval process includes certifying suppliers, monitoring external and internal risk levers, continual and repetitive analysis to determine how programs are affecting the business and mitigating risk by planning for potential disruptions. It needs to be proactive and predictive to address the ever-changing consumer and business environments.
A successful supplier approval program attempts to address every foreseeable risk concern, from product recalls to supply chain disruptions. It is typically based on a standardized checklist that includes a comprehensive list of questions to assess a supplier’s food safety and quality systems. Sample questions focus on items like food safety certificates, compliance documentation, quality assurance programs, HACCP plans and third-party audits.
Supplier and product risk assessment is a critical element of the supplier approval program. Companies need to examine hazards that could contaminate products or create issues related to allergies. The risk assessment is usually a scorecard that establishes a series of levels and a baseline under which a supplier is not acceptable.
To ensure accuracy and consistency throughout the onboarding and subsequent procurement processes, companies should have a single repository of supplier information. Having a centrally located database of supplier information and required documentation will not only increase efficiency, it can help maintain compliance and give your organization the visibility it needs to take action. This database should include details on the approved primary suppliers and any potential risks associated with the supplier or its products. The system should have a process to conduct ongoing monitoring of suppliers to ensure that agreed upon standards are maintained.
Once the supplier approval program is up and running, it needs to be monitored constantly or the risks companies are trying to mitigate will return. Managing risk is not a one-time event., nor is managing supplier information. Implementing a process where established suppliers will update their information annually will help ensure companies are working with the most current information.
The bottom line is that a company’s reputation may be tarnished if there is a product recall or worse. Ensuring approved procedures and processes are followed every time a new supplier or product is considered will greatly help to mitigate the risks involved.
Transparency. It’s been top of mind for years. But because of the shift in public’s interest in healthy ingredients and where they come from, businesses are responding by making transparency part of their strategic business initiatives. This includes providing a complete list of ingredients, known allergens and their nutritional information. They also want to know where and how products are sourced and handled. If this information isn’t available, it creates an air of distrust with today’s savvy consumers.
This information is becoming increasingly mandatory, not just because of FSMA and other regulations but because customers are demanding it. With globalization and increased imports from foreign suppliers, regulations as well as consumer expectations for food quality and safety has dramatically risen in the past few years. It is now one of the most critical ways you can earn consumer trust and loyalty. Here are three ways to incorporate transparency into your business plan.
1. Supplier Engagement Makes Good Business Sense
To offer transparency to customers, you must engage with your suppliers. You can’t offer your consumers the transparency they are demanding if you are not getting the information from your suppliers. Plus, it is critical to know who your suppliers’ suppliers are to mitigate risk.
Leveraging a supplier management technology solution will save you time by automating processes such as supplier onboarding and will help you keep track of documents, certificates and audits that you require.
It also helps support supplier communications so you can establish an open dialogue, which is critical when problems arise. You can’t expect a supplier to fulfill your requirements around safety and brand promise if you aren’t open about your expectations. It’s a two-way relationship that can make a huge difference in your business.
2. Label Transparency
FoodLogiQ recently published a survey that revealed supply chain transparency by food companies is a critical driver in consumer purchasing decisions and brand loyalty. Fifty-four percent of respondents want as much information as possible on the label, and nearly 40% want country of origin, allergen alerts and GMOs all identified on the label.
In this survey, those who identify as “caring deeply about the quality of food they eat,” are overwhelmingly in favor of more transparent labeling, with 86% of that demographic expecting country of origin, allergen alerts and genetically modified ingredients to be noted, and they ask that “as much information as possible” be included on the label (or menu) itself.
If a brand doesn’t provide this information, consumers will look elsewhere for it. This puts companies in a vulnerable position.
3. Building a Transparent Culture and Backing Marketing Claims
Food safety professionals and the marketing department are now working together to communicate their transparent farm-to-fork story. This cross-departmental collaboration will not only meet business goals but the teamwork strengthens the overall business.
To maintain a positive reputation, it starts with being open and honest, and engaging your customers in an authentic way. And once a brand establishes itself as being transparent, consumers are more open to trying other products from that company. Building a culture of transparency that is focused on safety and quality can be an incredible marketing advantage and give food companies an edge over competitors.
A recall, stock withdrawal or a report of a foodborne illness can wreak havoc on a business. But the worst thing you can do is hide it. If a brand has ever been under fire for false information, low-quality ingredients or a major recall, consumers know. They are more informed about your products through their online research and social media. It is better for consumers to receive this information directly from the brand than through a third-party site.
If a company is faced with a recall, it is important to involve multiple business units that each have a stake in resolving the issues as quickly as possible. Include the marketing department in your food safety plan and preventative controls so if you are faced with a recall, you have a communication plan in place.
How to Meet Transparency Business Goals
For food companies to provide this transparency, protect their brand image and earn their customers’ trust, they need full end-to-end supply chain traceability technology to modernize their processes and access real-time data. Centralizing your data creates a single source of truth to make data-informed decisions and remain compliant, all while empowering consumers to make safer, more informed decisions about the food they eat.
The good news is that food companies making transparency a priority are being rewarded by customer loyalty, as consumers are willing to pay more for those products. The previously mentioned survey revealed that 88% of respondents—from all demographics, Millennials to Boomers—were willing to pay more for healthier foods including those that are GMO-free, have no artificial coloring/flavors and are deemed all natural.
Transparency transcends all categories: From restaurant menus to labels on consumer package goods. So no matter what business you are in, implement these strategies to systematically impact on your bottom line and keep your food chain safe.
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