The labor union International Brotherhood of Teamsters has been holding nationwide protests at Chipotle locations this month, taking issue with one of the restaurant chain’s suppliers. The supplier at the focus of the demonstrations is California-based produce company Taylor Farms, which supplies tomatoes and peppers to Chipotle, according to Teamsters.
“Over the past five years, Taylor Farms has had more than 20 food recalls for problems such as Listeria, Salmonella and E. coli. In November 2015, Taylor Farms products containing celery and sold at Costco and other retail outlets were recalled for possible E. coli 0157:H7 contamination,” according to a Teamster news release. “At Taylor Farms’ plant in Tracy, Calif., the company has also committed safety and health violations and violations of laws that protect workers’ rights. Recently, the company settled extensive labor rights violations that involved payments of $267,000 to illegally terminated workers and a required posting in which the company promises to never again violate a long list of employee rights.”
The Teamsters protested at 12 Chipotle locations across the country, following 30 previous protests at Chipotle over the past several months.
Teamster Vice President Rome Aloise points the finger at Chipotle for allowing Taylor Farms to “have a total disregard for consumers’ and workers’ health and safety, as well as workers’ rights,” he said. “Chipotle claims to serve ‘Food With Integrity’, but where’s the integrity when it turns a blind eye to its supplier’s behavior? Chipotle must not cut and run – which would hurt Taylor Farms workers – it must carry out its social responsibility and demand Taylor Farms treat workers fairly and with respect.”
Taylor Farms has not released a statement addressing the protests.
Today the USDA announced that is providing $6 million in funding for research surrounding antimicrobial resistance. Available via the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative and USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture, funded applications must tackle one or more areas:
Development of new systems approaches to investigate the ecology of microbial resistance microbes and gene reservoirs in the environment in animals, crops, food products or farm-raised aquaculture products
Development, evaluation and implementation of effective and sustainable resources and strategies. This approach includes alternative practices, techniques, technologies or tools that mitigate emergence, spread or persistence of antimicrobial resistant pathogens
Identify critical control points for mitigating antimicrobial resistance in pre- and post-harvest food production
Design training, education, and outreach resources (including web-based) that are adaptable by users across the food chain (from policy makers to producers and processors to retailers and consumers)
Design and conduct studies that evaluate the impact and efficacy of proposed research, education and extension/outreach interventions on antimicrobial resistance across the food chain
Across the board, increased employee awareness and training has become a big issue in food safety. The foodborne illness outbreaks that hit Chipotle Mexican Grill has put retail and restaurant establishments on high alert, yet this is just another example of the reactive culture in which we operate, according to Matt Schiering, vice president and general manager at Sani Professional.
Food Safety Tech recently hit the road with Schiering and John Caton, regional sales manager at Sani Professional, to experience first hand how one company is communicating its message to customers. Breaking with tradition has been an important part of promoting cleaner technology: The use of the rag and bucket as a means to clean both the front of the house (tables, chairs, counters, etc.) as well as the back of restaurants and retail establishments, while still fairly common, has outlived its effectiveness, and frankly, says Schiering, “screams unclean”. Caton and Schiering continued the conversation with their customers about how using disposable wipes for cleaning, sanitizing and disinfection helps prevent the spread of contamination, along with the cost savings associated with using such products. The company takes a multi-prong approach to promoting awareness among its current and potential clients, from deploying a sales force that directly interacts with quality assurance and food safety professionals in establishments to offering how advances in sustainable technology can help them stay ahead of the curve to driving consumer advocacy.
Food Safety Tech: How is Sani Professional raising the level awareness of the disadvantages of the traditional cleaning method (the rag and bucket method) in the retail environment?
Matt Schiering: There are a few ways to raise the level of awareness. The first and foremost is “feet on the street”. We’ve deliberately moved toward a direct-to-customer sales force, which gives us the opportunity to interface directly with QA, food safety and operations to show them a simpler, more efficient, more effective, and guest appealing way versus the traditional rag and bucket. The first win is one for the user (the employees of a given establishment), because associates have shown us time and time again that they do not like the mixing and measuring, and the errors that are often associated with that process. They don’t like the dirty rag itself—having to fish it out of the bowl and then present it or be seen with it in the front of the establishment. It’s a win for the operator (the manager), because with our system, there’s no longer any heightened heart rate when the health inspector shows up. One of the most common violations is the water in the buckets being out of spec or the rags themselves not being inside the bucket per regulation. And perhaps most importantly, it’s a win for the guest. Think about your own restaurant experiences. Guests don’t want to see or be confronted with a greyish brown rag [that is used to] wipe a table, then wipe a seat, then wipe an adjacent table. It just screams unclean.
As we talk about the evolution in perception, away from traditional methods, we believe that speaking directly to the consumer has to play a role. There has to be a degree of consumer-driven advocacy for a better way. – Matt Schiering
FST: Regarding employee training, how should retailers be more proactive in ensuring their employees are engaging in proper food safety practices and aren’t spreading foodborne illnesses?
Schiering: It varies by chain. Unfortunately, we live in a reactive culture—and that goes well beyond the restaurant industry.
Oftentimes a problem precedes a protocol or other means of addressing said problem. Chipotle is one example: They’ve taken an exhaustive look at restructuring their food safety protocols as a result of a myriad of foodborne illness-related issues that they suffered in the preceding months. The [retailers] who are doing it best are the ones who build it into their establishment in the first place where it’s not predicated by some sort of problem. That involves training materials, in-service lessons, and online training (i.e., ServSafe certifications). Waffle House, for example, has Waffle House University where food safety is a key component to that system.
We envision ourselves as part of that process. We take a microcosm—the notion of proper food handling, prevention of cross contamination related foodborne illness—and provide an innovative and easy-to-use solution, and all the training and collateral materials associated with the solution that explain the proper use. We also provide test kits so that if the health inspector wants an in-the-moment proof that our product is doing what the label says it does, [the retailer] can provide that at a moments notice. It becomes more of a service proposition than simply a product-driven solution.
FST: Where do you see sustainable products fitting into the space?
Schiering: This also boils down to education, because the perception of disposables is that they’re wasteful, when in fact they needn’t be any more costly than existing solutions.
If you’re using a linen service, there’s a cost associated with renting towels, but there’s a higher cost associated with wasting towels. So if a towel ends up in a gym bag or in the trash because of overuse and/or abuse, there’s a significant upcharge for not returning that towel to the rental agency. That’s what we call the hidden cost or the dirty little secret of rag and bucket sanitizing. When you factor that in, and everyone [retailers] experiences that type of loss, and you look at the fact that sanitizing wipes kill pathogens trapped in the wipe as well as whatever it is coming into contact with at the surface, thereby enabling it to be used on multiple surfaces without causing cross contamination—the cost aligns very closely. And of course it’s a more value-added guest experience than a dirty rag being used from table to table, which is not preventing cross contamination.
Speaking to the environmental piece: At the moment, we’re actually fairly well ahead of the industry. It varies chain to chain—some chains are doing a better job than others, because it’s part of their corporate culture. But by providing solutions that are leveraging either recyclable substrates or compostable substrates, we provide greater opportunity to reduce the environmental impact often associated with disposable products. If a retailer is working with a waste management partner that can handle industrial compostable products or non-solid state recyclables, we have solutions that are appropriate for those operations, so that we’re not just adding to landfills but rather essentially recycling and/or regenerating the products that are being used, and at no greater cost.
Most retailers haven’t gotten there yet. It speaks directly to corporate culture and corporate mission of the end user. We deliberately target customers who are a little bit ahead of the curve when it comes to “green technology or “green behavior”. And so when the rest of the industry catches up, we’re more than ready to serve them with products that meet those needs.
FST: Where do consumers fit into the picture, especially has industry moves away from traditional methods in food safety?
Schiering: About a decade ago, consumers started demanding that retailers like Walmart, Target, and local grocers provide a means of sanitizing shopping carts when they walk into their local retail establishments. There were myriad news reports about the germs and potential for contamination and illness arising from the often used and rarely cleaned implements—these vehicles for placing your groceries. We answered the call a decade ago, and at one time it was a significant piece of our business. It continues to be a marketplace we serve, albeit a much commoditized one. But the rise in that solution would not have taken place if not for consumers advocating for a better way.
We’re starting to create a presence on Facebook and other social media outlets to remind consumers that it’s up to them in many cases to ask for, if not demand a more effective, more pleasing way of ensuring their safety in dining establishments. Unfortunately, incidents like what we saw at the large Mexican food service retailer do ultimately play a part in that consumer advocacy, albeit a negative one, because we are a reactive society. But by presenting a positive message and sharing alternatives in the absence of citing examples or shaming retailers through the problem, we believe that will be one of the keys to changing perceptions at the retail level.
The USDA has ramped up efforts to provide farmers and local producers with more money with the goal of expanding market opportunities at the local and regional level. Between 2009 and 2014, the department invested more than $800 million in more than 29,000 local and regional food businesses and infrastructure tasks, and last year alone boosted local food growth by nearly $11.7 billion, according to a recently released USDA Fact Sheet.
The investments target helping farmers and ranchers gain access to new and local markets, improving infrastructure to connect producers with new markets, and improving access to local food. Highlights of the USDA’s initiatives between 2009 and 2015 include:
Millennials are definitely changing the landscape of the food industry. What do they care about when it comes to food, and what does this mean for food manufacturers?
We’ve all heard the latest trends regarding that hard-to-reach audience we’ve dubbed the Millennials (those born roughly between the years 1980 and the early 2000s). And with so many how-to articles out there, it’s hard to really understand who these folks are and what they want. Here are just a few fun facts about this generation: 50 percent consider themselves politically unaffiliated, they have the highest average number of Facebook friends, 55 percent have posted a selfie or two to social media sites, and there are roughly 80 million of them. This makes Millennials the biggest generation thus far. And one thing is for certain, based on research, they are definitely changing the landscape of the food industry. So what do Millennials care about when it comes to food?
Millennials care about quality and sustainability
According to a 2014 study by the International Food Council (IFC), Millennials have the highest level of awareness out of any age group when it comes to food sustainability, and they are willing to pay more for it. And when it comes to quality vs. price, Millennials are more apt to be loyal to a brand deemed to have quality products as opposed to a brand that has a better price point.
Take McDonald’s for example. In August of 2013, the fast-food chain reported a 13 percent decline in consumption for people between the ages of 19-21 since 2011. And while Millennials are still dinning out, they are opting for franchises like Chipotle and Five Guys. Why? These chains pride themselves on using local producers and sustainable food items, which makes paying that extra $2.00 for guacamole not so bad to this generation.
Additionally, Millennials are more apt to choose products that are socially responsible and produce lower carbon footprints. For example, Millennials are now paying attention to how much energy, water and effort it takes to grow, manufacture and transport food, including the packaging process. And as this environmentally friendly generation matures and moves into prime spending age, manufacturers will need to evolve the packaging of food products to ensure they are created with eco-friendly and recyclable materials if they wish to appeal to these folks.
Millennials care about their health
This generation, as research states, is more aware of their health than any other generation thus far, especially when it comes to what goes into their bodies. Locally grown, cage-free, all-natural, organic—these are all terms Millennials tend to gravitate towards when making food choices. As a result, organic coffee shops are popping up everywhere, farm-to-table restaurants are all the rage, and even private label brands are seeing increases in sales, with Millennials opting for those over national brands due to the perception that these labels are more innovative.
Millennials are also reading labels and are more aware of what the items on the labels mean—they understand the ingredients and what goes into their food more so than their parents and grandparents. As a result, we’re seeing an increase in natural and organic claims as we navigate through the grocery aisles.
What this means for food manufacturers
Food manufacturers have an interesting challenge ahead, but also a great opportunity. The ones that will ultimately gain popularity among Millennials will be those that are willing to innovate while staying authentic. Millennials not only value the transparency of brands, they are also aware of shortcomings when it comes to unsubstantiated claims. Food manufacturers must now walk the line between making all-natural and sustainable product claims, and being 100 percent truthful in their statements. When it comes down to it, Millennials will do the research, read the labels and uncover the truth.
So how do you appeal to Millennials, while also mitigating the risks when it comes to labeling your product natural, organic or GMO-free? To answer tough questions like this, TraceGains got the inside scoop from Attorney Antonio Gallegos, who advises on compliance with regulations administered by the FDA, FTC, USDA and similar state-level agencies, and co-produced a guidance report. Use this free Natural Labeling Guidance Report to help you make informed decisions in the future for your products. Do you have additional tips for reaching Millennials? Leave a comment below and let us know!
“Food waste, if it were a country, would be the third largest emitter of carbon dioxide and methane, behind the U.S. and China,” says Doug Rauch, former president of Trader Joe’s. How can innovation in food safety technology and systems help reduce food waste?
Nearly half of all food produced throughout the world is lost to waste every year. Such an enormous amount of waste should motivate food companies to look for innovative ways to reduce waste and become more sustainable.
Food waste is an issue that encompasses the entire food industry, occurring at all stages of food production including harvesting, processing, retail, and consumption. Therefore food safety and quality professionals, because of their connection to the entire food production process, have an opportunity to mitigate waste by introducing a number of sustainable and innovative practices for utilizing otherwise unused food.
Discarded byproducts and material lost throughout the food production process should be viewed as opportunities worth exploiting for every company. Extracting value from normally wasted material allows businesses to increase efficiency dramatically. Incorporating sustainable practices like food waste reduction can present very marketable opportunities to increase margins.
Former president of Trader Joe’s and keynote speaker at the 2014 IFT Conference in New Orleans, Doug Rauch, is a prominent advocate for addressing food waste on a national scale. During his keynote address, he spoke of the immediate need for food waste reduction: “Food waste, if it were a country, would be the third largest emitter of carbon dioxide and methane, behind the U.S. and China.”
As the global population continues to rise, and developing countries emulate developed countries’ unsustainable production practices, Rauch believes we will begin to see a change of pace. “The next food revolution is going to be about what we’re not eating; it’s going to be about the food we throw away.”
One in six people in the United States are food insecure and obesity has reached record numbers across the country, with some states reaching over 40 percent. In his keynote speech, Rauch cites these figures, correlating poor nutrition to lower socioeconomic status. Rauch launched the Urban Food Initiative to combat poor nutrition with solving the food waste crisis in mind. His idea involves getting expired (or soon to be expired) food to fight poor nutrition in low-income neighborhoods at fast food prices.
Quality and safety play an integral role in the use of food that would normally be discarded. Brian Turner, Senior Manager of Food Safety Information Services at Sodexo, is on the advisory board for the Food Recovery Network, which is an organization that works with college campuses in reducing food waste and hunger. While these programs are very innovative on paper, Turner emphasizes the “concern for procedures and protocol to minimize quality and food safety issues.”
This highlights an opportunity for food safety professionals to help innovate along the way in the processes of reducing waste and hunger, while implementing key quality and safety practices. Organizations and initiatives like these are helping to emphasize the importance of mitigating waste, while addressing other key social and economic problems. In addressing food waste alone, sustainable practices throughout the value chain can be versatile to extend across markets.
Robert Evans, of the Diana Food Division, was a speaker on a food waste panel at the 2014 IFT conference who discussed extracting value from byproducts. Evans believes that “extracting byproducts in the natural food ingredients industry can provide functional solutions around the world and minimize upstream losses to food waste.”
Through involving the entire value chain, from sustainable agricultural practices and raw material sourcing to safe extraction methods, Evans believes that we can bring functional molecules to the market and reduce carbon footprints. Larger food companies are beginning to take action in the reduction of food waste, but innovation needs to occur at a system level across the supply chain to curb wasteful and unsustainable practices. Extracting value from byproducts along with smart sourcing are just some of the sustainable practices being introduced. Food safety and quality oversight at every step along the way is crucial to reducing food waste by ensuring that otherwise wasted products are held to the same quality standards as other ingredients. With that being said, we will continue to see innovation in food safety technology and systems play a dominant role in reducing food waste and utilizing byproducts.
The study looked at an unprecedented 343 peer-reviewed publications comparing the nutritional quality and safety of organic and conventional plant-based foods.
The largest study of its kind has found that organic foods and crops are more nutritious than their conventional counterparts. The study, led by a team of scientists at Newcastle University in England, found that organic foods have more antioxidants, fewer pesticide residues, and lower levels cadmium and nitrogen compounds.
Published in the British Journal of Nutrition, the study looked at an unprecedented 343 peer-reviewed publications comparing the nutritional quality and safety of organic and conventional plant-based foods, including fruits, vegetables, and grains. The study team applied sophisticated meta-analysis techniques to quantify differences between organic and non-organic foods.
Washington State University research professor Chuck Benbrook was the only American co-author of the study.
According to a WSU press release about the findings, “consumers who switch to organic fruits, vegetables, and cereals would get 20 to 40 percent more antioxidants. That’s the equivalent of about two extra portions of fruit and vegetables a day, with no increase in caloric intake.”
Antioxidants are thought to help prevent a variety of diseases, including coronary heart disease, stroke and certain cancers.
Conventional crops had twice the amount of cadmium and were three to four times more likely to have pesticide residues than the organic versions, the Newcastle study found. Cadmium is a highly toxic heavy metal contaminant that has been linked to kidney failure, bone softening, liver failure, and lung cancer.
What is sustainability and how does it relate to food safety? This article, the first in a series on the topic, introduces the concept of sustainability.
The global food industry is already feeling the destabilizing and disruptive effects of climate change. Drought and wildfire are ravaging California while flooding is inundating the Midwest. With the effects of climate change projected to amplify, companies are becoming increasingly aware of vulnerabilities to their business. In addition, current modes of food production are seen as a major driver of environmental problems such as deforestation, desertification, eutrophication and fisheries collapse. All of this is set to the backdrop of a booming world population, rapid urbanization, diminishing natural resources, and critically stressed ecosystems.
Food companies are increasingly becoming aware of these challenges and are looking for innovative ways to adapt their business models to account for them. One approach is to incorporate sustainability into business strategy and planning.
Sustainability is a conceptual framework that has the potential to mitigate business vulnerabilities while simultaneously reducing the stress that food production has on social and natural resources. In general terms, sustainability is the endurance of systems and processes. More specifically, it integrates ecology, economics, politics, and culture. Connecting environmental stewardship with a solid business plan while advancing social justice is an innovative as well as profitable approach to streamlining business operations.
There are different methods to assess sustainability, with the most common being the Triple Bottom Line and Circles of Sustainability. These methods are multi-dimensional and allow for the inclusion of complex qualitative issues. Sustainability has also been deceptively referenced in a number of marketing campaigns aimed at altering how a company is publicly perceived, not how it operates. This is a practice known as greenwashing.
In the upcoming series of articles, topics such as co-management, food waste, water conservation, agriculture, and others will be observed through an interdisciplinary lens, tying food safety with sustainability. Given the connection to the entire food production process from farm to fork, food safety professionals are poised to lead in sustainability. Many of the systems already developed to detect, prevent, and trace contamination can be retooled and applied toward sustainability. Elements of food safety programs and auditing schemes such as HACCP, GFSI, and SQF could be adapted to cover environmental and social benchmarks.
Food companies must develop more sustainable solutions in an effort to protect food safety and natural resources. Businesses, driven by C-suite oversight and stakeholder initiative, need to co-manage food quality, safety, and sustainability in a collaborative approach. Decision making at every step in the supply chain should comprehensively approach food safety, quality, and sustainability where possible.
Andrea Moffat is the Vice President of the corporate program at Ceres, a non-profit organization that publishes findings on corporate sustainability and progress. She believes that, “Businesses need to look at sustainability and food safety as part of their core business framework in identifying risks and competitive advantages. We are beginning to see teams of executives involving sustainability issues in setting sales and revenue targets.”
By reaching across borders within a company and working toward these benchmarks, businesses can improve operations while maintaining customer loyalty and brand confidence. At the end of the day, food safety professionals are stewards of public health. Sustainability offers food safety professionals the opportunity to expand their influence on public health and safety.
Uncertainties around climate change are now threats for businesses in every sector. The food industry is witnessing the effects of climate change on vital natural resources, and thus business planning now. Food companies are beginning to look at sustainability as an opportunity to improve business operations at the moment and in the future. The upcoming articles will focus on the interconnectedness of food safety and quality with sustainability.
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