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Transparency, temperature, tenacity can tame FSMA terrors

Opinion

The FDA’s Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) was signed into law in 2011. The act granted the FDA a number of new powers and enforcement abilities, including mandatory recall authority and the ability to levy fines against offenders. The law was prompted after many reported incidents of foodborne illnesses during the first decade of this century that cost the food industry billions of dollars in recalls, lost sales, legal expenses and trust.

Food safety has become synonymous with a food retailer’s reputation. Those that avoid the pitfalls of food-related illnesses have built an even stronger bond with their customers, and it’s not by chance. They follow stringent rules to maintain their brands’ reputations and the faith they have built with their clientele.

One way for businesses in the food industry to avoid these potentially brand-wrecking incidences is to embrace the FSMA by adhering to the following three tips:

1. Start by being transparent about food safety
The increasing intricacy of the global food chain has amplified the complexity of the traceability of ingredients. It’s also been recognized by many that that there is a need for even more transparent information on the quality of the entire food chain outside of listing ingredients and calories.

Modern tracking and tracing methods have made it easier to meet these needs. Moreover, FSMA has made this task a critical part of the farm-to-fork process. More vigilance and awareness of the supply chain is an essential part of protecting consumers and the company brand, and plays an important role in the event of a recall.

Transparency is a given on the customer side. Consumers expect openness from food companies in all ways. They want to know where the products are coming from and what’s in them. But they also want to know everything about how safe items are to consume.

Being transparent about food safety even before it’s on your shelves is vital. In turn, the business community in the food supply chain regards the call for safety from their customers, government and other stakeholders as important driving forces for continuous innovation. These innovations focus on implementing systems to improve the product quality and to guarantee food safety, while at the same time making transparent the supply chain, including the food processors.

2. Monitor food safety beyond the processor
Maintaining food quality doesn’t end at your processor’s dock. They should be held accountable to do their part to ensure food safety during the transportation phase of the cold chain.

A good starting point for food processors is to fully understand the requirements of FSMA and key dynamics of the U.S. fresh foods landscape. Recognize and address the risks and vulnerabilities through an assessment of a processor’s internal systems and gain greater visibility into the supply chain.

The following temperature monitoring best practices as outlined by the FDA, can be leveraged throughout the transport of fresh foods to help create an effective program:

A. Develop and communicate proper transport temperatures. Prior to the product being shipped to distribution centers, it must remain within acceptable temperature ranges for the particular commodity.

B. Establish pre-cooling processes. Before food is transported, it should be pre-cooled by the processor to the correct transit temperatures, as this can have a direct impact on product quality, safety and shelf life. Pre-cooling should occur when the container is connected to the cold storage unit.

C. Ensure proper loading practices. Perishable products should be loaded in a way that permits airflow through the transport container, making sure that it does not go above the “load” line. Also, the product packaging itself should promote airflow.

D. To track temperatures; integrate temperature monitoring device and placement procedures. Place a digital temperature-monitoring device on the product to provide the most accurate product temperature data. Establish consistent placement locations in all trailers.

E. Check temperature data upon receipt at the distribution center. To ensure the food is safe when the shipment reaches the distribution center, quality assurance staff should check the temperature monitoring device’s data for any breaches. These devices provide historical information about what happened during transit, and can help identify any issues that may not be visible but could affect the future food quality and shelf life.

At this point, it would be the distribution center’s responsibility to continue product monitoring from their site to the store. While this segment of the cold chain is subject to similar food quality risks, independent monitoring devices are not always used to validate that product temperatures have been maintained. It’s recommended to use these devices along the process for a complete, continuous monitoring program.

3. Prevent food safety issues with remote monitoring
Ninety-four percent of shoppers trust their grocery store to ensure that the food they purchase is safe, according to the 2016 FMI U.S. Shopper Trends survey. In fact, food retailers are perceived as an important ally in helping customers to achieve wellness goals. But, consumers are aware of the many possible hazards in the food system, so retailers have the potential to lose that trust if an issue arises in their stores.

Maintaining refrigeration systems can avoid costly equipment failure that could compromise food quality and affect the shopping experience. Comprehensive equipment monitoring methods can help address these concerns. Remote monitoring services provide real-time performance data on critical store equipment, including insights around energy expenditure, equipment operating condition, facility maintenance needs, refrigerant leaks and shrink causes.

Some services offer simple systems for food monitoring, but have limited insight into other facility systems, lacking the big picture for retailers to fully know the impact of a potential issue. With robust equipment diagnostics, retailers will understand a specific equipment problem, be able to make a quick decision on necessary actions, ensure that the issue is actually fixed – not just masked – and gain valuable insights into how to prevent it and not put food products in jeopardy in the future.

To ensure fresh, top quality food that meets consumer expectations, retailers need to accurately and efficiently report product and case temperatures. Food quality reporting through remote monitoring services can automate this process to help reduce human error and increase efficiency, while improving customer satisfaction and food safety.

FSMA and food retail facilities
As the regulations address the entire supply chain, not all provisions of this legislation apply to food retailers. But retailers should review the law and its provisions because it places specific responsibilities and accountabilities on supply chain participants for actions and validation of processes.

This means grocers will need to work collaboratively with their food suppliers and transportation carriers to ensure that all suppliers are aware of what’s needed for food safety compliance. Some information from the FDA that may be of highest interest to retailers includes:

  • Procedures to assure that facilities and vehicles used in processing and transport did not allow food to become unsafe or altered.
  • Documented food processing and transport safety programs.
  • Verification that supply chain employees were adequately trained on proper, safe temperature management during processing and transport.
  • Temperature monitoring and reporting that demonstrate food was processed and transported under safe temperature conditions.

FSMA places an increased importance on collecting and utilizing data, especially product temperatures, to ensure that food remains fresh and safe from the farm, to the manufacturer, to the store, and ultimately into the hands of the consumer. Record keeping is another key component for compliance, so retailers and their supply chain partners will need to ensure accurate, efficient documentation to verify the integrity of their foods.

Communication, collaboration and training among retailers and their supply chain partners will be essential as developments continue.

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