Tag Archives: Supply Chain

Gisli Herjolfsson, Controlant
FST Soapbox

How Supply Chain Digitalization and Data Helps Prevent Costly Recalls

By Gisli Herjolfsson
No Comments
Gisli Herjolfsson, Controlant

Recalls are something that food brands plan for but hope to never experience. They are an important public safety issue, but they also have a significant economic impact as well. At best, a product recall is a benign mistake that causes little more than aggravation and inconvenience for a few angry customers. At worst, the consequences can be tragic, both in terms of human and financial impact.

Industry research conducted by the Food Marketing Institute and Grocery Manufacturers Association places the average cost of a single recall at $10 million. That calculation includes only the direct costs of a recall. For the full, long-term costs, including direct and indirect liabilities, you’d need to further account for the immediate loss in sales, litigation costs, as well as any long-term damage caused from a loss in consumer confidence in your brand.

Consumers’ relationship with food is ever changing. They demand transparency about its contents, origin and safety, and for good reason. The World Health Organization estimates that nearly 1 in 10 people are sickened yearly from eating contaminated food, leading to 420,000 deaths. Consumers have long memories for businesses that poison them. The larger the size of your company and the more attention it receives, the potentially greater impact on your long-term business prospects. With the recent E. coli outbreaks tied to romaine lettuce, food safety is top of mind for consumers, and it is impacting entire market segments.

One of the easiest ways to prevent recalls associated with perishable foods is to ensure that food and beverage products are safely produced and continually kept at the right temperatures. Sounds easy, right? In reality, it is far from it.
Gaining end-to-end supply chain visibility can help you prevent costly recalls altogether. Data that today’s technology provides will be important for mitigating risk and protecting a brand’s reputation.

Get Proactive

The idea of prevention is paramount to FSMA. It’s clear that the FDA expects that once a producer or supplier discovers that something has gone wrong, they go back and figure out exactly what happened so that they can put measures in place to prevent it from happening again.

While current FDA guidelines and various EU safety regulations generally require that food can be tracked one step up and one step down the supply chain, this remains a very siloed approach to traceability and is open to risks—risks that producers, food retailers and restaurant brands cannot afford to take.

For USDA-regulated products, HACCP employs a similar process. Prevention is key, and if your monitoring measures miss an issue that could compromise food safety, you’ll need to go back and determine the root cause of the problem.
A cold food manufacturer can do a lot to control risks under its own roof, but how do you avoid costly recalls with ingredients or with temperature abuse after a product leaves the facility? Regulations or not, knowing where your ingredients and food products come from and being assured of their safety is critical in protecting your brand and company from the financial and reputational damage caused by a food recall.

Looking forward in the supply chain, maintaining the cold chain is necessary for many products, including fresh produce, frozen and deep frozen foods, and also those that must be kept at room temperature but still require temperature control. Even if you and your suppliers are incredibly careful and practice prudent safety measures, you may not have full visibility over who else is handling your products. If temperature mishandling by someone else necessitates a food recall or results in a food safety incident, it is still associated with your brand, even if you weren’t the direct culprit.

For many food retailer and restaurant chains, it is common practice for them to share their internal food safety guidelines with their suppliers and partners, and require that they prove a product’s source of origin, lifespan, how those products are stored and transported from point A to point B, as well as the environmental conditions in which foods are kept. Allowing suppliers and logistics partners to self-manage their supply chain does nothing to proactively ensure that they and a food brand aren’t in the headlines due to a food safety incident.

Digitally Connect the Supply Chain

This is where technology and data can play a critical role in managing your temperature-controlled food and beverage products. More and more food enterprises are utilizing Internet of Things (IoT) technologies that talk to the internet so they can collect supply chain data into dashboards and access it on demand.

IoT can be considered as a central nervous system for the supply chain. Through IoT, you can track shipments or trace temperature, moisture or other factors that can have an impact on food quality. Not only can you discover problems more rapidly with this technology, you can narrow the scope of recall. For businesses transporting temperature-sensitive products, this means they can manage product movement data in real-time and respond to issues before they lead to a food safety incident or product waste.

From a food production standpoint, IoT solutions can substantially reduce recalls from issues like labeling, processing and contamination. One of the primary causes of a food recall is microbiological in nature, with the majority of cases involving fruits and produce. IoT data can help detect issues further upstream in the supply chain and, since products will change hands several times before they reach a consumer, it can give you a complete picture of the product’s lifecycle—something that cannot be done with clipboards and ad hoc or periodic inspections.

Through cloud technology, food businesses can connect their end-to-end supply chain, analyze data, discover trends, illuminate weak points and directly respond to them to improve their overall processes.

Track and Trace Everything

Continuous and consistent tracking and tracing through technology not only simplifies recalls, it helps prevent them altogether. The only thing worse than being faced with a food recall is not knowing which products are affected or where exactly they are located.

Real-time temperature monitoring and product movement traceability technology can give you the confidence that foods are continuously kept at their required temperatures and remain safe for consumption. When you need to track and trace an ingredient or product, time is often of the essence. Delays may mean more resources and efforts are spent in producing something that may be rejected, or worse, recalled, or that the potentially impacted product isn’t isolated in time.

The digital integration of suppliers and other partners is vital if a food enterprise wants to have more control over its cold chain. Consumer demand for social responsibility and ethical business operations means that businesses need to provide greater visibility and transparency into the origins of their products. With today’s supply chains, having data—essentially, a horizontal IT layer that lets people share and access data—removes the barriers of communication among stakeholders.
IoT serves as a tool to remove the barriers to collaboration between food manufacturers, food logistics businesses, restaurant and food retail chains, regulatory agencies, and the end consumer. It increases the transparency of information and helps to deliver better products throughout the food supply chain.

Get Started

Acknowledging that most food companies have limited resources, food brands can still face their efforts only on the suppliers and customers that are of the greatest concern. Often this means looking at the combination of “high-risk product” with “high-risk supplier/partner” and prioritizing that part of the supply chain. This prioritization will help food brands allocate their resources and focus their time and money on the highest risks to their customers and brand. Once they’re able to reap the benefits of a preventive food safety program, they’re better able to justify allocating additional resources to other parts of the cold chain.

While IoT, cloud monitoring and traceability technology has been around for some time, real-time data is now becoming standard. Traditionally, the cost of IoT technology and data infrastructure could be quite expensive. However, different business models like subscription are on the rise, which lower the cost of entry for new prospects and can connect a broader range of products, not only high-value goods.

Although many food brands already have some proactive food safety programs in place, it only takes one incident to lead to a major food recall—even if it isn’t your company’s product—and it can negatively impact your business.
As an industry, food brands need to continue raising the bar in terms of what is considered standard and “best practice” when building an effective, proactive food safety strategy. Utilizing best-in-class technology can ensure the delivery of safe foods to the market, prevent recalls, protect business interests, and most importantly, protect consumers.

magnifying glass

Food Safety Tech’s Best of 2018

By Food Safety Tech Staff
No Comments
magnifying glass

The end of the year is always a time of reflection. At Food Safety Tech, it is also a time when we like to share with you, our readers, the most popular articles over the last 12 months. Enjoy, and thank you to our loyal and new readers, as well as our contributors!

10. Three Practices for Supply Chain Management in the Food Industry

By Kevin Hill, Quality Scales Unlimited

9. Food Investigations: Microanalytical Methods Find Foreign Matter in Granular Food Products

By Mary Stellmack, McCrone Associates, Inc,

8. Stephen Ostroff to Retire from FDA, Walmart’s Frank Yiannas to Take the Reins

By Food Safety Tech Staff

7. FDA Inspections: Top Five Violations for FY2017

By Food Safety Tech Staff

6. Is There Any End in Sight for the E.Coli Outbreak in Romaine Lettuce?

By Food Safety Tech Staff

5. CDC Alert: Do Not Eat Romaine Lettuce, Throw It Out

By Food Safety Tech Staff

4. Five Tips to Add Food Fraud Prevention To Your Food Defense Program

By Melody Ge, Kestrel Management

3. 5 Problems Facing the Global Supply Chain

By Sean Crossey, arc-net

2. FDA: 172 Ill, 1 Death, Romaine Lettuce E. Coli Outbreak Likely Over

By Food Safety Tech Staff

1. Romaine Lettuce Outbreak: We Knew It Would Get Bad Quickly

By Maria Fontanazza, Food Safety Tech

Food Safety Tech

Call for Abstracts: Be a Part of the 2019 Food Safety Supply Chain Conference

By Food Safety Tech Staff
No Comments
Food Safety Tech

The supply chain is a potentially weak and vulnerable part of a company’s food safety plan. The annual Food Safety Supply Chain Conference is months away and we are accepting abstracts for presentations. The conference takes place May 29–30, 2019 in Rockville, MD.

If you have expertise in the following areas, we invite you to submit an abstract to present at the conference:

  • Food Safety Supply Chain Vulnerabilities & Solutions
  • Audits & Inspections
  • How to Write Supplier Specifications
  • Blockchain Technology
  • FSMA’s Sanitary Transportation Compliance Tools & Techniques
  • Supply Chain Traceability
  • FSMA’s FSVP Compliance Tools & Best Practices
  • Data, Predictive Analysis
  • Recalls: barcode labeling, case histories and lessons learned
  • Testing Strategies of the Supply Chain
  • Supplier Verification Best Practices
  • Supply Chain Risk Management
  • Food Safety Transportation, Distribution and Logistics
  • Food Authenticity
  • Food Safety/Quality Culture measurement in supplier management
  • Supplier Management Case Histories

Each abstract will be judged based on educational merit. The submission deadline is February 1, 2019.

Food Safety Consortium

Making Your Supply Chain Smarter, Safer and More Sustainable

By Maria Fontanazza
No Comments
Food Safety Consortium

How to build a smarter, safer and more sustainable food supply chain: This was a big topic at the 2018 Food Safety Consortium last month. David McCarthy of IBM Food Trust led a panel of experts from the retail side of the industry in a Q&A session about their biggest challenges in the supply chain, the role of digital and how to achieve a higher level of transparency.

What are the main areas in the supply chain where there’s a major need for improvement?

Sean Leighton, vice president of food safety and quality, Cargill: One of the biggest challenges that I see from a supplier perspective is people’s assumptions around what is the supply chain—our mindsets, our ability to talk with each other on “what do you mean by ‘supply chain’”?

Cindy Jiang and Scott Horsfall at the 2018 Food Safety Consortium
Cindy Jiang and Scott Horsfall (all images credit: amybcreative)

What is food safety’s role in the supply chain?

Cindy Jiang, senior director of worldwide food safety, quality and nutrition, McDonald’s Corp.: The supply chain is a supply network; it’s not linear. The most fundamental thing is to ensure there’s no disruption—that the supply chain can provide goods and food product to your customers. When you’re looking at the supply chain, [there’s a] change between the traditional thinking and the digital demand. How do you provide information in an effective way to your customers?

Howard Popoola, vice president, corporate food technology and regulatory compliance, The Kroger Company: Our supply chain means nothing if we aren’t able to deliver safe foods to those consumers in the last mile. Consumers are thinking about the experience that they’re going to have with this product. They’re not thinking about whether it’s safe or not. They’re thinking about the meal they’re going to make at home with the ingredients that they purchased.

The biggest pain point from the retailer’s perspective, when you look at us as being the last in the chain, is in transparency [and] knowing where the products are coming from. Transparency is very big for us. And it takes more than the retailer to open that door of transparency to the consumer.

What are the challenges you’re seeing in providing transparency?

Scott Horsfall, CEO, California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement: I think a big challenge right now and in the future is communication.

Leighton: I think the winners….are going to be the ones that try to achieve consumer trust. The future is no place for the three ring binders…it’s digital. Where does the data sit? How can you provide access to them through customers?

Howard Popoola, Sean Leighton, Food Safety Consortium
Howard Popoola and Sean Leighton

How does the digital transformation play into providing transparency?

Popoola: The consumers have already trusted the food industry. There are millions of people walking into retail stores buying product. If the trust isn’t there, they wouldn’t be doing that. We erode that trust when [a consumer] has a terrible experience with that product.

How are you seeing digital transformation across the supply chain?

Jiang: Digital is one of the top three initiatives of McDonalds; how do we connect with consumers? When serving 70 million customers each day, how can we get to the transparency to understand the supply—digital is one of the answers. From the supply chain standpoint, we’re looking at the analytics. We cannot think about only one solution. We have to have different solutions to get the end results.

Popoola: I think the food industry has to see itself as a big ecosystem. If we don’t see ourselves as an ecosystem that strives for the one thing,… digital is always going to be a mirage. We have to look at what is digital and understand the fact that [we have large and small companies]. It’s not going to be one size fits all.

How long will it take the food industry to get to a completely digital operation?

Jiang: Looking at the total industry digitized—the majority of the work can be done within the next five years, [by] looking at leading companies. But in terms of total digitalization of the ood network in the U.S., I think that will take another 10 to 20 years.

Food Safety Consortium
(left to right) Howard Poopola, Sean Leighton, Cindy Jiang, Scott Horsfall and David McCarthy discuss supply chain challenges during the 2018 Food Safety Consortium

Horsfall: I think there’s a challenge with much of the farm community to get to this point. There’s also this issue with how you transmit the information. [Horsfall predicts] 10-15 years for the industry.

Leighton: Even a 100% digitized food industry has limited value if the players in the industry can’t pull together to deliver meaningful insights from it all.

What are the most promising innovations solving transparency?

Jiang: When looking at innovation, not just technology (technology is an enabler)— the most impactful innovation is human innovation: How can we work together? The GFSI platform started 20 years ago, and now it’s so impactful around the globe. [Now we’re] looking at how to harmonize food safety standards.

How can we standardize and harmonize… for ingredient suppliers?
How [can we] use the GS1 platform, numbering system to track on where the ingredient is coming from and how that product is made for us—what’s in my product?

Think about the human collaboration and how to improve where we’re at.

Poopola: I would like to tackle this from a different perspective: When we built technologies (whether off-the-shelf or customized) 20 years ago, we thought [it would be around for] the next 100 years. It’s clear today that the technology you have in place might be obsolete in five years. We have to look at the technology we’re building and acquiring today: Will it be relevant in five years?

Leighton: It’s hard to wrap my head around…deep learning and AI [artificial intelligence]. The insights we can gain from machine learning and predictive analytics. Could AI be human’s last invention?

Horsfall: In produce industry, which hasn’t always been in the front, I think that’s changing. [We’re] trying to bring AI and new technology to bear.

Bryan Cohn, Foodlogiq

Managing Risk and Traceability in the Supply Chain

By Food Safety Tech Staff
No Comments
Bryan Cohn, Foodlogiq

Traceability and risk management go hand-in-hand. In a Q&A with Food Safety Tech, Bryan Cohn, food safety solution engineer at FoodLogiQ, shares his thoughts on risk and the critical role of communication.

Food Safety Tech: What does risk analysis mean in a complex supply chain?

Bryan Cohn: Risk analysis means the same thing it has always meant. The concept of risk is elemental; it transcends all of humanity and is rooted deep within our very DNA. Sure, we’ve added tools and technology to help us, but we still can not see into the future; thus, there will always be a risk. The best way to perceive, evaluate and comprehend risk in a complex world is faster and more accurate communications.

FST: Why is communication critical to avoid or mitigate risks within the supply chain?

Cohn: Let’s use an analogy here. Nobody likes traffic, right? In the morning when you’re getting ready for work, you might turn on the local news or check your favorite navigation app to find out the traffic conditions along your commute. You know your commute like the back of your hand, and you’re aware of every potential trouble spot along the way. But like most of us, you probably rely on fast and accurate communication from either traffic cameras, local news reports, or navigation information on your phone to give you a real-time analysis of what is happening. So aside from the usual trouble spots, you are made aware of any unexpected traffic accidents, road construction, or weather delays, which allows you to make real-time, actionable decisions about your commute.

If we think ahead – the same way we do about our work commute – and re-evaluate our communication strategy around our supply chains, we can begin to take a much stronger proactive approach to risk analysis and mitigation. If we spot a trend within our supply chain that may increase risk, we can take action before a threat materializes or intensifies.

FST: Can your risk management plan create value in the company?

Cohn: Any time a good communications strategy is integrated into your risk management program, you create value. By soliciting, evaluating and responding to feedback, you will inherently mitigate risk by addressing potential problems before they become problems and identifying new threats in a fast moving complex supply chain.

Tim Lozier, EtQ, Inc.
FST Soapbox

How to Mitigate Risks and Issues in Your Supply Chain

By Timothy Lozier
No Comments
Tim Lozier, EtQ, Inc.

As business becomes more global, effective and efficient, supply chain management is more vital than ever. Even if you’ve optimized your supply chain, uncertainty can cause issues when sourcing raw materials, goods and services, which could ultimately impact on your business, customers, revenue and reputation.

Fortunately, forward-looking risk management can help you understand potential problems in the supply chain and allow you to create contingency plans or take mitigating actions. Supplier risk management will let you ensure quality at every stage, help you prepare for potential issues, and deliver goods and services to the quality and deadlines your customers expect.

An Overview of the Supply Chain

The supply chain is the process through which you source raw materials, goods, services and other key functions from your suppliers. It has multiple facets:

  • Identify the right suppliers and vendors.
  • Negotiate prices, terms and conditions.
  • Place orders with suppliers.
  • Arrange for transport of goods and services to your business or to other manufacturers.
  • Make payments to suppliers.
  • Receive products and services into your business for onward provision to end customers.

If you want to avoid problems and maximize quality throughout the supply chain, you will need to explore each of these areas.

Key Risks to Effective Supply Chain Management

Here are the main risks on the supplier side, and how to manage potential issues.

Poor Quality Supplier Challenges

Risks with poor quality suppliers include:

  • Goods, services and raw materials that do not meet your requirements.
  • Delays in sending out your orders.
  • Unreasonable demands made to your business.
  • Hidden, detrimental terms and conditions.
  • Damaged vendor relationships.

You can mitigate these risks through:

  • Getting recommendations from other organizations that are sourcing similar items or services.
  • Insisting on samples of the items you are planning to purchase.
  • Reading reviews of suppliers and feedback from other customers.
  • Ensuring you have robust contracts in place that clearly define the relationship.
  • Employing a vendor manager who can ensure that relationships and negotiations run smoothly.

Unexpected Prices or Supply Challenges

Risks with pricing and supply include:

• Volatile pricing and potential overcharging.
• Suppliers not being able to source and provide what you have ordered.

You can mitigate these risks through:

  • Locking in guaranteed pricing for specific areas and predefined lengths of time.
  • Auditing of invoicing and costs versus agreements and contracts.
  • Getting backup suppliers in place if your original supplier has a supply issue.
  • Guaranteeing with the supplier that they will hold a certain amount of inventory for your specific needs.
  • Insisting on regular reports of stock levels that you can draw down from.

Cultural, Environmental and Economic Challenges

Risks with culture, environment and the economy include:

  • Language and cultural barriers with suppliers leading to misunderstanding.
  • Local laws that impact on a supplier’s ability to meet your needs.
  • Environmental factors like natural disasters
  • Unstable political movements.
  • Societal unrest and conflict.

You can mitigate these risks through:

  • Getting backup suppliers in place if your original supplier has a supply issue.
  • Using local expertise to understand and deal with any potential legal or political issues.
  • Creating a contingency plan in the event of a natural disaster or economic issues.
  • Using a relationship manager who can understand and deal with differences in language and culture.

Transportation and Distribution Challenges

Risks with transportation and distribution include:

  • Inefficient logistics and distribution, leading to delays or loss.
  • Unexpected costs of transportation, import and export, including tariffs and customs.

You can mitigate these risks through:

  • Getting backup distributors in place if your original distributor has an issue.
  • Reading reviews of distributors and feedback from other customers.
  • Ensuring you have robust contracts in place that clearly define the relationship.
  • Understanding potential costs throughout the supply chain.
  • Creating a contingency plan in the event of supplier issues.

Examples of Supply Chain Risks and Issues in the Food Industry

Let’s dig into some potential risks to food supply chains, and how you might mitigate them.

Unusual Weather Patterns Lead to Smaller Harvests and Lower Yields
Food manufacturers rely on a steady supply of raw materials to make the products consumers eat every day. However, weather and climate can be anything other than predictable, and have several associated risks. Potential mitigation plans include:

  • Identifying early climate trends that could impact a region and seeking out alternative sources.
  • Having backup contracts with other suppliers if the crops from one region fail to meet appropriate yields.
  • Developing alternative products that use fewer of a particular type of raw material or ingredient.
  • Stockpiling vital ingredients in secure, long-term storage.

Tariffs Impact Import and Export Prices
Political uncertainty can result in increased customs tariffs to trade in certain goods. Potential mitigation plans include:

  • Importing or exporting a surplus of goods before the tariffs come into effect.
  • Seeking out alternative routes for food supply chains that do not go through impacted countries.
  • Diversifying into food production that’s not impacted by specific tariffs.
  • Moving part of manufacturing to regions not affected by tariffs.

Unexpected Production Issues Impact Food Safety
Food safety is critical to consumer confidence and a food manufacturer’s reputation. Despite stringent quality in the ingredient and manufacturing process, the global food supply chain can sometimes introduce contamination or other risks. Potential mitigation plans include:

  • Clear, objective, verified, regular testing of all raw ingredients, independent of origin, type or destination.
  • Labeling, batch numbers and other identifiers so all goods can be tracked through the supply chain to allow for easy identification of contaminant sources.
  • st recall process so any products that are in stores can be easily removed and returned for testing.
  • Exceeding FDA regulations and guidelines for safe food manufacturing.

When you’re managing risk in the supply chain, it is vital to capture all potential issues and prioritize them in terms of likelihood, impact and any other variables that are critical to your business. You can then get risk mitigation plans in place, and ensure your stakeholders and cross-functional teams have the resources they need to resolve your supply chain risks.

Melanie Bradley, Partech

Tech Spotlight: Using Technology to Improve Processes in the Supply Chain

By Melanie Bradley
No Comments
Melanie Bradley, Partech

Whether driven by regulatory factors or brand protection, the food industry has adopted advanced monitoring and management technologies to maintain and support modern day food safety cultures and operations within companies. This type of technology utilizes checklists and sensors designed to monitor and gather data. Typically, these are built into handheld devices that store collected information in the cloud. The stored data is instantly accessible for management to monitor. Additionally, the FDA demands that two years worth of records be on hand during an inspection. Instead of sorting through copious piles and file drawers of paper, the information can be pulled directly from the database and presented to the inspectors.

In an effort to improve the operation, food companies should adopt new processes to be proactive and ditch the old days of manually tracking and recording temperature data. Utilizing this type of technology ensures consistency, transparency and quality. Not to mention the increase in efficiency and savings over time.

Perhaps the most powerful technological methodology to implement is using the Internet of Things (IoT) to improve processes in the supply chain. How is IoT relevant for a food safety strategy? In an integrated approach to food safety, IoT temperature sensors dispersed throughout the cold and hot food chain, coupled with a food safety/task management system for taking HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points) required food safety temperature measurements, provides unprecedented visibility and traceability, for an end-to-end food safety strategy for grocery stores or restaurants. It’s worth noting that customers are not necessarily looking for an IoT solution when they start the process for acquiring a solution for monitoring coolers/freezers or grills, but for an automated temperature monitoring system whose data is cloud-based and just so happens to be available via the internet.

Data from IoT sensors dispersed through the food chain is continually collected and analyzed to ensure temperatures do not exceed pre-defined limits. These limits are based upon HACCP guidelines. The collected data is then subsequently stored electronically for a period specified by the user, typically up to two years from the collection date per FSMA regulations. If a temperature measurement falls outside pre-defined limits, an alert via text or SMS can be sent to the end-user for corrective actions. Recent developments in IoT have also coupled active monitoring with predictive analytics to determine appliance health.

Should an issue occur in the food chain, food safety data would then be correlated with transactional data to not only define when a limit was exceeded, but to potentially trace the impact to the consumer or in- store sales/profitability. Additionally, high or low sales of a specific item could also be equated to how the item is prepared.

Utilizing checklists that guide operational efficiency, powered by IoT technologies is not only limited to food safety. The capabilities of IoT can be deployed for task management or facilities maintenance practices such as entry/exit applications, facility maintenance/sweep logs, CO2 sensing (beverage and condiment), customer queue length for ordering or check out and incident reporting—when the documentation of an incident is required should a customer or employee incur an injury within the facility.

The implementation of comprehensive end-to-end food safety and task management strategy utilizing remote monitoring based upon IoT promises to provide businesses with a new cornerstone for building a comprehensive and preemptive food safety and facilities plan. By meeting the strict requirements of HACCP regulations, companies can continually reduce operational expenses, decrease waste and potentially predict events that could affect the food chain and subsequently the consumer. An integrated approach to food safety utilizing a food safety/task management system with IoT can positively influence all consumers within the restaurant, grocery and food chain realms.

Food Fraud

Food Fraud: How Chemical Fingerprinting Adds Science to the Supply Chain

By Sam Lind, Ph.D.
No Comments
Food Fraud

You would be forgiven for thinking that food fraud is a sporadic issue but, with an estimated annual industry cost of $50 billion dollars, it is one currently plaguing the food and drink sector. In the UK alone, the food and drink industry could be losing up to £12 billion annually to fraud.

As the scale of food fraud becomes more and more apparent, a heightened sensitivity and awareness of the problem is leading to an increasing number of cases being uncovered.

Recently: Nine people contracted dangerous Vibrio infections in Maryland due to mislabeled crabmeat from Venezuela; food fraud raids have been conducted in Spain over fears of expired jamon re-entering the market; and authorities seize 1 ton of adulterated tea dust in India.

Spurred by the complexity of today’s global supply chains, food fraud continues to flourish; attractive commercial incentives, ineffective regulation and comparatively small penal repercussions all positively skew the risk-reward ratio in favor of those looking to make an extra dollar or two.

The 2013 horsemeat scandal in Europe was one such example, garnering significant media attention and public scrutiny. And, with consumers growing more astute, there is now more onus on brands to verify the origin of their products and ensure the integrity of their supply chains.

Forensic science is a key tool in this quest for certainty, with tests on the product itself proving the only truly reliable way of confirming its origin and rooting out malpractice.

Current traceability measures—additives, packaging, certification, user input—can fall short of this: Trace elements and isotopes are naturally occurring within the product and offer a reliable alternative.

Chemical Fingerprinting for Food Provenance

Like measuring the attributes of ridgelines on the skin of our fingertips as a unique personal identifier, chemical fingerprinting relies on differences in the geochemistry of the environment to determine the geographic origin of a product—most commonly measured in light-stable isotopes (carbon, nitrogen, sulphur, oxygen, hydrogen) and trace elements.

Which parameters to use (either isotopes, TEs or both) depends very much on the product and the resolution of provenance required (i.e. country, farm, factory): Isotope values vary more so across larger geographies (i.e., between continents), compared to smaller scales with TEs, and are less susceptible to change from processing further down the supply chain (i.e., minced beef).

The degree of uptake of both TEs and light isotopes in a particular produce depends on the environment, but to differing extents:

TEs are related to the underlying geochemistry of the local soil and water sources. The exact biological update of particular elements differs between agricultural commodities; some are present with a lot of elements that are quantifiable (“data rich” products) while others do not. We measure the presence and ratio of these elements with Inductively Coupled Plasma—Mass Spectrometry (ICP-MS) instrumentation.

Light Isotopes are measured as an abundance ratio between two different isotopes of the same element—again, impacted by environmental conditions.

Carbon (C) and nitrogen (N) elements are generally related to the inputs to a given product. For example, grass-fed versus grain-fed beef will have a differing C ratio based on the sugar input from either grass or grain, whereas conventionally farmed horticulture products will have an N ratio related to the synthetic fertilisers used compared to organically grown produce.

Oxygen (O) and hydrogen (H) are strongly tied to climatic conditions and follow patterns relating to prevailing weather systems and latitude. For ocean evaporation to form clouds, the O/H isotopes in water are partitioned so that droplets are “lighter” than the parent water source (the ocean). As this partitioning occurs, some droplets are invariably “lighter” than others. Then, when rainfall occurs, the “heavier” water will condense and fall to the ground first and so, as a weather front moves across a landmass, the rainfall coming from it will be progressively “lighter”. The O/H ratio is then reflected in rainfall-grown horticultural products and tap water, etc. Irrigated crops (particularly those fed from irrigation storage ponds) display different results due to the evaporation, which may occur over a water storage period.

Sulphur (S) has several sources (including anthropogenic) but is often related to distance from the sea (“the sea spray effect”).

Analysis of light isotopes is undertaken with specialist equipment (Isotope Ratio Mass Spectrometry, IRMS), with a variety of methods, depending on product and fraction of complex mixtures.

Regardless of the chemical parameter used, a fingerprinting test-and-audit approach requires a suitable reference database and a set of decision limits in order to determine the provenance of a product. The generation of sample libraries large enough to reference against is generally considered too cost prohibitive and so climatic models have been developed to establish a correlation between observed weather and predicted O/H values. However, this approach has two major limitations:

  1. The chemical parameters related to climate are restricted (to O and H) limiting resolving power
  2. Any model correlation brings error into further testing, as there is almost never 100% correlation between measured and observed values.
    As such, there is often still a heavy reliance on building suitable physical libraries to create a database that is statistically robust and comprehensive in available data.

To be able to read this data and establish decision limits that relate to origin (i.e., is this sample a pass or fail?), the parameters that are most heavily linked to origin need to be interpreted, using the statistics that provide the highest level of certainty.

One set of QC/diagnostic algorithms that use a number of statistical models have been developed to check and evaluate data. A tested sample will have its chemical fingerprint checked against the specific origin it is claimed to be (e.g, a country, region or farm), with a result provided as either “consistent” or “inconsistent” with this claim.

Auditing with Chemical Fingerprints

Chemical fingerprinting methods do not replace traditional traceability systems, which track a product’s journey throughout the supply chain: They are used alongside them to confirm the authenticity of products and ensure the product has not been adulterated, substituted or blended during that journey.

A product can be taken at any point in the supply chain or in-market and compared, using chemical fingerprinting, to the reference database. This enables brands to check the integrity of their supply chain, reducing the risk of counterfeit and fraud, and, in turn, reducing the chance of brand damage and forced product recalls.

Click on page 2 below Related Content to continue reading this article

Chelle Hartzer, Orkin
Bug Bytes

Don’t Let Pests Wreck Your Supply Chain

By Chelle Hartzer
No Comments
Chelle Hartzer, Orkin

In today’s global marketplace, it has become necessary for facility managers to implement more detailed inspection and documentation policies for incoming shipments as part of the larger food safety plan. But plan as you might, pests are adept at infiltrating food products and contaminating shipments. Their resilience and persistence will make you pay, literally, if you’re not paying close attention.

Pest management is a key component of any facility manager’s food safety plan, but understanding how best to prevent pests from compromising shipments—and by extension the supply chain—takes diligence.

Chelle Hartzer will be speaking during the complimentary webinar, Pest Management’s Role in Food Safety and FSMA Compliance, on September 26, 2018
An integrated pest management (IPM) program is the best way to ensure that insects and rodents are kept away from processing, packaging and storing food products. Again, this information shouldn’t be anything new if you’re a food processing facility manager, but it’s important to note that IPM focuses on proactive prevention of pests, to align with FSMA’s Hazard Analysis and Risk-Based Preventive Control (HARPC) regulations. These newer regulations shift the focus from reacting to potential contamination concerns to preventing as many issues as possible. Being proactive is a must.

Aside from the legal backlash a facility could face if found if violating these rules, pest issues can also have a major negative impact on a business’ bottom line. Imagine the cost of even one of your outgoing shipments being contaminated by cockroaches or stored product pests. Now, imagine the impact on your business from consumer backlash if the pest-ridden shipment travels further down the line. Simply put, it’s never good if the pest problems are traced back to your facility.

So, what’s the best way to protect your supply chain from potential pest issues and remain compliant under FSMA and HARPC?

All food safety plans should have considerations in place based on a review from a Preventive Controls Qualified Individual (PCQI). This individual is responsible for preparing the document, with the input of as many departments and people as possible, such as QA/QC, maintenance, production teams, and more. Since pests are a common potential hazard, a pest management program should be included in the plan.

That being said, it’s important to inspect all incoming shipments. Even if suppliers have implemented measures to help keep pests away from their sites and products, pests are tough to entirely prevent and it’s always a possibility some have slipped through the cracks (literally!). Pests are attracted by food, water and shelter, so a truck transporting products to your facility is going to be chock-full of attractants! Carefully inspecting incoming shipments will not only help ensure pests don’t enter your facility, but it will help you and your supply chain partners target exactly where problems may be occurring. Forming good relationships with your suppliers, and keeping communication open can help to manage any issues that may pop up.

The faster pest issues are detected, the better. It’s easier to address a pest problem and more accurately pinpoint where it originated if it can be caught early. Otherwise, pests can reproduce quickly and spread, making it harder to pin down the source of an infestation and to treat it. It’s tough to overstate the importance of open lines of communicated between supply chain partners!

To avoid allowing pests into your facility or sending them to a supply chain partner, implement the following processes:

  • Inspect shipments for pest activity, especially incoming shipments. Some common signs include live or dead insects, droppings and damage to the product and packaging.
  • Ensure packaged products are properly sealed and undamaged before transport, and then check the transportation vehicle before loading product for shipping.
  • If there is a pest sighting, remove any compromised product to avoid allowing pests to spread to other goods or find a way into the facility. If it can’t be removed from the facility, isolate it in a contained area and call your pest management provider immediately.
  • Empower employees to call out pest issues as well by implementing a “see something, say something” policy. Don’t forget to have a pest sighting log, and let the employees know where it is and what to record.
  • Use monitoring devices to detect pest activity levels. Devices like insect light traps, pheromone monitors, and glue boards can be easily placed in shipping and receiving areas as an early warning sign of pest activity.

With an untrained eye, pest issues can be difficult to notice. Ask your pest control professional about a free training session for employees. Most pest management companies offer this service free of charge, and it can be a big help. There’s no reason you shouldn’t take advantage.

The pest pressure a facility faces is dependent on a variety of factors including location, geography and the type of product being produced and stored. No two facilities are the same, which is why every pest management program should be customized to meet the needs of the business.

As a start, the following pests are the most common to find in the food processing industry.

  • Rodents: Rats and mice can carry disease-causing pathogens that can be deposited onto other surfaces by simply making contact with equipment or products. Both are capable of fitting through tiny gaps (mice can fit through a hole the size of a dime, while rats can fit through a hole the size of a quarter), meaning any openings on the exterior of a building serve as a welcome mat to a curious rodent. To spot the signs of rodent activity, look for droppings and yellowish-brown grease marks around corners and along baseboards, as these marks can be caused as a rodent rubs against these areas. In addition, look for gnaw marks around any gaps or openings in walls and on products.
  • Cockroaches: Able to squeeze their bodies through miniscule gaps, cockroaches will feed on just about anything. With a good food source, they can reproduce quickly. A couple cockroaches can become an infestation in a matter of months, especially with an abundant food supply. Cockroaches are most active at night, so if you see one during the day it’s a good sign that it’s time to act quickly!
  • Flies: While less likely to find their way into packaged products, flies can spread dangerous, potentially disease-spreading pathogens on everything they touch. They usually don’t travel too far from their larval food source, but their ability to reproduce quickly can make them a nightmare to get rid of if steps aren’t taken to remove them immediately.
  • Stored Product Pests: There are numerous kinds of stored product pests, but all are adept at thriving in and around products undetected. The Indian meal moth, for example, is a moth with small, cream colored larvae that will eat just about anything. Stored product pests are some of the most likely pests you’ll find on incoming shipments and in storage areas, as they’re right at home breaking into and surviving within product packaging.

Keep these pests on the radar, and make sure to take note of where pests are found and how many are spotted. The more information, the better, as it helps pest management professionals get to the root of pest problems.

Documentation is always a major key. It shows an auditor that careful planning and proactive prevention are points of emphasis, which will be important. Although there are numerous documents to keep on hand, add the following to your list in order to more easily demonstrate compliance with pest related FSMA regulations:

  1. Supply chain program, including suppliers and ingredients.
  2. Receiving procedures, including the pest management program that helps prevent pests from entering the facility on products or through loading areas.
  3. Receiving records, or, in other words, documentation of shipments received from suppliers.
  4. Monitoring records of any captured pests in or around the facility and any corrective actions.
  5. Application records for treatments used in and around the facility.

If suppliers are located in another country, note the requirements differ from facilities located in the United States. The FDA breaks this down on their website, but importing products from another country means a facility must follow the Foreign Supplier Verification Program. This comes with a different set of compliance documents and means the importing facility must monitor foreign suppliers’ food safety plans.

Remember: Preventing pests needs to be a proactive process included in the food safety plan. If you want your supply chain to remain pest free, partner with a pest management company and talk to your supply partners to establish standards for documentation and communication. All will benefit, as you’ll be able to catch problems early and have a better chance of keeping pests from wrecking your supply chain.

Read on for more articles by Chelle Hartzer.

How to Prepare for an Audit at Any Time

Minimize the Risk of Pests by Maximizing Your Staff

 

PattyMcDermott, ThermoFisher Scientific
In the Food Lab

How Digital Solutions Support Supply Chain Transparency and Traceability

By Patricia McDermott
No Comments
PattyMcDermott, ThermoFisher Scientific

Ensuring the safety and authenticity of food is a key responsibility of growers, producers, manufacturers and suppliers. With so many partners involved in the journey from farm to fork, tracking chain of custody data and maintaining a clear, unbroken record are essential to safeguard the quality and provenance of products. However, without proper systems to maintain transparent supply chain audit trails, businesses operating within the food industry run the risk of being responsible for adverse events that could result in health, economic or even legal consequences.

One of the biggest challenges associated with maintaining a clear chain of custody is the need to monitor the flow of raw materials, ingredients and products across increasingly global distribution networks. To successfully track food products throughout the value chain, information on product movements and quality control data must be accessible to those who need it. These systems must also remain compliant with the latest regulations, as well as ensure stakeholders can achieve the highest levels of productivity to meet consumer demand.

For players within the food supply chain to achieve transparent processes and complete traceability, robust information exchange mechanisms and integrated data management systems are key. The latest digital solutions are ensuring the integrity of supply networks by capturing and making available data from any stage of this journey for regulatory or product quality assurance purposes.

Food Safety: A Global Responsibility

The global nature of modern supply networks can make ensuring the safety and quality of food challenging. From honey and juice to yogurt and cheese, tracking the lifecycle of food products is essential to combat food fraud and adulteration, as well as safeguard consumers from harmful food contaminants, such as pesticides and bacteria. Unscrupulous behavior from businesses operating within the supply chain can, for example, cause consumers to purchase products that are not what they claim to be, and even put customers’ health at risk through exposure to potentially unsafe batches.

Given the global expansion of the food supply chain, regulatory bodies are putting increased focus on ensuring that products that pass through multiple channels and regions comply with the same regulations. By focusing on enforcing standards through audits and reviews, it becomes possible to prevent and therefore reduce the potential for adverse events occurring.1 As a result, voluntary standards such as the ISO 22000 guidelines, and mandatory regulations such as FSMA and EU 178/2002, have been put in place to set clear benchmarks for stakeholders’ responsibilities and better enforce food quality and safety.

Regulations such as these require extensive record keeping, transparent audit trails and accountability for all processes. While end-to-end monitoring of one process may be relatively straightforward, ensuring visibility for every process within a complex food supply network can quickly become an overwhelming task. In order to achieve regulatory compliance across all aspects of a supply chain, businesses must be able to integrate their data management systems to achieve full oversight. Moreover, with effective data management tools in place, businesses can organize and incorporate data from all aspects of a food product lifecycle in a compliant manner, enabling them to expand globally.

Integrating Digital Solutions for Better Outcomes

To preserve consumer confidence and brand integrity, businesses operating within the food industry are recognizing the need for automated infrastructures that can manage data, streamline processes, and ensure traceability and accountability for every product. By integrating all monitoring processes into a single system and enabling access to this information via the cloud, the latest digital data management platforms are working to alleviate the challenges associated with operating global supply networks.

Manually organizing inventory management, standard operating procedure (SOP) use, and product traceability can be difficult and time-consuming, especially if operations are on a global scale. Setting up automated processes to manage fail points using a laboratory information management system (LIMS), where they can be itemized and protocols established for potential hazards and preventive measures, can boost speed and efficiency while ensuring the highest levels of data integrity.

Routine food safety testing requires the consistent replenishment of supplies, and the failure to keep on top of inventory use can cause operations to grind to an unexpected stop. Automatic supply level monitoring and automated ordering using a LIMS can eliminate inventory fail points and help to ensure uninterrupted productivity. Furthermore, introducing electronic SOPs as part of a LIMS can define and outline workflows to prevent unintended errors and ensure reliability. Additionally, tracking and logging products using barcode readers throughout their lifecycle gives stakeholders confidence in the products they handle, and can simplify quality control and regulatory review processes.

With the need to monitor so many processes across the food supply chain, there are large volumes of instrument data, workflows and records that must be maintained. Leveraging a LIMS to collect and manage disparate data from all aspects of every process can help stakeholders to streamline workflows. From evaluating potential hazards to eliminating possible issues, having procedures tracked automatically not only transforms processes, but also simplifies quality assessment.

The latest LIMS are able to aggregate all of this data in a single cloud-based system, making this information available at the tap of a tablet or smartphone. Integrating a LIMS with laboratory equipment across food safety testing protocols allows for automated data transfer and increased lab efficiency. Data can be captured from laboratory equipment using a connected scientific data management system (SDMS), which is generated using the approved methods and SOPs available from a laboratory execution system (LES). Interfacing to each instrument using the LES ensures there are no input or copying errors. Subsequently, as process results are entered into the system, any out of specification parameters can be flagged and reported automatically.

The value of an LES within a LIMS can be seen in food safety labs where global demand drives time to market and thus the need for high production efficiency. By giving lab managers control over method and protocol management from any location, the actions of users can be easily recalled for performance monitoring and accountability purposes. And with protocols, regulations and corrective actions defined through the LIMS, labs can achieve faster and more effective decision-making.

Digital solutions such as LIMS are enabling food safety scientists to perform analyses based on readily available SOPs using LES platforms, collect and store data in its original form using an SDMS, and evaluate how the data is being collected, transferred, stored and accessed from a centralized, cloud-based LIMS. These integrated digital solutions offer comprehensive support for the organization of chain of custody data, ensuring full traceability and compliance, and protecting consumer safety and food integrity.

Improved Traceability for Regulatory Compliance

Current regulations are enforcing the quality and safety of food products using well-defined standards for laboratory processes, ensuring the transparency of data handling processes, from raw materials to packaged products. ISO 22000 sets recommendations for food safety management systems and requires businesses to implement hazard analysis and critical control points (HACCP) to ensure the highest levels of quality control and assurance throughout the product lifecycle.

Regulations such as EU 178/2002 and FSMA include mandatory requirements for the traceability of food, feed and any other food-related substance or animal through identification and food tracking programs. Given the unfortunate growth of food fraud, traceability and authentication are becoming increasingly important. The latest regulations are helping the food industry to maintain optimal production practices to safeguard public health, maintain consumer confidence and preserve brand integrity.

Systems that are fully harmonized with these guidelines can be used to maintain data in organized archives, simplify audit trail recording for proof of compliance, and enable easy-access for users to review data. The latest LIMS can support HACCP compliance by automatically alerting users to deviations in expected processing parameters. In this way, issues can be quickly identified, and corrective action can be taken to prevent potentially dangerous products from reaching the consumer.

Digital lab and data management solutions are helping food supply chain stakeholders to simplify tracking, improve transparency and ensure the highest levels of accountability to protect both product authenticity and consumer safety. The integration and implementation of these systems helps to fulfill production demands as well as meet future challenges, allowing the food industry to expand and develop services and checks with the growing global market. Moreover, the potential for food fraud or adulteration is greatly minimized, giving consumers additional confidence in the products they purchase.

Reference

  1. Charlebois, S. Sterling, B. Haratifar, S. and Naing, S.K. (2014). “Comparison of Global Food Traceability Regulations and Requirements,” Compr. Rev. Food Sci. Food Saf., vol. 13, no. 5, pp. 1104–1123.