It only takes one bite to send a food manufacturer spiraling into a quality disaster. Many food companies have found this out the hard way, as recalls and reports of foodborne illnesses have occurred left and right over the past several years.
One of the most recent outbreaks making headlines is Chipotle Mexican Grill’s E. coli incident. This outbreak not only sickened dozens of consumers, but has also devastated the company’s brand reputation and stock value. In fact, Chipotle shares have fallen 40 percent since August 2015, and hit a 52-week low in December, according to MarketWatch. As a result, Chipotle announced that it has reassessed its food safety programs and is revising its standards. The corporation is now implementing measures such as high-resolution and end of shelf-life ingredient testing, continuous improvement in the supply system based on testing data, and enhanced food safety training for team members.
While these actions may help Chipotle turn its luck around in the future, it is impossible to ignore the damage done to the brand’s reputation. Unfortunately, this is too often the case—many food manufacturers do not take the proper quality measures until it’s too late. Add in the 24-hour news cycle and empowered consumers eager to sound off on social media platforms, and it is even more difficult to avoid the repercussions of even a seemingly small quality issue. In today’s increasingly competitive, global marketplace, quality is no longer just a problem to solve. Quality can be a strategic advantage that makes all the difference in a brand’s equity and a company’s bottom line.
Of course, Chipotle’s case is just one example of the detrimental effects of foodborne illnesses. According to the CDC, as many as 1 in 6 Americans (about 48 million people) get sick with a foodborne illness each year. The good news is that this is a preventable epidemic.
Visibility Needed in the Quest for Quality
To reduce recalls, mitigate foodborne illnesses, and ensure consumer safety, the food industry is taking great strides. On a federal level, the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) is the most stringent regulation, requiring food manufacturers to enhance their traceability efforts to prevent, rather than react to, recalls. At the same time, the industry-driven Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) continues to advocate its vision, “Safe Food for Consumers Everywhere,” through leadership and guidance on food safety management systems. Given the more stringent regulations, endless stream of recalls, and frightening high-profile outbreaks like Chipotle’s, GFSI’s work is more relevant today than ever before.
One of GFSI’s chief goals is to help organizations reduce food safety risks through end-to-end, supply chain-wide visibility. Without a doubt, visibility across the value chain holds the key to ensuring product quality from farm to fork. However, as supply chains become more global and diverse, achieving 100-percent visibility in tracking and tracing products is a challenge. Here lies the problem: Today’s food manufacturers rely not only on other plants, but also suppliers from around the world, to provide various ingredients and components for incorporation into their finished goods. For example, a food manufacturer in the U.S. may bring in fish from a supplier in China to create frozen fillets. The fish becomes a part of the product that ends up on the grocery store’s shelf.
But, what if, unbeknownst to the manufacturer, the fish received are contaminated? The fillets containing that batch of fish may end up recalled, costing the food company money, damaging its reputation, and compromising consumer safety. Or, what if a potato chip manufacturer receives a shipment of potatoes, only to find that they are rotten just before processing? Although the issue is caught before the potatoes make their way to the assembly line, the manufacturer still wastes time, money, and resources scrapping the goods.