The issue was uncovered during routine FSIS testing. The products were reportedly distributed to retailers, including Walmart, nationwide. Thus far there are no reports of adverse reactions due to consumption of the affect products.
Since the early 20th century, food safety has been a paramount concern for consumers in the United States. Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, which painted a bleak, brutal, and downright disgusting picture of turn-of-the-century food processing facilities led to the creation of some of the country’s first food safety laws. Today, federal agencies and statutes make up a comprehensive food safety system to ensure that the growth, distribution and consumption of foods are safe from start to finish.
While food safety has significantly improved in the century since Sinclair’s time, stories of major outbreaks of foodborne illnesses continue to pop up across the country. Over the past few years, a significant number of outbreaks as a result of pathogens have made the headlines. To mitigate the threat of public health crises and ensure food production and distribution is safe and secure, companies must rely on modern technology to trace the movement of food across the entire supply chain.
How Technology Is Changing the Food Industry
Technology is a powerful, innovative force that has changed the way even well established companies must do business in order to stay relevant. From easier access to nutritional information to digital solutions that make food manufacturing and distribution more efficient, greater consumer awareness driven by technology empowers consumers to make decisions that can greatly affect the food industry’s bottom line.
Technology-driven accountability is playing one outsized role in allowing consumers to make better choices about the foods they consume and purchase. Social media and smartphone apps connect consumers to a wealth of resources concerning the harmful effects of certain ingredients in their food, the source of products, and how particular items are made and produced. In 2015, for example, The Campbell Soup Company removed 13 ingredients from its traditional soup recipes as a result of a greater public demand to understand food sources. Neither food giants nor small producers should expect to remain immune from greater public scrutiny over food health and safety.
Nutritional research is also helping change the conversation around food, granting nutritionists and consumers alike greater access to food-related data. Through easily accessible scholarly journals, apps that provide real-time nutrition information, and meal tracking apps that help users log and understand what they’re eating, consumers can gain a better understanding of nutrition to make more informed choices about their daily food intake. Researchers can also use food-tracking apps to make discoveries about consumer behavior and foods that are eaten.
Technology is also being used to tackle food waste, one of the most pervasive problems facing the food industry. One-third of the total amount of food produced globally, amounting to nearly $1.2 trillion, goes to waste every year. Solving this pervasive crisis has become an industry imperative that is being tackled through a variety of innovative technologies to improve shelf-life, dynamically adjust pricing based on sell-by dates, and allow restaurants to automatically monitor their daily waste.
In the food manufacturing sector, digitally-connected supply chain systems are providing greater visibility into the production of foods and beverages. Supplier management technology delivers data that can be used to optimize processes and improve quality in real-time, making it easy to adjust to consumer demands, respond to logistics challenges, and boost government compliance. The enhanced operational benefits offered through improved supply chain visibility allows manufacturers to produce products faster, safer, and with greater transparency.
Online ordering has also ushered in a new era of food industry behavior. The growing assortment of online ordering apps has just given the consumer more control over quickly ordering their next meal. The trend in online ordering has also allowed restaurants to experiment with new business models like virtual kitchens that offer menus that are only available online.
IoT: The Future of Food Safety
From the farm to the carryout bag, the impact of technology on the greater food industry is already evident in daily practice. Through enhanced access to data, food producers can run an efficient supply chain that reduces waste, boosts productivity, and meets consumer demand in real-time. Using a variety of online resources, consumers are empowered to quickly make well-informed food purchases that are healthier, more convenient and more sustainable than ever before.
The Internet-of-Things (IoT) adds a layer of technology to the food manufacturing process to ensure greater food safety. A broad series of networked sensors, monitors, and other Internet-connected devices, IoT technology can oversee the entire food manufacturing and distribution process from the warehouse to the point of sale. Boosting transparency across the board, intelligent sensors and cameras can transform any food manufacturing operation into a highly visible, data-backed process that allows for better decision-making and improved real-time knowledge.
While IoT technology is a powerful tool that can improve the efficiency of restaurants and provide enhanced customer experiences, some of its greatest potential lies in its ability to safely monitor food preparation and production. Live data from IoT devices makes it possible to closely monitor food safety data points, allowing manufacturers and restaurants to reduce the risks of foodborne illness outbreaks through enhanced data collection and automated reporting.
Domino’s Pizza, for instance, embraced IoT technology to enhance management processes and monitor the food safety of its products. In the past, restaurants have relied on workers to record food temperatures, a practice that was occasionally overlooked and could lead to issues with health inspectors. Using IoT devices for real-time temperature monitoring, Domino’s automatically records and displays temperature levels of a store’s production, refrigeration, and exhaust systems, allowing employees to view conditions from a live dashboard.
In addition to boosting food safety, the comprehensive monitoring offered by IoT technology can help food companies reduce waste, keep more effective records, and analyze more data for improved operations.
IoT isn’t just a safe solution for improving food safety: It’s a smart solution.
Blockchain: The Future of Food Traceability
The ubiquity of QR codes has made it easy for consumers to quickly gain access to information by scanning an image with their smartphone. From accessing product manuals to downloading songs, QR codes make it simple to provide detailed and relevant content to users in a timely manner.
Blockchain technology provides a powerful opportunity to provide consumers with similar information about food safety. Able to instantaneously trace the lifecycle of food products, blockchain can report a food’s every point of contact throughout its journey from farm to table. By scanning a QR code, for instance, users can quickly access relevant information about a food product’s source, such as an animal’s health, and welfare. Shoppers at Carrefour, Europe’s largest retailer, area already using blockchain traceability to track the stage of production of free-range chickens across France.
Walmart piloted a blockchain implementation by tracing a package of sliced mangoes across every destination until it hit store shelves, from its origin at a farm in Mexico to intermittent stops at a hot-water treatment plant, U.S processing plant, and cold storage facility. Real-time product tracing can be conducted in just two seconds, enabling Walmart and other vendors to provide consumers with access to food safety information that could easily be updated should an outbreak or contamination occur.
Blockchain’s inherent transparency not only makes it possible to identify the safety of food production; it also enhances the safety of the business of food production itself. Because blockchain is based upon an immutable, anonymous ledger, record keeping and accounting can be made more secure and less prone to human error. Payments to farmers and other food suppliers can also become more transparent and equitable.
The High Tech Future of Food
Unlike the days of Sinclair’s The Jungle, food transparency is the name of today’s game. As consumers continue to demand greater access to better food on-demand, food producers must continue to find innovative ways of providing safe, healthy, and ethical solutions.
IoT devices and blockchain present food manufacturers with powerful technological solutions to solve complex problems. Brands choosing to rely on these innovations, such as Domino’s and Walmart, are helping ensure that food is produced, prepared and distributed with a foremost emphasis on health and safety. As these technologies continue to become more intelligent, well-connected, and embraced by leading food producers, consumers should rest assured that they’ll always be able to know exactly what they’re eating, where it’s from, and whether it’s safe.
Continuing on our journey to bring you the successes, best practices, challenges and accomplishments from the very best in this industry, this month I had the pleasure of interviewing Frank Yiannas, vice president of food safety at Walmart. In his role, Frank oversees all food safety, as well as other public health functions, for the world’s largest food retailer, serving more than 200 million customers around the world on a weekly basis.
Frank is a past president of the International Association for Food Protection (IAFP) and a past vice-chair of GFSI. He is also an adjunct professor in the Food Safety Program at Michigan State University, and in 2017 was awarded the MSU Outstanding Faculty Award. He’s also the author of two books, Food Safety Culture, Creating a Behavior-based Food Safety Management System, and Food Safety = Behavior, 30 Proven Techniques to Enhance Employee Compliance.
Mahni Ghorashi: What are you most excited about in our industry? What’s changing in a good way in the food safety sector?
Frank Yiannas: While there is no doubt that there are numerous new and emerging challenges in food safety, the many advancements being made should give us hope that we can create a safer, more efficient, and sustainable food system.
There is progress being made on many fronts: Whole genome sequencing is becoming more accessible; new tools are being developed for fraud detection; and FSMA is introducing stringent public-health surveillance measures that have dramatic implications for U.S. retailers and suppliers and our import partners.
Most importantly, consumers are now overwhelmingly interested in transparency. People today are further removed from how food is grown, produced and transported than at any other time in human history. Plus, they increasingly mistrust food and food companies due to the food outbreaks and scares we have faced in recent years.
Over the near-term, as we get better at detecting foodborne outbreaks, consumer mistrust will likely intensify; however, it’s clear to me that heightened consumer interest is hugely positive because it adds weight to our industry’s call for more accurate food labeling, more wholesome ingredients and enhanced food traceability. Ultimately, these are the kinds of measures that will improve the food system and enhance consumer trust.
Ghorashi: As you know, food shopping is moving online. It’s happening across the world, and at breakneck speed. What are retailers like Walmart doing to keep up?
Yiannas: That’s a great question. Walmart and other retailers are now developing new packaging materials and temperature control approaches, as well as new ordering methods, high-tech stocking systems and delivery modes.
Food shopping is moving online so quickly that regulatory requirements have not been able to keep up. That means it’s up to us, the retailers and food companies, to work with regulators to create and promote the necessary industry standards, best practices and logistical solutions.
I firmly believe that it is our responsibility as food retailers to advocate for consumers and strive to create a safer and more affordable and sustainable food system. With many more players across the global food chain now shouldering this duty of care, I am very optimistic that our industry is truly improving the lives of people around the world.
Ghorashi: What role is blockchain technology playing in food safety? What are the prospects for the future?
Yiannas: The emergence of blockchain technology and the successful completion of several pilots using it to enhance food traceability has resulted in a larger conversation about the importance of creating a more transparent digital food system.
It has also enabled food system stakeholders to imagine being able to have full end-to-end traceability at the speed of thought. The ongoing U.S.-wide romaine lettuce E.coli outbreak showed us, once again, that our traditional paper-based food tracking system is no longer adequate for the 21st century. An ability to deliver accurate, real-time information about food, how it’s produced, and how it flows from farm to table is a game-changer for food safety.
Blockchain has the potential to shine a light on all actors in the food system. This enhanced transparency will result in greater accountability, and greater accountability will cause the food system to self-regulate and comply with the safe and sustainable practices that we all desire.
The human behavior that surrounds us contagious. Read the article about Frank Yiannas’ presentation, Catch the Food Safety Culture Bug. In keeping with this theme, Frank Yiannas, vice president of food safety at Walmart, reviews behavioral science techniques that can be applied to a food safety management system. In part I of this video series from the 2015 Food Safety Consortium, Yiannas reviews the principles of consistency and commitment.
Are we winning the battle against foodborne diseases? How are we going to get better at this? How do you change employee behavior within food organizations to ultimately make food safer? Frank Yiannas, vice president of food safety at Walmart, posed these questions to a captive audience last week at the Food Safety Consortium. “Human behavior can be contagious,” said Yiannas. “Food safety can be caught not only taught.”
While industry has increased its efforts in training, inspections, and microbiological testing, little progress has been made in lowering the rates of foodborne diseases over the past decade. As the global food system continues to change and grow at a rapid rate, a shift in the mindset of food safety managers—from process-focused to behavior-focused—needs to occur to facilitate a food safety culture that will in turn create a safer food supply, said Yiannas. He reviewed four tools that companies can use to implement a behavior-based food safety management system.
Consistency and commitment. “Humans don’t want to be wishy-washy,” said Yiannas. People strive to behave in a manner that is consistent with something that they’ve either said or documented publicly. Watch the video
Apply the tool: When conducting training, go beyond simply having employees sign an attendance roster. Instead, ask each employee to commit, in writing, that he or she will apply the principles learned in the class into daily responsibilities.
Homophily. “Birds of a feather influence food safety for better,” said Yiannas. People with similar characteristics believe and influence each other.
Apply the tool: When communicating an important message, use a front-line employee rather than a corporate “talking head”.
Make food safety the social norm. “People do what other people do,” said Yiannas. In today’s society, we are flooded with information, and as a result defer to social norms as a short cut when making decisions.
Apply the tool: When trying to enforce a behavior, show the behavior more than once and show it being done by more than one employee.
Learning from the right way or the wrong way. Learning by being taught the wrong way can be an effective teaching tool, because it allows employees to learn from their mistakes. Learning from the “wrong way” also prevents complacency, which perhaps is one of the biggest dangers to food safety. “Complacency is driven out of overconfidence, and oftentimes poor risk assessment, and certainly poor metrics,” said Yiannas.
Apply the tool: Create training modules that examine the missteps other food companies have made and illustrate how employees can learn from these mistakes.
Frank Yiannas also received the 2015 Industry Advocate Hero award from STOP Foodborne Illness during the consortiumThe question of metrics in food safety culture often arises, as there is no defined way to measure employee behavior. Yiannas encouraged the audience to conduct a food safety culture survey within their organizations and ask the scary questions. “You need to have the courage to hear the truth,” he said.
How will FDA enforce the new FSMA rules? It’s a question that has been circulating throughout industry over the past few months, and it will be answered at this year’s annual Food Safety Consortium conference next month. Michael Taylor, JD, deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine at FDA will deliver the opening plenary presentation on November 18, which will be followed by an “Ask the FDA” interactive town hall meeting. During the afternoon,
Roberta Wagner, deputy director of regulatory affairs at CFSAN will discuss FSMA implementation and FDA’s strategies for gaining and maintaining industry compliance with the new rules. The agency will also be participating in several conference sessions dedicated to the FSMA rules that will be finalized by November, including:
Foreign Supplier Verification
Preventive Controls in Human Foods
Preventive Controls in Animal Foods
Voluntary Qualified Importer Program
During the event, USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) will also be answering questions related to regulatory compliance and food safety issues at a Small Plant Help Desk.
Beyond FSMA-related topics, the Food Safety Consortium conference will feature several concurrent food safety and quality assurance tracks, workshops and training programs in compliance, food manufacturing and operations, supply chain management, food labs, and foodservice and retail. Food Safety Culture is an especially hot topic right now, and the conference will address the practical ways to actually measure behavior and start taking action. Frank Yiannas, vice president of food safety at Walmart will deliver a keynote presentation, “Food Safety = Behavior” on Wednesday, November 18.
Many of you are committed to doing everything possible to prevent people from becoming ill or dying from foodborne illness, and you whole-heartedly embrace a strong food safety culture. On November 17, 2015, STOP Foodborne Illness is pleased to be hosting Food Safety Heroes, an interactive fundraising event sponsored by Chemstar Corp. and Food Safety Tech.
We are excited that Food Safety Heroes will take place during, and in conjunction with, the Food Safety Consortium Conference, which is a summit meeting for Food Safety and Quality Assurance (FSQA) industry experts and government officials. In our eyes, every guest coming to this event is a food safety hero! Each day these people contribute to the overall health of our nation, and we couldn’t be more proud to be working alongside such outstanding men and women. To be a part of efforts to increase public awareness and collaboratively seek solutions is a great honor for us.
In addition to raising much-needed funds for the important, life-saving work of STOP Foodborne Illness, we also have the great pleasure of honoring two individuals who have seen the national conversation about safe food grow from its infancy, born from tragedy, to an increasingly aware industry of food safety professionals and consumers. Their efforts have been instrumental in cultivating the food safety culture that we see today.
The 2015 Food Safety Heroes award will honor:
Nancy Donley, former spokesperson for Safe Tables Our Priority and STOP Foodborne Illness. Donley will be presented with the 2015 Legacy Tribute in recognition of her four-year-old son Alex, who died from an E. coli infection in 1993. From the time of her son’s death until her recent retirement from STOP, Donley has worked tirelessly to raise public awareness of foodborne illnesses by providing information and support for the millions of people who get sick from eating each year.
Frank Yiannas, vice president of food safety at Walmart Corp. A pioneering force in advancing the concept of a strong food safety culture, Yiannas is being celebrated as our 2015 Industry Advocate Hero. Going far beyond his role in overseeing the safety of the world’s largest food retailer, Yiannas is recognized for his commitment and dedication to building unique partnerships and participating in innovative approaches to food safety.
Please join us on November 17!
Food Safety Heroes
Time: 7–9 pm
Where: Renaissance Convention Center in Schaumburg, IL
Guests will enjoy cocktails and hors d’oeuvres, lively entertainment, a silent auction and more
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