Tag Archives: Supply Chain

Prasant Prusty and Arundhathy Shabu

Foreign Material Contamination: Challenges and Management of Risks

By Arundhathy Shabu, Prasant Prusty
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Prasant Prusty and Arundhathy Shabu

Do you recollect the recall of nearly 250,000 pounds of a frozen chicken strips entree product due to a consumer discovering a piece of plastic in one of the chicken pieces, as announced by the USDA FSIS on September 2nd, 2023? Although food manufacturing facilities often implement diligent foreign material contaminant detection and control protocols, recalls due to foreign materials continue to happen. Therefore, it is critical for food businesses to understand the potential routes for foreign material contamination, analyze the challenges they bring, and employ a comprehensive approach to foreign material control and management, utilizing efficient methods to ensure consumer safety.

Origins of Foreign Material Contamination

The extraneous materials found in the food supply are defined by the FDA’s Food Defect Levels Handbook as “any foreign matter in a product associated with objectionable conditions or practices in production, storage, or distribution, including objectionable matter contributed by insects, rodents, and birds; decomposed material; and miscellaneous matter such as sand, soil, glass, rust, or other foreign substances.”

The origins of foreign substances found in food are commonly classified into five categories:

  • Unintentional introduction from the field (stones, metal, insects, unwanted plant material like thorns or wood, soil, or small animals).
  • Accidental inception during processing and handling (bone, glass, metal, wood, nuts, bolts, screening, cloth, grease, paint chips, rust, and similar items).
  • Substances that enter the food during distribution (insects, metals, soil, or stones).
  • Deliberate inclusion of materials in food (employee sabotage).
  • Miscellaneous materials, such as struvite and other similar substances.

Not all foreign materials make a food item unsafe, but they all can have a profound effect on consumer satisfaction, which can result in negative publicity and decreased sales and regulatory compliance.

Foreign Object Contamination Risks and Challenges

Foreign material contamination in the food supply chain presents significant risks including:

Consumer Health Risks. Consuming contaminated food can lead to injuries such as broken teeth, choking, internal injuries, or illness if the foreign material carries pathogens. These incidents can result in severe health consequences, including hospitalization or even death, depending on the nature of the contaminant and the sensitivity of the consumer.

Regulatory Compliance. Regulations enforced by governmental agencies require strict adherence to food safety standards, including contamination prevention measures. Failure to comply with these regulations can lead to fines, legal penalties, product recalls, and even business closure.

Supply Chain Disruption. Contamination incidents can disrupt the flow of products through the supply chain, leading to delays, shortages, and increased operational costs. These disruptions can ripple through the entire industry, affecting a multitude of stakeholders.

Damage to Brand Value. Foreign material contamination incidents can tarnish a company’s reputation and erode consumer trust. News of contaminated products spreads rapidly through traditional and social media channels, leading to negative publicity and brand damage.

Financial Losses. The costs associated with product recalls, legal settlements, and loss of sales revenue can be significant and have long-term implications for profitability and sustainability.

Despite understanding the significant risks associated with foreign object contamination, these events continue to occur. That is because there are significant challenges in preventing and detecting foreign materials in food products, such as:

Supply Chain Complexity. The modern food supply chain is highly interconnected, involving numerous stakeholders, including farmers, processors, distributors, retailers, and consumers. Each step in the supply chain opens doors for contamination, making it challenging to trace the source of foreign materials accurately.

Implementation of Preventive Measures. Establishing effective preventive measures to mitigate the risk of foreign material contamination requires collaboration, investment, and ongoing vigilance. Verification of the efficacy of the employed preventive actions is often overlooked, which may lead to recurring foreign material presence.

Addressing these challenges requires a coordinated effort across the entire supply chain, with a focus on proactive risk management, quality assurance, and continuous improvement. The fundamental point remains that foreign substances should not be present in food items and hence, processors must create, record, execute, and sustain foreign material control programs to tackle these challenges and guarantee the exclusion of such materials from both their products and procedures.

Prevention Strategies

A foreign material management program is a protocol established to avert, identify, and investigate occurrences of foreign impurities within any food processing or manufacturing facility. An effective foreign material control program should adopt a holistic framework, integrating components that assess potential risks throughout the supply chain and establish appropriate preventive and corrective measures against foreign contamination. Following are the three key components to an effective program.

  1. Risk Assessment & Management in Farming

Food manufacturers and ingredient producers, including farmers and agronomists, must understand the specific risks and proper handling procedures of their ingredients to ensure food safety. Risk assessment in agriculture involves identifying hazards and vulnerabilities that could introduce foreign materials throughout the farming process, from planting to post-harvest handling.

Examples of hazards include contaminated water or soil, improper pesticide handling, inadequate pest control, and poor sanitation practices. Risk management involves scrutinizing farming operations to eliminate points of entry for foreign materials. Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) are crucial for controlling food safety hazards and are categorized into eleven segments, covering various aspects of farming practices. Compliance with GAP standards helps minimize the risk of contamination throughout the production process.

  1. Risk Assessment & Management in Receiving, Storage, and Transportation

In the context of receiving, storage, and transportation, the identification of potential sources of contamination is essential, with bulk shipments presenting significant challenges due to their susceptibility to foreign material introduction. Hazards during these stages can arise from various factors, including handling and environmental conditions.

Supplier approval programs serve to both ensure product safety and mitigate foreign material contamination risks. These programs primarily involve assessing suppliers’ food safety measures, including protocols for food handling and foreign object detection. Buyers can enforce measures such as sieving, screening, or employing metal detectors or X-ray machines before packaging, which should be specified in purchasing agreements. Effective risk management strategies involve thorough supplier verification and monitoring processes to ensure adherence to quality standards and practices. Intervention strategies, such as specific protocols for bulk deliveries, and communication with suppliers are required to prevent and address contamination issues promptly.

  1. Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP)

Good Manufacturing Processes are defined by regulatory agencies and developed to ensure that products are consistently produced following set quality standards. They cover multiple aspects of company operations that may allow for the introduction of foreign materials including:

Personnel. GMP dictates policies regarding attire and personal items for personnel involved in food processing, emphasizing the importance of verification programs to ensure the detectability of items within the processing environment.

Premises. Ensuring the proper condition and maintenance of the physical facility minimizes the risk of foreign material contamination. This includes regular upkeep and designated areas of operation to minimize the risk of cross-contamination. Effective waste management systems are also necessary to eliminate potential breeding grounds for contaminants.

Equipment Designing and Utensils. Equipment and utensils must be designed with materials resistant to shattering or splintering that feature smooth, non-porous surfaces for easy cleaning. Regular inspection and maintenance protocols are required to ensure equipment integrity and minimize the risk of foreign material contamination.

Preventive Maintenance. Preventive maintenance programs address equipment malfunctions before they pose a risk of contamination, with scheduled tasks tailored to the usage lifespan of different components. Timely replacement of parts is important to prevent failures that could compromise product safety.

Wood Control. Implementing a pallet management program helps prevent contamination from wooden pallets.

Glass and Brittle Plastic Controls. Food manufacturers are required to have a dedicated program for managing glass and brittle plastic as part of their GMP. This begins with establishing a policy prohibiting the presence or use of glass or ceramic objects in food processing areas or warehouses. A comprehensive inventory of all glass and brittle plastic items in food storage or handling areas, including their locations and protective measures, must be maintained.

Sanitation and Validation. Thorough cleaning and disinfection procedures are integral to maintaining sanitation standards, with validation processes to ensure the effectiveness of cleaning protocols. Comprehensive testing and verification are necessary and required to confirm the absence of contaminants.

Detection and Removal with Ongoing Surveillance. Various detection and removal methods, including sieves, electronic sorting, and centrifugation, can be employed to identify and eliminate foreign materials during processing. Collaboration with suppliers is key to optimizing detection equipment configurations and calibration, ensuring the removal of contaminants throughout the production process.

Innovative Approaches for Foreign Material Control

With technological advancements, innovative approaches have emerged to enhance foreign material detection and prevention processes. One such approach involves the use of advanced imaging technologies, such as X-ray inspection systems and metal detectors, which can identify foreign objects within food products. These systems utilize sophisticated algorithms to distinguish between desired food components and foreign materials, enabling manufacturers to detect contaminants with high precision. For example, X-ray inspection systems can detect metal, glass, plastic, and other dense foreign materials, while metal detectors are effective in identifying metallic contaminants.

The integration of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning algorithms has revolutionized foreign material control in the food industry. AI-powered systems can analyze vast amounts of data in real time to identify patterns and anomalies associated with foreign material contamination. This enables proactive detection and prevention measures, reducing the risk of foreign material incidents and product recalls.

For instance, AI algorithms can continuously monitor production lines for deviations from normal operating conditions and trigger alerts when potential contaminants are detected. Additionally, advancements in sensor technology, such as hyperspectral imaging and laser-based systems, offer enhanced sensitivity and specificity in detecting foreign materials, further improving food safety standards. Overall, these innovative approaches underscore the importance of leveraging technology to enhance foreign material control and uphold the highest standards of food safety in the industry.

By building and maintaining competent foreign material contamination management systems and incorporating new technologies, companies can safeguard product quality, protect consumers, and preserve brand reputation.

Paul Damaren

The New Era of Quality Management Solutions

By Paul Damaren
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Paul Damaren

Food businesses must prioritize safety and quality by taking every known precaution to protect their foods, customers, employees, and businesses. The most effective way for food brands to ensure safety, quality, and compliance is to use technology to elevate their quality management programs.

Technology, including artificial intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things (IoT), blockchain, and machine learning, can make food significantly safer by improving food safety protocols, quality control, compliance, and supply chain management.

The Importance of Quality Management

Whether you’re a processor, manufacturer, distributor, retailer, or other food business, you must ensure that your safety and quality practices are consistent and properly maintained. And you must confirm that all employees follow gold standard safety protocols to minimize risks and maximize safety. But that isn’t enough on its own. You must also manage your entire supply chain to be certain that foods are safe and proper protocols are followed through every step of the journey.

Businesses need to maintain high-quality standards while also scaling production, introducing new products, providing exceptional customer service, and meeting evolving consumer demands. That’s no small feat! Fortunately, several tech tools now exist that can help food brands elevate their quality management programs and safety efforts.

Quality Management Tools Have Improved Dramatically

The way that organizations manage their food safety and quality programs has improved significantly over the years. Savvy food businesses have ditched their manual paper systems due to drawbacks such as being unable to provide real-time, integrated data across an enterprise. Manual systems also come with compliance risks, as employees could do sloppy or incomplete work on inspections, audits, and safety checks — or skip them altogether. Tech solutions offer more efficient and accurate ways to conduct and track quality management programs.

Food businesses should rely on digital quality management solutions that:

  • Are made specifically for the food sector, addressing food brands’ unique challenges and needs.
  • Are comprehensive, offering audit management, compliance tracking, risk assessment, supplier quality management, and quality control in one easy-to-use solution.
  • Include mobile auditing features to enhance on-site inspection efficiency, which is crucial for maintaining quality in fast-paced environments.
  • Feature compliance and reporting capabilities to ensure adherence to the latest regulatory requirements.
  • Allow brands to manage their suppliers, ensuring everyone is committed to the highest safety and quality standards, as any weak link in the supply chain can jeopardize the integrity of the food, leaving end-users vulnerable.

Technologies To Elevate Quality Programs

The integration of technology in the food sector has been exciting, and we have learned much about which technologies offer the greatest benefit. Some of the most valuable solutions include:

  • Busy food brands can leverage automation to reduce administrative burdens and time-consuming tasks and improve efficiency, consistency, accuracy, and productivity.
  • AI and machine learning. These solutions offer predictive maintenance of equipment, quality control, and yield optimization, and give business owners critical, real-time data to drive more informed decision-making. Additionally, machine learning algorithms can predict food safety risks based on various parameters, such as storage conditions and handling.
  • IoT devices monitor safety and quality parameters, including temperature, humidity, and vibration to identify and either resolve or alert companies to safety and quality risks. IoT provides constant feedback, so food brands can quickly prevent (or remediate) safety breaches and quality degradation.
  • Blockchain can provide food authentication through increased transparency and enhanced food traceability. Food brands can leverage blockchain technology to ensure the food they’re getting is safe, authentic, and high-quality. Blockchain can trace food back to its source to prevent food fraud, increase food safety, and improve recalls in the event of a safety breach.

A New Era of Food Safety & Quality Software

As these technologies have made their way into the food industry, we are seeing continuous improvement in quality management tools, including:

  • More comprehensive functions. When multiple functions are packaged together in a single intuitive solution, it allows food brands to streamline their quality management processes, aligning with industry-specific requirements.
  • More robust compliance management. Additional compliance management features help brands better understand ever-evolving regulations and adhere to stringent safety standards. And that’s reassuring for customers and end-users, including the retailers that sell the products, the restaurants that serve them, and the consumers that eat them.
  • Focus on supply chain management. Supply chain management has seen a technological overhaul around quality assurance, providing more transparency and traceability from farm to fork. Focusing on every point across the supply chain is crucial in an industry where the quality of the end product is directly influenced by the quality of the sourced materials.
  • Mobile auditing. Mobile auditing solutions within quality monitoring programs allow organizations to facilitate real-time data collection and reporting, a critical factor for onsite inspections in food production, processing, manufacturing, and retail environments.
  • Accessible for all. As tech solutions have become more affordable, accessible, scalable, and user-friendly, they have become more attainable for food businesses of all sizes and budgets. While some brands may worry that digital quality management solutions require significant investment, think of the ROI you’ll receive by avoiding brand damaging and expensive safety and quality breaches.

Digital quality management solutions have become essential for every food business, allowing brands to avoid costly, damaging breaches. Food businesses would be wise to adopt and embrace this new era of quality management solutions to maximize safety, minimize risks, and demonstrate their commitment to quality and compliance.

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Food Safety Think Tank

Food Safety Is About Trust and Relationships

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Don't Eat Poop logo

“It’s not what we know that worries me. It’s what we don’t know,” said Jorge Hernandez, VP of Quality Assurance at The Wendy’s Company. He spoke with Matt Regusci and Francine Shaw, co-hosts of the “Don’t Eat Poop” podcast during the 2023 Food Safety Consortium to discuss his career, and how to make a difference as a food safety professional.

Hernandez began his career as a local and then state food inspector in Illinois before moving to U.S. Foods and then Wendy’s. Looking back on his early career, he noted that the most important thing he learned as an inspector is that people want to do the right thing, and if you take the time to explain the problem and offer solutions, they are willing to learn and will become compliant with the rules.

English is not Hernandez’s first language, which has helped him with his communication. “As I was learning English, I learned that it’s not what you say, but how they receive it,” he said. “So I’m very sensitive to ‘Are they understanding what I’m saying and my words?’ If not, I stop and listen to them and their feedback to make sure my message got through. If you just walk away, you don’t know if they got it or not.”

The need to develop relationships that extend beyond the transactional was a key message, particularly when it comes to suppliers. “To me a supplier is a partnership. How can I make them better and how can they make us better?” said Hernandez. “If it’s all about 5 cents here or 10 cents there, that drives a suppler to go around you or start doing things [you don’t want]. I’m committed to working with them to make them better, faster, more efficient, whatever it needs to be.”

Regusci and Shaw asked Hernandez to share the biggest changes he’s seen in the industry since he started his career. Technological advances were No. 1. “Technology has taken us a lot farther and moved faster than I thought. Now we’re looking at the DNA of bacteria and we can identify it and follow an outbreak to levels we never thought possible,” said Hernandez. “But also, there are practices we thought were safe and now we’re discovering, not necessarily. Look at listeria. While technology has helped us see more, there are a lot of risks that our systems are not able to handle, and we need to address that.”

In terms of future risks to the food supply, the evolutionary nature of bacteria and changes in weather are what keep him up at night. “Bacteria have been evolving and they will evolve to the point that our sanitizers and processes will not be effective. Also, the weather is changing; things are warmer. And in the U.S., we are seeing more outbreaks from bacteria that were more common in warmer climates,” he said. “So we need to be smart enough to know our technology and our food safety systems, but also flexible enough to prepare for what is coming next.”

When asked what he wished—as a former inspector—that food inspectors and regulators understood about the industry, he shared that, “People who are from outside the industry don’t acknowledge as much as they could or should that everyone is trying to do the right thing. They just need to understand the why and how.”

At the close of each episode, Shaw asks, “What does trust mean to you?”

“Trust means everything,”, said Hernandez. “In order for me to develop a relationship with a supplier, I need to trust them and they need to trust me. When I hire a new employee, I need to trust that they are going to do their job and they need to trust that I have their best interests at heart and that we as a company are going to take care of them and give them a career. Trust is essential to everything we do.”

Listen to the full episode here:

 

 

 

Prasant Prusty and Arundhathy Shabu

Know Your Supplier for Better Ingredient Hazard Control and Risk Mitigation

By Arundhathy Shabu, Prasant Prusty
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Prasant Prusty and Arundhathy Shabu

In 2022, more than 80% of businesses encountered at least one major supply chain disruption, while half experienced three or more, and supply chain disruption is anticipated to continue. Supplier management systems are instrumental in minimizing the frequency of disruptions through proactive risk assessment, streamlined communication and robust contingency planning, allowing organizations to maintain operational resilience and continuity in the face of unforeseen challenges. One of the key components of a supplier management system is the supplier qualification program.

A supplier qualification program helps ensure that suppliers adhere to stringent standards and criteria, effectively controlling hazards and mitigating risks tied to subpar product quality, unreliable deliveries and lack of regulatory compliance. These programs foster consistency, reliability and excellence across the entire supply chain by meticulously evaluating and approving suppliers. In this article, we look at some prominent challenges in setting up supplier qualification systems, key facets of supplier management and the future of modern procurement.

Current Challenges in Supplier Qualification Models

In today’s rapidly progressing world, industries operate within a globalized framework, intertwining trade and technology to produce an unprecedented level of connectivity and interdependence that transcends geographical limitations through a harmonious exchange of goods, services and ideas across borders. This global network, however, poses challenges to food processors and distributors, as it requires them to identify and track large numbers of suppliers from greater distances. As a result, there is a new imperative for industries to be able to qualify suppliers that align with their supplier qualification goals on a global scale.

Following are some of the key considerations and challenges facing food companies:

Supply Chain Disruptions. Factors such as natural disasters, global pandemics and escalation of geopolitical tensions may lead to restricted access to vital materials or the closure of significant trade routes, resulting in supply chain disruptions that create limitations, making it difficult to evaluate the credibility of the suppliers.

Supplier Diversity. Supplier diversity refers to actively engaging suppliers owned and operated by individuals from underrepresented groups, such as women, minorities, veterans and individuals with disabilities, with the goal of promoting economic opportunities and cultivating inclusivity in the supply chain. It can present challenges for the supplier qualification process due to the limited pool of qualified diverse suppliers, competitive pricing, bias or skepticism, and equal support for all suppliers.

Regulatory Compliance. Organizations must navigate a complex terrain of regulations and standards that differ across industries and regions to achieve regulatory compliance within supplier qualification models. Compliance obligations encompass various areas, including labor practices, environmental regulations, data privacy and product safety. The continuous challenge lies in adapting qualification models that encompass evolving compliance standards and diligently observing supplier compliance on an ongoing basis.

Supplier Information. The multiple challenges related to supplier data management include the use of different technologies, procedural variations, employee training gaps in handling supplier information, monitoring difficulties, communication limitations and averting risks, such as intellectual property infringement and regulatory and legal compliance issues. Supply managers confront the dual challenge of meeting the growing demand for sharing sensitive data while protecting that data and ensuring a secure system for managing and updating supplier information.

Optimizing Supplier Performance. Once suppliers are qualified, supplier performance management is necessary to ensure compliance and maintain quality standards. There is often a lack of standardization in how suppliers are evaluated, making it tedious to define appropriate performance metrics, collect relevant data and consistently analyze supplier performance. This also makes it challenging to enable objective evaluation, facilitate ongoing supplier supervision and identify which suppliers are underperforming.

Communication & Collaboration. Effective communication is a reciprocal process that requires regular contact and engagement with suppliers at every project stage. Procurement professionals often overlook the importance of building strong supplier relationships and encouraging open lines of communication, which is essential for cultivating sustainable and successful supplier qualification models.

Data Management & Visibility. Controlling data use and distribution becomes challenging when information is dispersed across multiple supplier locations or sub-tiers of the supply base. Consequently, accessing and maintaining a single source of truth regarding supplier information, along with data accuracy, integrity and security is an important, though complex, need.

Scalability. For companies operating in varied markets and dealing with a large number of suppliers, the scalability of their suppliers is critical. A supplier who cannot scale production in response to the buyer’s production cycles and maintain corresponding quality control measures can become a challenge for the buyer.

The Key Elements of Supplier Pre-Qualification

Supplier pre-qualification is a formal process of pre-screening and assessing potential suppliers against a predetermined set of criteria to ensure they have the baseline qualifications to provide a service or product before being accepted as a customer’s supplier and initiating procurement procedures. Only suppliers who meet established criteria are invited to tender. The process also helps in evaluating financial stability, mitigating supply chain risks, keeping an eye on environmental credentials, ensuring sustainability practices and complying with diverse regulations and quality standards.

To adequately pre-qualify a supplier, buyers must consider the following:

Supplier Evaluation Criteria. Organizations must establish benchmarks or specific requirements that suppliers must meet to qualify for participation. These criteria can vary depending on the nature of the procurement, but they commonly include factors such as experience, technical capabilities, financial resources, legal compliance, quality management systems and past performance.

Supplier Documentation and Information. Suppliers must submit documentation and information that provide evidence of their qualifications. These may include company profiles, financial statements, licenses and certifications, regulatory documents, references, product samples and other relevant information demonstrating their ability to meet the organization’s needs.

Supplier Auditing. Submitted documentation and information should be reviewed through supplier auditing as part of pre-assessment or continuous evaluation procedures to assess the suitability of each supplier. This evaluation may involve a review of financial records, conducting site visits, interviewing key personnel and analyzing past performance records. The goal is to gather as much information as possible to determine the supplier’s capabilities, trustworthiness and overall suitability for the procurement.

Risk Assessment. As part of the pre-qualification process, organizations often conduct risk assessments to evaluate the potential risks of engaging each supplier. This assessment may consider factors such as financial risks, legal compliance risks, operational risks and reputational risks. The purpose is to identify and mitigate potential risks of working with a particular supplier.

Supplier Onboarding. Based on the evaluation, the organization shortlists suppliers that meet the predetermined criteria and have demonstrated the necessary capabilities. These suppliers are considered eligible to participate in the subsequent procurement process and are onboarded.

Emergency Supplier Approval. There must be a provision to address and handle emergency supplier qualification in situations where there is the absence of an established supplier approval process. This step should propose workaround measures or solutions that can be implemented to minimize or mitigate risks and manage critical supply requirements.

Supplier Performance Monitoring. The pre-qualification process may also involve monitoring the performance of existing suppliers to ensure they continue to meet the organization’s requirements and standards. This ongoing evaluation helps maintain a pool of qualified and reputable suppliers for future procurement needs.

How Tech-Enabled Solutions Optimize Supplier Management

As the age of modern procurement practices commences, tech-enabled supplier management solutions and digital software will play an increasingly pivotal part in supplier qualification systems. Supplier pre-qualification and performance assessment through digital processes and forms offer numerous advantages to businesses, including:

Efficiency and Time Savings. By automating manual tasks such as documentation collection, verification and approval, the entire supplier management process, from onboarding to continuous monitoring of suppliers, can be simplified and expedited. Digital features such as supplier performance tracking, compliance monitoring and alerts for contract renewals or expirations drive business continuity. It further streamlines organizing and analyzing supplier data, lowering administrative burdens related to paperwork collection, enabling faster decision-making and helping to nurture a culture of safety with significant cost benefits as well.

Enhanced Data Accuracy. Digitizing supplier qualification models can help organizations maintain more reliable supplier information and reduce the risk of incorrect or outdated data by minimizing human error and ensuring accurate and consistent data entry. Implementing stable data management systems and technologies, such as supplier management software, can also aid in identifying and managing supplier risks through early identification of issues and timely mitigation to minimize supply chain disruptions.

Centralized Data Repository. Digital supplier management tools offer a centralized repository to store all supplier-related information, such as qualification documents, certifications, performance metrics and contracts. This allows for easy access, retrieval and sharing of information across departments or teams, fostering collaboration and eliminating data silos. Data centralization can also provide comprehensive data analytics and reporting.

Streamlined Qualification Process. Standardized workflows and pre-defined criteria brought about by digital tools for supplier qualification enable a more structured and efficient process. They often include automated screening mechanisms, such as compliance checks and risk assessments, which help evaluate suppliers against specific requirements and filter out unqualified candidates.

Supplier Visibility through Trend Analysis. Tech-enabled solutions often encompass reporting and analytics capabilities that enable stakeholders to acquire valuable insights into supplier performance, cost structures and trends by tracking and reviewing key performance indicators (KPIs) based on predefined metrics. Organizations can leverage this data to identify opportunities for cost savings, process improvements and strategic sourcing decisions. This results in real-time visibility into supplier performance, capabilities and compliance status, based on precise and up-to-date information.

Supplier Collaboration and Engagement. Some tech-enabled solutions help secure supplier communication channels and provide real-time collaborative platforms, which promote transparency and accountability in supplier-procurer relationships. These may include features such as supplier portals or online platforms that enable document sharing, bid submissions and performance feedback, fostering better engagement and long-term relationships.

Future Advances in Supplier Management

Looking ahead, digital solutions for supplier management are poised to transform the supplier-procurement paradigm for businesses. By utilizing artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms, the supplier management process will become more efficient, reducing validation steps and communication requirements, and encouraging greater supplier participation. AI’s data-gathering capabilities and predictive modeling can accurately predict foodborne illness outbreaks that may occur by analyzing supplier data from various sources including environmental factors, ingredient quality and contamination history.

Similarly, Internet of Things (IoT)  data allows companies to monitor and optimize the movement of goods and services throughout the supply chain, establishing better traceability in the procurement process. With blockchain, companies can effortlessly verify supply chain integrity and product authenticity without human intervention, which further refines supplier auditability, addressing the complexities and delays in information flow between intermediaries and suppliers.

The integration of these state-of-the-art technologies will propel increasingly accurate and dynamic supplier management software, bringing forth a safer food supply chain for the future.

Prasant Prusty and Arundhathy Shabu

Food Safety Culture Is the Key Ingredient To Prevent Foodborne Diseases

By Arundhathy Shabu, Prasant Prusty
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Prasant Prusty and Arundhathy Shabu

Culture is not an initiative but rather the enabler of all initiatives, as observed rightly by Larry Senn, who is considered the Father of Corporate Culture.  Similarly, food safety culture (FSC) is the solid foundation that enables organizations to ultimately minimize food safety risks. This is why the simple idea of food safety culture emerges to be a powerful concept in reducing the global burden of foodborne diseases.

Let us consider some facts:

  • Employees working in food enterprises worldwide are required to be well-trained in food safety practices
  • A vast amount of food safety research is conducted around the world to improve and enhance food safety management
  • Companies are required to follow elaborate food safety regulations that include mandatory testing and inspections

It is quite contradictory that food safety remains a major public health threat. One way to understand why this happens is that just because something has been done in a specified manner for a long duration does not necessarily mean it is being done the right way. Hence, there must be a missing ingredient fundamental to preventing food safety incidents, which many have concluded relates to lack of a strong food safety culture.

The Importance of Food Safety Culture in Simple Terms

The behavior of your staff and leadership demonstrates whether each employee understands and is committed to ensuring your products are safe to consume and of good quality. In short, food safety equals behavior. This is the core notion Frank Yiannas talks about in his book, Food Safety Culture: Creating a Behavior-Based Food Safety Management System.

One of the most well-known outcomes associated with lack of a strong food safety culture was the PCA (Peanut Corporation of America) outbreak in 2009 when peanuts contaminated with Salmonella caused nine deaths, 11,000 to 20,000 illnesses, and a recall of 4,000 products. A proactive food safety culture that is centered on rigorous testing, quality control protocols, sanitation and traceability measures could have detected and prevented the spread outbreak, saving lives and money.

Companies are investigating and/or implementing food safety culture training and practices because no matter what we say or document regarding food safety, we cannot make progress unless we actually put these words into practice.

A systematic review of the scientific literature on food safety culture (FSC), published by the FDA in 2022 views food safety culture as a scientific concept. In conducting the study, FDA aspired to present food safety culture as a valid subset of science, rather than just a slogan, and use the knowledge obtained to provide tools that stakeholders can use to develop and assess their own food safety culture. This review is considered the primary groundwork for FDA’s efforts to uplift food safety culture in the industry, among consumers, and in regard to the present regulatory oversight.

Challenges and Barriers to Accomplishing a Strong and Effective Food Safety Culture 

The predominant challenges and barriers to creating, promoting and evaluating a strong and effective Food Safety Culture, as presented in the review, include:

Over-reliance on food safety management systems (FSMS)

FSMS plays a non-negotiable role in every food enterprise. Nevertheless, FSMS tend to be process focused and thus do not affect how human attitudes influence food safety. This is where a behavior-based FSMS is beneficial to forge a well-built FSC, as it offers a total system approach based on scientific knowledge of human behavior, organizational culture, and food safety.

Prioritization of cost-saving and money-earning

A profit-focused mentality is often the main barrier to implementing a positive FSC. Compromising food safety principles to save costs is never a good strategy. It can even be counter-productive as a negative FSC can eventually lead to a food safety incident, generating tremendous economic losses for the organization. An ideal FSC ensures that an obligation to food safety exists throughout the firm that outweighs all other company goals and practices.

Frequent staff turnover

Continuous staff turnover is a common phenomenon in the food sector. High staff turnover requires constant training and supervision to ensure employees’ understand the risks and other essential criteria needed for an adequate food safety climate. It also is challenging to ascertain the commitment and accountability of employees with temporary contracts.

Optimistic bias

Though it is said ‘experience is the best teacher, and the worst experiences teach the best lessons,’ it is always better for employees to realize that they are not immune to food contamination before experiencing a vulnerability to food safety. Every member of a food enterprise should know that they cannot afford optimism bias in terms of food safety, and that it is imperative to be prepared—and on the look out for—worst case scenarios.

How Digitalization Can Assist in Developing and Sustaining a Solid Food Safety Culture

Ideally, a commitment to food safety begins with management and permeates through the organization at all levels. Digital tools, particularly those used to manage the supply chain, can help. By establishing a network platform that integrates the online and offline worlds, digitalization connects all facets of the food production and processing chain. Let us break down how digital tools can be implemented throughout the food industry to enhance supply chain processes while nurturing a strong food safety culture.

1. Setting Expectations 

Digital tools allow for the efficient creation, distribution and maintenance of food safety policies, procedures and protocols. By utilizing digital systems, organizations can document and disseminate clear expectations regarding food safety practices. This includes defining standard operating procedures (SOPs), hygiene protocols and compliance guidelines. These digital resources can be easily accessed by employees, ensuring that everyone is aware of the established standards and expectations.

2. Communication & Training 

The next step is to properly communicate the established strategies among the employees and enforce them. This is where learning management systems and digital employee training platforms come in handy, as they engage and educate employees by conveying information and instructions related to various aspects of the organization. These tech-enabled solutions can also play a vital role in authorizing employees to collaborate via more efficient communication channels, address food safety compliance concerns and initiate appropriate corrective and preventive actions when necessary.

These tools allow companies to create training programs that utilize interactive modules, visual content, videos and quizzes to enhance employee learning and retention, while accommodating diverse learning styles such as flexible self-paced or group training. The training courses can be scheduled and assigned to individuals or groups according to the configured training types. Alerts and notifications can be promptly delivered to relevant personnel to inform them about critical updates and send reminders regarding their training courses. They also help companies track and manage training assignments, ensuring that employees complete required training within specified timeframes. Overall, they empower organizations to propagate information efficiently, advance knowledge transfer and ensure compliance with training requirements, thereby fostering a well-informed and competent workforce.

3. Monitoring 

Scheduling features of tech-enabled solutions offer a valuable means to successfully plan and monitor regular inspections, maintenance tasks and quality checks. Digital task assignment empowers employees to be accountable, confirm that responsibilities are clearly communicated, eliminate ambiguities in executing food business operations and track the progress and completion of each process, elevating the overall transparency of the supply chain process.

Notifications can be automatically generated to alert employees about upcoming inspections or any deviations from standard procedures. It is also possible to maintain an audit log, capturing and storing a detailed record of all food industry activities, actions and events. Another component that can be advantageous for monitoring efforts is a change log, which becomes useful for tracking modifications made to procedures, allowing for traceability, accountability and assistance with regulatory compliance efforts.

4. Reporting 

Digital tools typically include robust dashboards that can provide real-time insights into the supply chain. These intuitive interfaces can display data such as key metrics, compliance rates, inspection results, incident reports and corrective actions taken. Moreover, advanced filtering and drill-down capabilities enable users to delve deeper into specific data segments, facilitating in-depth analysis and comprehensive reporting.

Trend analysis tools can be employed to identify patterns and highlight areas that require further attention. They often incorporate predictive analytics and forecasting models, aiding businesses in predicting demand, optimizing inventory management and reducing waste. Furthermore, employee key performance indicators (KPIs) can be accessed through reporting mechanisms, and trend analysis features, which allows management to gauge employee contributions in upholding a food safety culture.

Tech-savvy solutions, such as food safety management software, are gaining significant traction in the market as they help food enterprises streamline their operations, optimize efficiency, promote transparency and accountability, and ensure compliance with food safety and quality regulations. All of which ultimately serve to instill a responsibility for food safety throughout your organization.

Francine Shaw
FST Soapbox

Unlocking the Promise of IoT in Food Safety and Transparency

By Francine L. Shaw
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Francine Shaw

In today’s fast-paced world, ensuring food safety and efficiency is crucial for food businesses. Fortunately, technological advancements, including the Internet of Things (IoT), have revolutionized the way the food industry operates. By leveraging IoT, food businesses can drive efficiency, enhance food safety, mitigate risks and boost transparency throughout the supply chain. All food businesses should be embracing IoT innovations to optimize their operations, improve efficiency, maximize safety and drive key performance indicators (KPIs), including consumer satisfaction, loyalty and sales.

The benefits of using IoT in the food industry include:

  • Enhancing food safety. IoT enables real-time tracking and monitoring of food products throughout the supply chain. With the help of connected sensors and devices, businesses can monitor crucial variables including temperature and humidity to ensure optimal storage conditions. Both companies and consumers benefit from this heightened level of food safety and quality assurance.
  • Improving supply chain transparency. IoT enhances end-to-end visibility and traceability. By employing sensors and radiofrequency identification (RFID) tags, businesses can track the movement of food products all along the supply chain, from farm to fork. This transparency helps identify the origin of any issues or recalls, significantly reducing the impact on public health. Moreover, it enables quicker and more targeted responses to any potential food safety breaches, mitigating risks, preventing foodborne illness outbreaks and ensuring consumer trust in the food supply chain.
  • Optimizing shelf life for product inventory. IoT devices collect data on product conditions, such as temperature, humidity and light exposure. This information empowers businesses to optimize inventory management, implement dynamic pricing strategies and reduce waste (and associated costs) by ensuring products are sold or consumed before expiration. By minimizing food waste, companies contribute to sustainability efforts and consumers benefit from fresher and safer products.
  • Upgrading real-time monitoring and predictive analytics. IoT devices provide real-time data on critical factors, including equipment performance, energy consumption and production processes. Businesses can detect patterns and predict potential issues by leveraging advanced analytics and machine learning algorithms. By identifying risks in advance, companies can proactively address them, preventing downtime and improving overall operational efficiency.
  • Elevating the customer experience. IoT can also improve the customer experience. Smart shelves equipped with sensors, for example, can offer personalized recommendations, nutritional information and/or recipe suggestions based on customer preferences. Connected devices in restaurants or food delivery services can streamline the ordering process, improve order accuracy and provide real-time status updates, making the customer journey smoother and more convenient.

It’s clear that IoT offers significant benefits for food companies. Following are five important considerations as you investigate these innovative solutions:

  1. Assess your organization’s specific needs. Identify areas of your food business that can benefit from IoT technology. Consider cold chain management, quality control, inventory management and any other aspect of operations or supply chain that can be optimized. Define the specific goals you want to achieve through IoT implementation.
  2. Choose reliable technology. Select IoT devices and solutions that are reliable, scalable and aligned with your business requirements. Prioritize factors such as data security, interoperability, ease of integration and ongoing support. Ensure that the technology you choose meets industry standards and regulations. Work only with trusted tech vendors.
  3. Examine your data management and analytics processes. Develop a robust data management strategy to collect, store and analyze the vast amounts of data that will be generated by the IoT devices. Employ analytics tools to derive actionable insights from the data, and use these insights to make more informed decisions.
  4. Collaborate with the right partners. Explore partnerships with technology providers, industry associations and regulatory bodies to stay updated on emerging standards, best practices and compliance requirements related to IoT technologies in the food industry. Collaborating with experts and industry peers can accelerate your IoT implementation journey.
  5. Prioritize data security. Implement robust security measures to protect your IoT devices and the data they collect. This includes network security, encryption, authentication protocols and regular monitoring for potential vulnerabilities. Safeguarding data privacy and complying with regulations is vital in maintaining trust with customers and partners.

Avoiding IoT-driven technologies in the food industry is no longer an option. These devices have become necessary to drive efficiency, enhance food safety, meet regulatory requirements and consumers’ evolving expectations, and stay competitive. By leveraging IoT solutions, businesses can optimize their processes, improve transparency, reduce waste and provide exceptional customer experiences. However, successful implementation requires a strategic approach, careful planning, ongoing monitoring and continuous improvement. By prioritizing food safety and communication, and identifying areas of greatest need for improvement, the food industry can unlock the full potential of IoT technology and pave the way for a safer future.

 

 

Laura Dunn Nelson, Intertek Alchemy

Navigating Food Industry Challenges Requires a Comprehensive Crisis Management Plan

By Laura Dunn Nelson
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Laura Dunn Nelson, Intertek Alchemy

The food industry has faced numerous challenges in recent years that have disrupted its stability and normal operations. While it might feel like the industry is finally starting to stabilize, there is still a long way to go to achieve a steady new normal. The industry remains extremely vulnerable to inflation pressures, product shortages, cyberattacks and food fraud. Any one of these risks can send a manufacturer or restaurant scrambling to replace missing ingredients or supplies and resume operations.

In today’s unpredictable landscape, crisis management plans are essential for reducing downtime, safeguarding food quality and maintaining customer trust. These plans help establish backup suppliers in times of supply chain disruptions and bolster defenses against cyberattacks and food fraud. While there is no one-size-fits-all approach, developing a customized crisis management plan tailored to your specific production risks is crucial. Below are some insights into using a crisis management plan to tackle common threats faced by food manufacturers and restaurants.

Vendor Management: Ensuring Continuity

Vendors play a key role in the food industry, and their vulnerabilities can directly impact your food safety and quality. Ingredient shortages and price fluctuations create supply chain disruptions that must be managed through proactive measures.

Including a vendor replacement strategy in the crisis management plan enables quick adaptation to unforeseen circumstances. This strategy should encompass multiple sourcing options, rigorous vendor audits, effective communication channels, comprehensive product specifications and efficient change management processes.

Detecting and Preventing Food Fraud

When supply chains are disrupted, food fraud becomes a serious concern. Counterfeiting, dilution, substitution and mislabeling pose risks to both food quality and safety. To combat food fraud effectively, it’s important to vet suppliers to ensure they provide the correct ingredients and adhere to quality standards.

Integrating your supplier selection processes into the crisis management plan will help ensure consistency as you vet new suppliers. Additionally, frontline employees should receive training to detect food fraud. This includes training that enables them to identify abnormalities in raw materials, manufacturing processes and finished goods.

Risk management is not solely the responsibility of leadership. To effectively combat food fraud, it needs to be part of your frontline worker food safety training program.

Safeguarding Against Cyber Threats

With increasing reliance on technology, the food industry has become more vulnerable than ever to cyber threats. Last year, the U.S. cybersecurity company Dragos identified the food and beverage sector as the second largest victim of cyberattacks, making it imperative to prioritize cybersecurity measures.

While robust security platforms and backup systems are important, the most effective defense lies in having an informed workforce trained to identify and prevent potential attacks. It’s critical to ensure your crisis management plan includes preventative measures such as educating employees on recognizing suspicious emails, updating passwords regularly and avoiding risky online behavior.

Transparent Communication Builds Trust

When changes occur in suppliers, products or ingredients, transparent communication with your customers is vital. The crisis management plan should lay out clear guidelines for informing customers on important updates, including formulation and label changes when different ingredients or formulas are used. These guidelines should have the agreement and support of multiple internal departments, including management, marketing, production, safety and quality. Implementing thorough communication strategies can be time-consuming, but surprising customers with unexpected product changes can cause lasting damage to their trust and loyalty.

In today’s challenging food industry environment, proactive planning and risk mitigation are crucial for preserving business continuity, brand reputation and customer relationships. A comprehensive crisis management plan tailored to address specific threats is essential. By prioritizing cybersecurity, vendor management, fraud prevention and transparent communication, food businesses can navigate the challenges effectively and ensure their long-term success in this rapidly evolving landscape.

Paul Damaren
FST Soapbox

Real-time Supply Chain Monitoring Provides Improved Visibility, Safety, Protection

By Paul Damaren
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Paul Damaren

Global fast food chain McDonald’s manages more than 38,000 locations in over 100 countries, with thousands of suppliers. The company uses real-time supply chain monitoring to help ensure the availability of ingredients, minimize supply chain disruptions and uphold its commitment to food safety and responsible sourcing.

Whether you’re a massive global brand or a much smaller company, leveraging real-time data can help your organization identify potential disruptions in the supply chain—whether that’s a weather event, transportation delay, potential food safety breach, product shortage or other incident—and take prompt, proactive measures to address and resolve them.

Food brands should implement the following supply chain management best practices:

  • Utilize advanced technologies. Tech solutions, including Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tagging, GPS tracking, and sensor-based monitoring technologies, are effective in providing real-time visibility and data analytics. Walmart has successfully implemented RFID tagging to enhance real-time inventory tracking and optimize their supply chain. RFID helped the company improve inventory accuracy, provide better in-store shopping experiences for customers and drive more online capabilities. Additionally, RFID helps the retail giant see the real-time location and status of items in the supply chain, ensuring product availability and leading to improved order fulfillment and greater customer satisfaction.
  • Adopt an SaaS-based supply chain management solution. Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) solutions offer real-time visibility and data analytics capabilities, enabling organizations to make more informed decisions, based on data. For example, Nestlé implemented an SaaS-based supply chain management solution called SAP to manage its supply chain, gain real-time insights into its operations, and enhance efficiency. The software provides a comprehensive view of the company’s entire supply chain, from purchasing raw materials to delivering finished products. It also includes features to manage inventory, transportation and other logistics, to ensure Nestlé’s supply chain is resilient, flexible, and sustainable. Using this innovative software to streamline supply chain management can dramatically improve efficiency, effectiveness and your bottom line.
  • Proactively identify and mitigate risks. When brands continuously monitor and analyze real-time data, they can identify potential risks, such as natural disasters, labor disputes, and supplier issues. Coca-Cola’s real-time supply chain monitoring enabled it to swiftly respond to a labor strike, minimizing disruption and maintaining supply continuity. With tech tools in place to proactively identify potential risks, brands can develop strategies to mitigate and/or minimize their impact, such as diversifying suppliers and developing contingency plans. With the proper tools and strategies in place, organizations can build more resilient, sustainable supply chains and avoid potential disruptions that could be costly and damaging for their businesses.
  • Optimize operations through data analysis. Leverage real-time data to identify bottlenecks, inefficiencies and areas for improvement within the supply chain and take corrective actions. The Subway sandwich chain has faced supply chain issues in the past due to inadequate real-time monitoring, resulting in ingredient shortages and inconsistencies across different locations. Brands should regularly assess and update their supply chain monitoring systems, incorporating feedback loops and continuous improvement practices to enhance responsiveness and agility.

Real-time supply chain monitoring has significant benefits, including:

Enhanced risk management. Prompt identification of potential disruptions allows organizations to respond swiftly, minimizing the impact on the supply chain and safeguarding their reputation and finances. Unfortunately, when Chipotle faced severe food safety crises due to E. coli outbreaks in 2015, the consequences of inadequate real-time monitoring and response mechanisms resulted in extensive store closures, financial losses and damaged brand reputation. Having the proper tools and procedures in place can help organizations avoid similar crises in the future.

Operational optimization. Real-time visibility enables organizations to identify inefficiencies, streamline processes, reduce delays, and improve overall supply chain performance. For example, Conagra Brands digitized its supply chain to improve visibility and forecasting, better predict consumer demand, optimize processes, and improve efficiency and productivity. When the Covid-19 pandemic disrupted the global supply chain, Conagra wanted access to more robust data and insights, so they could better handle the supply chain and labor challenges they were facing. The organization adopted AI and machine learning tools to drive insights and optimize operations, and the results were impressive. Conagra increased operational output by 30%, and production capacity by 20% at one of its facilities, while improving productivity and order management, and reducing energy waste, manual work, costs, and out-of-stock items.

Cost savings and efficiency improvements. Real-time data analysis facilitates better decision-making, reducing costs associated with excess inventory, stockouts, and transportation inefficiencies. Procter & Gamble achieved significant cost savings by leveraging real-time supply chain monitoring, optimizing inventory levels, and improving demand forecasting accuracy.

Real-time supply chain monitoring offers organizations improved visibility, risk mitigation, operational optimization, and cost savings. By adopting best practices and leveraging advanced technologies, companies can enhance their supply chain performance, reputation, and overall successes.

 

 

 

Food Safety Hazards: Managing Supply Chain Risks

Maintaining communication, approving new suppliers in times of geopolitical conflict and product shortages, and conforming to the coming FSMA Traceability Final Rule are among the inherent challenges now facing supply chain managers and food safety professionals. In this webinar, we look at strategies to reduce supply chain risks from pre-approval through the management of existing suppliers and highlight opportunities to improve collaboration and protocols in preparation for implementation of the Food Traceability Final Rule.

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FDA Publishes New FAQs and Tools for the Food Traceability Rule

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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The FDA has posted new frequently asked questions and additional tools related to the FSMA Food Traceability Rule to help clarify how the rule applies to specific situations and commodities.

The new FAQs address are largely based on questions received during the FDA’s regular interactions with industry and on questions sent via the Technical Assistance Network, a central source of information for questions related to the FSMA rules, programs, and implementation strategies.

Along with the FAQs, additional tools developed to help further educate and inform industry subject to the Food Traceability Rule are accessible from the FDA’s traceability website, including:

  • Addition of the results for all foods and associated commodity-hazard pairs included in the Risk-Ranking Model for Food Tracing—beyond what appear on the food traceability list
  • Additional description on the Food Traceability List webpage to clarify that “nut butters” include all forms of nut butters—shelf-stable, refrigerated, and frozen products
  • Eight new supply chain examples that illustrate how the rule is applied in different scenarios for different commodities
  • What you need to know about the Food Traceability Rule fact sheets on “Recordkeeping Information for Produce Farms” and “Coverage and Exemption for Produce Farms”
  • Guide to Getting Started with the Food Traceability Rule
  • Additional foreign language translations of the Critical Tracking Event and Key Data Elements interactive tool and supply chain examples.

The compliance date for the Food Traceability Rule is January 20, 2026.