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10 Tips for Improving Food Safety Throughout Supply Chains

It has been over 20 years since September was named National Food Safety Month, and food safety is more important than ever. With that in mind, Chris Morrison, Chief Marketing Officer of supply chain transparency software provider Trace One, shares his top 10 tips for improving food safety throughout supply chains.

It has been over 20 years since September was named National Food Safety Month, and food safety is more important than ever. With that in mind, Chris Morrison, Chief Marketing Officer of supply chain transparency software provider Trace One, shares his top 10 tips for improving food safety throughout supply chains.

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1. Know the origin of ingredients

Knowing where and how your ingredients were created is an often taken for granted practice. While many manufacturers and retailers feel that they are aware of where the ingredients are made and how, common foodborne illnesses have originated by assumptions of the health and quality of ingredients used. Take, for example, the recent cilantro and salmonella exposure. While certainly not the biggest threat to health and safety, cases like this are more common than they need to be if extra due diligence steps are taken, documented and regularly validated.

2. Know your facilities – including storage and its certifications (or lack thereof)
A lot can happen in the storage and transportation of food - and failure to comply with best practices can wreak havoc on public safety, health and at a minimum, consumer trust in a brand. While consumers may take the extra step to determine the source of a foodborne crisis, most will not because they are focused on (and rightfully so) the impact of the food crisis itself. Where exactly in the supply chain the error and risk occurred is often not researched by the lay person. However, the impact to human safety can be just as grave if you don’t know the facilities and storage practices of your food. Recall the recent multi-state listeria outbreak from a well-known and reputable dairy producer in which the life threatening contamination had been found in their facilities. Approximately 8 million gallons of ice cream and ice cream products were recalled and operations were shut down in the company’s efforts to identify the source and magnitude of the contamination. Three deaths were reported to have been a result of this contamination.

3. Have greater supply chain visibility from farm to fork for possible hidden allergens and contaminants, or unknown chemical exposure, etc.
Most partners in the supply chain have limited visibility into the entire supply chain. It is common for us to have visibility just within one or two levels, but as we know, a threat to public safety (the fork) can originate at any level. Consumers are the greatest, yet most vulnerable within this network. While we in the industry can say that the greatest precautions are being taken to ensure public safety, in a recent Trace One global survey, approximately 25% of consumers worldwide don’t trust the safety of their food. What can this say to retailers, manufacturers and suppliers? An increase in transparency at all levels is being demanded by the very people consuming the food.

4. Maintain regular food safety audits
Third party or retailer sourced food safety auditors play a critical role in the advancement of food safety. Manufacturers and suppliers should have a clear understanding of food safety requirements and policies from their retailers/vendors. While larger retailers may have more expansive and formalized auditing processes, mid and smaller-sized retailers should have their own methods for auditing and strict food safety expectations that are regularly communicated and enforced.

5. Strive for greater sustainability and corporate responsibility – with an eye on higher food quality
Sustainability isn’t just the next shiny new object of interest in our industry. Research has shown that consumers are expecting higher quality standards to include conscientious farming practices, employment policies and a decrease in overall environmental impact. Much of what research says today is that consumers are willing to spend more money if they know that sustainability efforts have been used in the manufacturing and distribution of their food. Take Kroger as a recent example – they now reportedly have the largest natural food brand in the United States, with plans for continued expansion in the all-natural and organic space. They have worked with suppliers, manufacturers and farmers to convert their farming and manufacturing to more sustainable practices. With Kroger hitting $1.2 billion USD last year for their natural food brand, we can all see that the industry is onto something big.

6. Maintain accurate labeling – for raw materials, ingredients, allergens, country of origin and nutritional information. Giving what consumers need to know, and want to know
Depending on who you ask, responsibility over accurate and truthful labeling would appear to shift from manufacturers, to retailers to the government.  Research conducted by Trace One has revealed that consumers have different concepts when it comes to placing responsibility and blame regarding food safety. Retailers and manufacturers may feel that the role of the government and its regulations aren’t supportive or understanding of the industry and its challenges, but consumers can have a different perspective altogether on the matter. The marketplace’s recent obsession with “to GMO or to not GMO?” has been at the forefront of farming and labeling practices in the food industry. Some consumers would argue that while they feel GMOs do not possess a grave impact on human safety, they do consider it to impact their overall health and would rather know that they are consuming them from the labeling itself.

7. Have swift (and tested) response mechanism for potential and actual food recalls
As in any other industry, how a public health crises is identified, contained, and corrected is a lot more than having a sound Public Relations strategy. When it comes to the immediate containment and swift intervention of a public health concern, it could mean the difference between a small scale scare, and the loss of human lives. The average cost of a food recall can reach up to $1 million USD and that is without any significant damage to, or loss of, human life. One of the most effective ways of identifying and containing potential food safety crises is to adopt the right technology that can support your entire food supply chain, from farm to retailer, to consumer. Knowing what, where and to what extent a contaminant has occurred in matter of minutes, or hours, can reduce your identification and response time exponentially. The alternative to that is to fumble around with vendors and manufacturers trying to locate the source of the crisis.

8. Maintain appropriate packaging              
Packaging is more than just a retailer’s pretty face. It’s more than how consumers can readily identify with your brand and its products. And it’s more than how consumers can identify your brand over your competitors. Packaging not only invokes the preferred lifestyle attributes of your customers, but it also is indicative of the importance that your brand places on food safety. From the initial moment in which food is packaged, until it makes its way on a consumer’s table, food is susceptible to a myriad of contaminants resulting from the storage, transportation and handling. Many organizations like GFSI (Global Food Safety Initiative) have developed a number of packaging standards that have been adopted to safeguard against life threating contamination as a result of packaging.

9. Strive toward greater adherence to Federal and State requirements

According to the Centers for Disease Control, “each year, one in six Americans get sick from contaminated foods or beverages; 3,000 die. Salmonella, a bacteria that commonly causes foodborne illnesses, results in more hospitalizations and deaths than any other bacteria found in food and incurs $365 million in direct medical costs annually.” With this kind of impact on human life, it’s no wonder that Federal and local governments, along with retailers, manufacturers and suppliers are stepping up their expectations and standards throughout the supply chain. While government regulations like FSMA have sent some within the industry questioning the feasibility of a few requirements and the fairness of penalties, consumers do expect retailers, manufacturers and suppliers to adhere to regulatory bodies. While many US shoppers may feel that food recalls seem to be on the rise, many of us in the industry know that stricter regulations, more proactive measures from retailers, and better food testing are really the biggest factors in pulling more food off shelves.

10. Establish a collaborative business plan to foster greater supply chain innovation between suppliers, manufactures and retailers

One of the greatest achievements in the grocery retail industry is our use of technology and innovative solutions in meeting consumer/market demands. Retailers and manufacturers are working closer together to not only improve the food supply, but to also increase its production in order to accommodate an increased population. The challenge to supply more food, with better quality, and with more diverse choices– all at a greater value – is one that has been taken on rather successfully in the United States. Throughout the supply chain, partners are increasing their use of technology specifically designed to improve communication, decrease food contamination, reduce environmental footprints, and moreover, deliver higher quality food options to consumers. Supply chain technology has been shown to improve public food safety, and serves to help all partners to innovate food production and delivery, better and faster.While food safety may never be at 100%, the adoption of technology brings us closer to reducing food safety concerns that can be both costly to revenue, but more importantly, human lives.

About Trace One

Trace One connects retailers, manufacturers and suppliers to accelerate product innovation while creating supply chain transparency. Our solution is a secure, collaborative, cloud-based technology platform that helps all tiers in the supply chain increase their communication speed, data accuracy, and visibility into their business. Trace One powers the world’s largest network for private brand development with more than 20,000 companies in 110 countries developing over $300B in products annually. The company has offices in Boston, Chicago, Paris, London, Madrid, Hong Kong, Madrid, and Dusseldorf.