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.
Businesses throughout the food supply chain are using a variety of traceability tools to capture critical information during the path from the field to the consumer. Traceability has always been viewed as an important capability within the supply chain, but FSMA, coupled with retailer and consumer demand, is pushing it to the highest levels yet.
Technology solutions that provide continuous identification and verification include mobile computers, scanners, RFID and mobile printers. While growers, packers, wholesalers, distribution centers and retailers involved in the fresh produce, poultry, meat, and seafood segments are using these technologies, speculation continues about adequate adoption levels.
The larger food providers are embracing track and trace technologies, while smaller business have been much slower to adopt, according to Bruce Stubbs, director of industry marketing at Honeywell Sensing & Productivity Solutions. “It’s going to be difficult to convince the smaller growers to invest in the technology—a lot of them see it as a cost,” he says. “What’s helping is that the retailers are starting to push back and say they are going to require their suppliers to be compliant with [traceability] mandates and if not, they won’t do business with them.”
Out in the field, companies are leveraging scanning and printing technologies, including smart printing technology (essentially a PC with printing capability). The printer hosts data capture and traceability software, providing the tasks and traceability through the software to the scanning devices. It can capture and print the food traceability label, which contains the discreet information, at the point of harvest. At the transportation level, businesses are using mobile computers to scan and capture product information that tracks down to the details from what part of a field, or even which tree in an orchard, a product has been harvested. Traceability technologies are including sensors throughout the cold chain to monitor temperature and humidity as the product is transported from point A to B. All information moves forward into the production facility and the retailer’s distribution center. Once at the retail store level, grocers will be able to pinpoint, within potentially thousands of stores, the specific batches and lots, a key capability in the instance of product issues and recalls.
Traceability is a holistic process, and the potential for its continued growth within the food industry is high. “I see it becoming more prevalent as consumers demand it, and retailers and manufacturers must adapt. I also see them moving away from paper,” says Stubbs. “We’re close; it’s almost like there’s a trickle in the dam right now, but I really believe that over the next couple years, the dam will break and most [companies] will need to adopt [traceability solutions] or they won’t be able to effectively do business with a lot of the food retailers.”
Stubbs also anticipates an increased adoption of 2-D barcodes versus 1-D linear laser barcodes, as 2-D barcodes can contain far more information. “We are at the tip of those technologies—they exist. It’s just the integration of these systems and providing the information in a format at the supplier or food manufacturer level,” he says.
How is your company implementing traceability solutions? What challenges and benefits are occurring as a result?
To understand why an integrated informatics solution is important to manufacturers in the food and beverage industry, it helps to first consider the unique challenges this industry faces. Simply put, food production has scaled into a global business so rapidly that oversight has hardly kept pace. Even the stricter regulatory stances taken by the FDA and the European Union in the past decade are effectively catch-up efforts.
The broader food industry, which for purposes of this article will also comprise the beverage industry, has globalized quickly and, many would argue, haphazardly. It actually wasn’t that long ago that the products we purchased in our local food store were produced locally or regionally. Seasons determined selections as well—if you wanted a tomato in November, you would pay a premium for that indulgence.
Seasons and geography no longer constrain what we can buy and when. By far the world’s largest industry—with a combined revenue of more than $4 trillion, the food industry has used its massive scale to overcome historical limitations. We now take for granted that our grocery carts can be filled with fresh products that may come from thousands of miles away. And those products may have been grown, processed and shipped in multiple countries before they reach our local grocer.
The complexity and scale of this modern food supply chain is the industry’s greatest challenge and regulators’ greatest worry (on consumers’ behalf). How can growers, producers, processors, packagers, shippers and others in the global supply chain secure a food chain that’s so distributed? How can regulators ensure safety without restricting choice or inflating prices?
The Bits and “Bytes” of Food Safety
The food industry—and its regulators—would likely agree on one thing: A system this massive cannot operate on trust alone, as it once did. The grower with generations of experience on the land, for example, is now too far removed from end consumers. A finished product may contain one farmer’s product and those from five others, all from different regions worldwide.
Integrated informatics may seem like an unlikely fix for modernizing a highly distributed food chain, but it’s actually perfectly suited. An integrated informatics platform provides access to massive amounts of information in a timely fashion, dramatically improving decision-making. It does this by making information rapidly available to many stakeholders and by ensuring that it’s reliable.
Consider this example. A hypothetical lab uses an analytical instrument to detect pesticides in barley, and regulation dictates that this data be compared to allowable maximum residue limits (MRLs). If the barley sample exceeds allowable MRLs, the manufacturer must identify everywhere that ingredient is being used, quarantine it and determine who produced it. All this must happen quickly and according to strict procedures.
Procedures are critical. Not only must the lab have a process for checking against current limits for a pesticide, for example, but also that analytical information must be carefully tracked with the appropriate sample, and the method used to deliver the result must be consistent between different samples and users. Without an integrated informatics solution, adhering to these procedures, defending the quality of the data, and making it usable would be nearly impossible.
The Role of Informatics in Compliance
Gathering the bits and bytes of data, following procedures and making the data useful enterprise-wide is important, but regulatory compliance is where most industry attention is focused today. This is another area where integrated informatics provides significant benefits.
As mentioned above, food industry growth significantly outpaced regulatory oversight in the past decade. Globalization was rapid and inevitable, but so too were food safety breaches, and with progress came stories of tainted fruits, vegetables, meats, cereals, nut butters and much more. Suddenly we had a trust issue. With a food chain that’s distributed across many borders and jurisdictions, how is the public’s trust best protected and by whom?
From the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) to EU Regulation No. 178/2002, we’ve seen a heightened regulatory focus, and the most common themes are traceability, authenticity and risk-based approaches. The common denominator here is food chain security.
So what does all of this mean for multinational food and beverage producers? It means having to conform to multiple regulatory requirements for each distribution market, and there are often many. And this is a data management and reporting headache. Fortunately, however, common standards such as ISO 22000 exist that enable companies to standardize their processes enterprise-wide, achieving levels of operational rigor and quality that satisfy multiple regulatory authorities at once.
So where do informatics fit into this regulatory compliance landscape? In a typical multinational food producer, a significant amount of the quality data is delivered by the laboratory. Raw materials are analysed for pesticides, herbicides, nutritional content and so on. Packaged products are monitored for shelf-life compliance. Plant hygiene is monitored using microbiological samples taken from across the facility. Records from all of these distinct, but interrelated activities are critical for demonstrating compliance.
The shift in recent years has been toward prevention instead of crisis response. Regulators now focus on auditing food and beverage producers to assess their practices prior to any adverse event. For companies with good systems in place, time-consuming audits will be less frequent, so it pays to have systems in place that demonstrate that data is reliable and defensible.
Audits can be daunting. The producer must prove that activities were carried out correctly, that records are properly collected and that supporting information is accurate. Auditors typically pick a starting point in a process and follow the trail. They may start by looking at the data associated with a released batch of product; perhaps quality assurance samples; follow the trail to cleaning validation, and then review individual laboratory results, including entire methods, instrument calibration, user training, etc. At each point of the audit, producers must show evidence of compliance—even the smallest details.
With an integrated informatics solution, all evidence resides in a single platform. Hierarchies and relationships within the data records are automatically recorded and retained. Everything—from relationships between lots or batches of material; the connection between methods, specifications and results; the history of an instrument configuration, maintenance and calibration; and user training records—is in one place for easy retrieval and reporting.
Having one system of record not only codifies data capture, it also helps labs create standard operating procedures (SOPs). Establishing SOPs does several important things:
It ensures that all lab users are following the same process—no personal preferences for carrying out a specific test.
It makes sure that all necessary data is collected—by enforcing a series of data entry steps, labs can prevent a method from being marked complete until everything has been entered.
Labs can roll out updates to their processes by updating the method for all users at the same time.
Managing lab execution activities in this way means that data is more consistent; it is being collected in the same way for all users. It is also prone to fewer errors because users move stepwise through each stage of the measurement process, and they can stop a test whenever they encounter a problem.
Traceability, the ability to verify the history, location or application of an item using documented information, has become increasingly more important for the food industry. And traceability is closely linked to compliance and data defensibility. Fortunately, traceability is another strength of an integrated informatics solution.
In practical terms, to demonstrate traceability we must be able to go either backwards or forwards within a set of process items and understand the complicated relationships. An integrated informatics solution lets us map relationships between “child” and “parent” batches, information that can also come from integrating ERP or process or production information management (PIMS) systems. By integrating all this information, manufacturers can trace a product back through intermediate products and raw materials and then forward again to any resultant batches that may be contaminated. In other words, with an integrated informatics solution, traceability is built in.
Because of its size and fragmentation, the global food and beverage industry is a target for adulteration and counterfeiting. The Grocery Manufacturers Association estimates that these activities cost the industry $10–15 billion each year.
While the risk to consumers of adulteration can be deadly, as in the case of milk solids adulterated with melamine in China, much of the impact comes in the form of trust erosion and fraud. An example is Manuka honey, a premium product with purported health benefits that commands a high price. The entry of fraudulent producers into the market affects legitimate producers by creating uncertainly about all products, depressing sales and lowering prices.
This is only one example, but it illustrates the larger problem: Once consumer trust erodes, it’s hard to regain. As it happens, however, honey has unique chemical markers that can be used to determine whether it has been adulterated. But isolating these markers involves complex analysis, including ultra- high-performance liquid chromatography (UHPLC), and methods that are highly specific, consistent and defensible.
Consistency and defensibility are hallmarks of an integrated informatics solution. For the honey producers, an informatics solutions, such a LIMS, can automate processes so that no non-conforming product is missed, establish compliance rules and checks for instrument calibration so that results are defensible, and standardize methods through built-in laboratory execution system (LES) capability.
An integrated informatics solutions is designed to address multiple business needs in the food and beverage industry, from compliance and data defensibility to traceability and brand protection. The complexity and scale of the modern food supply chain demands it.
Growers, producers, processers, packagers, shippers and others in the global supply chain are now interdependent, but not necessarily integrated. The only way to protect consumers, however, is to achieve this integration through a combination of voluntary and imposed compliance. And to achieve this compliance without undue burden on the industry and imposing higher costs on consumers, we need technology that is built for integration at scale—and informatics solutions have proven they are more than capable.
A lot has changed since last year’s article, “Marijuana Edibles: A Regulatory Nightmare.” Marijuana has since catapulted into mainstream thinking via activism, state decriminalization, and medical reforms while investors and banks are beginning to trust the market more, further legitimizing the nascent industry. According to an article from the Washington Post, Colorado’s legal marijuana industry reached $700 million in 2014 and is expected to grow to $1 billion by 2016.
Innovators are beginning to analyze trends on a national level, looking toward federal rescheduling of the drug as a catalyst for more state reforms and wider legalization measures. Federal legalization is in the back of many minds, as the introduction of pivotal state and federal legislative reforms promises more access to banking services, medical research, and more state independence.
While a black market mentality remains prevalent, widespread state reforms, increased venture capital investment, and further legitimization of an industry with less barriers of entry have fostered a perceived reduction in risk. States like Oregon, Washington, and Colorado that have already legalized marijuana for recreational and medical sales are beginning to implement strict packaging rules, requirements for traceability, QA programs, testing and laboratory monitoring requirements, and other regulations that would suggest FDA oversight down the road.
State regulatory bodies such as the Colorado Marijuana Enforcement Division (MED) have matured and expanded their oversight to include certifications and requirements for lab testing and analysis. Marijuana testing facilities can now be certified by the MED to test for residual solvents, poisons or toxins, harmful chemicals, dangerous molds, mildew or filth, harmful microbials such as E. coli or Salmonella, pesticides, and THC levels and Cannabinoid potency.
According to an article from theCannabist.com, edible marijuana took 45% of the market share in 2014 and continues to grow, proving that food manufacturers and processors will gain a bigger share of the market.
BioTrackTHC develops a seed-to-sale traceability system that is the state-mandated reporting system used by any business that touches the plant in compliance with Washington’s i502 regulations (The company also won the contract bid for New Mexico’s and New York’s state-run traceability systems). “From day one, all retail products under i502, including infused edibles, must have laboratory-submitted passing test results and data in the traceability system before it can be unlocked for shipment to retailers,” says Patrick Vo, CEO of BioTrackTHC.
Regulations, especially those addressing traceability, are crucial for advancing the industry and fighting the black market, performing recalls, and improving product quality and safety. Vo adds, “As more states adopt a centralized traceability system, food safety will improve as we see the industry grow.”
“Most of the marijuana edibles producers we advise are working comfortably within their state health department regulations versus a year ago when they were struggling to implement routine compliance,” says Stephen Goldner, CEO of Regulatory Affairs Associates. “But there is a long way to go to make this new marketplace meet the standards routinely met by US food producers in other markets such as nutritional supplements and medical foods.”
Many edible producers are sadly mistaken to ignore FDA labeling and production regulations just because the producer only ships within their own state, according to Goldner. “Whenever FDA has found label or food safety violations of products, whether they are food, drugs or any other product, it has always acted quickly to seize the product, inspect the producer and insist that violative labeling or production practices be remedied,” he says, adding that it won’t be surprising to see FDA start to “seize marijuana-infused food products that make drug claims, especially from the leading current producers” as a way for the agency to insert itself into the inspection and compliance process. “These companies need to have FDA food GMP’s solidly in place and properly documented,” says Goldner.
“Those who have experienced the most consistent and long term success in this industry are those who play above board, those who take the extra effort and make the investment in effort, time, and money to treat their business as if it was already federally legal and had to adhere to standards that other industries must follow,” says Vo. He agrees with the view held by many that long term planning is vital in this industry. “Those who have implemented best practices, QA programs, and traceability software will succeed in the long run, and the bad actors will eventually, by their own poor practices, be filtered out by regulatory and market forces.”
In the near future, the industry will look to other states in regulatory experiments on opposite sides of the spectrum. “New York, which legalized medical marijuana in 2014, is handing out 5 licenses to operate 4 dispensaries each, and allowing licensees to have a grow facility to supply their respective dispensaries. The Commissioner of the New York State Department of Health will have authority on licensing, testing, and medical requirements for patients seeking treatment with medical marijuana,” says R. David Marquez, who operates a Long Island law firm focusing on the cannabis industry.
New York is implementing very strict rules regarding cultivating and processing the plant. California, on the other side of the spectrum, already operates a somewhat loosely regulated medical marijuana market and has been doing so since 1996. The bill to legalize marijuana recreationally in the state is widely expected to pass vote and be implemented in 2016. This would open up an enormous market potential and contribute to the growth of the industry on a national level.
Because marijuana edibles are theoretically both a food and a drug, it is only appropriate that the FDA should look to regulate the industry in the future. In the meantime “Those who have invested the time and money in staying compliant now will be far ahead of the game tomorrow,” says Patrick Vo, who is looking toward federal legalization.
It seems that manufacturers and processors at the forefront of quality and safety testing will succeed in the long run.
Footnote: This is a regulatory update on the cannabis industry with an emphasis on edible marijuana. CannabisIndustryJournal.com, the newest publication, will be launched in September of this year. CannabisIndustryJournal.com will educate the marketplace covering news, technology, business trends, safety, quality, and the regulatory environment, aiding in the advancement of an informed and safe market for the global cannabis industry. Stay tuned for more!
A slaughterhouse owner has been fined around $12,000, and a manager given a four-month suspended sentence, in the first prosecution for criminal charges relating to the 2013 horsemeat scandal.
The first prosecutions in England regarding the 2013 horse meat scandal in Europe has resulted in a one defendant being fined and another getting a prison sentence. More developments are expected from a Dutch trial currently underway.
Slaughterhouse owner Peter Boddy, who admitted to not following the traceability regulations enforced by the European Union and “field to fork” traceability standards was fined about $12,000. Boddy has admitted to selling 55 horses from his abattoir, in Todmorden, West Yorkshire, and accepting 17 animals without keeping proper records.
David Moss, the slaughterhouse manager, received a four-month prison sentence that would be suspended for two years after confessing he falsified an invoice for the number of horses sold in a deal on February 12, 2013.
Speaking about the importance of traceability of food products in relation to public health, the Judge presiding over the case, Alistair McCreath said: “If meat causes ill health, then it is important that those responsible for investigating the cause of it should quickly be able to discover where the meat came from and trace it backwards … to find where the problem lies and prevent the problem escalating.”
Trial is also underway for Dutch meat trader Willy Selten in Den Bosch, who has denied substituting horse meat for beef consignments, claiming that a storage mistake led to a mix-up that eventually led to a 50,000-ton recall of European meat in 2013. Selten is thought to be at the center of a scheme that saw 300 tons of horse meat from Ireland, England, and the Netherlands processed and sold as pure beef.
The horsemeat scandal shocked retail consumers two years ago when authorities discovered horse meat being passed off as beef in numerous products sold at retail in major grocery stores chains and under brands associated with beef products.
UK’s Food Standards Agency (FSA) has expressed being pleased with the results of the prosecution. Jason Feeney, FSA’s chief operating officer said, “The rules on food traceability are there to protect consumers and legitimate businesses. Criminal activity like this across Europe contributed to the horse meat incident. Consumers need to know that their food is what it says it is on the label. FSA continues to support the ongoing investigations into the incident.”
FSA and other government departments have also been implementing the recommendations from the Elliott Review to bolster the integrity of the UK food chain, which includes the establishment of the Food Crime Unit, to focus more on enforcement against food fraud.
Investing in a LIMS will give food testing labs, growers, producers and manufacturers the traceability they need to keep their products safe from contamination and to conform to the stricter regulations and reporting required by FSMA.
Do you know where your food comes from? How sure are you that it was grown, processed or produced with your safety as the priority? Increasingly this issue is headline news as we struggle with managing the outbreak of food-borne illnesses caused by the very stuff of our daily lives: salmonella contaminated peanut butter; e-coli contaminated beef and pork; contaminated spinach, lettuce and strawberries; melamine in milk.
In each instance, the grower or producer had inadequate methods in place to trace the original source of the contamination. The Mexican tomato business was devastated in 2009 when tomatoes were wrongly blamed for an outbreak of salmonella that was actually caused by tainted jalapeño peppers. Without proper systems in place to provide traceability, there was no way to know the contamination source. Several people died, many more became ill and a major business was destroyed for lack of information. The ultimate price for those food producers is that not only have they lost revenue due to product recalls, but, more importantly, they have also lost the trust of the buying public – and governments around the world have taken notice.
In the United States, the oversight of food had fallen under a fractured network of agencies responsible for different parts of the production process, from site inspections and safe processing methods, to the documentation of calorie counts and ingredient listings. Some grown and produced foods fell under the auspices of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), while food groups that contained a combination of meat, dairy and produce fell under the oversight of the Department of Agriculture. Compound this regulatory environment with the fact that staffing for food inspections had been low compared to the volume of inspection needed to manage safe production. This lack of manpower and the separation of responsibilities exacerbated the ineffectiveness of the regulatory agencies and caused confusion among the consuming public.
The FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), the most sweeping reform of our food safety laws in more than 70 years, aims to ensure the U.S. food supply is safe by shifting the focus from responding to contamination to preventing it. The result of this legislation for consumers should be greater safety of their grown and produced foods. The impact for food producers will be mandates for upgraded business and operations plans, investments in instrumentation, software and manpower, and a safer food supply chain. This white paper discusses how to respond to FSMA, the role that traceability plays in it, and how leading food producers have implemented best practice solutions.
Employing a LIMS to meet the demanding FSMA requirements
The most important common thread throughout the FSMA is traceability. Laboratory Information Management Systems (LIMS) play a critical role in the traceability of quality in the production process from farm to fork, providing such capabilities as:
Automated data collection from testing and delivering the records of proof that are required for regulatory compliance;
A secure environment for monitoring batch relationships between raw materials, processed materials and packaged goods;
A centralized system that collects, stores, processes and reports all the data generated within food laboratories, allowing a complete overview of the quality of any product;
Automated checks for out-of-specification results and identification of suspect products to prevent release pending investigation; and
Assurance that all (standard, fast turnaround and condition sensitive) samples are handled and processed correctly.
Furthermore, a LIMS provides the producer with the knowledge that the quality of the product meets the standards set by the regulator, while recording that data for any subsequent inspection. Auditors can review uniform compliance reports and the certificates of inspection stored within the LIMS whenever required to confirm consumer safety.
Ultimately, a LIMS plays a key role in the integration of the laboratory environment with critical enterprise systems to facilitate faster, more informed decisions. This makes laboratory data available to process control systems, giving managers immediate accessibility to results, as well as cascading any release data through to enterprise resource planning systems.
For some food testing laboratories, commercial LIMS have been too costly for the business to absorb and support, forcing them to rely on inefficient manual and error-prone home-grown systems, spreadsheets or paper-based methods. The new legislation will put enormous strain on these labs to remain compliant. Investing in a LIMS will give food testing labs, growers, producers and manufacturers the traceability they need to keep their products safe from contamination and to conform to the stricter regulations and reporting required of the FSMA.
Case Studies: LIMS providing traceability for food worldwide
Chr. Hansen is one of the world’s top food ingredient companies. The company standardized on Thermo Scientific LIMS across all of its six culture production sites in the United States, Denmark, France and Germany to ensure optimum quality control in starter culture production. The LIMS implementation has delivered considerable benefits, including real-time, automated entry and processing of laboratory data, and fast extraction of results, leading to increased laboratory productivity and accelerated sample turnaround. Chr. Hansen has also integrated the LIMS with its existing ERP system, so that test results authorized in the LIMS by lab personnel can be immediately available for the processing facilities technicians and laboratory administrators.
Molkerei Alois Müller produces more than a third of all yogurt eaten in the UK from the Market Drayton factory. The Müller UK labs focus mainly on production Quality Control. Every step in the process undergoes quality checks, which are managed and stored with the LIMS. Müller UK selected Thermo Scientific LIMS to manage their QC data for raw materials, in -process, and finished dairy desserts. The LIMS reduced the amount of error-prone manual paperwork processes and expedited testing, while providing the necessary reports and documentation for a complete audit trail during regulatory inspections. By using a LIMS, Müller is able to trend all data and make quality and safety decisions, as well as any necessary improvements, much faster and more reliably.
Sino Analytica in Qingdao City, China is a world-class food analysis laboratory that provides contract analytical services to a wide range of food suppliers, trading companies, and retailers from China and all over the world. Sino Analytica historically managed data manually in the laboratory with a monthly load of over 1,200 samples. The company chose Thermo Scientific LIMS to support its food safety contract laboratory and meet the internal quality standards and accreditation requirements for food exports to countries including the United States. The LIMS has helped laboratory managers achieve faster assembly, collation, and review of information and data relating to QA/QC activities. The LIMS also demonstrates that the company meets the requirements of auditors and provides documentation for processing internal QC data.
Eurofins laboratories routinely test for the presence of the infectious bacterial generaSalmonella and Listeria monocytogenes in the food processing environment. While L. monocytogenes long has been known as an environmental contaminant, only recently Salmonella has been considered a persistent environmental contaminant.
At this year’s Food Safety Consortium (November 17-18, 2014, Schaumburg, IL), Dr. Douglas L. Marshall, Chief Scientific Officer – Microbiology, for Eurofins Scientific Inc. will present a workshop on Environmental Monitoring. This workshop will provide an overview of analytical methods used, a discussion of the zone approach to environmental monitoring, and a practical example of the use of microbial genetics in Eurofins’ Source Tracking Program to identify and eliminate a pathogen harborage.
Food Safety Tech (FST): How are environmental monitoring requirements changing under FSMA?
Dr. Marshall: The Food Safety Modernization Act passed by Congress contains language in SEC. 418. HAZARD ANALYSIS AND RISK-BASED PREVENTIVE CONTROLS stating: ‘‘(4) the preventive controls implemented under subsection (c) are effectively and significantly minimizing or preventing the occurrence of identified hazards, including through the use of environmental and product testing programs and other appropriate means” and ‘‘(C) An environmental monitoring program to verify the effectiveness of pathogen controls in processes where a food is exposed to a potential contaminant in the environment.”
The Preventive Controls for Human Food Proposed Rule has moved environmental testing to the appendix. It is clearly FDA’s intention that firms use environmental monitoring but how this will ultimately play out in the final rule is unknown. The companies we work with are finding a substantial non-regulatory push for environmental monitoring from their customers. As a result, firms without environmental monitoring programs will find it challenging to escape criticism from inspectors, auditors, and customers.
FST: What are some broad topics you are going to be covering in your FSC presentation?
Dr. Marshall: This EMP workshop will deliver tips for an effective pathogen monitoring program. Highlights include information relevant to answering many EMP questions such as what to test for, what is the value of indicators; where to test, what methods to use, what test volumes are appropriate, how to use trending, and how to remediate an environmental problem.
FST: What are some key challenges when companies do environmental monitoring? For Salmonella, and for Listeria?
Dr. Marshall: Many companies find it difficult to start an EMP program and fail to use the program in a proactive manner as an assessment tool. Environmental monitoring is an essential tool for microbial control, but it is not a control program. Robust programs target areas in a processing plant where environmental pathogen control is critical to product safety. The pathogen of concern may differ depending on food product type and processing conditions.
FST: Why is it important for food companies to pay attention to this critical area of testing?
Dr. Marshall: Numerous recent high-profile foodborne disease outbreaks and large recalls have been traced to poor environmental controls. Lack of effective environmental monitoring by producing firms contributed to these events. As a result, inspectors, auditors, and customers are demanding the placement of environmental monitoring programs as an additional leg on the food safety control stool, adding to GMPs, SSOPs, and HACCP.
FST: What kind of technologies will you be talking about in your presentation?
Dr. Marshall: The talk will present an overview of analytical tools required for routine monitoring and give an example of the use of genetic strain typing as a source-tracking tool for remediation.
What is a traceability system and how is it related to a recall plan? Will FDA require electronic record-keeping? What does FSMA require FDA and industry to do in terms of traceability? These questions and more are answered by The Acheson Group in the latest FSMA Fridays webinar.
What are the latest updates on FSMA? In response to the substantive nature of the public comments, FDA plans on proposing new versions of the Preventative Controls Rules for Humans and Animals.
The proposed Preventative Control rule requires a recall plan. Is traceability covered through mock recalls? A recall plan and a mock recall are not the same as a traceability system. A traceability system focuses on the ability to know what came in from where and where it was sent. A mock recall is a much more involved process that looks at production records and many other factors. However, in order to do a robust recall, you need a functional traceability system. The Preventative Control rule requires a recall plan and other parts of FSMA require traceability systems. The two are related, but they are fundamentally different.
How does FSMA address traceability and why is traceability a part of FSMA? Traceability is distinct from a recall plan and FDA will have to address it separately from the Preventative Controls requirements. Traceability is covered in Section 204 of FSMA which describes the detection and response to food safety problems. While there’s an element of prevention in having a good traceability system, it really focuses on the response side. Traceability continues to be an Achilles’ heel for the regulators. Many of the statute components that are built into FSMA are based on prior experiences and situations. The biggest debacle with traceability was the tomato/pepper issue in 2008 where not only was the commodity wrongly identified, but it took close to eight weeks to figure out that it was wrong.
In this instance, FDA struggled with not having adequate records and being able to do the traceability components correctly and quickly. This and other similar issues has caused the food safety pendulum to swing.
Traceability is essential. FDA would love for the traceability requirements to be more robust, but they are limited by what is economically feasible and practical. Looking to the future, it’s entirely reasonable that traceability requirements could be strengthened.
What does FSMA require FDA to do in terms of traceability? Pre-FSMA, there are record-keeping requirements in place related to traceability coming from the Bioterrorism Act. Basically, the current requirements are one-up, one-down: where did you get the product from, where did you send the product to? In developing the traceability requirements of FSMA, Congress required FDA to conduct pilot studies to determine what practices and technologies work and what doesn’t. FDA also needed to look at the cost/benefit related to technology and changes in traceability systems and what was current practice both domestically and internationally. FDA has the authority through FSMA to require additional records be kept for high risk foods. We expect FDA to issue a proposed regulation for traceability and record-keeping with high risk foods sometime in the future.
What did the traceability pilots recommend and are those recommendations now in effect? Ten recommendations were made to FDA based on the results of the pilot studies and stakeholder input. The first recommendation was that all foods should be designated as traceable, not just those that are designated as high risk. Another recommendation was that FDA should accept electronic records rather than going in person and getting photocopies and that FDA should develop a system for processing traceability data. It was also recommended that FDA work collaboratively with industry. Over the past few years, there have been several industry led efforts with varying levels of adoption that are generally moving towards standardized and electronic records-keeping systems. Finally, it was recommended that FDA identify subject matter experts to help the agency understand specific industries for when there is an issue with the supply chain.
None of these recommendations are currently in effect because FDA hasn’t released a proposed rule yet and is still reviewing the report and public comments. The full report is available for the public to view, but ultimately it is up to FDA whether they accept the recommendations and if/how they put them into regulation.
Will FDA require electronic record-keeping? The agency does not have the statutory authority to require companies to use electronic record-keeping. FDA recognizes that electronic record-keeping is the way of the future and prefers it, but they cannot require it. They will let companies keep their records how they want as long as they can be produced within 24 hours if requested.
What should companies do today to prepare and what do you think FDA will do next? Companies should read the IFT report, read the recommendations, and consider how they would have fared if they participated in the pilot studies. They should give some critical thought to how they would perform if there was an outbreak and they were the focus of a traceability study. Traceability is a byproduct of good record-keeping. If a company has an opportunity to make improvements, consider how traceability can factor in to those changes. Companies should talk to supply partners and understand the whole supply chain. Ultimately, the company is connected to all the other links in the supply chain and any one of those links can impact you.
Is your company ready for ‘TACCP?’ Do you know how long you will be required to retain your records? Is your carrier up-to-date on the sanitary transportation section of FSMA? Dr. Bob Strong, Senior Food Safety Consultant at SAI Global, gives an overview of the newest updates on FSMA.
Questions were raised recently by brewers and distillers about spent grains being sold as animal feed. FDA recognizes that hazards will be minimal, but charges facilities with protecting spent grains during storage awaiting collection and during transportation as required under FSMA Section 103. This will require protection against physical and chemical contamination and references the inadvertent addition of industrial waste oil to used fryer oil that exposed 100,000 chickens to PCBs. The comment period for this is closed and the final rule is expected to be published this summer. The final rule is scheduled to take effect by August 30, 2015.
Record retention and availability applies to anybody who processes, packs, transports, distributes, receives, holds, and imports human or animal food. However, farms, restaurants, USDA plants, personal consumption, non-food packaging, and food contact packaging manufacturers (but not users of this packaging material) are exempt from this requirement.
The length of record retention depends on the perishability of the food product. If the shelf life is less than 60 days, both the handler and transporter must retain records for 6 months. If the shelf life is between 60 days and 6 months or if the food is animal/pet food, both the handler and transporter must retain records for 12 months. If the shelf life is greater than 6 months, the handler must retain records for 2 years, but the transporter must retain records for only 12 months. Records must be available within 24 hours of a request by FDA and civil action may be taken if records are not kept or made available. This final rule was published on April 4, 2014.
FSMA section updates
These updates are confined to Section 106 — Intentional Adulteration of Foods; Section 111 — Sanitary Transportation of Human and Animal Food; and Section 204 — Designation of High Risk Foods Relative to Record-keeping for Traceability.
To recap, FSMA does not apply to facilities regulated by USDA (meat, poultry, and eggs). Also exempted are juice manufacturers, seafood processors, alcohol-related facilities, low-acid canning (except to expand their hazard analysis), and small businesses.
FDA is considering modified requirements for warehouses and having Preventative Controls only if they are storing refrigerated products.
Section 106 — Intentional Adulteration of Foods
The intent of the proposed rule is for companies to begin using a “qualified individual” to develop a written food defense plan. This plan will protect against intentional adulteration of food for the purpose of causing harm to consumers. The plan should focus on actionable process steps, mitigation strategies, monitoring, corrective actions, and verification.
The regulation exempts very small businesses, companies with a majority of sales to very small businesses, storage facilities (except for bulk liquid storage), alcoholic beverage manufacturers, and animal feed manufacturers and distributors.
Actionable areas and mitigation strategies:
Key actionable areas identified by FDA include: bulk liquid receiving and loading, bulk liquid storage and handling, secondary ingredient handling, and mixing and similar activities. Deliberate acts of contamination may come from acts of terrorism; disgruntled employees, consumers, or competitors; or economically motivated adulteration such as the melamine tainted milk incident.
Companies must identify and implement mitigation strategies, establish procedures to monitor these strategies, implement corrective actions, verify that monitoring is being conducted, train supervisors assigned to actionable process steps, and maintain records.
Examples of mitigation strategies include restricting access to potential adulteration points such as loading and receiving areas, bulk liquids, secondary ingredient handling rooms, and open processing points. Facilities must require tankers to be sealed after loading and the seals must be checked at receiving.
FDA is asking for comments on using HACCP principles to develop food defense plans. They are considering calling a control point a TACCP (Threat Assessment Critical Control Point). They are also trying to identify the risk of adulteration to specific processes. Some examples of low risk foods that are hard to adulterate are: shell eggs, whole produce, game meats (not ground), peanuts/tree nuts, and sugar cane/beets. FDA has extended the comment period through June 30, 2014.
Section 111 — Sanitary Transportation of Human and Animal Food
This section builds upon the previously issued Sanitary Food Transportation Act of 2005. It has five major sections: vehicle and transportation equipment, transportation operations, information exchange, training, and records.
The regulation exempts shippers, receivers, and carriers that have less than $500k in total annual sales; the transportation of raw agricultural commodities by farm vehicles; food being shipped through the US to another country; food imported to be exported, but not consumed in the US; shelf stable foods that are completely enclosed in a container; the transportation of compressed gases; and the transportation of live animals.
Vehicles and transportation equipment
The proposed rule will establish requirements for the design and maintenance of vehicles and equipment to ensure that they do not cause contamination of the food being transported. This includes bulk and non-bulk containers, bins, totes, pallets, pumps, fittings, hoses, gaskets, and loading/unloading systems.
The regulation identifies the potential for cross-contamination from: incorrect use of packing materials (reusing wood containers for produce that once held raw meat); using the same hoses or pumps with different allergens or raw and ready-to-eat products; and pallets in poor condition (splintering or projecting nails).
The proposed rule will establish requirements for cleaning, inspection, maintenance, loading/unloading, and operation of transportation equipment to ensure no contamination or temperature abuse of the products during transport. This includes the growth of spoilage bacteria as well as pathogenic bacteria. This will be achieved by ensuring adequate temperature controls, separation of foods with different temperature requirements, and the cleanliness and physical condition of trailers, tankers, pallets, etc.
Carriers, shippers, and receivers will be required to exchange information regarding prior cargos, the cleaning of bulk transportation equipment, and temperature controls. A log of prior loads must be kept. FDA will not restrict what can be hauled. Rather, they will regulate the cleaning between loads. Wash tickets must be kept and shared with customers. Washing may include sanitizing where necessary.
The carrier must communicate with the shipper and receiver that temperature sensitive foods were transported under the required temperature conditions. This requirement can be waived for short hauls or if the shipper loads a temperature recording device with the shipped products. The shipper and receiver are required to specify in writing the temperature requirements to the carrier. The receiver must confirm compliance.
Training, records and waivers
Carrier personnel must complete training in sanitary transportation practices and must have documentation of this training. This will include personal hygiene for drivers and loading/ unloading workers, training in security, accessibility to hand washing, and avoiding cross contamination in handling mixed loads. Procedures, training, cleaning, prior cargos, and temperature control must be recorded and properly maintained.
Shippers, carriers, and receivers who hold valid permits and are inspected under the National Conference on Interstate Milk Shipments (NCIMS) Grade “A” Milk Safety Program may be waived from these requirements only when they are involved in shipping Grade A milk and milk products. Transportation of food relinquished to consumers may also be waived (such as the pizza delivery guy).
Section 204 — Designating High Risk Foods for the purpose of record keeping related to Traceability
This proposed rule designates high-risk foods based on known food safety risks. The criteria for modeling and scoring risk are:
Frequency of Outbreaks and Occurrence of Illnesses: This must include chemical and microbiological food safety hazards. Chemical hazards include allergens, mycotoxins, pesticides, and heavy metals.
Severity of Illness: This will take into account illness duration, hospitalization, and mortality.
Likelihood of Contamination: This is based on number of recalls and contamination that has been known to occur.
Pathogenic Growth Potential/Shelf Life: Strong growth potential is likely at temperature at which the food is intended to be held and stored, including refrigeration and room temperature. This will be coupled with shelf life where longer shelf life can increase risk.
Manufacturing Process Contamination Probability/Intervention: High probability has recurring or frequent detection of contamination. Low probability has infrequent detection of contamination or where contamination is introduced post manufacturing. This will be coupled with the availability and implementation of control measures.
Consumption: This is the percent of the population that consumes the food.
Economic impact: Lower is defined as $100-500k impact per year and higher is greater than $10m per year.
Prevention-based food safety and quality assurance technologies have a good return on investment, and may be critical to the ongoing financial health of the food private label industry.
Tuesday morning I had my typical breakfast while running out the door – Trader Joe’s almond butter on a toasted whole grain waffle. Good, and good for you, as my mom likes to say. Then of course I got to my desk, looked through my daily FSQA news feeds, and saw that the peanut butter recall was expanded to almond butter – and to other brands besides Trader Joe’s from the supplier, Sunland!
Well so far so good – I’m healthy and not in a high risk group, but it did make me think once again about the problem for food retailers that – in the need to remain competitive for shelf space in their own stores – have turned to private labeling for more and more products store-wide.
I’m a big fan of Trader Joe’s. I buy a lot of their private label brands – everything from almond butter, to tomato sauce to olive oil. And they did a good job of aggressively getting the tainted nut butters off of their shelves.
But it does make one think of the added challenge for those manufacturing and selling private label goods – where a manufacturer problem can create a huge negative impact on your private label brand. Obviously in cases such as the Sunland nut butters, the ability to trace where the product had gone was key for recalling it. And while that ability is critical – the initial damage to the private label brands is done. Now, it’s just a matter of how extensive the damage is and how much it will cost to repair: loss of inventory, loss of sales, loss of consumer confidence and of course the cost of illness and related lawsuits which have already begun to follow.
And this doesn’t count the non-direct costs – such as advertising to eventually get those customers back – those who may now be “private label shy” and go back to the brand names under the perception that they may be safer.
We challenge the industry to look not just at reactive measures – but proactive, preventative measures as well. How are you leveraging food safety and quality technology? Are you using technology only to trace back once a problem has already occurred? Or are you also using technology to help prevent contaminated ingredients from going into production – and non-compliant finished goods from being labeled and shipped – in the first place. Are you as retailers putting this extra pressure on your manufacturers to take not just the reactive steps but the proactive ones as well?
Prevention-based food safety and quality assurance technologies have a good return on investment, and may be critical to the ongoing financial health of the food private label industry. Have a thought on this topic? Join the conversation by posting a comment below.
Strictly Necessary Cookies
Strictly Necessary Cookies should be enabled at all times so that we can save your preferences for these cookie settings.
We use tracking pixels that set your arrival time at our website, this is used as part of our anti-spam and security measures. Disabling this tracking pixel would disable some of our security measures, and is therefore considered necessary for the safe operation of the website. This tracking pixel is cleared from your system when you delete files in your history.
If you visit and/or use the FST Training Calendar, cookies are used to store your search terms, and keep track of which records you have seen already. Without these cookies, the Training Calendar would not work.
If you disable this cookie, we will not be able to save your preferences. This means that every time you visit this website you will need to enable or disable cookies again.
A browser cookie is a small piece of data that is stored on your device to help websites and mobile apps remember things about you. Other technologies, including Web storage and identifiers associated with your device, may be used for similar purposes. In this policy, we say “cookies” to discuss all of these technologies.
Data generated from cookies and other behavioral tracking technology is not made available to any outside parties, and is only used in the aggregate to make editorial decisions for the websites. Most browsers are initially set up to accept cookies, but you can reset your browser to refuse all cookies or to indicate when a cookie is being sent by visiting this Cookies Policy page. If your cookies are disabled in the browser, neither the tracking cookie nor the preference cookie is set, and you are in effect opted-out.
In other cases, our advertisers request to use third-party tracking to verify our ad delivery, or to remarket their products and/or services to you on other websites. You may opt-out of these tracking pixels by adjusting the Do Not Track settings in your browser, or by visiting the Network Advertising Initiative Opt Out page.
You have control over whether, how, and when cookies and other tracking technologies are installed on your devices. Although each browser is different, most browsers enable their users to access and edit their cookie preferences in their browser settings. The rejection or disabling of some cookies may impact certain features of the site or to cause some of the website’s services not to function properly.
The use of online tracking mechanisms by third parties is subject to those third parties’ own privacy policies, and not this Policy. If you prefer to prevent third parties from setting and accessing cookies on your computer, you may set your browser to block all cookies. Additionally, you may remove yourself from the targeted advertising of companies within the Network Advertising Initiative by opting out here, or of companies participating in the Digital Advertising Alliance program by opting out here.