The food manufacturing and processing industry is experiencing the benefits of global sourcing and rapid distribution—but at a cost. With options for remote sourcing increasing, the rise in export and import of supplies, and the growing circumference and complexity of supply chains, food safety risks are at an all-time high.
In addition to the human cost of food safety incidents, episodes of food contamination can have grave implications for business—and these situations are no longer private. The explosion of social media has had sweeping effects on brand image.
Global regulatory bodies are intensifying efforts to eradicate such disastrous events through more stringent regulations and higher penalties. The increasing volume and complexity of regulation and risk demand foolproof and streamlined food safety and quality control processes that enable quick and effective response.
The FDA drives home the fact that food businesses are required to produce food that is not only high quality but also safe. Regulators and top retailers lay down high commercial standards and demand that food manufacturers, suppliers, and vendors exhibit complete compliance by implementing a food safety system that is continuously monitored and audited. And as today’s consumers grow increasingly aware of their right to completely safe food products, regulatory bodies tighten the legislative noose—affecting the entire food supply chain.
Businesses that fail to keep up with developments risk introducing serious hazards, which can lead to foodborne illnesses, hospitalizations, and deaths. In addition to being a blow to an organization’s integrity, a large recall can put the company out of business. New regulations such as the FSMA aim to shift the focus of federal regulators from responding to contamination to preventing it. While most food companies are taking preventive measures against food hazards, the pressure will be on to intensify efforts.
Globalization means food products can move easily from country to country, widening the scope of food safety problems. Knowing and managing the network of suppliers across multiple countries, making sure that the right audits are used, and keeping up with international regulations can be extremely challenging. Under the FSMA, the compliance of domestic and international suppliers is the organization’s responsibility.
Where to Start
The explosion of standards, schemes, and supplier audits makes it hard to decide which schemes to pursue and implement. Single manufacturing facilities can average one or two audits per month, with costs rising into the thousands. It’s important to conduct the right inspections and audits while minimizing costs.
Tracking food safety-related information and activities is extremely complex. The permutations and combinations can form an intricate web of manufacturers, suppliers, distributors, retailers, and food service providers. Most retailers work with multiple suppliers, some suppliers are also manufacturers, and some supply other suppliers. Tracking all these entities can be a formidable task. Adding to the complexity, these organizations can range from multibillion-dollar companies to micro enterprises with a handful of employees.
Information sources, volume, and variation create a data explosion that makes drawing meaningful and actionable information from the raw data a huge challenge. Providing clients and regulators with reasonable and accurate incident and trend reporting is a tough requirement for food businesses.
With regulator and consumer expectations increasing rapidly, food businesses must prevent the rampant spread of remote food safety problems by tracing issues and expediting recalls quickly before a situation spirals out of control. The adoption of social media has added another layer to the recall system, forcing organizations to be on their toes and act fast.
Interweaving the food safety and quality program around a system or a framework that focuses on well-recognized mandates and initiatives has been a successful strategy in achieving food safety objectives. HACCP and the GFSI are examples of programs that, if implemented appropriately, demonstrate that food safety and quality initiatives have been incorporated into the organization’s food production processes. AIB International describes the requirements of a food safety management system in six component parts, falling into one of two categories: programs (prerequisite, food safety, quality) or management (training, culture, evaluation).