Tag Archives: transparency

Randy Fields, Repositrak
FST Soapbox

Despite FSMA Exemptions, Compliance Will Not Be Optional For Small Suppliers

By Randy Fields
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Randy Fields, Repositrak

The product recall at Blue Bell Creameries earlier this year is yet another example of food safety issues negatively impacting food marketers, growers, processers and manufacturers. We all remember the Peanut Corporation of America’s salmonella outbreak in 2008 and the Jensen Farms listeria outbreak in 2011. Salmonella-tainted eggs in 2010, E. coli in strawberries in 2011, and listeria in caramel apples last Halloween combined with dozens of others during the last six years, have sickened thousands and killed dozens of people.

The brand reputation impact from the incidents at Peanut Corporation of America and Jensen Farms was terminal—both companies went bankrupt. The effect on Blue Bell, while likely not fatal, is expected by industry experts to be substantial and include loss of revenue and market share. The company has already announced plans to lay off more than 1,000 workers as a result of the recall.

In addition, growers saw cantaloupe consumption take a nosedive after the Jensen Farms listeria outbreak, which was one of the worst foodborne illness outbreaks in U.S. history in terms of number of deaths. They are only now seeing sales levels return to those before the incident. And because the farm itself went out of business, personal injury lawyers went after the companies that sold the disease-ridden cantaloupes—the retailers. By virtue of last year’s out-of-court settlement by Walmart on the Jensen Farms lawsuit, both suppliers and retailers are now responsible for everything they sell.

Enter the Food Safety Modernization Act, signed in 2011 and about to begin finalization in August. FSMA mandates that retailers and suppliers have documentation that verifies their supply chain’s regulatory compliance is readily accessible for government inspection. Add these records to the business relationship records that retailers and suppliers should already be maintaining (including indemnifications and certificates of insurance that help manage brand risk), and you’d think our risk of foodborne illness is about be eradicated.

Although FSMA represents the most sweeping change to our food safety laws in the last 70 years, it may not have the greatest impact where the supply chain is most vulnerable. Today the largest suppliers that sell the majority of our food have very sophisticated systems to ensure safe food production and transportation. This group will have the easiest path to compliance with FSMA, and they most likely already hold themselves to a higher standard. It’s actually the smaller suppliers, which likely do not have the available resources or sophistication to comply with FSMA requirements, that will be exempt from certain documentation under FSMA based on their size. This group of suppliers is growing rapidly to meet consumer desire for fresh food that is locally grown and produced. Unfortunately for them, it’s only a matter of time before wholesalers and retailers decide that the risk is too great to continue to do business with these small suppliers.

The good news is that technology exists that can help small suppliers reduce risk in their extended supply chains. Affordable, interoperable systems have been developed to address the market need for receiving, storing, sharing and managing regulatory, audit and insurance documentation. Suppliers of any size can also track products as they move through the supply chain and trace them back in the event of a recall. This move to automation will help all suppliers not only meet the demands of FSMA, but also establish a base for retailer and consumer demands for transparency in the supply chain going forward.

Having a comprehensive food safety system is quickly becoming a competitive advantage. Retailers and consumers are looking for those suppliers that have an unblemished safety record and are transparent about their safety processes, so the time is now for small suppliers to hold themselves to a higher standard than FSMA requires for future business opportunities. The stakes are just too high for retailers and wholesalers to not verify that everything they sell to consumers is produced and transported safely.

Food Transparency No Longer an Option

By Maria Fontanazza
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As consumers demand to know the “who, what, when, where and how” of products they purchase, companies must focus on bringing honesty to the table to build trust.

Consumers are becoming more informed about the dangers of certain ingredients and the presence of allergens and pesticides in food. In the future, virtually the only way companies can build and retain consumer trust is through providing transparency in the food chain.

“Transparency will no longer be an option,” says John Keogh, president and principal advisor at Shantalla Inc. “Food businesses have to commit themselves to transparency as the only way to demonstrate to the market how customer-oriented they are.” Keogh discussed the need for companies to be forthright not just about what is in food, but also the entire product journey—the who, what, when, where and how—during a recent webinar by the GMA Science and Education Foundation, “Transparency in the Food Value Chain”.

Drawing on examples such as the horsemeat scandal in Europe, trust is quickly lost when dishonesty rears its head. “We need to bring a level of honesty and ethics into supply chain transparency,” says Keogh. This includes disclosing where the product is made or grown, including the state, in the case of the United States; the province, in the case of Canada; and where Japan is concerned, the prefecture. A recent example is Taiwan’s plans to require prefecture labels of Japanese food imports following the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant disaster, which has raised significant concerns over radioactive contamination in food.

As the supply chain becomes increasingly global and more complex, several factors are compelling transparency. Regulations that address food safety, security, defense, and fraud will all have an impact. The Foreign Supplier Verification Program (FSVP) under FSMA will put pressure on the nearly 200 countries that import products into the United States. According to Keogh, there are 220,000 importers on record, and they have about 300,000 facilities, all of which must be inspected under the FSVP mandate. In Europe, the EU regulation 1169/2011 requires the disclosure of more information to consumers, including mandatory origin labeling of unprocessed meat from pigs, sheep, goats and poultry, mandatory nutrition labels on process foods, and disclosure of allergens in the ingredient list. Companies will also need to consider requirements for Halal and Kosher foods.

Technology plays the key role in driving consumer awareness and demand for more information, but Keogh notes there is a gap between consumer expectations from a data perspective and the ability of companies to actually deliver this data. He offers some examples of emerging technologies that companies can use to facilitate supply chain transparency. Sourcemap is a supply chain mapping solution that allows companies to link from their raw materials sites to the end customers. Companies can generate reports from various metrics and identify the weak links in their supply chain. Trace One is a product lifecycle management solution that has a focused module for transparency. The company also recently announced the first B2B social network for supply chain transparency as well as the full alignment with GS1 standards and embedding fTrace into its platform. Manufacturers using Trace One have visibility on all of their ingredients, suppliers and facilities, and can search for products that may be affected by an ingredient or facility problems related to a recall, for example.

“Food chain transparency has the potential to create new business opportunities for retailers and manufacturers,” says Keogh. Moving forward, companies will need to have a foundation of standards, specifically GS1 Standards, and use them at a deeper level to enable interoperability between the technologies that supply chain partners use. Keogh urges companies to think beyond food safety and food quality to value-based transparency to increase value not just for the end consumer but also for supply chain partners. This will also involve ensuring privacy of data surrounding pricing and proprietary information.

Maria Fontanazza, Editor-in-Chief, Innovative Publishing Co. LLC
From the Editor’s Desk

Translating the Talk into Action

By Maria Fontanazza
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Maria Fontanazza, Editor-in-Chief, Innovative Publishing Co. LLC

With a little less than two months under my belt as an editor in the food safety industry, I have already started to become a bad dinner date and my hands beg for mercy as a result of my newfound obsession with soap and water.

Quirks aside, I am seeing some common threads in this industry, although they are themes we see in any highly regulated industry. Partnerships. Collaboration. Transparency. Alignment. Accountability. Now more than ever, these words mean something. FSMA has forced the issue of food safety to the forefront. Yet, we’ve barely begun and I’m already hearing the phrase “FSMA Fatigue”.

For the folks who have been involved in preparing for FSMA from the start, they probably are a bit fatigued. There have been many meetings, and there’s been a lot of talking surrounding what’s going to happen, what needs to be done, and what challenges we’ll face (in many cases, together). But let’s not forget that not everyone is as well versed on the nuances of the regulation. I admit, I am raising my hand here… for now.

Now let’s back up a couple of sentences. “There’s been a lot of talk…” Yes, there has been. While these are enthusiastic discussions about what we as regulators, food processors, retailers, suppliers, scientists and everyone in between should be anticipating with FSMA rules and the consequent implementation, HOW are we going to navigate this new frontier?

Let’s start this conversation now.

You’ll see a lot of changes to Food Safety Tech this year. We’ve already started the information exchange with industry stakeholders about how we’re going to work together to get through FSMA implementation and the tools we need to arm our audience with to help them along this journey. We also just announced our Call for Abstracts for the Food Safety Consortium Conference in November.  The Consortium will bring together leaders and regulators in this industry and facilitate a forum for that candid “how” discussion. Food Safety Culture will receive strong attention, and key players will be presenting a case history of how to apply metrics to food safety culture within organizations.

I’m excited to join this industry, and thank you to those who have already extended a warm welcome. And for the many who I have yet to meet, please drop me a note as you encounter challenges or have ideas about critical food safety topics. Our job at Food Safety Tech is to provide a platform through which we can enable a constructive dialogue about overcoming challenges, working together effectively, and navigating this journey into the future of food safety.

Maria Fontanazza
Editor-in-Chief