From countless recalls, to FSMA deadlines, to the rising demand for transparency, 2016 has been a monumental year in the food industry. With 2017 knocking, here are the top trends and predictions to watch out for in the food industry next year.
1. Moving Toward a Fully Digital, Connected Supply Chain
The food supply chain in many ways is still lagging behind in technology compared to other supply chains. In 2017, many companies will begin or continue on their journey to fully digitize their supply chain, whether that is simply getting their list of approved suppliers out of an Excel spreadsheet and into a supplier management software technology solution or fully capturing every step of their products along the journey from farm to fork.
The spectrum of digitization across the supply chain is quite broad. But bottom line, supply chain analytics will empower food companies to create useful KPIs, allow them to truly measure the ROI of their supply chain initiatives and give consumers the transparency that they demand. And systems that fully support the daily monitoring, sharing and interpretation of those analytics needed to help companies will experience tremendous growth in 2017.
Collaboration with your supply chain partners is an absolutely critical element, and we can expect to see more companies fully integrate throughout their network of suppliers and customers. Food companies that will succeed in 2017 will need a fully integrated supply chain network, with access to the same information, working towards a shared mission to deliver results and be ahead of their competitors. A connected supplier network will allow food companies to be agile when faced with an issue, responsive to recalls, as well as be flexible and efficient.
2. Recalls, Recalls, Recalls
We saw a high volume of recalls this year, and this trend is not going away anytime soon. As more and more advances in food testing are made, companies will have access to new technologies across their supply chain that will identify issues early. Consequently, more products will need to be pulled out of the supply chain because of that increased testing in order to maintain consumer sentiment.
The companies that are able to roll out these capabilities quickly and efficiently—armed with the data needed—will be well poised to manage their supply chain, potential recalls and the impact to their customers. With the knowledge that we can expect to see several recalls in the new year, food companies should be looking to mitigate risks and better manage their supply chain.
3. Full-force FSMA Is Here Whether You Like It or Not
FSMA focuses on amplifying preventive controls for food production in order to alleviate potential food contamination outbreaks, and the past two or more years have been focused on this preparation. This preparation will come to a pinnacle in 2017, the first full year of FSMA implementation worldwide, with the FDA starting audits for larger companies. This could lead to the FDA requesting required records, conducting audits and in the worst situation for food companies, shutting down operations if they feel it’s necessary.
FSMA will require detailed record keeping when a recall or outbreak occurs, with clearly defined corrective actions in place. Companies will see an increased need for technologies that help supply preventive processes such as food allergen and sanitation controls, as well a prepared recall and supply chain plan. Tracking and traceability will be the two key parameters that will offer manufacturers the ability to examine specific foods and trends to improve their overall process. In order to comply with these new FSMA regulations at every step of the process, food companies will increasingly look to utilize these technologies to account for full traceability of the supply chain.
4. Growth in Foodservice At the Consumer’s Doorstep
Brands like Starbucks and Panera have been testing the food home delivery waters, but more companies seem to be jumping onto the trend of bringing gourmet food directly to the consumer’s doorstep—Blue Apron, Plated, HelloFresh just to name a few.
Attend the Food Safety Supply Chain Conference, June 5–6, 2017 in Rockville, MD | LEARN MORERetailers demand peak supply chain performance, and suppliers who fail to provide on-time, accurate deliveries face costly penalties. Further to peak performance, retailers also require a high level of supply chain visibility and transparency to ensure the quality and safety of the food they’re selling. The many moving parts of the supply network require a fine-tuned logistical approach, and a big piece of this is having a retail strategy that optimizes and consolidates your food shipments. This helps suppliers in a myriad of ways, which we’ll delve into here.
Before we do that, let’s set the stage a bit: Compliance programs are the norm within today’s retail supply chain. These programs outline appointment times and delivery standards to ensure quality of goods—among other things—along with the penalties for not meeting the terms. Retailers’ compliance programs vary, but the theme is consistent: Non-compliance results in major costs that add up over time and cause the risk of loss of business.
To gain a competitive advantage, shippers are focusing more on retail consolidation programs that optimize and consolidate shipments while focusing on customer service to help shippers get ahead. These programs can provide complete visibility, enhance control, capture critical business intelligence, create efficiencies, decrease costs, reduce mileage, improve speed to market, and decrease over, short and damage (OS&D) claims—among other benefits.
Let’s take a closer look at some of these:
1. Enhanced Inventory Management
Inventory control is critical in the retail sector. Retailers try to keep their inventories low and have just-in-time deliveries from vendors. This helps to ensure goods are delivered and sold at the highest quality, which, for certain foods like fresh produce or refrigerated items, can often have a narrow window of freshness. At the same time, retailers want to make sure the product they need is going to be available. This is especially the case when seasonal demand for certain food items ebbs-and-flows, such as during the holidays.
As part of a retail optimization program, supply chain service providers can help retailers and suppliers manage inventory by analyzing data and making proactive, rather than reactive, inventory and transportation decisions.
2. Reduced Transit Times
The growth of the omni-channel sector—including in the grocery business—means customers want and expect things at the click of a button, and lead time has a major impact on the cost, quality control and continuity of ordering patterns. In fact, a recent report from Internet Retailer, 2016 Online Food Report, details how the online grocery sector is suddenly a booming market, and is expected to grow by 157% to $42.1 billion this year alone, according to Morgan Stanley.
Proactive communication and continual analysis of transit time data can help suppliers plan and execute an effective transportation strategy as the omni-channel food retail market continues to tick up. Namely, by combining potentially inefficient partial loads into fully utilized truckloads, suppliers can achieve shorter, more predictable transit times. With proper pre-planning, loads can be consolidated, which then allows zone skipping and more direct transportation routes. Zone skipping also reduces the number of times freight is handled, which reduces the risk of damage and errors.
3. Network Optimization
A comprehensive network analysis and optimization effort can drive significant reductions in landed costs while maintaining, or even improving, transit times by considering production, warehousing and inventory needs in addition to transportation. Warehouse location is a critical decision; however, growth projections and potential new markets must be included in forward planning to ensure that today’s appropriate solution does not become tomorrow’s barrier to scalability.
The decision to work with a single national warehouse provider or multiple regional warehouse providers is driven not solely by cost, but also by the consideration of utilizing a single or multiple warehouse management systems. This analysis complements a mode optimization effort, allowing shippers to control costs, ensure product safety and quality and enhance service through the optimum blend of intermodal, truckload and LTL services.
4. Better Visibility and Collaboration
Supply chain performance is critical to controlling costs, improving service, and when it comes to the food supply chain, ensuring quality of perishable goods. According to a survey by ECR McKinsey, successful collaboration on average resulted in a 4.4% decrease in out-of-stocks and a cost reduction of 5.4%.
Collaboration can begin early in the supply chain. Shippers’ supply chain providers can provide an analysis of the entire supply chain and break down the invisible barriers that exist between different divisions within a supplier. Often, suppliers don’t realize they are operating in silos, are unaware of what others within the business may be doing and are unaware of the implications of those actions. They can also become so focused on meeting their immediate goals, they lose sight of the big picture.
Early planning also helps providers offer a custom solution. For food service companies with multiple distribution facilities, retail consolidation becomes an important piece in the supply chain strategy and a critical method for improving profitability.
Implementing an Effective Retail Optimization Program
There are several elements of an effective retail optimization program, including:
The right retail consolidation programs allow the entire supply network to comply with retailers’ requirements while also increasing visibility, reliability and quality of product. Overall, this creates value for the shipper and their end-customers through improved service. It’s a win-win situation for all parties involved.
Attend the Food Safety Supply Chain Conference, June 5–6, 2017 in Rockville, MD | LEARN MOREA recent study from The Hartman Group on the topic of transparency found that consumers are becoming more concerned about imports and the safety standards behind companies producing food and beverage products beyond U.S. borders.
So with the drastic rise in consumer expectations for food quality and safety in the past few years, how can companies ensure they’re mitigating risks in the supply chain while fostering transparency to meet consumer expectations?
To our benefit, the focus of the broader food industry and the government, as well as innovations in technology, are making it easier than ever to comprehensively track the supply chain.
Another Day, Another Food Recall, Another Listeria Scare
In today’s reality, whether we like it or not, food recalls are an inevitable part of the food industry, and adulteration in the supply chain is a key safety issue. With the wellbeing of consumers at stake, if a contamination finds its way into a brand’s supply chain, the best possible course of action is to take action on a recall using impeccable supply chain records and monitor the affected product moving throughout the chain.
With recalls being here to stay in the food industry, companies need to be prepared to handle these issues quickly and effectively. By implementing supplier management and whole-chain traceability software, allergens and impurities can be pinpointed to a specific lot of product as opposed to being limited to processing/issue date, and not knowing the source or country of origin of every ingredient (as many suppliers can contribute to one product) within the supply chain.
Additionally, with these technologies, brands can keep their supply chain transparent and compliant with growing industry regulations. With consumer standards on the line, proactive transparency can ensure that a company has a plan of attack when the inevitable hits.
A Targeted and Precise Plan
Companies and brands need to broaden their definition of food safety in order to manage and satisfy an expanded set of consumer expectations. The traditional, linear “one-up and one-back” (OUOB) approach to supply chain is no longer acceptable when it comes to comprehensive supply chain transparency.
Consumers need a targeted and precise plan when dealing with the safety of their food—it’s no longer just about whether the food safe to eat. The definition has expanded to include safety around ingredients and country of origin. Awareness of where a product came from and where it is going next is not an acceptable method if a company wishes to foster transparency with customers and effectively manage recalls. In addition, these standards are emphasized by federal regulations like the FSMA and FSVP—the industry is now shifting towards preventative approaches to safety matters, as opposed to reactive. FSMA requires food manufacturers to increase focus on prevention rather than response to contamination incidents, which will require a comprehensive view of the entire supply chain.
Brands will need to develop strong food safety plans with streamlined audits and compliance records, verifying supply chain partners and executing corrective actions for suppliers that are not in compliance with the process and food safety plan set in place. In establishing this process, having the technology to support it is paramount in ensuring that suppliers are sticking to the food safety practices necessary to follow industry regulation and exceed consumer expectation.
Transparency in Today’s Complex Food Paradigm
As the global food supply continues to grow in volume and complexity, brands have an opportunity and an obligation to adapt to the food paradigm. According to a Label Insight study, 94% of consumers say transparency from food brands is the #1 factor that impacts purchase. Brands are no longer able to blame a supplier’s lack of transparency or unreliable records for exposing consumers to unsafe products but instead, the brand is solely held accountable.
Transparency and proactivity were optional in the past, but are now established as fundamental components of a brand’s safety plan if they are to adapt to the changing industry landscape as well as consumer demand. As recalls are bound to happen, proactivity and transparency can ensure that a company is one step ahead of an outbreak at all times.
The fact is, adapting to this shifting environment and aligning with these best practices and the technologies that enable them is critical to the success of the supplier, distributor and across the whole supply chain. Food companies must look to utilize big data analytics and intelligent supply chain mapping technologies in order to improve transparency and increase traceability. With the ability to track ingredients back and forth across the supply chain, these technologies enable a safer consumer experience as well as provide tremendous business value in eliminating inefficiencies, managing supply chain issues, and effectively protecting the brand with the insights offered.
It seems there isn’t a day that goes by without a food recall being announced. National brands like General Mills, Kellogg’s and Kraft alone have all experienced major recalls over products contaminated with such hazards as E. coli or undeclared allergens in the last few months. Food recalls are incredibly costly to a company, but can be handled effectively and efficiently with good planning, proper execution and the right technology to back it up.
Fortunately, the food industry is moving in the right direction to encourage better recall management by way of regulations under FSMA. Underscored by these federal mandates, the industry as a whole is moving away from a reactive approach to quality and safety issues within the supply chain, instead adopting a preventative plan of action.
The Multiplier Effect: How One Ingredient Can Lead To Multiple Recalls | Learn more at the 2016 Food Safety Consortium | December 7-8 | Schuamburg, ILRecalls are inevitable in the food industry, and in reality every company has, or will, experience one at some point. What sets a company apart essentially boils down to how they prepare for and react to a recall situation. If a company has done its due diligence to prepare for the inevitable (i.e. putting a recall team in place and implementing the right traceability technology), dealing with a quality or contamination issue can be less painful. Additionally, taking the right preventative steps can ensure a recall situation is proactively handled, rather than leading to a brand’s nightmarish public meltdown.
Getting Beyond “One-up and One-Back”
The industry has relied on a more linear approach to supply chain transparency—the “one-up and one-back” method (OUOB). Knowing where a product has come from one step back in the chain and where it is being sent or sold one step forward is no longer enough. To properly prepare for a recall, and manage product quality, it is imperative that a company employ whole chain traceability software, rather than relying solely on the movement of product within its own four walls.
The OUOB traceability approach is especially dangerous when handling high-risk, perishable foods, like produce or meat—which are often the culprit for recalls. According to a recent study in the Journal of Business Logistics titled, “Tracing Bad Products in Supply Chains” by Kaitlin Wowak, assistant professor of management at Notre Dame, “perishable products, like fresh produce and meats, flow through the supply chain very quickly. And while federal regulations mandate that firms have traceability one step up and down the chain, this may not be sufficient for these perishable products. In those situations, there is often a gap in the information received about the product, say a positive Listeria test, and where that product went in the supply chain.”
Root Cause Analysis is Key
When faced with a recall situation, time is of the essence. The time it takes for the recall team to identify the root cause of an issue and remove it from the supply chain could be the difference between sick consumers and serious brand implications. Being fully cognizant of the entire supply chain via a whole-chain traceability solution allows you to visualize a contaminant’s exact location; this information ultimately helps a brand streamline and manage the issue quickly and effectively.
Wowak’s research profiles a series of recall scenarios. One that was studied found that 50% of the food removed from the supply chain during that recall was actually affected—the other half was perfectly fine. Take the example of a batch of tainted tomatoes in your supply chain. Without being able to identify the root cause at the lot level, a company might be forced to remove all of the tomatoes from its supply chain.
Rather, by utilizing end-to-end traceability software, they can identify the specific farm, pack date and lot from which the produce originated. Tracing that information through each step in the supply chain—hether the tomatoes ended up on a pizza, in a can of salsa, or in a farmer’s market—allows the brand to manage the bad products without disrupting their entire chain or wasting perfectly good produce.
Unfortunately, without the visibility of whole-chain traceability, companies do not have the option to cherry pick tainted vs. untainted food from their chain. This is especially relevant as up to 40% of food in the United States goes to waste, according to the NRDC.1
When faced with a safety or quality issue, communicating information to relevant parties is necessary throughout the process. Especially with FSMA coming into play, if a company experiences a quality issue, they must promptly notify regulatory establishments and be sure to submit documentation and data in an immediate manner for investigative purposes. This can be hindered if a brand does not have a good handle on their supply chain data and must spend hours sorting through file cabinets, emails, or Excel sheets for proper documentation, or coordinating with suppliers for records. The longer it takes to comply with federal regulations and submit data around a recall, the more likely consumers, and the brand, are at risk.
The industry’s shift towards a preventative approach to safety is hitting a milestone as FSMA compliance periods have already taken effect. With this change, the FDA will no longer tolerate poor handling of contamination or quality issues. A company cannot get away with blaming a partner’s lack of transparency, or a supplier’s inconsistent records— the brand is now always accountable. In the coming months, we can anticipate added scrutiny from auditors, more mandatory recalls, even the shutting down of facilities due to noncompliance or negligence around safety concerns.
Having a robust supplier management system in place enables a company to be prepared for a recall situation. With all of your product and supplier data in one place, companies can quickly gather and allocate necessary data like audits and assessments to the appropriate officials, complying with the new required recordkeeping rules. By streamlining the availability of key information, and supporting seamless communication, a brand can be empowered to navigate a quality or safety issue.
As testing across the supply chain increases and the demand for fresh food rises, recalls are not going away. Fortunately, the move to a preventative approach to safety comes at a time where traceability technology is more comprehensive than ever. Food companies have the opportunity to invest in themselves with end-to-end traceability, arming the brand for the inevitable occurrence of a safety or quality issue. By enhancing visibility of the supply chain via an all-encompassing whole-chain platform, it is possible to track a product through each stopover to the consumer, from farm to fork. At the same time, housing all data in one efficient platform can ease the pressure of liaising with supply chain partners and regulatory bodies and streamline communications when faced with a safety situation.
While recalls are an inescapable part of the food industry, what sets a brand apart is how well they prepare and arm themselves with the technology to stay ahead. Implementing supplier management and whole-chain traceability software can help a company stay one step ahead of a recall, which makes all the difference when consumer wellness and brand reputation are on the line.
FSMA is fostering a surge in technology solutions, analytical tools and training products marketed to the food industry in the name of achieving FSMA compliance. And while many of these products were available pre-FSMA (especially in other industries like the life sciences), FSMA’s momentum has fueled the adaptation of solutions to meet the specific needs of the food industry for achieving and maintaining regulatory compliance. This article is a summary of emerging trends in food safety management by producers, manufacturers, distributors and retailers through the application of technology, educational tools, monitoring and detection systems, and other support mechanisms.
Want to learn more about FSMA trends and compliance? Attend the 2016 Food Safety Consortium in Schaumburg, IL | December 7–8 | LEARN MOREWhether by the spark of FSMA or because it makes practical sense (and most likely, a bit of both), businesses are integrating their food safety programs with enterprise initiatives and systems for managing compliance and risk to achieve increased visibility and harmonization across the organization. The most popular trends fueled by FSMA largely reflect technology solutions to achieve this integration.
Subsequently, solutions that support risk assessment, supply chain management, real-time monitoring, corrective action, self-assessment, traceability, and training management are most attractive and lucrative from an ROI perspective. And while it may be hard to find a one-size-fits-all technology solution depending upon the needs of the organization, technology service providers are quickly raising the bar to meet these growing needs as organizations strive to reduce risk and increase compliance. Other top trends at the periphery of technology solutions include the mobilization of food safety personnel and increased availability of on-demand training and detection tools to bring the FSMA movement full circle.
1. Software-as-a-service (SaaS) technology solutions quickly gained a following in the food industry in recent years to achieve an automated food safety and quality management system (FSQMS) solution.
The substantial management components and recordkeeping requirements of the FSMA rules has accelerated the food industry’s need for automated solutions to document program management, queue workflows and distribute notifications for corrective and preventive action (CAPA). Understanding this need, many SaaS providers evolved with FSMA to provide functionality that dovetails with new regulatory requirements.
2. Increased availability of risk and vulnerability assessment tools is of significant importance in meeting many requirements of FSMA’s rules.
The regulatory language of all FSMA rules is steeped in risk analysis to support the prevention of food safety hazards and threats. This creates a demand for user-friendly tools and training courses to help food businesses analyze and update their management systems within the context of these new requirements. Risk and vulnerability assessment tools currently available to the food industry are diverse in functionality and vary in scope and cost.
For example, FDA’s free online tool, FDA-iRISK 2.0, assesses chemical and microbiological hazards in foods through process models, which quantify risk across scenarios and predict the effectiveness of control strategies. Commercially available food hazard assessment tools based on HACCP/ HARPC principles include Safefood 360° and EtQ, which provide risk assessment modules as a part of their SaaS platform.
Universities, trade associations, and commercial risk management and consulting firms came together to produce two very different food fraud vulnerability tools to support the industry. SSAFE by the University of Wageningen RIKILT, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam and PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) is a free online tool and mobile app, which guides users through a decision tree and assessment questionnaire to determine fraud opportunities, motivators and gaps in existing controls. EMAlert by the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) and Battelle is a subscription-based online tool to assess vulnerability from economically motivated adulterants (EMA’s). Individuals conducting vulnerability assessments are recommended to periodically access food risk databases such as the U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention’s (USP) food fraud database to stay informed of historical and emerging threats to the supply chain.
And in support of FSMA’s Food Defense rule, the FDA developed a free food defense software tool, Food Defense Plan Builder (FDPB), to help food businesses identify vulnerability to intentional adulterants and terrorist attacks on the food supply chain.
3. SaaS platforms, app-friendly assessment tools and FSMA recordkeeping requirements are creating a natural pathway for the increased use of mobile devices and electronic recordkeeping and verification.
From supply chain management to effective traceability to regulatory compliance, efficient document management and on-demand data retrieval is a must have of the modern FSQMS. Food businesses recognize the inherent obstacles of paper-based systems and increasingly trend towards rugged mobile devices and electronic recordkeeping to make better use of personnel resources, technology solutions and data. FSMA is helping leverage this trend two-fold through increased requirements for documentation and verification of food safety management activities and by not requiring electronic records to additionally meet the provisions of 21 CFR part 11 (electronic recordkeeping).
4. An increased demand for more effective, frequent and accessible training must be met across an organization to maintain an adequately trained workforce responsible for implementing FSMA.
To keep up with this demand—as well as the training demand imparted by GFSI schemes and fact that a company’s FSQMS is only as good as those who develop and operate it—food businesses are turning to online and blended learning courses to increase training frequency and effectiveness. In Campden BRI’s 2016 Global Food Safety Training Survey, 70% of food processors and manufacturers responded that they received training deficiencies during audits as the result of a lack of refresher training and/or lack of employee understanding.
In an effort to help close this gap and meet new implementation requirements of FSMA, food safety training providers are increasing offerings of eLearning courses, which provide targeted content in shorter duration to meet users’ needs in an interactive (and often multilingual) format. Shorter and more frequent targeted training is proven to increase knowledge retention and job performance. E-Learning training solutions can be found through dedicated training service providers as well as universities, trade associations, regulatory agencies, scheme owners, certification bodies, and other compliance organizations.
Depending upon the training provider, online training may be distributed through a learning management system (LMS) to provide additional training tools, assess training effectiveness and manage the training activities and competencies of all participants.
5. Targeted monitoring and verification activities such as product testing, environmental monitoring or water quality testing are helping to increase the demand for pathogen testing and push the frontier of improved rapid pathogen detection methods.
In a recent Food Safety Tech article, Strategic Consulting, Inc. noted more than a 13% annual increase in pathogen testing by contract food laboratories as determined by a recent industry study conducted by the group. The study additionally identified turn-around-time as the second most important factor for suppliers when choosing a contract lab. Increased access to rapid pathogen testing—and in particular, detection without time-dependent cultural enrichment—are primary needs of food businesses as regulators and customers push for enhanced monitoring and verification via testing mechanisms.
Currently, there are numerous rapid methods based on DNA, immunological or biosensor techniques. These methods can detect foodborne pathogens in relatively short amounts of time ranging from a few minutes to a few hours. But they often require pre-processing strategies to reduce matrix interference or concentrate pathogens to meet the level of detection (LOD) of the assay.1 These strategies increase the overall time of the assay and are largely the next hurdle for improved rapid detection.
6. Food businesses are experiencing a wave of self-assessment followed by CAPA as organizations work to analyze and update their food safety systems and protocols within the context of applicable FSMA rules.
This trend has the potential to be the most beneficial to the supply chain and consumers as it provides a distinct opportunity for food businesses to reconsider previously overlooked hazards and vulnerabilities and upgrade food safety controls along with the management system. Seeing the FSQMS with fresh eyes—outside of the framework of a familiar standard—can lead to significant improvements in food safety management, product safety and quality, and even operational efficiency.
7. For many food businesses, heightened regulation has spurned the need for dedicated staff to support compliance efforts.
Many food businesses are subject to multiple rules—some of which require a dedicated individual such as the Preventive Controls Qualified Individual (PCQI) to assume responsibility for the implementation of various provisions. And food businesses are not exempt from the acute need for qualified individuals with a food safety skill set. Across the industry, from service providers to retailers and everyone in between or at the fringe, executives understand that it takes tireless leadership and knowledgeable staff to produce safe food.
8. More than any other trend, communication on FSMA, food safety and related topics is easily the most prevalent exhibiting exponential activity over the past five years.
Whether in support or contention with the proposed (now final) rules, FSMA promulgates constant dialogue about food safety, what it means and how it should be implemented. The constant flurry of communication provides both benefits and deterrents to understanding the new regulations and identifying effective solutions for compliance. This dichotomy creates a significant need for authoritative and easy-to-understand information from consolidated sources within the industry such as trade associations, risk management organizations and food safety schemes. The divide has also helped fuel the need for information hubs like the Global Food Safety Resource (GFSR) that aggregate critical regulatory information, food safety solutions and best practices to reach a global community.
Wang, Y. and Salazar, J.K. Culture-Independent Rapid Detection Methods for Bacterial Pathogens and Toxins in Food Matrices. Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety. 2016; 15(1): 183-205.
Join Gina Kramer at the Listeria Detection & Control Workshop, May 31–June 1 in St. Paul, MN | LEARN MOREI recently spoke with Wes Billingslea, one of the co-founder’s of Till Mobile Corp., a company founded because its team realized large brands needed to connect all the way down to the smallholder and grower level. There are more than 6 billion mobile devices on earth and only a small percentage of them are smartphones. Till uses voice, text, and SMS-mobile to enable two-way communication with smallholders, and to deliver visibility and traceability. The company is able to collect massive amounts of data from growers because there is no resistance to using mobile phones. It works with your existing systems to identify and fill data gaps that create risk. The big brands access detailed analytics and can communicate directly throughout their supply chain to accelerate supplier onboarding, support local and alternate sourcing, and check inventory, pricing, and food safety standards.
I asked Wes, as a food company, how could this technology save me money? To start, it allows you to check inventory and pricing, and helps you adhere to your food safety standards beyond the packinghouse or distributor. It can also help you get more out of your existing systems to protect your IT infrastructure.
In the following video, we discuss the Salmonella outbreak in cucumbers that occurred last summer. In such a scenario, this new technology could help save food retailers money during an outbreak or recall by giving them greater visibility and real-time data, and help them source alternatives directly.
When a business decides to invest in technology, the primary driver is usually to save money over the long term. As with most automated systems, inventory management tools can reduce costs by saving time and resources used to manage inventory.
But the benefits that automated inventory tracking can provide through traceability (of lots, batches, and even individual items) go beyond the financial. These systems can also be used in every aspect of your food safety program from helping with compliance, to improving your quality controls.
Exchange knowledge about managing your supply chain at the Best Practices in Food Safety Supply Chain conference | June 5–6, 2017 | LEARN MORE
In a nutshell, having an automated system that allows full visibility into the supply chain—that is, one that identifies in real time where items are being used and where they are sent, while retaining a historical record of that flow through the chain—makes it much simpler and faster to implement procedures to ensure the safety of the food you produce.
All about Accuracy and Speed
Speed and accuracy make a huge difference when it comes to dealing with potentially contaminated food. Being faster and more accurate than a manual inventory method is the most immediate benefit that an automated system brings to your food safety program.
The most compelling reason for having accurate and readily accessible track-and-trace data is to handle food recalls and to comply with requests for documentation from government agencies such as the FDA. In cases where consumer health is at risk, that information needs to be delivered quickly to prevent further harm, and it must be accurate to enable investigators to move in the right direction. Responding to requests for detailed documentation within a 24-hour timeframe can be nearly impossible if you are not using an automated system.
Even when the situation doesn’t involve a federal investigation, once a situation in which possible contamination or mislabeling arises, the faster you have accurate and detailed data, the faster your internal processes can move forward.
If the issue is identified through your quality control process, you will be more likely to be able to prevent contaminated product from reaching the retail outlet and thus getting into the hands of the consumer. Having traceability built into your inventory management systems provides immediate knowledge about whether a product using ingredients from the same batch have entered the distribution chain, and if so, where they are going. This greatly improves the likelihood of limiting the cost and scope of a recall.
Depending on the specific technology you employ, an automated system can provide immediate access to the track and trace information for specific ingredients at least one step backward and one step forward, as required by the Bioterrorism Act of 2002. A supply chain that integrates the most sophisticated technology, such as DNA tracking, can trace an item all the way from the farm or border to the individual consumer or restaurant kitchen.
This traceability means that if an ingredient was already contaminated before it entered your production line, the inventory tracking system can identify all products using that ingredient from the contaminated lot and thus will help you define the scope of the problem. This automation can go a step further by identifying where the ingredient lot originated, and thus help trace the ingredient at least one step backward to the vendor. If the vendor (whether a distribution company or a direct supplier) has traceability in an automated system, or if you are using a system hosted by a distribution partner, tracing the source farther back than one step is possible.
Such information can help you respond more quickly to FDA requests for product information and support the agency’s efforts in product traceability.
Protect Your Reputation
Just as using tracing technology can help identify potential contamination sources quickly, it can also be used to eliminate sources more quickly and accurately, thereby speeding up investigations into food contamination incidents. The faster a company can be eliminated from an investigation, the less time is taken away from normal production. In addition, quick exclusion can protect a company’s reputation from harm.
Through their ability to store specific data that can be used to identify potential risks, automated track and trace systems contribute to many preventive food safety measures as well as to the following corrective responses:
For perishable products, automated traceability can identify how long specific perishables have been in supply chain. This allows you to avoid using ingredients close to spoilage and to remove overdue products from the distribution chain.
During mock recalls, automated tracking systems reduce the time spent away from regular production and allow you consistent information throughout the organization, eliminating wasted effort due to miscommunications.
Automated systems reduce the time needed for notifications both internally and externally in the case of an incident affecting food quality or safety. This leads to faster line clearance and faster isolation of the possibly contaminated product.
With more effective accounting for possibly affected batches, you can better identify where to apply cleanup measures in the production chain.
In short, automated tracking can improve implementation of preventive controls to stop the contaminated product from reaching the marketplace, and in cases in which corrective actions are required, the automated system can help you respond more quickly and can reduce the scope of risk.
Not just Foodstuffs
Although raw ingredients and food products obviously require traceability, they aren’t the only traceable inventory that can impact food safety. Automated lot tracking can enhance food safety efforts related to all inventory items used in food processing/manufacturing:
Packaging. A sub-standard packaging lot can allow incursion of harmful substances or the growth of harmful bacteria. Leakers can contaminate an entire batch of meat or poultry product. Automated lot tracking can help you rapidly isolate the bad lot and know which production lines have already used the sub-standard materials.
Labeling. If an inferior adhesive has been applied to a batch of labels, you can identify which product lots to pull from the distribution chain. You can do the same if your quality controls find a batch of inaccurate labels.
Protective equipment and clothing. Gloves, masks and other protective gear must function properly to ensure the safety of your workers and also to prevent contamination from being introduced on the production line. An inferior batch of protective gloves that tear during use, for example, could violate your food safety practices. Identifying the bad batch quickly and removing it from the operations area immediately can save potential contamination.
Cleaning solutions. Even a batch of cleaning solution can be sub-par. If tests show that cleaning has not eliminated the targeted bacteria, for example, you can more quickly take measures to determine whether the root cause of the problem was a procedural issue or a quality issue with the batch of cleaner.
Beyond the Production Line
The benefits of automated tracking systems to your food safety program extend beyond the production line. They can also enhance decision-making, vendor management and communications functions.
When it comes to potential contamination, decision making needs to be both timely and based on the best information available. Automated systems can provide you with accurate information quickly to help you answer these and other key questions, so that the decision on what actions to take can be based on good information:
How widespread is the potential contamination?
Where is the product in the production and distribution chains?
Have we already exposed consumers?
These systems can put the answers to these questions in front of the appropriate decision makers early in the process. The technology can be configured to allow access to the data via a browser, so if those who make the final decisions are located elsewhere, they can see in real time the same information that you are seeing in the plant. This makes communication about potential contamination more effective and clear, since everyone can see the same thing at the same time, and it can eliminate the potential for miscommunication up the chain of command.
By identifying where bad lots entered your supply chain, automated track-and-trace can enhance supplier accountability. You can accurately see if you have vendors with recurring issues in the quality of the supplies they are providing.
Automated Inventory Tracking Technologies
An automated inventory tracking system depends on three components:
A physical component, such as a label or tag, which contains detailed information identifying the specific lot or item.
A database, where each discrete data item is stored.
A reporting interface that allows people to access and use the identification information. This is the programming code that performs searches, retrieves the data, and formats the information in a formatted report, which is then presented on the screen, saved to a file, or sent to a printer.
The most common physical components used by automated inventory tracking systems rely on barcode or RFID technology, or a combination of both. The choice of which technology to use to integrate into the inventory management database layer of the system depends on a number of factors, but both have been proven extremely accurate (some sources say up to 99%). What is more important than the choice of tracking tools is the quality of the data encoded in them.
The latest in tracking technology uses an engineered DNA marker, in the form of an edible spray. When applied to produce, this DNA marker can track the individual item (i.e., an apple, head of lettuce or onion), along the entire food supply chain, identifying where it was farmed, the date it was picked, and where it was processed.
Whatever form of technology you employ, ensuring that your data is complete and accurate and can be integrated into both your supply and distribution chain is critical to realizing the benefits of that system in supporting your food safety efforts.
The WDS Food Safety Team also contributed to this article.
Unfortunately, quite often we are reminded of the vulnerabilities throughout the food supply chain. The latest E. coli outbreak linked to Chipotle restaurants in Oregon and Washington once again has consumers and the food safety industry on edge about traceability and a company’s ability to quickly identify the source of a serious outbreak. According to the CDC’s most recent update, laboratory testing is ongoing to find the DNA fingerprint of the bacteria. Concerning as this may be, no deaths have been reported thus far, but 42 people have been reported ill and 14 have been hospitalized in Washington and Oregon. In the most recent statement released on Chipotle’s website, the company said it is “aggressively” taking steps to address the problem, including by conducting deep cleaning and sanitization of its restaurants as well as environmental testing in its restaurants, and replacing all food items in the establishments that it closed “out of an abundance of caution”.
What if this were a situation of intentional contamination? Would Chipotle or any other company in this type of scenario really be prepared? These questions were posed by Rod Wheeler, CEO of The Global Food Defense Institute during a recent conversation with Food Safety Tech about food defense, and food tampering and intentional adulteration. Wheeler and Bruce Lesniak, president of Lesniak & Associates, shared their views on the threats that the food industry is facing and why companies need to have a strong plan in place to prepare for an attack on the food supply.
During next week’s Food Safety Consortium conference, Rod Wheeler will moderate the Ask the Experts session, “Engaging Food Tampering Discussion Surrounding Food Defense” on Wednesday, November 18. LEARN MOREFood Safety Tech:What challenges do you see companies facing in the area of food tampering and adulteration?
Rod Wheeler: Our food supply is wide open. It accounts for 13% of the overall U.S. GDP. One thing we know about terrorists is that they want to affect our financial markets. What’s the best way to do that? You attack the 13% GDP – and what infrastructure is that? It’s our wireless systems, airline systems, transportation systems, medical supply, or our food and agricultural supply. Those are the top areas in which we need to focus, and we have to make sure the food & agriculture supply remains safe and secure in the United States.
On 9/11 the world changed, and the challenge for us becomes, within all of our 18 infrastructures, but how have we changed? Do we continue to do business the same way we always have, even prior to 9/11? Over the past few years, we’ve seen a significant increase in terroristic activity around the world—from France to Syria to Yemen to Pakistan. Here in the United States, we have to be mindful of what is happening.
We’ve always had food safety programs: HACCP, HARPC, GFSI, SQF, etc.—those are good for unintentional contamination. But what happens if someone wants to intentionally place a deadly contaminant into a product?
In this country, on a daily basis we see contaminations occurring. We were recently notified of a massive outbreak of E. coli that has occurred throughout the Chipotle system: 47 Chipotle stores have been closed. What does that mean? Is that just a food safety issue? What if that E. coli could have been intentionally grown in a test tube and placed into the food supply? Going forward, we have a duty and an obligation to look at these things, not just at face value but think about whether they are intentional events.
FST: Where are the biggest holes within food defense plans?
Wheeler: With more than 15 years of visiting food processing facilities, agricultural farms, dairy farms, and dairy processing facilities, the biggest concern that resonates with me is the fact that the culture of security is not there. The culture of security is simply security awareness—not planning. People in food plants are being taught to be mindful not vigilant. The largest of food companies have well thought out and active safety and defense plans, and their employees are educated, trained and empowered. We find that this falls off sharply with the mid-sized and small manufacturers and suppliers. All food providers must have a comprehensive and strategic security plan that is active and measureable.
For example, let’s say a contractor is walking though a food plant. You have worked in that plant for five years but have never seen this person before. Would you question that person about their credentials? Are people thinking about the things they can personally do to reduce or mitigate the risk… are they empowered?
So, the question is “what do you do when/if”: This is one of the topics we will be discussing at the [Food Safety Consortium] conference. It’s interesting that when we present this scenario to the management of a food company, many answer back with a blank stare. We ask, do you shut down your facility? Do you notify your customers? Do you notify the national media? This question goes to the root of the company’s security culture and the strength of its strategic planning. Until we develop the necessary plans, processes and protocols to respond proactively, we will continue to remain vulnerable.
FST: Do you think many food companies assume something catastrophic won’t happen to them?
Wheeler: I always ask why it is that we don’t anticipate these things in advance. People are complacent. “It’s not going to have happen here,” they say. “What terrorist would come to our small town and do this? We’re just a small mom and pop [business].”
Recently, I received a call from a 17-employee company in Tennessee. This particular company processes honey for 100 large box retail stores. I received a call from the CEO who said, “My client wants us to have one of those vulnerability things.” He was referencing the vulnerability assessment. He said, “I don’t know why they’d want us to have one of those. We’re a small company down here in Tennessee, why does my client think some terrorist would come here?” The fact is, attackers will find the weakest link to attack: The small honey company is not the target; they are the vessel by which the attackers get to the primary target, and in this case, the big box retailer. The big box retailer/supplier is the target and the simplest, most effective way to get to them is through the hundreds of small, low to no protection suppliers.
These are the issues we need to enlighten and educate companies about; we need to get them thinking differently, because this way of thinking is completely different. If you ask someone who’s been in this industry for years, they’ll say, we never had to worry about locking our doors, or use biometrics to gain access to certain areas. We never had to think about these things in the Food & Ag supply before.
During our front line training course, we place a significant amount of focus on the food plant blending areas and why it is the number one threat area for intentional/unintentional contamination of our food supply in the United States. The blending area is exposed to a number of vulnerabilities and once attacked, the tainted ingredients are spread among numerous products that once distributed, are not necessarily quickly traced once they are blended into the final product.
Bruce Lesniak: The consequences of such an emergency are multifaceted; they affect the consumer and their product confidence, the manufacturer through recall and the retailer through recall, brand damage and loss of consumer loyalty. Often, this ripple effect begins with the small supplier and works its way upstream to affect the entire process.
We are seeing this scenario unfold in real time with Chipotle—this is huge in the food industry. FDA has not been able to determine exactly where that genetic fingerprint has originated resulting in location closures, shaken consumer confidence and brand damage. –Rod Wheeler
FST: What will it take the industry to wake up to what could become a serious reality?
Wheeler: Unfortunately it’s probably going to take a major incident for people to wake up and smell the coffee. With that said, we firmly believe that it is critical to awaken the sleeping giants before something happens. We must increase the awareness and provide education to heighten the reality of what can potentially happen and promote proactive engagement of risk mitigation.
FST: In the context of FSMA, are companies prepared for the compliance stage?
Wheeler: Over the years, I’ve seen a number of companies begin to ramp up security at their facilities. But a number of them are doing it because they realize they need to comply with the food defense elements of FSMA; the larger companies are driving compliance and are requiring that their suppliers comply. But I think convincing companies about “Why” this is important, is the challenge. Often times companies will say, “we’re doing this training”, or “we’re doing this vulnerability assessment because it’s a requirement of FSMA.”
We feel that if being compliant is your “Why “reason, then you are spending time and money for the entirely wrong reason. You don’t do vulnerability assessment or training in food defense because you want to comply with the law. You do it because you want to protect your company and the consumer from the reality of what can happen and proactively work to avoid a threat.
Lesniak: We see the adoption trend take hold as it has traditionally, in three phases. First are the early adopters—they understand the importance of compliance for the right reasons and the need for food defense, Second are those who feel the urgency to comply due to a compelling issues (an incident or have been instructed to do so by larger suppliers in order to retain contracts), and third are those who will come kicking and screaming.
Wheeler: A lot of the requirements of FSMA were generated as a result of the PCA event in 2009. The prosecution and subsequent conviction of the Parnell brothers isn’t the last prosecution we’re going to see for someone violating a food safety protocol. This is the first, and it’s a wake up call.
Being recall ready goes beyond checking off the boxes for meeting traceability requirements, qualification standards, or meeting auditing requirements for certifications. “It’s really a discussion that needs to happen from a business continuity standpoint within an organization so that should there be an issue, the team has actually talked through different strategies and ways of technically executing a recall within the organization,” says Ryan Gooley, recall consultant at Stericycle ExpertSolutions. During an interactive workshop at next week’s Food Safety Consortium conference, Gooley will lead attendees through recall scenarios and help them create a recall plan to address global needs, communications strategies, resource allocation, and business continuity requirements. Gooley recently sat down with Food Safety Tech to discuss the importance of mock recalls within the food industry.
Food Safety Tech: What are the most common mistakes food companies make in preparing (or not preparing) for a recall?
Ryan Gooley: One of the mistakes companies make is not having the discussion internally about a recall and whether they are ready and able to respond to and support a recall. Although it’s becoming less of an issue, people still don’t want to talk about recalls—they’re afraid if they talk about it, it will happen to them.
They also take their industry partners, whether supply chain partners or existing vendors, for granted.
Ryan Gooley is leading a session, The Multiplier Effect: How One Ingredient Can Lead to Multiple Recalls, at the 2016 Food Safety Consortium conference on Thursday, December 8 | Learn More In addition, companies miss the amount of effort and resources it takes to properly support a recall once a communication goes out. This specifically relates to class I or class II recalls that go down to the consumer level and involve press releases and media exposure.
In any industry, your resources are geared toward producing product and getting it into the market; it’s not the reverse of managing take-backs and returns, and communicating to customers. A lot of it comes down to resource allocation.
FST: What are the most important elements of a recall plan in the food industry?
Gooley: Traceability is huge. Most companies have a pretty good understanding of traceability as it relates to where they receive ingredients, where the ingredients go within their processes, and ultimately where they are distributed. Traceability is important, because you can’t initiate a recall if you cannot identify where the suspect product went.
The other part of the recall plan is testing the plan. Going through your recall plan and testing it pulls together the different departments that are responsible for supporting the recall exercise and effort within the company. Having conversations about who is responsible for what, the information [that should be] pulled, and who needs that information is really important for building the team. [It ensures that] should a company need to initiate a recall, the team members who are engaged and responsible have actually talked through the process and practiced. With more practice comes more efficiency and less chance for error or oversights.
Another important element of a recall plan is understanding your communication plan and communication crisis management plan. A lot of people talk about recalls as just identifying the product and notifying downstream what to stop selling, etc., but a lot of what goes into the recall plan is business strategy—how are you going to manage not only retailer and customer calls, but consumer calls and media calls? Who is responsible for communicating what, when and where? Do you notify just your impacted customer or do you notify your non-impacted customers? What type of communication and messaging do you have? When companies have not done a mock recall exercise, oftentimes they have not had these conversations, and they really struggle on the communications piece, especially because it needs to be drafted, approved, and communicated in a very short period of time.
Moving forward, if food manufacturers, suppliers and distributors want to be ahead of the game, they’ll need to have the ability to view their product throughout the supply chain. During a discussion with Food Safety Tech, Trish Meek, director of product strategy at Thermo Fisher Scientific, explains the importance of product traceability in the food chain, from both a consumer and food producer’s perspective.
Food Safety Tech: In your recent article about Integrated Informatics, you cite it as an ideal solution to modernizing a highly distributed food chain. What are the challenges you see companies facing in managing their global supply chain?
Trish Meek: We’ve seen the issues related to intentional adulteration documented throughout the media, and they extend to traceability. For example, what Tesco experienced during the horsemeat scandal wasn’t necessarily intentional adulteration, but rather a matter of not understanding the supply chain. Horsemeat was introduced in France as legitimate meat and then it ended up in the UK. In this case, you have a lack of traceability and thus a lack of understanding of what has happened to your product in its lifecycle.
In this complex world of suppliers, distributors and food producers, having the ability to pull in analytical data and manage it regardless of the source (whether it’s from the initial ingredient supplier or the final manufacturer) is a critical piece in understanding the overall lifecycle picture. An integrated informatics solution provides a single source of truth for that information: From the technician operating the lab process to the lab manager who is overseeing to the integration into the enterprise-level system. It provides a complete view on everything that has happened to your data, while also enabling the management of regional specifications.
FST: What are the biggest concerns in the area of food chain security?
Meek: Traceability is key, and the common denominator is food chain security: Ensuring that you’re providing security and with an understanding of everything that happened to your product, which leads to quality assurance and brand security.
FST: What are the concerns related to food chain security?
Meek: There are a few concerns:
Correct label claims. For example, 30% of the populous is trying to avoid gluten. While 1% is truly allergic to it, there’s a lot of gluten intolerance. Take, for example, recent commercials from Cheerios saying they are ensuring traceability and can say with confidence that their product no longer comes into contact with wheat in any part of the process. There’s an understanding that consumers want to believe what’s on the label, from both a health and allergy perspective as well as a concern in the public around unhealthy ingredients added or antibiotics used. As a food producer, you want to make sure you can honestly state what has happened to the food and that what you’ve put on your label is true. People are willing to pay a premium, and so there’s a drive towards the premium of being able to claim no GMOs on a label or an organic product.
From a food producer’s point of view, having traceability from all suppliers is key. They want to ensure that any raw materials have been handled and managed with all the same scrutiny and adherence to regulatory requirements as their own processes. With ingredients coming from all over the world, manufacturers are relying on multi-sourcing ingredients from places they don’t necessarily control, so they need to have the traceability before the ingredients appear in the final product.
Using an Integrated Informatics Platform
Trish Meek: Through an integrated informatics platform, users can manage the entire lab process and integrate it into the enterprise system. Having the ability to incorporate the lab data is critical to ensuring product safety, quality and traceability throughout the entire supply chain. Because the solution encompasses lab processes and required lab functionalities, it enables efficiency both in the laboratory as well as across the entire operation. The solution provides an opportunity not just to the top-tier food producers but also the regionally based middle-tier companies that want to set themselves up for future growth.
The reality of the regulations today is that you must look towards the future. Twenty years ago, we weren’t including information about what nuts were present in the labeling. Now there’s consumer awareness and a change in labeling. And five years from now, there could be a different allergy that needs to be documented in the labeling. Integrated informatics gives you the business agility to take on that next step of analysis and adapt to the marketplace.
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