Tag Archives: Supply Chain

FDA

FDA to Conduct Remote Importer FSVP Inspections, Extends Comment Period for Lab Accreditation Proposed Rule

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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FDA

Today the FDA announced that it will begin requesting electronic records related to import records required under FSVP for Importers of Food for Humans and Animals. The agency is moving to remote inspections as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. FDA stated that in “rare” instances it will onsite FSVP inspections—these situations include outbreaks.

“The FDA will immediately begin conducting a limited number of remote inspections, prioritizing the inspections of FSVP importers of food from foreign suppliers whose onsite food facility or farm inspections have been postponed due to COVID-19. The Agency is also planning to continue to conduct previously assigned routine and follow-up inspections remotely during this time. Importers subject to the remote inspections will be contacted by an FDA investigator who will explain the process for the remote inspection and make written requests for records.” – CFSAN Constituent Update

FDA has also extended the comment period for the Laboratory Accreditation Program Proposed Rule from April 6, 2020 to July 6, 2020.

Maria Fontanazza, Food Safety Tech
From the Editor’s Desk

COVID-19 in the Food Industry: So Many Questions

By Maria Fontanazza
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Maria Fontanazza, Food Safety Tech

Industries across the global are reeling from the COVID-19 crisis. Although we are clearly not in a state of “business as usual”, the food industry is essential. And as this entire industry must continue to move forward in its duty to provide safe, quality food products, so many questions remain. These questions include: Should I test my employees for fever before allowing them into the manufacturing facility? What do we do if an employee tests positive for COVID-19? How can the company continue safe production? Should we sanitize between shifts on the production line? Should employees on the production floor wear face masks and shields? At what temperature can the virus be killed? The list truly goes on. We saw it ourselves during the first Food Safety Tech webinar last week, “COVID-19 in the Food Industry: Protecting Your Employees and Consumers” (you can register and listen to the recording here). Amidst their incredibly busy schedules, we were lucky to be graced with the presence and expertise of Shawn Stevens (food safety lawyer, Food Industry Counsel, LLC), April Bishop (senior director of food safety, TreeHouse Foods, Inc. and Jennifer McEntire, Ph.D. (vice president of food safety, United Fresh Produce Association) for this virtual event.

From a manufacturing point of view, we learned about the important ways companies can protect their employees—via thorough cleaning of high-touch areas, vigilance with CDC-recommended sanitizers, conducting risk assessments related to social distancing and employees in the production environment—along with the “what if’s” related to employees who test positive for COVID-19. Although FDA has made it clear that there is currently no indication of human transmission of the SARS-CoV-2 virus through food or food packaging, some folks are concerned about this issue as well.

“The U.S. food supply remains safe for both people and animals. There is no evidence of human or animal food or food packaging being associated with transmission of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19,” said Frank Yiannas, FDA deputy commissioner for food policy and response in the agency’s blog last week. “Unlike foodborne gastrointestinal viruses like norovirus and hepatitis A that make people ill through contaminated food, SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19, is a virus that causes respiratory illness. This virus is thought to spread mainly from person to person. Foodborne exposure to this virus is not known to be a route of transmission.”

As the industry continues to adjust to this new and uncertain environment, we at Food Safety Tech are working to keep you in touch with experts who can share best practices and answer your questions. I encourage you to join us on Thursday, April 2 for our second webinar in this series that I referenced earlier, COVID-19 in the Food Industry: Enterprise Risk Management and the Supply Chain. We will be joined by Melanie Neumann, executive vice president & general counsel for Matrix Sciences International, Inc. and Martin Wiedmann, Ph.D., Gellert Family Professor in Food Safety at Cornell University, and the event promises to reveal more important information about how we can work through this crisis together.

We hear it often in our industry: “Food safety is not a competitive advantage.” This phrase has never been more true.

Stay safe, stay well, and thank you for all that you do.

Tatiana Bravo, INTURN
FST Soapbox

Looking Ahead: The Digital Supply Chain and Fast-Moving Consumer Goods

By Tatiana Bravo
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Tatiana Bravo, INTURN

The global supply chain is changing. The fast-moving supply chains that power many of the world’s top businesses are being transformed before our very eyes, as companies all over the globe compete to beat their competitors through digitalization.

What we’re now seeing is the emergence of a digital supply chain, with processes powered by innovative and exciting new ideas turned into software.

As we look ahead to the coming months and years, we can expect to see incredible changes affecting the supply chains of all manner of businesses. In fact, we’d go so far as to say that any business that’s serious about competing on the global stage will have no choice but to embrace these innovations and go digital.

So, what exactly can we expect to see from the digital supply chain in the near future, and how might these changes affect fast-moving consumer goods?

Advanced Analytics

The potential of analytics is incredible, particularly when you look at supply chains.

Recent years have seen data rise to the forefront of many business leaders’ concerns. Increasing numbers of companies have started to pick up on the impact that informative data can have on their strategies, and ultimately their chances of ongoing success in the marketplace.

The supply chain is no exception to this rule. As the power of analytical software improves, businesses will be clamoring to gain access to, and make use of, the huge amount of data that’s now available.

We’re likely to see those managing data put under increasing amounts of pressure to use that data effectively, helping to inform decisions that impact supply chain processes and limit wastage. This data will also be invaluable in determining the real impact of critical supply chain decisions and informing future strategies.

The Emergence of AI
AI is the next big thing in business, and it’s set to transform the way the digital supply chain works. Artificial intelligence is now emerging as a hugely powerful tool, capable of helping businesses to make the right decisions for their supply chains.

As the potential of AI improves, we can expect to see its impact felt more widely throughout global supply chains. Look out for AI being used to inform businesses on changing customer preferences, disruptions in supply chains, increasing costs and other obstacles to product delivery. Artificial intelligence will predict future problems before they occur, giving business owners plenty of time to steer clear of potential pitfalls and keep things moving.

AI will also prove invaluable when it comes to anticipating the purchasing habits of existing customers and establishing the value of new leads and potential purchasers. If used effectively, this information could have a dramatic impact on the success of a wide range of different businesses—particularly those focused on fast-moving consumer goods.

Automation of Supply Chain Tasks

Automation itself isn’t a new idea, but the way it’s being used in digital supply chains is.

In the coming months and years, we’re likely to see automation transform the way supply chains work. The automation of processes will help businesses to cut costs, improve efficiency and eliminate any skills gaps by which they may be affected.

Supply chain tasks are being automated with the help of something called robotic process automation, or RPA. This form of automation is even smarter than traditional automated processes.

Informed by software bots or AI, RPA is a significant step forward in the world of digital supply chains. It’s highly scalable, incredibly effective and, importantly, it’s been proven to be hugely reliable. So, even businesses dedicated to the very highest standards of quality are now beginning to automate processes using RPA.

Climate Change Challenges

Climate change continues to be a hot topic in the news, and supply chains are likely to feel the impact of these concerns.

Consumers’ purchasing habits are increasingly led by environmental considerations. It’s therefore important that companies consider the environmental impact of their supply chain processes and provide visibility on these, for those who have an interest.

It’s expected that issues surrounding sustainability will become ever more critical in the future. Inevitably, supply chains will be impacted. Companies making use of digitalization will be best placed to prepare for the challenges of sustainability, reducing waste and making speedy adjustments to their processes as and when required.

A Shift in Transportation

The digitalization of supply chain processes has given ecommerce companies and online retailers the edge over traditional high street retailers. And this has led to a shift towards online shopping, which shows no sign of waning. As we continue into 2020 and beyond, we can expect to see more and more consumers choosing to shop online, and that’s going to have a knock-on effect on the transportation of goods.

Experts are predicting a transportation crunch, when demand begins to outstrip the availability of transport for online goods. This is likely to lead to a shift in how goods are transported, which could well align with changes to logistics designed to improve sustainability and reduce the carbon footprint of products.

Changes in Trade Agreements

Changes in trade agreements between many of the world’s leading economies are likely to impact supply chains in the future. With Brexit looming and trade issues between the United States and China continuing, it’s important that companies remain aware of how political decisions might affect the way they work.

Digital supply chains provide enhanced flexibility for companies, enabling organizations to quickly adapt to changes that could be outside of their control. So, companies that continue to provide a fast and reliable service despite changing trade agreements could well gain an edge over less efficient competitors as time goes on.

Companies making full use of digitalization will be best placed to make the most of new opportunities, and avoid supply chain disruption as a result of changing trade agreements.

Security Concerns

While businesses are beginning to realize the potential of the data that’s now available to them, consumers too are opening their eyes to the data that they share with the world. And this increased awareness has led to consumers being newly concerned about the data they reveal, and how secure that data is once it’s been shared.

Companies looking to make full use of the digitalization of supply chain processes will be incredibly reliant on data to maximize their efficiency. For this reason, it will be vital that companies establish trust with their existing customers and new prospects.

Security measures should therefore be top of the agenda for forward-thinking businesses. Companies that fall foul of security breaches and data losses are unlikely to be trusted with consumers’ data going forward, and this could have a detrimental impact on the efficiency of their digital supply chains in the future.

Digitalization is sweeping through the supply chains of companies all over the planet, and its potential is mind boggling. The automation of supply chain processes has already transformed the way supply chains are managed, massively increasing the speed and efficiency of a huge number of different companies.

In the future, we’re likely to see further improvements to digital supply chains, as companies begin to make better use of artificial intelligence and robotics. Look out for supply chains managed by AI-powered software and RPA, and get ready for astounding productivity from early adopters of these exciting new technologies.

Derek Rickard, Cimcorp Automation Ltd.
FST Soapbox

Up to Speed: How Automated Order Picking Protects Product Freshness

By Derek Rickard
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Derek Rickard, Cimcorp Automation Ltd.

Today’s food producers and retailers are in a constant race against time. This race starts within the four walls of the distribution center, where products must move from receiving, through storage and dispatch—with high speed and accuracy. While the goal (or finish line) is to get these products to stores as fast as possible and meet consumer expectations, speed of delivery also plays a vital role in ensuring the quality of foods—particularly easily perishable ones like fruits, vegetables, eggs, meats, certain dairy products and baked goods.

Namely, efficient product flow means companies can meet shorter lead times and thereby deliver fresher, safer food—with longer shelf lives—to market. It’s a seemingly easy concept, yet many organizations continue to stumble as a result of ongoing operational challenges that slow distribution down, especially in facilities that continue to utilize manual order picking.

Major challenges include:

  • Continued reliance on physical labor with fulfillment speed highly dependent on the endurance of individual employees.
  • SKU proliferation due to product diversification, where facilities must now store and manage more products than ever before in a seemingly shrinking amount of space.
  • Seasonal spikes in business that require order picking staff to work harder and often longer hours to keep up with the influx of orders.

For organizations struggling to address these challenges and meet the need for speed in distribution, now is an opportune time to look at automation. There are now robotic order picking systems that can store, retrieve and move products effortlessly through a facility, ensuring rapid handling and very short lead times.

By choosing to automate, food producers and retailers can realize numerous benefits, including the following.

1. Accelerated Order Fulfillment

Naturally a robotic system can assemble orders and prepare them for outbound shipping far faster than humanly possible. Thus, an automated distribution center is often up to six times more efficient than a manual one. Notably, there are systems now that integrate order picking and product handling in a single solution, rather than separate functions (as traditionally done but which is too slow for fresh food distribution).

Such a system can perform both buffer storage and order picking in one simultaneous operation for significant time savings. Facilities can thereby prepare orders closer to the time of a truck’s arrival, instead of hours in advance. Foods then spend less time in transport and can maintain their quality and consistency. This also helps to reduce chances of spoilage, which in turn cuts back on waste and the supply chain’s impact on the environment.

2. Improved Ergonomics and Workplace Safety

In distribution centers that rely solely on manual order picking, employees have to run up and down long stretches of aisles and lift heavy crates or boxes. In addition to being inefficient, such manual operations make order picking a strenuous and injury-prone job. The risks for injury have only helped further the labor shortage problem seen nationwide, as job seekers show declining interest in material handling careers.

But when automated systems take over the majority of order picking processes, there is less human involvement—which can help fill in any gaps left by labor shortages. Order fulfillment speed also becomes less dependent on the physical capabilities of employees. Existing staff can then be elevated into new roles in managing and overseeing automated systems. These are safer and far more enriching positions that can draw a whole new pool of technical talent.

3. Better Space Utilization

As mentioned, there is a growing trend towards product diversification, where companies are now offering more options to consumers, such as additional sizes, flavors and health-conscious choices. As a result, the number of SKUs in most distribution centers is exploding. Some facilities once designed to house a few hundred SKUs are now dealing with thousands, leaving little room to spare.

Those challenged by SKU proliferation can consider an overhead robotic system that uses high-density, floor-based storage, where goods are stacked on the warehouse floor. This eliminates the need for racking or traveling around aisles. Plus, it reduces the number of movements required to pick an order. Facilities can store more products within their existing space, offsetting the costs of possible new construction. An overhead robotic system can also clear all products from the warehouse floor for easy, hygienic cleaning.

4. Flexibility to Keep Up During Seasonal Peaks

In all consumer goods industries, there are times of the year when demand spikes and orders come pouring in. For the food industry, companies tend to see spikes during the holiday season and in the summer months—times when people commonly host get-togethers.

Seasonal peaks can take a heavy toll on manual warehouse operations. Some try to hire temporary employees to get by, but that comes with challenges in providing proper training in a short span of time. But automated systems—particularly those with a modular design—are flexible and scalable, enabling facilities to adjust their number of robots to meet fluctuations in order volume—during seasonal highs and lows.

A notable example of a food company that is successfully leveraging automation is grocery leader Kroger. Namely, Kroger wanted to develop a state-of-the-art, automated plant and distribution center to achieve many of the benefits discussed above, including ensuring product quality and reducing employee risks of injury.

Built in Denver, Colorado, Kroger’s “Mountain View Foods” facility processes fresh conventional and organic milk, and packages aseptically processed milk, creams and juices. Within Mountain View Foods, Kroger has installed an end-to-end automated system that can store up to 36,000 crates and pick 32,000 crates per day. Cases are picked according to specified sequences on one end of the facility and then palletized for truck loading at the other, with significant storage buffering in between.

Cimcorp, Kroger, Automation
Having installed an end-to-end automated system, Kroger benefits from orders picked with 100-percent accuracy, at faster speeds, which results in shorter lead times and optimal product freshness for shoppers. Image courtesy of Cimcorp.

A warehouse control system (WCS) controls all robotic movements and serves as the brains behind the automation. The software also collects data on each processed order, giving Kroger traceable information to meet food safety requirements. Kroger benefits from orders picked with 100-percent accuracy, at faster speeds, which results in shorter lead times and optimal product freshness for shoppers.

Kroger’s story demonstrates the power of automation in enabling more streamlined order fulfillment. Those that choose to automate can overcome the many challenges that inhibit efficient product flow and thereby bolster their supply chain velocity. Simply put, faster fulfillment means fresher products in stores. And, fresher products are safer products for consumers to enjoy.

Crop spraying, Ellutia

From Farm to Fork: The Importance of Nitrosamine Testing in Food Safety

By Andrew James
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Crop spraying, Ellutia

N-nitroso compounds (NOCs), or nitrosamines, have once again made headline news as their occurrence in some pharmaceuticals has led to high profile product recalls in the United States.1 Nitrosamines can be carcinogenic and genotoxic and, in the food industry, can compromise a food product’s quality and safety. One nitrosamine in particular, N-nitrosodimethylamine (NDMA), is a highly potent carcinogen, traces of which are commonly detected in foods and may be used as an indicator compound for the presence of nitrosamines.2

NOCs can potentially make their way into the food chain in a number of ways, including (but not limited to): Via the crop protection products used to maximize agricultural yields; via the sodium and/or potassium salt added to preserve certain meats from bacterial contamination; as a result of the direct-fire drying process in certain foods; and via consumption of nitrates in the diet (present in many vegetables due to natural mineral deposits in the soil), which react with bacteria and acids in the stomach to form nitrosamines.3

The crop protection and food manufacturing industries are focused on ensuring that levels of nitrosamines present in foods are minimal and safe. Detection technology for quantitating the amount of nitrosamines (ppm levels) in a sample had not advanced in nearly 40 years—until recently. Now, a thermal energy analyzer (TEA) —a sensitive and specific detector—is being relied on to provide fast and sensitive analysis for players throughout the food supply chain.

Regulatory Landscape

Both NDMA and the nitrosamine N-nitrososodiethylamine (NDEA) have been classified by national and international regulatory authorities as ‘probable human carcinogens’.3 NDMA in particular is by far the most commonly encountered member of this group of compounds.7

In the United States there are limits for NDMA or total nitrosamines in bacon, barley malt, ham and malt beverages, yet there are currently no regulatory limits for N-nitroso compounds (NOC) in foods in the EU.7

Developers of crop protection products are required to verify the absence of nitrosamines or quantify the amount at ppm levels to ensure they are within the accepted guidelines.

Crop Protection

The presence of nitrosamines must be traced and risk-managed along the food’s journey from farm to fork. The issue affects testing from the very beginning – particularly at the crop protection stage, which is one of the most highly regulated industries in the world. Without crop protection, food and drink expenditures could increase by up to £70 million per year and 40% of the world’s food would not exist.7

Development of a new crop protection product (herbicide, fungicide, insecticide or seed treatment) involves several steps: Discovery and formulation of the product, trials and field development, toxicology, environmental impacts and final registration. New product registration requires demonstration of safety for all aspects of the environment, the workers, the crops that are being protected and the food that is consumed. This involves comprehensive risk assessments being carried out, based on data from numerous safety studies and an understanding of Good Agricultural Practice (GAP).

One global producer of agrochemicals uses a custom version of the TEA to verify the absence of nitrosamines or quantitate the amount of nitrosamines (ppm levels) in its active ingredients. The LC-TEA enables high selectivity for nitro, nitroso and nitrogen (when operating in nitrogen mode), which allows only the compounds of interest to be seen. Additionally, it provides very high sensitivity (<2pg N/sec Signal to Noise 3:1), meaning it is able to detect compounds of interest at extremely low levels. To gain this high sensitivity and specificity, it relies on a selective thermal cleavage of N-NO bond and detection of the liberated NO radical by the chemiluminescent signal generated by its reaction with ozone.

The customized system also uses a different interface with a furnace, rather than the standard pyrolyser, to allow for the additional energy required and larger diameter tubing for working with a liquid sample rather than gas.

The system allows a company to run five to six times more samples with increased automation. As a direct result, significant productivity gains, reduced maintenance costs and more accurate results can be realized.

Food Analysis

Since nitrite was introduced in food preservation in the 1960s, its safety has been debated. The debate continues today, largely because of the benefits of nitrite in food products, particularly processed meats.6 In pork products, such as bacon and cured ham, nitrite is mostly present in the sodium and/or potassium salt added to preserve the meat from bacterial contamination. Although the meat curing process was designed to support preservation without refrigeration, a number of other benefits, such as enhancing color and taste, have since been recognized.

Analytical methods for the determination of N-nitrosamines in foods can differ between volatile and non-volatile compounds. Following extraction, volatile N-nitrosamines can be readily separated by GC using a capillary column and then detected by a TEA detector. The introduction of the TEA offered a new way to determine nitrosamine levels at a time when GC-MS could do so only with difficulty.

To identify and determine constituent amounts of NOCs in foods formed as a direct result of manufacturing and processing, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) approached Premier Analytical Services (PAS) to develop a screening method to identify and determine constituent amounts of NOCs in foods formed as a direct result of manufacturing and processing.

A rapid and selective apparent total nitrosamine content (ATNC) food screening method has been developed with a TEA. This has also been validated for the known dietary NOCs of concern. This method, however, is reliant on semi-selective chemical denitrosation reactions and can give false positives. The results can only be considered as a potential indicator rather than definitive proof of NOC presence.

In tests, approximately half (36 out of 63) samples returned a positive ATNC result. Further analysis of these samples by GC-MS/MS detected volatile nitrosamine contamination in two of 25 samples.

A key role of the TEA in this study was to validate the alternative analytical method of GC-MS/MS. After validation of the technique by TEA, GC-MS/MS has been proven to be highly sensitive and selective for this type of testing.

The Future of Nitrosamine Testing

Many countries have published data showing that toxicological risk from preformed NOCs was no longer considered an area for concern. Possible risks may come from the unintentional addition or contamination of foods with NOCs precursors such as nitrite and from endogenous formation of NOCs and more research is being done in this area.

Research and innovation are the foundations of a competitive food industry. Research in the plant protection industry is driven by farming and the food chain’s demand for greater efficiency and safer products. Because the amount of nitrosamines in food that results in health effects in humans is still unknown, there is scope for research into the chemical formation and transportation of nitrosamines, their occurrence and their impact on our health. Newer chromatographic techniques are only just being applied in this area and could greatly benefit the quantification of nitrosamines. It is essential that these new approaches to quality and validation are applied throughout the food chain.

References

  1. Christensen, J. (2020). More popular heartburn medications recalled due to impurity. CNN.
  2. Hamlet, C, Liang, L. (2017). An investigation to establish the types and levels of N-nitroso compounds (NOC) in UK consumed foods. Premier Analytical Services, 1-79.
  3. Woodcock, J. (2019). Statement alerting patients and health care professionals of NDMA found in samples of ranitidine. Center for Drug Evaluation and Research.
  4. Scanlan, RA. (1983). Formation and occurrence of nitrosamines in food. Cancer res, 43(5) 2435-2440.
  5.  Dowden, A. (2019). The truth about nitrates in your food. BBC Future.
  6.  Park, E. (2015). Distribution of Seven N-nitrosamines in Food. Toxicological research, 31(3) 279-288, doi: 10.5487/TR.2015.31.3.279.
  7.  Crews, C. (2019). The determination of N-nitrosamines in food. Quality Assurance and Safety of Crops & Foods, 1-11, doi: 10.1111/j.1757-837X.2010.00049.x
  8. (1989) Toxicological profile for n-Nitrosodimethylamine., Agency for Toxic substances and disease registry.
  9. Rickard, S. (2010). The value of crop protection, Crop Protection Association.
Susanne Kuehne, Decernis
Food Fraud Quick Bites

Fraudulent Dinner Is Served

By Susanne Kuehne
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Susanne Kuehne, Decernis
Olive Oil, Food Fraud
Find records of fraud such as those discussed in this column and more in the Food Fraud Database.
Image credit: Susanne Kuehne

Due to extensive opportunities for fraud, the lack of an adequate monitoring system, cost pressures in the industry, and lack of transparency in the food supply chain, amongst other factors, fraudulent food products still pose a significant risk within the hospitality industry. A recent study discusses the food service food fraud vulnerability assessment (FS-FFCA), showing as an example that one-third of extra virgin olive oil samples at restaurants and catering facilities were adulterated. More tools are urgently needed to protect consumers and legitimate operations from illicit activities.

Resource

  1. van Ruth, S.M., et al. (March 9, 2020): “Feeding fiction: Fraud vulnerability in the food service industry”. Food Research International, Volume 133, July 2020, 109158

 

Angela Fernandez, GS1

Can We See Some ID?

By Angela Fernandez
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Angela Fernandez, GS1

Several leading consumer packaged goods (CPG) brands and retailers started collaborating last year to address an issue growing larger by the day—inaccurate product data in the supply chain. They have challenged themselves to better serve customers who are shopping for their groceries more and more with smartphone in hand or shopping online. These companies worked together with the common understanding that standardization is imperative to have a consistent view of product data across the supply chain.

Verified GS1
A new, global cloud-based registry that will help trading partners confirm the unique identity of products. Image courtesy of GS1.

The group led by GS1 and the Consumer Goods Forum focused on the root causes of bad data in the retail grocery industry. Verified by GS1— a new, global cloud-based registry that will help trading partners confirm the unique identity of products—resulted from these discussions. It will serve as a single source for retailers, marketplaces and the solution providers they work with to automatically check core product attributes to help ensure the integrity of product listings.

For these recipients to access trusted data through this registry platform, brands must first provide seven core attributes for an “identification card” for products, similar to the identification card you carry around in your wallet. Much like eye color, hair color and height, products have attributes used by retailers to confirm the product is what a brand says it is. Each one provides a layer of trust to help increase efficiency and accuracy in the supply chain.

Let’s break down the importance of these attributes and learn why they are essential to confirm a product’s unique identity.

The Identification Number

Global Trade Item Number (GTIN) is used to uniquely identify a trade item in the global supply chain. This number is encoded into the U.P.C. barcode used at the point of sale or can be included in online product listings.

The GTIN plays a critical role in a product’s identity due to the way it is constructed. The brand owner selling the product is identified in the number itself in the form of a company prefix, the first few numbers of the GTIN. But over the years, erroneous numbers have plagued the CPG industry. A prefix that has four zeros, for example, is an indicator that the GTIN is not unique and might have been the result of human error. Also, some brand owners have found that GTINs were “borrowed” from other products during the setup process, resulting in duplicate GTINs in the supply chain, often tied to very different products. The GTIN is the key piece of information for a retailer to know they are working with a reputable company and can confidently add a product to their offering.

The Essential Descriptors

Brand name is another important part of a product’s identity, especially in relation to its GTIN. Verified by GS1 will provide a way for brands and retailers to make sure the right brand name is used in connection with the right GTIN. GS1 worked with member companies to set forth a common definition for brand name to increase consistency in the supply chain. It is a name provided by the brand owner that is intended to be recognized by the consumer as represented on the product.

Let’s say your company makes jam. The brand name would be Sticky’s Traditional, because that is what’s recognizable by the consumer. Some contributors to Verified by GS1 were surprised to find extreme inconsistencies with brand names in their backend systems, which caused confusion for consumers who searched online for familiar keywords and came up with nothing.

Product description is defined as a description of a product using a combination of key elements familiar to consumers, such as flavor or scent. The description should be unique so that consumers can properly distinguish it from other products. In our jam example, the product description is just what it sounds like it would be: Sticky’s Traditional Raspberry Jam, Low Sugar, 18 oz.

Front-facing product, product identifcation
An example of a standard, front-facing product image URL. Image courtesy of GS1.

Much like your driver’s license describes what you look like through eye color, hair color, or whether or not you wear glasses, the product description is what the consumer can visually confirm when they look at the package. Another key attribute in the Verified by GS1 identification card, the product image URL, serves the same purpose. A standardized product image clearly depicts the product being sold, and the industry can now align on a common naming convention for the image as well as how to communicate the image to trading partners.

The Necessary Technical Components

The three remaining parts of the product’s ID card are the components of identification most important for machines to read and understand and are less sought-after by consumers. Global product category, for example, is a classification code developed in accordance with GS1 Standards that provides buyers and sellers a common language for grouping products in the same way. It could be used as classifying option for consumers shopping online. In our jam example, the global product category is “10000581 – Food Glazes (Shelf Stable).”

Net content and unit of measure are essential to commonly represent a product’s weights and dimensions. This attribute makes it clear that metrics and units of measure go hand-in-hand—our jar of jam cannot just say NET 18. It needs to say it weighs NET 18 OZ. Either of these attributes independent of each other are red flags that the data is erroneous.

Country of sale or target market are used interchangeably and both indicate the location where the product is being sold. For multinational companies selling products in more than one country, this becomes important to ensure the right language is on the right product packaging to match the target market where it is being sold. For example, one product that has French on its packaging should signify France as its country of sale/target market, while an identical product with German on its packaging should be coded for Germany.

All seven attributes are pieces of information deemed important to consumer satisfaction and serve as a jumping off point for the transparency initiatives being demanded by consumers. While it is only just ramping up in the retail grocery industry now, Verified by GS1 is designed to help several different types of industries confirm product identity. It has the potential to significantly improve the foundational data that will only grow in importance as more consumers shop digitally.

Ultimately, as more data is shared consistently according to standards, incremental progress will be made toward the ultimate goal of cementing the trust of consumers, no matter where and how they encounter information about the products they purchase.

GREG BALESTRIER, Green Rabbit
Retail Food Safety Forum

Solving Food Safety Challenges in Today’s eCommerce Driven World

By Greg Balestrieri
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GREG BALESTRIER, Green Rabbit

Think about this number for a second: Consumers spent more than $19 billion on online grocery in 2019. While this is still a small segment of the overall $800 billion U.S. grocery market, more consumers than ever before are turning to eCommerce for the fulfillment and delivery of perishable goods, positioning the grocery delivery market to grow dramatically, especially as companies like Amazon continue to innovate in this area.

Adding to this, a recent survey found that 68% of consumers feel the freshness of perishable items is the number one quality they look for in online grocery retail. This is where things become complicated, as shipping perishables introduces an entirely new set of quality challenges for eCommerce brands. This is hindering the market from reaching its full potential until the biggest problem is solved: Ensuring food safety and freshness in every order.

This is a double-edged sword for retailers, grocers and CPGs: Interest in their service is taking off, but it takes just one package of spoiled meat or wilted vegetables to potentially lose a customer to a competitor—or even worse, get someone sick.

Today, spoilage and food safety issues are primarily driven by breakdowns in the cold chain, and it only takes one mishap to affect the quality of food throughout the rest of the delivery lifecycle. To achieve optimal freshness and keep customers happy, grocers, retailers and their trusted partners need to focus on three primary food freshness factors: Temperature, storage and packaging.

Controlling each of these issues starts at the warehouse.

Freshness Starts at the Warehouse

For most parcels, such as clothing, books and other commonly ordered goods, temperature control is rarely an issue. However, facilities that store perishable foods have a constant component to manage—temperature fluctuation.

According to the NRDC, cooling and refrigeration inconsistency is one of the biggest contributors to food spoilage and waste. This is because every food item has a definable maximum shelf life, and storing them at less than optimal or constantly changing temperatures can exacerbate and drastically shorten its timeline.

Mistakes with heightened temperatures on items like meat and poultry can also lead to bacteria growth and foodborne illnesses. In fact, the CDC estimates that 48 million people get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die from foodborne diseases each year in the United States, putting a spotlight on how seriously food safety issues need to be taken.

The Need for Proper Rotation Processes

First expiration, first out (FEFO) is a motto all organizations should live by when stocking inventory. In addition, it is a critical process when working to avoid the food spoilage crisis. It may come as a surprise, but not all distribution centers have this type of rotation system in place. This means organizations could send spoiled food to consumers because an item was pushed to the back of a refrigerator during the re-stocking process and unknowingly shipped passed its expiration date. Not only does this create massive amounts of food waste, tarnish a brand and eat into a company’s profits by replacing low margin products, but consuming a spoiled food item can also be detrimental to one’s health.

While it helps to keep these types of costly errors in mind, as warehouse operations grow, there’s no possible way to manually scale this system.

Luckily, breakthroughs in cold chain technology have produced automated solutions that help organizations track everything from expiration dates to potential recalls. These types of technology support the entire cold chain lifecycle and ensure that warehouses and their grocery partners have the visibility they need to ensure freshness from fulfillment to the customer’s doorstep.

However, when the product is ready to leave the warehouse, it’s arguably about to enter the hardest portion of the cold chain lifecycle: Delivery.

Key Considerations for Packaging

For fragile items, packaging is all about keeping the item protected from drops and damage, but for food the focus should be on keeping the item fresh and at optimum temperatures throughout the duration of transit.

Given many grocers outsource delivery, they have little interest in whether food spoils, mainly because they are unaware of the package contents and are more focused on getting the item to the right location fast and effectively.

Yet there are many obstacles that need to be addressed during the last leg of delivery. What is the temperature in the delivery vehicle? If no one is home or at the office, will the package spoil outside in the heat?

For perishables, it is imperative that spoilage rates, delays in shipping schedules and unattended delivery scenarios are important factors in determining the amount of cold pack and protective stuffing that goes into the package. If these factors are not considered, customers could return to spoiled, melted or even crushed perishables.

Getting Food Fast and Fresh

Today, grocers and retailers are bullish on building out omnichannel food initiatives. However, balancing brick and mortar locations while developing profitable and efficient online delivery systems is often more than one organization can take on. While there are trusted partners designed to support eCommerce fulfillment and delivery, few are purpose-built to handle perishable foods.

Either way, in order to see wide-scale adoption of online grocery initiatives, grocers, retailers and ecosystem partners need to start prioritizing the key temperature, storage and packaging considerations and challenges associated shipping perishable foods. Acknowledging these challenges and implementing solutions for them will not only keep your products and deliveries fresh, but they will also keep customers coming back for more.

Susanne Kuehne, Decernis
Food Fraud Quick Bites

Organic Foods Are Growing And So Is Fraud

By Susanne Kuehne
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Susanne Kuehne, Decernis
Vegetables, food fraud, Decernis
Find records of fraud such as those discussed in this column and more in the Food Fraud Database.
Image credit: Susanne Kuehne

USDA Certified Organic foods keep enjoying a robust growth, with fruit and vegetables leading, followed by dairy and beverages. Fraudulent organic certification is a growing problem, especially because food supply chains are becoming more complex, with a large amount of organic food now being imported. Violations by fraudulent organic certification are punishable by hefty fines and can be reported to the National Organic Program Online Complaint Portal.

Resource

  1. United States Department of Agriculture (March 9, 2020) Scientific Reports 9: “Fraudulent Organic Certificates”.
Michael Bartholomeusz, TruTag
In the Food Lab

Intelligent Imaging and the Future of Food Safety

By Michael Bartholomeusz, Ph.D.
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Michael Bartholomeusz, TruTag

Traditional approaches to food safety no longer make the grade. It seems that stories of contaminated produce or foodborne illnesses dominate the headlines increasingly often. Some of the current safeguards set in place to protect consumers and ensure that companies are providing the freshest, safest food possible continue to fail across the world. Poorly regulated supply chains and food quality assurance breakdowns often sicken customers and result in recalls or lawsuits that cost money and damage reputations. The question is: What can be done to prevent these types of problems from occurring?

While outdated machinery and human vigilance continue to be the go-to solutions for these problems, cutting-edge intelligent imaging technology promises to eliminate the issues caused by old-fashioned processes that jeopardize consumer safety. This next generation of imaging will increase safety and quality by quickly and accurately detecting problems with food throughout the supply chain.

How Intelligent Imaging Works

In broad terms, intelligent imaging is hyperspectral imaging that uses cutting-edge hardware and software to help users establish better quality assurance markers. The hardware captures the image, and the software processes it to provide actionable data for users by combining the power of conventional spectroscopy with digital imaging.

Conventional machine vision systems generally lack the ability to effectively capture and relay details and nuances to users. Conversely, intelligent imaging technology utilizes superior capabilities in two major areas: Spectral and spatial resolution. Essentially, intelligent imaging systems employ a level of detail far beyond current industry-standard machinery. For example, an RGB camera can see only three colors: Red, green and blue. Hyperspectral imaging can detect between 300 and 600 real colors—that’s 100–200 times more colors than detected by standard RGB cameras.

Intelligent imaging can also be extended into the ultraviolet or infrared spectrum, providing additional details of the chemical and structural composition of food not observable in the visible spectrum. Hyperspectral imaging cameras do this by generating “data cubes.” These are pixels collected within an image that show subtle reflected color differences not observable by humans or conventional cameras. Once generated, these data cubes are classified, labeled and optimized using machine learning to better process information in the future.

Beyond spectral and spatial data, other rudimentary quality assurance systems pose their own distinct limitations. X-rays can be prohibitively expensive and are only focused on catching foreign objects. They are also difficult to calibrate and maintain. Metal detectors are more affordable, but generally only catch metals with strong magnetic fields like iron. Metals including copper and aluminum can slip through, as well as non-metal objects like plastics, wood and feces.

Finally, current quality assurance systems have a weakness that can change day-to-day: Human subjectivity. The people put in charge of monitoring in-line quality and food safety are indeed doing their best. However, the naked eye and human brain can be notoriously inconsistent. Perhaps a tired person at the end of a long shift misses a contaminant, or those working two separate shifts judge quality in slightly different ways, leading to divergent standards unbeknownst to both the food processor and the public.

Hyperspectral imaging can immediately provide tangible benefits for users, especially within the following quality assurance categories in the food supply chain:

Pathogen Detection

Pathogen detection is perhaps the biggest concern for both consumers and the food industry overall. Identifying and eliminating Salmonella, Listeria, and E.coli throughout the supply chain is a necessity. Obviously, failure to detect pathogens seriously compromises consumer safety. It also gravely damages the reputations of food brands while leading to recalls and lawsuits.

Current pathogen detection processes, including polymerase chain reaction (PCR), immunoassays and plating, involve complicated and costly sample preparation techniques that can take days to complete and create bottlenecks in the supply chain. These delays adversely impact operating cycles and increase inventory management costs. This is particularly significant for products with a short shelf life. Intelligent imaging technology provides a quick and accurate alternative, saving time and money while keeping customers healthy.

Characterizing Food Freshness

Consumers expect freshness, quality and consistency in their foods. As supply chains lengthen and become more complicated around the world, food spoilage has more opportunity to occur at any point throughout the production process, manifesting in reduced nutrient content and an overall loss of food freshness. Tainted meat products may also sicken consumers. All of these factors significantly affect market prices.

Sensory evaluation, chromatography and spectroscopy have all been used to assess food freshness. However, many spatial and spectral anomalies are missed by conventional tristimulus filter-based systems and each of these approaches has severe limitations from a reliability, cost or speed perspective. Additionally, none is capable of providing an economical inline measurement of freshness, and financial pressure to reduce costs can result in cut corners when these systems are in place. By harnessing meticulous data and providing real-time analysis, hyperspectral imaging mitigates or erases the above limiting factors by simultaneously evaluating color, moisture (dehydration) levels, fat content and protein levels, providing a reliable standardization of these measures.

Foreign Object Detection

The presence of plastics, metals, stones, allergens, glass, rubber, fecal matter, rodents, insect infestation and other foreign objects is a big quality assurance challenge for food processors. Failure to identify foreign objects can lead to major added costs including recalls, litigation and brand damage. As detailed above, automated options like X-rays and metal detectors can only identify certain foreign objects, leaving the rest to pass through untouched. Using superior spectral and spatial recognition capabilities, intelligent imaging technology can catch these objects and alert the appropriate employees or kickstart automated processes to fix the issue.

Mechanical Damage

Though it may not be put on the same level as pathogen detection, food freshness and foreign object detection, consumers put a premium on food uniformity, demanding high levels of consistency in everything from their apples to their zucchini. This can be especially difficult to ensure with agricultural products, where 10–40% of produce undergoes mechanical damage during processing. Increasingly complicated supply chains and progressively more automated production environments make delivering consistent quality more complicated than ever before.

Historically, machine vision systems and spectroscopy have been implemented to assist with damage detection, including bruising and cuts, in sorting facilities. However, these systems lack the spectral differentiation to effectively evaluate food and agricultural products in the stringent manner customers expect. Methods like spot spectroscopy require over-sampling to ensure that any detected aberrations are representative of the whole item. It’s a time-consuming process.

Intelligent imaging uses superior technology and machine learning to identify mechanical damage that’s not visible to humans or conventional machinery. For example, a potato may appear fine on the outside, but have extensive bruising beneath its skin. Hyperspectral imaging can find this bruising and decide whether the potato is too compromised to sell or within the parameters of acceptability.

Intelligent imaging can “see” what humans and older technology simply cannot. With the ability to be deployed at a number of locations within the food supply chain, it’s an adaptable technology with far-reaching applications. From drones measuring crop health in the field to inline or end-of-line positioning in processing facilities, there is the potential to take this beyond factory floors.

In the world of quality assurance, where a misdiagnosis can literally result in death, the additional spectral and spatial information provided by hyperspectral imaging can be utilized by food processors to provide important details regarding chemical and structural composition previously not discernible with rudimentary systems. When companies begin using intelligent imaging, it will yield important insights and add value as the food industry searches for reliable solutions to its most serious challenges. Intelligent imaging removes the subjectivity from food quality assurance, turning it into an objective endeavor.