Tag Archives: transparency

Craig Powell, Natura Life ≠ Science
FST Soapbox

Standardization of the Cannabis Supply Chain Drives Product Safety and Consumer Trust

By Craig Powell
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Craig Powell, Natura Life ≠ Science

When it comes to mainstream consumer food brands, customers expect to receive the same product each time they buy it. That consistency brings consumers back to the same brands over and over again. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said about products sold in the cannabis industry. Consumers aren’t building long-term relationships with brands because consumers don’t have consistent product experiences and often take their business to other brands.

This inconsistency plaguing the cannabis industry can be attributed to an unreliable supply chain, which plays out in multiple ways.

First, cannabis companies are having difficulty meeting state regulations. This happens because the legal cannabis industry is still relatively young and there isn’t a substantial institutional knowledge about regulatory compliance, nor are there any standardized best practices in place. Regulation is expensive and requires human and financial capital that most cannabis companies don’t have in place. Complicating things further, regulations keep changing, making it more difficult for compliant businesses to keep up, even when they have the best intentions.

Second, testing of cannabis products has been complicated. Because cannabis isn’t federally legal, standardized testing guidelines have not been developed, leaving individual states in charge of dictating their own requirements and enforcement framework. There have been numerous reports in the past few years of labs in California either improperly reporting testing results, or worse, submitting fraudulent results.

Third, problems also arise on production end of the supply chain—not only with consistency, but also with consumer safety. According to an estimate from New Frontier Data, approximately 80% of sales are still conducted through the black market. Many growers are using banned pesticides in amounts way beyond recommended levels. In addition, as the recent vape issue has demonstrated, black market manufactured products are being adulterated with toxic substances that pose significant health hazards to consumers.

Given these consistency challenges, the standardization of the supply chain—especially compliance, testing and safety measures—should be a top priority for new cannabis brands. Luckily, many best practices and standardized procedures can be adopted from the food, agriculture and pharmaceutical industries, where companies have successfully developed protocols to ensure safe and reliable products.

In addition to standardization and best practices, cannabis companies should also utilize the following recent innovations in transaction technology to provide peace-of-mind to both new brands and consumers that cannabis products are tested and safe.

Modernized Retail POS systems. Common in other consumer packaged goods industries, such as food, wine, beverages and soft drinks, RFID tags can be used throughout the supply chain to track products from seed to sale. These tags, like the “chips” on credit cards, hold electronically stored information about a product that can be accessed to verify compliance and safety.

QR Codes. While QR codes are mostly used today as marketing gimmicks, they actually have potential to provide true value for curious customers. Batch-specific QR codes could be applied to cannabis products to show detailed information about when and where it was made, what strains of cannabis were used, and testing results. This technology could be used to increase transparency between companies and to consumers.

Data Informatics. A strong information technology infrastructure can be put in place to collect and store inventory and customer data. That data can then be run through algorithms, AI and machine learning systems to help cannabis brands make better decisions about how to optimize the production of their products and how to achieve better results on future batches.

Video Surveillance. Granted, this is a more ‘low-tech’ approach, but effective, nonetheless. Video cameras can go way beyond security purposes. Footage can be viewed and compared to collected data sets to gain a deeper understanding of product flows, personnel movement and logistics that might impact a company’s final product. Video can also be analyzed automatically using AI to provide important insight to help a company fine tune their business strategies.

Consumers want to know that the cannabis products they purchase are safe, compliant and tested. Consumers also have a right to know what they are buying and expect product consistency over time from companies they trust. Ensuring supply chain consistency is key to making this happen as the industry matures. An experienced and trusted supply chain partner can help companies across different cannabis sectors, ranging from medical to food, and ensure product safety and consumer trust today through standardization and consistency. Ultimately, cannabis businesses want to cultivate a culture of excitement, not fear or uncertainty, to help the market flourish and bring quality products to our customers.

Jeremy Schneider, Controlant

Using Technology for Traceability Adds Dimension to Supply Chain, Promises ROI

By Maria Fontanazza
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Jeremy Schneider, Controlant

“As food safety leaders, it is our responsibility to actively investigate the newest technologies in the market with the goal of providing the highest level of safety for our customers. The regulatory environment is rapidly evolving from a position of hazard management to preventative control, which challenges the status quo while promoting innovation. In addition, we are actively working to build food safety cultures within our operations,” says Jeremy Schneider, business development director, food safety and quality assurance at Controlant. “On top of these mandates, we are consistently being challenged to find ways to improve quality, reduce waste, and assure supply. When taken as a collective mandate, this can be considered a challenge that allows the industry to solve previously unsolvable business problems in new and exciting ways. Utilizing the newest technologies for enhanced supply chain visibility is the solution to some of our most challenging industry-wide problems.”

Schneider has more than 15 years of experience in the food quality, safety, and regulatory sector. His experience spans managing food safety and quality systems within several fast-casual restaurant chains as well as food manufacturing. In a Q&A with Food Safety Tech, Schneider discusses some of the issues that food companies are experiencing surrounding traceability in their supply chain.

Jeremy Schneider, Controlant
Jeremy Schneider, business development director, food safety and quality assurance at Controlant

Food Safety Tech: What challenges are food companies and retailers facing when it comes to real-time monitoring of their supply chain?

Jeremy Schneider: One of the biggest challenges that the industry faces when it comes to real-time monitoring of the supply chain is where to start. As you can imagine, implementing a program that allows for an organization to monitor all shipments, including those that are shipped internationally, by ship, air freight, over the road or by rail, can be daunting.

As with all food safety programs, it is advised to take a risk-based approach to the project. Begin with the highest-risk items within your supply chain and work to your second- and third-tier items or suppliers. When implemented by category over time, you will find implementation less challenging. It is important to remember that when you begin a real-time program, you will start to discover eye-opening information about your supply chain. It’s important that you develop strategies to deal effectively with these incidents.

Another primary concern for the food industry is the cost of implementation, as well as the return on investment. We have found that, by implementing a real-time monitoring solution, an organization is able to dramatically reduce shipping loss because of temperature abuse. Oftentimes, the program provides a net savings for the organization. When considering the cost of wasted food, freight, liability, lost sales and labor, a real-time supply chain visibility solution becomes a cost-effective program very quickly.

FST: Are there any lessons learned from recent outbreaks or recalls regarding traceability?

Schneider: Over the last several years, the industry has made real progress towards a transparent supply chain. However, it must be said that much work is needed to meet regulatory standards and consumer expectations when it comes to traceability. As we have become accustomed to having information that provides insights into all facets of our life, the same is becoming true of the supply chain.

Being able to have business-critical data immediately, such as real-time supply chain and traceability data, is revolutionizing the industry and is allowing enterprise-wide improvements. During a crisis situation, being able to have insights into your supply chain is paramount. Unfortunately, it has become all too common for organizations to take the ‘’out of an abundance of caution’’ approach and remove all products from the supply chain, regardless of lot code or other data, to ensure consumer safety.

The consequence of such an approach is that much more product is removed than necessary, which compounds the effects of the incident. Having had the appropriate traceability information allows organizations to take a precision-focused approach, allowing for organizations to minimize the impact as much as is safely possible.

To help organizations solve this dilemma, there are a variety of technology offerings available to help companies collect and transform data so that it can be easily used. In addition, layering rich data, such as that which is created from real-time Internet-of-Things (IoT) devices and cloud-enabled software technology, helps provide dimensional insights into your supply chain information.

FST: How can companies leverage technology to be proactive in maintaining consistent tracking and tracing throughout the supply chain?

Schneider: As we enter an era of smarter food safety, each organization will be challenged to solve some of the most pressing concerns using state-of-the-art technology. The great thing about having actionable traceability data, beyond its uses to support food safety, is that it allows an organization the ability to gain insights into their supply chain at both the micro- and macro-levels.

As an example, when an organization implements a real-time temperature monitoring program, not only are they able to identify and resolve temperature deviations before they become food safety or quality incidents, logistics can then utilize the data to optimize the shipping lane to reduce costs, and purchasing is able to know exactly where a truck is located on its route. Being able to show the value that location traceability data provides across an enterprise helps to improve the organization at every level.

2019 Food Safety Consortium, Glenn Black, CFSAN, FDA

Say What? Perspectives We Heard at the 2019 Food Safety Consortium

By Maria Fontanazza
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2019 Food Safety Consortium, Glenn Black, CFSAN, FDA

Last week’s seventh annual Food Safety Consortium brought together a variety of industry experts to discuss key topics around regulation, compliance, leadership, testing, foodborne illness, food defense and more. The following are just a few sound bytes from what we heard at the event. (Click on any photo to enlarge)

Food Safety Consortium, Frank Yiannas, FDA “The food system today, while it’s still impressive, it still has one Achilles heel—lack of traceability and transparency.” – Frank Yiannas, deputy commissioner for food policy & response, FDA. Read the full article on Yiannas’ keynote session

“A typical food company only has about 5% visibility into known supply chain threats.” – Ron Stakland, senior business development, FoodChain ID, Inc.

“For most of us, our supply chain is a big black hole. Why are we so fearful of technology? Is it the implementation itself? What if technology could help us solve some of those perennial problems? There are resources available to help us get there.” – ¬ Jeremy Schneider, business development director, food safety and quality assurance, Controlant

“The records tell the story of how well the facility is being managed. It’s the first thing the regulators are going to look at.” – Glenn Black, Ph.D., associate director for research, CFSAN, FDA, on validation considerations and regulations for processing technologies in the food industry 2019 Food Safety Consortium, Glenn Black, CFSAN, FDA

“We’ll see more robotics enter the food space.” – Gina Nicholson Kramer, executive director, Savour Food Safety International

Melody Ge, Corvium, 2019 Food Safety Consortium “Changes are happening; you can choose to face it or ignore it. We’re at least 10 years behind on technology. Automation/technology is not a new term in aerospace, etc., but to us [the food industry], it is. We will get there.” – Melody Ge, head of compliance, Corvium, Inc., on how industry should prepare for the data-driven transformation occurring in the smarter era of food safety

It’s okay to risk and fail, but how are going to remediate that with your employee? The more learners practice in different scenarios, the less they rely on specific examples. [They] become more adept with dealing with decision making.” – Kathryn Birmingham, Ph.D., VP for research and development, ImEpik, on employee training

“As a contract lab with the vision of testing for foodborne viruses for about 10 years—it wasn’t until about three or four years ago that we had the test kits to turn that into a reality. We also didn’t have a reference method.” – Erin Crowley, chief scientific officer, Q Laboratories, on the viral landscape of testing in the food industry

“You have to be strong and you have to believe in yourself before you get into any situation—especially as a food safety professional.” – Al Baroudi, Ph.D., vice president of quality assurance and food safety at The Cheesecake Factory, on what it takes to earn respect as a food safety professional Jorge Hernandez, Al Baroudi, Ph.D., 2019 Food Safety Consortium

“’See something, say something’ is likely not enough. We recommend that companies develop a formal detection program that includes management buy-in, HR and governance, and policy documents, formal training and an awareness program…While FDA focuses on the insider threat, we feel that using a broader mitigation approach works best.” – R. Spencer Lane, senior security advisor, Business Protection Specialists, Inc. on lessons learned from food defense intentional adulteration vulnerability assessments

“Food safety is a profession, a vocation, [and] a way of life.” – Bob Pudlock, president of Gulf Stream Search

Steve Sands, Performance Food Group
FST Soapbox

Redesigning Supply Chains to Match Evolving Consumer Demands

By Steve Sands
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Steve Sands, Performance Food Group

Food is no longer a commodity. With an increase in special interest consumer groups, it’s taking on a more nuanced character. Consumers are increasingly seeking out specific attributes for their food. Whether the focus is on organic and natural, foods with superior eating quality, or simply a better price—consumers are more discerning than ever.

Their expectations around transparency and authenticity are growing as well.

According to Food Marketing Institute research, nearly 93% of consumers are more likely to be loyal to a brand when it commits to full transparency. Transparency and traceability go hand in hand. In a study conducted by SMS Research, traceability was at least somewhat important to 75% of participants and very important to 45%.* Animal welfare emerged as a contributing factor with 75% of consumers claiming they would be at least somewhat more likely to buy beef if they knew about the animal’s living conditions.

These are useful insights but challenging to make fully actionable in our commodity-focused infrastructure that’s simply not built for the nuance of our new reality. Successful companies will design a supply chain within the existing infrastructure and industry capabilities that meets customers’ unique needs and desired attributes.

Two major retailers are developing their own supply chains to control quality. Last year, Costco announced it is bringing chicken production in-house, largely driven by its rotisserie program, to ensure size specifications are met. In April, Walmart announced it is developing an end-to-end supply chain for Angus beef. Companies like Tyson are upgrading some of their supply chains with improved traceability systems using DNA technology. The use of this technology was pioneered in North America a decade ago in partnership with IdentiGEN, a global expert identifying and tracing food products with greater precision and accuracy.

Leveraging DNA Technology

DNA traceability was first developed nearly 20 years ago in Ireland by IdentiGEN to protect market access for Irish beef. The technology can serve as the backbone for a comprehensive set of origin, handling and processing practices that work together to guarantee quality. Beyond genetics, a company’s quality improvement program should consider standards for feeding, animal health, humane treatment, environmental impact and the processing of the animal. DNA technology can help uphold these standards throughout the supply chain, providing a cost-effective way of tracking product and establishing meaningful accountability.

Here’s how the technology works. At the slaughterhouse, a DNA sample is taken from the animal, and the ear tag is then scanned to create a digital link. With this information, the origin and handling of product throughout the supply chain is verifiable, even after disassembly and packing. From a safety standpoint, the technology can support recall mitigation efforts, allowing for swift and specific identification of the animals involved, helping protect consumers and limiting financial damages.

To create the most effective supply chain, companies should still supplement DNA testing with time-tested initiatives for quality improvement, such as customer feedback mechanisms and facility audits conducted both by internal groups as well as external partners and USDA-approved auditing companies. The data collected should not be siloed but rather correlated in some capacity to create a holistic view of all supply sources and the quality they deliver.

Building a Foundation for Success

There are many elements beyond technology that come together to make traceability and quality initiatives successful. One is a company’s big-picture, strategic view. It helps to look at these programs and systems as supporting an evolving process. Continuous improvement means creating and refining the right mix of methodologies, partners and technology—it’s about evaluating and eliminating anything that no longer adds value. Some companies have banned electric cattle prods, for example, because they cause stress on the animal that negatively impacts quality. As standards continue to strengthen and the supply chain is better organized, everything works together more cohesively, and it becomes easier to continue updating and adding new elements.

The foundation for any initiative of this type must be built on a shared vision, strategy and end goals, starting at the organizational level, and then with external partners. A supply chain should be organized for better production, but it also should be organized for mutual benefit, recognizing that everyone has different goals and interests. Structure your economic models so that every link in the supply chain is pulling in the same direction. Participating in the supply chain should mean doing at least a little bit better, however each partner defines it—enhanced financial performance, higher quality, lower shrinkage or improved safety and compliance. Farmers and packers will be willing to participate in the systems—and use tools like DNA technology—if they gain insights that help them achieve their goals, sell more product and improve their bottom line. It’s all about building a system that works for everyone involved.

Consumer demand for foods that offer greater choice and a wider variety of attributes will only continue to grow. Companies can successfully mature brands through a customized supply chain grounded in increased accountability and traceability. The potential to re-engineer supply chains and meet customer needs more effectively exists across many different product categories and attributes. It’s a valuable opportunity many companies may find well worth exploring.

* The survey was conducted by SMS Research on behalf of PFG among a sample of 2,001 general consumers in the U.S., weighted to census. This survey was live on March 28 – April 1st, 2019. All statistical tests were performed at a 5% risk level. PFG had no role in survey design, data collection, data analysis or data interpretation.

Kevin Payne, Zest Labs
FST Soapbox

2019 Food Safety and Transparency Trends

By Kevin Payne
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Kevin Payne, Zest Labs

When it comes to addressing food safety, did the industry really make any progress in 2018? In 2019, what new approaches or technologies can be successfully applied to prevent problems before they occur and minimize the consumer risk, minimize the market impact, and speed up the identification, isolation and recall of contaminated products?

Field-packed produce offers a unique challenge to the fresh food supply chain, as it is not processed and is not required to adhere to an FDA mandated HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points) process. It has been a challenge for field-packed produce suppliers to proactively identify or prevent contaminated produce from entering the supply chain. As a result, during serious contamination incidents, the reaction is to pull and destroy all suspect product from store shelves and supply chain. Due to the lack of data isolating the source of the contamination, this is the safest approach, but it’s costing the industry millions of dollars. Ultimately, our inability to prevent or quickly isolate these events causes confusion among consumers who don’t know who to trust or what is safe to eat, resulting in a prolonged market impact.

In response to the latest E. coli outbreak involving romaine lettuce, the industry has proposed a voluntary item-level label that reflects the harvest location and date, to help identify safe product to the consumer. At best, this is a stop-gap solution, as it burdens the consumer to identify safe product.

I work in the fresh produce supply chain industry. When I go to the grocery store, I examine the produce, noting the brand and various other factors. I was aware of the romaine problem and the voluntary labeling program, so I knew what to look for. But I’m an exception. Most consumers don’t know romaine lettuce is grown during the summer and fall in northern California and further south during the winter in regions that include Arizona and Mexico. Most consumers don’t know what the “safe date” for harvest really means—nor should they be required to know this information. They look to the industry to manage this. If we buy a car or microwave oven that is found to be unsafe, the manufacturer and the government are responsible for identifying the problem and recalling the product. Yet, in the produce industry, that responsibility seems to be moving to the retailer and consumer.

It’s an unfair burden, as the retailer and consumer do not have the necessary information to make a definitive judgement regarding food safety. The responsibility needs to be shared across the entire fresh food supply chain. Records about the produce need to be shared and maintained from harvest to retail.

Will 2019 be the year that we realize we can address this challenge proactively to improve the safety of our fresh food?

We need a new approach that leverages innovative technology to provide a more reliable solution. For example, irrigation water is often identified as a culprit in spreading bacteria. Yet even with regular testing of irrigation water, the results do not currently guarantee food safety. We see emerging technology that will make regular testing more reliable, accurate and affordable to facilitate more proactive management of the water supply. This will be a critical part of an overall solution for proactive produce food safety.

Blockchain technology has been hailed as a savior of food safety and traceability. Early in 2018, it was all the rage, as various sources claimed that, by using blockchain, recall times could be cut from days or weeks to seconds. But was this an oversimplification? Perhaps so, as this early hype faded by the middle of the year amidst the various food safety outbreaks that went unresolved. Then last August, Gartner, a  market analyst firm, declared that blockchain had moved into the “trough of disillusionment” on its 2018 Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies as a result of over-hyped expectations. The firm predicts that the technology may reach the “plateau of productivity” within the next decade. Can we wait another 10 years before being able to benefit from it? Should we?

We expect that blockchain trials will continue in 2019. But, while blockchain has shown promise in terms of being a secure and immutable data exchange, questions remain. What data about the produce will be entered into the blockchain? How is that data collected? Is the data validated? Bad, inaccurate or incomplete data makes blockchain relatively useless, or worse, as it undermines a trusted platform. Further, without broad agreement and adoption of data collection, blockchain can’t be successful.

For proactive management of food safety, we will also need to address both forward and backward supply chain traceability. One of the challenges realized from recent outbreaks is that it takes time to figure out what is happening. Identifying the source of the illness/outbreak isn’t easy. Once we identify a source (or multiple sources) of the contamination, blockchain—assuming that all of the necessary data has been collected—only helps to more quickly trace back produce to its origin. But, for growers, quickly understanding where all product shipped from a specific location or date is just as critical in understanding and minimizing consumer impact. Tracing product forward enables a grower to proactively inform retailers and restaurants that their product should be recalled.

Blockchain currently does not directly support this forward tracing, but can be augmented to do so. But blockchain can maintain a food safety data item, or items, that could quickly and reliably communicate product status at the pallet-level, providing instant food safety status to the current product owner, even if they didn’t have direct contact with the grower. As such, a hybrid blockchain approach, as espoused by ChainLink Research, is optimal for forward and backward traceability.

Equally important, we need to fully digitize the supply chain to enable blockchain. To make comprehensive data collection feasible, we need to automate data collection by utilizing IoT sensors at the pallet level, to properly reflect how distribution takes place through the supply chain. We need reliable data collection to properly reflect the location and condition of product distributed through a multi-tier distribution network. That level of product data visibility enables proactive management for food safety as well as quality and freshness— well beyond the current trailer-level monitoring that only monitors transit temperatures with no benefit to managing food safety. Effective data capture will define the next generation of fresh food management, as it embraces proactive food safety, quality and freshness management.

Goals for This Year

For 2019, our goals should be to embrace new approaches and technology that:

  1. Identify food contamination at its source and prevent contaminated food from ever entering the supply chain. We need to focus on developing new technologies that make this feasible and cost effective.
  2. Accurately and consistently track product condition and authenticity of fresh produce from the time it is harvested until it is delivered. IoT sensors and proactive fresh food supply chain management solutions provide this capability.
  3.  Make it cost-effective and practical for growers, suppliers and grocers to use solutions to improve the entire fresh food supply chain. If we make the process burdensome or without a reasonable ROI, implementation will lag, and the problems will persist. But if we demonstrate that these solutions offer value across the fresh food supply chain—through reduced waste and improved operational efficiency—growers, suppliers, shippers and grocers will embrace them.

Food Safety Vs. Blockchain: Who Wins?

By Maria Fontanazza
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The jury is still out on how (and if) blockchain can contribute to a safer food supply. Whether or not there is a clear understanding of the technology, and its potential and pitfalls, is up for debate as well. “What is blockchain? This is the number one question that people have,” said Darin Detwiler, director, regulatory affairs of food and food industry at Northeastern University, who led a panel of experts as they deliberated over this hot topic during the 2018 Food Safety Consortium.

“Blockchain levels the playing field where we can connect people, resources and organizations in ways we’ve never done before to harness new ways of extracting value,” said Nigel Gopie, global marketing leader, IBM Food Trust at IBM.

What Is Blockchain?

Gopie provided an introductory definition of blockchain: Simply put, it is a series of blocks of information attached together. Each block is a box of information that stores data elements, and this data could be almost anything. Each block has a digital fingerprint associated with it; this fingerprint allows you to know that the block is unique and can attach to other blocks. When new blocks come into the chain, each block has a new fingerprint—one that is unique to that block and of the block before it. This allows the connection to happen, and enables visibility into the origin of each block.

Blockchain enables one book of business and provides three important benefits, said Gopie:

  1. Digital transactions
  2. Distributed ledger with one version of truth throughout the network
  3. Data is immutable
Blockchain, IBM, Food Safety Consortium
IBM’s Nigel Gopie breaks down the basic meaning of blockchain for attendees at the 2018 Food Safety Consortium.

Although blockchain can help to start the process of solving food issues surrounding safety, freshness, reduced waste and sustainability, the technology is only the foundation. A series of other components are important as well, said Gopie, and the following are some insights that the expert panel shared during their discussion.

2018 Food Safety Supply Chain Conference, Blockchain
Is the Food Industry Ready for Blockchain? Check out a dynamic panel about the technology from the 2018 Food Safety Supply Chain Conference.

Can Blockchain Actually Impact Food Safety?

Jorge Hernandez, chief food safety officer at Wholesome International: “To me, it’s a fantastic new technology that would allow the food industry to do a much better job of finding, from seed to fork, all of the processes and things that happen to that product. And in the future, [it] allows us to identify problems first and solve [them]. My problem is it being sold to companies…and not able to deliver on the promise… It bothers me that we are looking at a future that may or may not be there.”

Angela Fernandez, vice president, retail grocery & foodservice at GS1 US: “We’ve been working on traceability and transparency for over a decade—you have to be capturing the data needed, [and] we’re still working on getting it right. We’re just not there yet. I think it’s a great place for us to strive to go towards, but we’re still early in the stages of accepting it as a community.”

David Howard, vice president of corporate strategy at Pavocoin: “Blockchain itself is simply a technology. We’re all here because we’re just trying figure out what application we can use in business. Blockchain is a technology that can help all of you improve operational efficiencies for your bottom line.”

Is Blockchain a Barrier or a Fast Lane to Heightened Liability Concerns?

Shawn Stevens, food industry lawyer and founder of Food Industry Counsel, LLC: “I think the starting point is to ask ourselves what makes food unsafe. It’s a lack of transparency…What blockchain can do is illuminate entire segments of the industry…From a reactive standpoint, blockchain can help us identify a problem [and] solve it. From a preventive standpoint, if I have access to all this information regarding attributes and quality of supplier, I can make better decisions that protect my company.”

“We want to know more and be better informed. Once you know more, you better react and do something. If you’re getting this line of sight and you don’t react to it, that’s what exposes you to liability.”

Darin Detwiler, director, regulatory affairs of food and food industry at Northeastern University: “We need to look at the balance between the reactive use of blockchain and the proactive use.”

2018 Food Safety Consortium on Blockchain. (left to right) David Howard, Pavocoin; Jorge Hernandez, Wholesome International; Nigel Gopie, IBM; Angela Fernandez GS1 US; and Shawn Stevens, Food Industry Counsel, LLC. Not pictured: Darin Detwiler, Northeastern University.

What Barriers Does Industry Need to Anticipate?

Fernandez: “The barrier of the standards and interoperability piece—that’s a big question our community is asking us. Scalability… standards are vital…I think that opens up a different discussion when talking about private versus public blockchain.”

Hernandez: “What is my ROI? The issue I have with blockchain is not only the investment in my organization, but I have to bring my entire supply chain with me if I want to get any benefit. There’s a good value proposition, but it requires you to get everyone on board. When you’re a large organization, it’s probably not that hard to do. But a small organization like mine where my suppliers are an Amish community that sells us cheese, that’s a huge mountain to climb. They don’t have the background [or] the technology, and even if they wanted to do it, it’s a big change for them. You’re asking me to make a change in my relationship with my suppliers.”

“Take a look at it from the business continuity [perspective]. What are the changes you’re going to have to make? And that changes that have to be made by everyone who works with you? We should not stay static. We should continue to look for things. If this is the technology that is going to move us forward, let’s start getting prepared.”

Food Safety Consortium

Making Your Supply Chain Smarter, Safer and More Sustainable

By Maria Fontanazza
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Food Safety Consortium

How to build a smarter, safer and more sustainable food supply chain: This was a big topic at the 2018 Food Safety Consortium last month. David McCarthy of IBM Food Trust led a panel of experts from the retail side of the industry in a Q&A session about their biggest challenges in the supply chain, the role of digital and how to achieve a higher level of transparency.

What are the main areas in the supply chain where there’s a major need for improvement?

Sean Leighton, vice president of food safety and quality, Cargill: One of the biggest challenges that I see from a supplier perspective is people’s assumptions around what is the supply chain—our mindsets, our ability to talk with each other on “what do you mean by ‘supply chain’”?

Cindy Jiang and Scott Horsfall at the 2018 Food Safety Consortium
Cindy Jiang and Scott Horsfall (all images credit: amybcreative)

What is food safety’s role in the supply chain?

Cindy Jiang, senior director of worldwide food safety, quality and nutrition, McDonald’s Corp.: The supply chain is a supply network; it’s not linear. The most fundamental thing is to ensure there’s no disruption—that the supply chain can provide goods and food product to your customers. When you’re looking at the supply chain, [there’s a] change between the traditional thinking and the digital demand. How do you provide information in an effective way to your customers?

Howard Popoola, vice president, corporate food technology and regulatory compliance, The Kroger Company: Our supply chain means nothing if we aren’t able to deliver safe foods to those consumers in the last mile. Consumers are thinking about the experience that they’re going to have with this product. They’re not thinking about whether it’s safe or not. They’re thinking about the meal they’re going to make at home with the ingredients that they purchased.

The biggest pain point from the retailer’s perspective, when you look at us as being the last in the chain, is in transparency [and] knowing where the products are coming from. Transparency is very big for us. And it takes more than the retailer to open that door of transparency to the consumer.

What are the challenges you’re seeing in providing transparency?

Scott Horsfall, CEO, California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement: I think a big challenge right now and in the future is communication.

Leighton: I think the winners….are going to be the ones that try to achieve consumer trust. The future is no place for the three ring binders…it’s digital. Where does the data sit? How can you provide access to them through customers?

Howard Popoola, Sean Leighton, Food Safety Consortium
Howard Popoola and Sean Leighton

How does the digital transformation play into providing transparency?

Popoola: The consumers have already trusted the food industry. There are millions of people walking into retail stores buying product. If the trust isn’t there, they wouldn’t be doing that. We erode that trust when [a consumer] has a terrible experience with that product.

How are you seeing digital transformation across the supply chain?

Jiang: Digital is one of the top three initiatives of McDonalds; how do we connect with consumers? When serving 70 million customers each day, how can we get to the transparency to understand the supply—digital is one of the answers. From the supply chain standpoint, we’re looking at the analytics. We cannot think about only one solution. We have to have different solutions to get the end results.

Popoola: I think the food industry has to see itself as a big ecosystem. If we don’t see ourselves as an ecosystem that strives for the one thing,… digital is always going to be a mirage. We have to look at what is digital and understand the fact that [we have large and small companies]. It’s not going to be one size fits all.

How long will it take the food industry to get to a completely digital operation?

Jiang: Looking at the total industry digitized—the majority of the work can be done within the next five years, [by] looking at leading companies. But in terms of total digitalization of the ood network in the U.S., I think that will take another 10 to 20 years.

Food Safety Consortium
(left to right) Howard Poopola, Sean Leighton, Cindy Jiang, Scott Horsfall and David McCarthy discuss supply chain challenges during the 2018 Food Safety Consortium

Horsfall: I think there’s a challenge with much of the farm community to get to this point. There’s also this issue with how you transmit the information. [Horsfall predicts] 10-15 years for the industry.

Leighton: Even a 100% digitized food industry has limited value if the players in the industry can’t pull together to deliver meaningful insights from it all.

What are the most promising innovations solving transparency?

Jiang: When looking at innovation, not just technology (technology is an enabler)— the most impactful innovation is human innovation: How can we work together? The GFSI platform started 20 years ago, and now it’s so impactful around the globe. [Now we’re] looking at how to harmonize food safety standards.

How can we standardize and harmonize… for ingredient suppliers?
How [can we] use the GS1 platform, numbering system to track on where the ingredient is coming from and how that product is made for us—what’s in my product?

Think about the human collaboration and how to improve where we’re at.

Poopola: I would like to tackle this from a different perspective: When we built technologies (whether off-the-shelf or customized) 20 years ago, we thought [it would be around for] the next 100 years. It’s clear today that the technology you have in place might be obsolete in five years. We have to look at the technology we’re building and acquiring today: Will it be relevant in five years?

Leighton: It’s hard to wrap my head around…deep learning and AI [artificial intelligence]. The insights we can gain from machine learning and predictive analytics. Could AI be human’s last invention?

Horsfall: In produce industry, which hasn’t always been in the front, I think that’s changing. [We’re] trying to bring AI and new technology to bear.

PattyMcDermott, ThermoFisher Scientific
In the Food Lab

How Digital Solutions Support Supply Chain Transparency and Traceability

By Patricia McDermott
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PattyMcDermott, ThermoFisher Scientific

Ensuring the safety and authenticity of food is a key responsibility of growers, producers, manufacturers and suppliers. With so many partners involved in the journey from farm to fork, tracking chain of custody data and maintaining a clear, unbroken record are essential to safeguard the quality and provenance of products. However, without proper systems to maintain transparent supply chain audit trails, businesses operating within the food industry run the risk of being responsible for adverse events that could result in health, economic or even legal consequences.

One of the biggest challenges associated with maintaining a clear chain of custody is the need to monitor the flow of raw materials, ingredients and products across increasingly global distribution networks. To successfully track food products throughout the value chain, information on product movements and quality control data must be accessible to those who need it. These systems must also remain compliant with the latest regulations, as well as ensure stakeholders can achieve the highest levels of productivity to meet consumer demand.

For players within the food supply chain to achieve transparent processes and complete traceability, robust information exchange mechanisms and integrated data management systems are key. The latest digital solutions are ensuring the integrity of supply networks by capturing and making available data from any stage of this journey for regulatory or product quality assurance purposes.

Food Safety: A Global Responsibility

The global nature of modern supply networks can make ensuring the safety and quality of food challenging. From honey and juice to yogurt and cheese, tracking the lifecycle of food products is essential to combat food fraud and adulteration, as well as safeguard consumers from harmful food contaminants, such as pesticides and bacteria. Unscrupulous behavior from businesses operating within the supply chain can, for example, cause consumers to purchase products that are not what they claim to be, and even put customers’ health at risk through exposure to potentially unsafe batches.

Given the global expansion of the food supply chain, regulatory bodies are putting increased focus on ensuring that products that pass through multiple channels and regions comply with the same regulations. By focusing on enforcing standards through audits and reviews, it becomes possible to prevent and therefore reduce the potential for adverse events occurring.1 As a result, voluntary standards such as the ISO 22000 guidelines, and mandatory regulations such as FSMA and EU 178/2002, have been put in place to set clear benchmarks for stakeholders’ responsibilities and better enforce food quality and safety.

Regulations such as these require extensive record keeping, transparent audit trails and accountability for all processes. While end-to-end monitoring of one process may be relatively straightforward, ensuring visibility for every process within a complex food supply network can quickly become an overwhelming task. In order to achieve regulatory compliance across all aspects of a supply chain, businesses must be able to integrate their data management systems to achieve full oversight. Moreover, with effective data management tools in place, businesses can organize and incorporate data from all aspects of a food product lifecycle in a compliant manner, enabling them to expand globally.

Integrating Digital Solutions for Better Outcomes

To preserve consumer confidence and brand integrity, businesses operating within the food industry are recognizing the need for automated infrastructures that can manage data, streamline processes, and ensure traceability and accountability for every product. By integrating all monitoring processes into a single system and enabling access to this information via the cloud, the latest digital data management platforms are working to alleviate the challenges associated with operating global supply networks.

Manually organizing inventory management, standard operating procedure (SOP) use, and product traceability can be difficult and time-consuming, especially if operations are on a global scale. Setting up automated processes to manage fail points using a laboratory information management system (LIMS), where they can be itemized and protocols established for potential hazards and preventive measures, can boost speed and efficiency while ensuring the highest levels of data integrity.

Routine food safety testing requires the consistent replenishment of supplies, and the failure to keep on top of inventory use can cause operations to grind to an unexpected stop. Automatic supply level monitoring and automated ordering using a LIMS can eliminate inventory fail points and help to ensure uninterrupted productivity. Furthermore, introducing electronic SOPs as part of a LIMS can define and outline workflows to prevent unintended errors and ensure reliability. Additionally, tracking and logging products using barcode readers throughout their lifecycle gives stakeholders confidence in the products they handle, and can simplify quality control and regulatory review processes.

With the need to monitor so many processes across the food supply chain, there are large volumes of instrument data, workflows and records that must be maintained. Leveraging a LIMS to collect and manage disparate data from all aspects of every process can help stakeholders to streamline workflows. From evaluating potential hazards to eliminating possible issues, having procedures tracked automatically not only transforms processes, but also simplifies quality assessment.

The latest LIMS are able to aggregate all of this data in a single cloud-based system, making this information available at the tap of a tablet or smartphone. Integrating a LIMS with laboratory equipment across food safety testing protocols allows for automated data transfer and increased lab efficiency. Data can be captured from laboratory equipment using a connected scientific data management system (SDMS), which is generated using the approved methods and SOPs available from a laboratory execution system (LES). Interfacing to each instrument using the LES ensures there are no input or copying errors. Subsequently, as process results are entered into the system, any out of specification parameters can be flagged and reported automatically.

The value of an LES within a LIMS can be seen in food safety labs where global demand drives time to market and thus the need for high production efficiency. By giving lab managers control over method and protocol management from any location, the actions of users can be easily recalled for performance monitoring and accountability purposes. And with protocols, regulations and corrective actions defined through the LIMS, labs can achieve faster and more effective decision-making.

Digital solutions such as LIMS are enabling food safety scientists to perform analyses based on readily available SOPs using LES platforms, collect and store data in its original form using an SDMS, and evaluate how the data is being collected, transferred, stored and accessed from a centralized, cloud-based LIMS. These integrated digital solutions offer comprehensive support for the organization of chain of custody data, ensuring full traceability and compliance, and protecting consumer safety and food integrity.

Improved Traceability for Regulatory Compliance

Current regulations are enforcing the quality and safety of food products using well-defined standards for laboratory processes, ensuring the transparency of data handling processes, from raw materials to packaged products. ISO 22000 sets recommendations for food safety management systems and requires businesses to implement hazard analysis and critical control points (HACCP) to ensure the highest levels of quality control and assurance throughout the product lifecycle.

Regulations such as EU 178/2002 and FSMA include mandatory requirements for the traceability of food, feed and any other food-related substance or animal through identification and food tracking programs. Given the unfortunate growth of food fraud, traceability and authentication are becoming increasingly important. The latest regulations are helping the food industry to maintain optimal production practices to safeguard public health, maintain consumer confidence and preserve brand integrity.

Systems that are fully harmonized with these guidelines can be used to maintain data in organized archives, simplify audit trail recording for proof of compliance, and enable easy-access for users to review data. The latest LIMS can support HACCP compliance by automatically alerting users to deviations in expected processing parameters. In this way, issues can be quickly identified, and corrective action can be taken to prevent potentially dangerous products from reaching the consumer.

Digital lab and data management solutions are helping food supply chain stakeholders to simplify tracking, improve transparency and ensure the highest levels of accountability to protect both product authenticity and consumer safety. The integration and implementation of these systems helps to fulfill production demands as well as meet future challenges, allowing the food industry to expand and develop services and checks with the growing global market. Moreover, the potential for food fraud or adulteration is greatly minimized, giving consumers additional confidence in the products they purchase.

Reference

  1. Charlebois, S. Sterling, B. Haratifar, S. and Naing, S.K. (2014). “Comparison of Global Food Traceability Regulations and Requirements,” Compr. Rev. Food Sci. Food Saf., vol. 13, no. 5, pp. 1104–1123.
Blockchain, Food Safety Supply Chain Conference

Is the Food Industry Ready for Blockchain?

By Maria Fontanazza
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Blockchain, Food Safety Supply Chain Conference

Darin Detwiler will lead a plenary session titled, “Practical Use of Blockchain in Food Safety” at the 2018 Food Safety Consortium | Learn moreOn the heels of the deadly, widespread outbreak of E.coli O157:H7 illnesses linked to romaine lettuce—and 12 years after the infamous spinach outbreak of 2006—the food industry is struggling to find the solution to prevent these outbreaks. “I think it’s indicative that we need to do something different,” said Melanie Nuce, senior vice president, corporate development & innovation at GS1 US, during a panel discussion about blockchain at the 2018 Food Safety Supply Chain conference earlier this month. The panel, led by Darin Detwiler, assistant dean and director, regulatory affairs of food and food industry at Northeastern University, delved into the strengths and weaknesses of blockchain, along with industry readiness and acceptance.

In its most basic form, the technology would allow for the addition of information from every step of the supply chain, from manufacturing to packaging to distribution to retail, and would incorporate elements such as auditing, inspection, batch information, certification of auditors, preventive control plans, HACCP information, and allergen identification.

“Blockchain could be the death of the document.” Simon Batters, Lloyd’s Register

Strengths

The increased demand for transparency and traceability could be one of the biggest drivers for the adoption of blockchain. “[Blockchain] offers us the technology for traceability,” said Simon Batters, vice president of technology solutions at Lloyd’s Register. “It allows us to have an immutable record of a transaction; it won’t solve the food safety conundrum overnight—it’s part of the tool kit that we need.”

The fact that the food supply chain consists of millions of transactions, which could not be tampered with under blockchain, while the data could be used as reference points and for verification—those are strengths. However, Batters pointed out, there should be restrictions on who has permission to write the code and who has access to putting the information into a chain.

The technology would also enable smart contracts whereby shipments wouldn’t be finalized if they didn’t meet the conditions of a supplier, for example. “All parties to a transaction have a view to the entire chain at the same time,” said Nuce. “You have real time visibility. This democratizes that.”

Kathleen Wybourn, director, food safety solutions at DNV GL, calls blockchain “the birth certificate for food.” From a consumer standpoint, it would provide information on a product’s origin—and these days, consumers—especially millennials—are very interested in the story of food from farm to fork.

2018 Food Safety Supply Chain Conference, Blockchain
The blockchain panel, led by Darin Detwiler, Director: Regulatory Affairs of Food and Food Industry, Northeastern University featured (left to right) Kathy Wybourn, Director, Food Safety Solutions, DNV GL; Simon Batters,
Vice President of Technology Solutions, Lloyd’s Register and Melanie Nuce, Senior Vice President, Corporate Development & Innovation, GS1 US.

Weaknesses and Threats

The panel pointed out several areas of improvement (and unknowns that must be answered) before blockchain can be taken to the next level in the food industry.

  • Although the technology could aid in faster transaction times, as the size of the ledger gets larger, and it will become more difficult to manage.
  • Industry involvement: “If you don’t get 100% participation, it’s not going to be successful,” Nuce said. “To have true trace back, everyone has to participate.”
  • Blockchain platforms: Will they be able to interact and share data? What type of blockchain architecture is necessary for this?
  • Poor architecture
  • Need a better grasp on the type of data being used and how it delivers value
  • What impact will it have on the role of certification bodies?
  • Politics and the competitive element: Will certain parties seek to control this space?
  • Will the culture shift be a roadblock?
Melanie Nuce, GS1 US
Read Melanie Nuce’s column, Blockchain: Separating Fact from Fiction

Final Thoughts from the Panel

“Nobody can really tell where this is going to go in the future. I think it’s going to be part of food safety in their roles in one shape or form…I think we’ll see more of where this is headed within the next 12–18 months.” – Kathy Wybourn

“I think it’s going to be a fast-moving dynamic area.”– Simon Batters, who suggested that the organizations that embrace blockchain early may be the ones who show the way

“From an information/standards perspective, you have to have foundational business processes to support any type of technology. That’s what we’ve learned through the pilots.” – Melanie Nuce

“It’s not going to make a company any more ethical… a lot of what we need already exists out there; blockchain is just a tool out there. I keep warning people that this is not the only solution.” – Darin Detwiler

Megan Nichols
FST Soapbox

5 Ways to Manage Risk in the Global Food Supply Chain

By Megan Ray Nichols
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Megan Nichols

In 2017, the cost to import food, which has long been fairly predictable, rose by 6% over the previous year—and the number of possible risk factors has risen right alongside the higher price tag. There are several steps you can take to position yourself as an industry leader and manage risk simultaneously. First, though, it makes sense to better understand what’s at stake.

Why Take Steps to Reduce Risk?

Food has never been a more global market than it is today, and those who operate in the food supply chain are bound by the public’s trust in spoken and unspoken ways. Customers are used to taking for granted that they can walk into a supermarket and walk out with ethically sourced fish and eggs free from E. coli worries.

Not every food product is, or can be, a global one. However, some of these domestic risk factors scale up, just as our businesses do. When the food supply chain crosses borders of any kind, the familiar health and food safety risks are joined by several others:

  • Product mislabeling
  • Unplanned-for natural disasters
  • Spoilage due to any number of unforeseen circumstances
  • Damage while in transit
  • Unpredictable politics and shifts in regulations

A food company’s supply chain can be the weakest link in their food safety program. Learn more at the Food Safety Supply Chain Conference | June 12–13 | Rockville, MDIn all honesty, no list will ever encompass the scope of the risk you take on as part of the global food supply chain. That’s not to say you can’t take steps to reduce your risk—sometimes several types of risk at once—as your operation grows. The following is a look at several practical suggestions, some of them more time-intensive and perhaps cost-prohibitive than others, but all worth a look as the world grapples with globalization in the food industry.

1. Don’t Take Company Culture or Employee Training for Granted

Working safely and conscientiously in a particular trade is not knowledge we’re born with. When you consider the fact that at some level every food product we bring into our homes was handled at one point by another human being, you get a sense of the role proper training and a healthy culture can play in the safety we expect of our food.

Among recently surveyed manufacturers in the global food space, 77% of them said globalization itself was a source of risk. It’s easy to see why. In 2015, a relatively small—though still deadly—Listeria outbreak was traced to just a few Blue Bell Ice Cream factories. The company was almost ruined by the three deaths, the illnesses and the nearly crushing reputational damage.

Some momentary lapse of judgment at one or perhaps two factories almost killed this company. Now scale this type of risk up to the global level and think about the possible worst-case scenarios.

We’ll talk more in a moment about ways to introduce transparency and traceability to the food supply chain, but this is a reminder of the stakes. Mindfulness and conscientiousness in the work we do— not to mention well-rested and satisfied workers—are just as vitally important to look after as profitability.

2. Use Predictive Sales Forecasts and Intelligent Logistics to Avoid Spoilage

Unnecessary food waste and spoilage emerged as a mainstream issue in recent years all across the globe. For example, citizens in the EU are forced to discard some 89 million tons of food each year due to overstocking, poor quality control and a lack of attention paid to consumer trends. The United States throws out 35 million tons of food for the same reasons—a problem that, billed collectively, carries a price tag of $165 billion each year in the United States alone.

The solution has arrived in the form of predictive analytics and more intelligent warehouse and inventory management systems. Domestic and global supply chain partners alike now have access to, in some cases, highly customizable software systems that can provide vital data, such as:

  • Ideal stock levels for perishable items
  • Constant checks on incoming versus outgoing products
  • Intelligent insights into customer behavior patterns and near-future buying patterns

These types of data are highly actionable. They don’t just shield you from monetary risks by cutting down on waste— they can also protect you from public health risks by ensuring spoiled products never make it as far as store shelves.

3. Take Your Packaging More Seriously

Many of us don’t give packaging a second thought. So long as it’s easy to get into, eye-catching and protects the product long enough for the consumer to get their hands on it, it’s good enough — right? Not quite. When manufacturers think about packaging as merely a branding matter rather than as a safety check, the price is sometimes human health and lives.

One obvious solution to make sure your products can travel as far as they need to is to invest in vacuum packaging, even for small-scale operations. Compressed air equipment is a highly affordable way to accomplish this. The USDA and CDC provide guidelines on modified atmosphere packaging (MAP) and controlled atmosphere packaging (CAP).

Packaging material requirements are a global concern as well as a domestic one. The EU provides guidelines for packaging materials that are detailed down to the type of ink used. Knowing about the laws in your sales territories and staying aware of new breakthroughs in material sciences can help you remain in compliance and ahead of the game.

In a global supply chain, high-quality packaging serves not just as a risk mitigator, but also as a possible value proposition for your customers. Having your brand stand out as an example of high-quality products in thoughtful, health-conscious packaging could put you in a unique position.

4. Stay Abreast of Changing Regulations

American politics might be volatile, but one thing that isn’t likely to change is that consumers tend to look toward institutions like the FDA to provide updated guidelines and to pursue strong, consumer-friendly legislation. That means compliance isn’t always a choice, but it also means you have the opportunity to anticipate change and mitigate risks faster than your peers.

A recent example is FSMA. It’s had a long rollout, with plenty of advance warning for the industries it touches, but now most of its rules have reached the implementation stage. This lead time has been advantageous given the scope of the anticipated laws because it’s given food processing companies time to prepare for compliance. In fact, globalization lies at the very heart of it.

FSMA will be challenging at times to enforce, but its ultimate goal is to hold domestic and foreign companies in the global food supply chain responsible for a common set of guidelines and best practices.

What does this mean? It means you have yet another opportunity to establish yourself as an industry leader. The intentions of FSMA are to make every part of the supply chain more agile and better able to respond to emerging health concerns and other sources of risk as they unfold.

5. Use Data to Build Greater Transparency

There has perhaps never been a more important time to take transparency seriously in the global food supply chain. As of this writing, a historically significant outbreak of E. coli among romaine lettuce products is closing in on an “all clear” from the CDC after two difficult months. By the time you read this article it’s entirely possible another outbreak of a different kind might be underway or that some product or another has found itself under a recall. The possibility of reputational damage is greater than ever.

The good news is, even when the unfortunate happens, it’s possible to greatly reduce risk to your brand and your customers’ health. However, you need the tools to help you move quickly in tracing the problem.

Some digital technologies of a more physical nature, such as QR codes or RFID chips, can elevate your supply chain transparency and tamp down risk even further by allowing far more granular traceability for your products as they move about. In some high-profile examples, we’re seeing this concept taken to a logical, if slightly extreme, endpoint: Edible QR codes on restaurant food that contain a full history of the meal’s constituent ingredients.

Even if you don’t take your own efforts this far, this level of traceability can help you react far more quickly to emerging situations such as recalls. You’ll be able to isolate shipments with greater ease and trace contaminated products back to their sources. Also, as The Guardian points out, this technology delivers ethical and perhaps legal peace of mind by assuring you that your partners are trading in ethically sourced goods.

Vigilance and Technology in the Food Industry

The stakes in the food industry are high, as we’ve seen. However, with the right combination of a cultural approach to safety, a mindfulness of changing regulations and the sensible application of technology so you can act on the data you’re gathering, you’ll be in a prime position for global success in this quickly changing field.