(Editor’s Note: This is an online-only article attributed to the December/January 2018 issue.)
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Food Safety Modernization Act’s (FSMA) Final Rule on Sanitary Transportation of Human and Animal Food consists of rigorous demands that leave food transportation businesses vulnerable to error and, in turn, FDA penalties. These penalties are not only harmful to reputation, but can also incur serious financial harm on a company’s bottom-line.
While the law was enacted with the best intentions to prevent food from becoming contaminated, it leaves transportation companies questioning their traditional methods regarding efficiency.
Digital, all-in-one, food safety solutions can assist companies in protecting their products while mitigating the likelihood of recalls, lawsuits, and bad publicity leading to reputation loss.
The final rule calls for shippers, loaders, and receivers to execute best practices as it relates to sanitation, proper refrigeration, cleanliness of containers, and recordkeeping. A breach in these procedures may inflict serious consequence and increase the likeliness of food waste, which is becoming an epidemic within the global food chain.
Companies must ask themselves: What is the best way to execute best practices?
New technologies have become prevalent, allowing businesses to detect, manage, and respond to suspected food safety threats quicker than primitive pencil and paper recording methods.
However, arbitrarily picking a technology isn’t prudent. Every organization needs to agree on expectations and goals in a uniformed fashion—especially true in the food transportation industry, where a myriad of threats occupies the day-to-day operations within this field.
Sanitation. Regulatory controls call for sanitization checks to be implemented under Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) guidelines. Maintaining a regulatory sanitation program is important for all businesses within the food and supply chain marketplace to ensure that containers, facilities, and other materials are clean. This process is paramount to eliminating the risk of product contamination, cross-contamination, microbiological issues, pest activity, and mitigating the spread of allergens; as the improper handling, preparation, and loading of food puts both an organization’s employees and its customers at risk.
Consequences of improper sanitation practices can lead to the increased risk of a foodborne outbreak. Take for example, Chipotle, who in 2015 suffered five outbreaks where “three of those five outbreaks were associated with naturally occurring bacteria in food (Salmonella and E. coli) and possible food mishandling.”
Additionally, Chipotle exemplifies another major impact of sanitation neglect: reputation loss. Proper sanitation practice certainly aids efforts, but a larger concept that looms and is challenging to measure is that of “Public Trust.” A company can do all the right things, but one mishap can change its perception instantly.
In order to strengthen reputation, a company must improve its ability to meet expectations. In an age when far-reaching social media channels have significant influence on consumers and the media alike, it is important to monitor public sentiment constantly.
A study by the Harvard Business Review states that “at least 20 percent of stories in the leading media be positive, no more than 10 percent be negative, and the rest neutral.”
While these numbers on the surface don’t seem intimidating, they can inflict a significant amount of brand damage, as reputation damages inflicted an 82 percent profit loss for Chipotle in 2016.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, those who execute best practices are more apt to meet the expectations of their customers. Studies have shown that the opportunity cost of satisfied customers can result in 2.6 times more revenue than relatively satisfied customers.
Food transportation businesses must ask themselves which side they want to be on.
Temperature control. A prevailing trend in the cold chain is the focus on quality and product sensitivity. With an increase in demand for premium products, shippers must maintain the integrity of these loads, as a change in temperature may jeopardize the quality and taste of these goods. Not only do shippers, loaders, and receivers need to ensure the temperature settings are correct for transport and arrival, but they also have to combat the following factors:
- Exterior heat. When temperatures increase outside, the metal of trailers absorb this heat and transfers it inside. Reefers must be calibrated to handle heat increase or spoilage will occur.
- Residual heat. Once heat rises within a trailer, it tends to remain. The insulating materials within work together with the load to capture and radiate the heat within.
- Infiltration heat. Any opening or holes within a trailer allow for warm air to enter and cold air to exit, increasing the likeliness of spoilage.
- Respiratory heat. Natural heat produced by product respiration is standard; however, certain products give off more than others. Respiration can be mitigated by keeping these items at cool temperatures. If your trailer is compromised, so too will your delivery.
If these types of heat issues end up compromising the shipment, they become known as “excursions”— typically unwanted temperature events that occur during manufacturing, storage, transportation, and distribution.
When these events occur, they must be properly recorded for official recordkeeping, which is exceptionally time consuming and labor intensive. Typically, a member of QA will begin to collect all required data, determine if the parties involved addressed the data outcome, and whether or not the information was recorded correctly. While this synopsis of the process portrays it to be brief, the reality is that this process can take up to 30-plus days to complete. As noted by lPl, “Indications are that the costs for administering an excursion event (audit) are between $10,000-$100,000 per occurrence.”
The amount one excursion event can cost a business is staggering. Consider this: Five percent to 10 percent of shipments experience excursions; so, depending on the volume of shipments a business does each year, these costs can quickly add up to an exorbitant amount, further hurting profitability.
These time-consuming audits can be mitigated by introducing all-in-one digital HACCP solutions, which ensure that proper documentation is kept and that steps are flagged if missed. Additionally, these devices return tangible ROI by reducing operational efficiencies and payroll by up to 60 percent.
Recordkeeping. Depending on the type and size of business, the FDA can demand proof of record anywhere from under 1-year and upwards to 2-years, all while needing to address their inquiry within 24 hours. Failure to do so will be considered a “prohibited act,” and violators can be tried for civil and criminal penalties.
This will put immense pressure on the food transportation industry, not only to make food safety a priority, but also to ensure that proper food safety practice and measures are being properly implemented by way of recordkeeping.
While the litany of rules and regulations pertaining to recordkeeping best practices is intense, the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy gives some simple advice regarding good recordkeeping.
- Records must “tell the story” of what happened at some point in the past: If it isn’t documented, it did not happen!
- They must be a truthful and accurate account of events: If it is documented, it happened exactly that way and records created in real time are more believable.
- It is no sin for stuff to happen; but it is a sin to not “document and correct” and “document the correction.”
Companies must determine the most efficient and plausible manner by which they will comply. Traditional storage of records in filing cabinets and input of data in spreadsheets is antiquated, leading to errors and the potential for misplaced records. Now, more than ever, is time for businesses along the food chain to deliver value to their organization via digital technologies and automated data gathering solutions. This will ensure constant visibility and ensure quality control throughout the process from farm to fork.
Anderson is the product marketing specialist for the PAR SureCheck platform for Par Technology Corp. Reach him at Jordan_anderson@partech.com.