According to a report by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, the total number of food recalls in the U.S. increased by 10 percent between 2013 and 2018. In the last year alone, the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service recalled over 10,000 tons of food. Food quality issues have contributed to the roughly 48 million who people get sick, 128,000 who are hospitalized, and 3,000 who die from foodborne diseases each year in the U.S., based on estimates by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
One of the key challenges that food manufacturers face in preventing recalls is how to ensure their suppliers maintain effective quality management procedures. This includes monitoring food supplies that come from foreign countries; there are more than 200 countries or territories (and roughly 125,000 food facilities and farms) that supply 32 percent of the fresh vegetables, 55 percent of the fresh fruit, and 94 percent of the seafood that Americans consume annually.
Unfortunately, many importers still rely on manual processes that are limiting their ability to keep track of supplier data and quality processes. This not only puts consumer safety at risk but can also inhibit a company’s ability to comply with FDA regulations. Organizations that struggle to locate data because they’re forced to sift through paper records are likely to be flagged during an inspection. Instead of relying on manual methods, importers should look for a software solution that can house all their critical quality data in one central, easy-to-access location. Not only does centralizing data make it easier for importers to address the FDA’s questions, but it also enables them to more efficiently and effectively manage suppliers.
Finding a Solution for Food Suppliers
By investing in a supplier quality management tool, importers will have direct access to critical compliance and quality data, such as materials, testing and sampling records, audit findings, and corrective actions. Additionally, with the right tool, importers will be able to update data in real-time and require their suppliers to do the same. As an added bonus, this level of automation will significantly streamline previously manual processes, giving both importers and suppliers the resources they need to focus on what matters most: the safety and quality of the product.
The most effective supplier quality management tools can ensure finished product quality with automated control and visibility over all elements in an organization’s supply chain—from local manufacturers to global suppliers. Importers should look for solutions that can track suppliers and materials, build qualitative and quantitative supplier ratings, and trigger actions to improve supplier quality, all from one, easy-to-use interface. Ideally, the solution will be able to automatically:
- Track and evaluate the quality of supplier goods in real-time.
- Identify scenarios that may warrant supplier corrective action, such as nonconforming material, missed or delayed delivery, and investigation of a customer complaint.
- Manage the approval process for changes to products and processes made by suppliers.
- Generate reports for suppliers categorized by commodity and date.
For one global provider, leveraging a sophisticated quality management solution that incorporated the above features was critical to its success. With the right software in place to automate contract management processes, the organization was able to achieve a 5,000 percent return on investment and significant productivity gains. Another national fast-food chain centralized and automated its vendor approval system, which allowed it to shave weeks off its vendor approval process and get new products to market faster without sacrificing food safety.
This type of solution is especially helpful when navigating the complexities of the FDA’s recently enforced Foreign Supplier Verification Program (FSVP), a key compliance and safety rule under its Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). With the number of food recalls increasing and the threat they represent to U.S. consumers, manufacturers, and the economy, it’s no surprise that the FDA is cracking down by enforcing one of its key regulations around imported goods. Foreign food suppliers and U.S. importers that are uncertain about whether they’re ready for the inspections should first take a step back and review their quality processes to ensure they—and the other companies operating in their supply chain—are meeting every one of the FDA’s compliance and safety rules.
Getting to Know the FSVP
The FSMA has been referred to as the most sweeping reform of U.S. food safety laws in more than 70 years. The focus of the act is to ensure more effective prevention of safety issues in the U.S. food supply by taking a comprehensive overhaul of every segment of the supply chain, from farm to fork. It was signed into law by then-President Obama on Jan. 4, 2011, and in the years since the FDA has been working to develop the final rules.