Published May 16, 2012
High profile instances of food contamination highlight the need for increased food traceability. In the USA in 2010 there were more than 235 FDA market recalls and withdrawals. The Centres of Disease Control and Prevention have estimated that one out of every six Americans gets sick from food-borne illnesses each year, and 3,000 die.
A report issued in March 2009 by Inspector General Daniel R. Levinson of the Office of Inspector General (OIC), US Department of Health and Human Services, presented some astonishing findings on the US Food supply:
- Only 5 of 40 products purchased could be traced through each stage of the food supply chain back to the farmer/supplier.
- 31 of the 40 products could not be traced through each stage of the supply chain.
- For the remaining 4 products even the facilities that handled the products could not be identified.
The majority of products could not be traced because the necessary lot specific information did not exist.
Food Safety Modernization Act – What Will it Achieve?
The FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), the most sweeping reform of America’s food safety laws in more than 70 years, was signed into law by President Obama on January 4 2011. It aims to ensure the US food supply is safe by shifting the focus from responding to contamination to preventing it.
The FMSA has the support of large national food manufacturers, grocery stores and suppliers to the industry who are eager to restore the public’s faith in the safety of the food supply chain.
Food traceability from farm to fork is going to become a reality say industry watchers with market forces, consumer demand and government regulation all converging to push a new level of supply chain visibility and standards-based integration in the US food industry.
FSMA key points include:
- The FDA has the authority to issue direct recalls of foods that are potentially tainted rather than relying on manufacturers to issue voluntary recalls.
- Food manufacturers are required to develop written food safety plans accessible by the government in case of an emergency, including hazard analysis and a plan for implementing corrective actions.
- The Secretary of Health and Human Services is required to create a food tracing system that would streamline the process of finding the source of contamination if an outbreak occurs.
- Importers are required to verify the safety of all imported foods to ensure thy meet US food safety guidelines.
Title II of the Act called “Improving capacity to detect and respond to food safety problems” includes provisions for improving laboratory standards and improving information sharing among laboratories and inspection agencies.
It is the opinion of many commentators that the FSMA sets the bare minimum requirements. Technology requirements are now being investigated. However food companies know that the major retailers are moving faster than the government and imposing increasing demands on their supply chains.
Rapid Response & Crisis Management Challenges
The major retailers are increasingly setting the expectation that traceability is a condition of doing business. Consequently, many food processors are already investing in lot and case level traceability to remain competitive and address food safety concerns.
Your Best Defences in a Crisis
As a food processor – your best defences in a food safety crisis are responsiveness and preparedness. You can control the scale, extent and severity of the crisis by removing the affected product from the market as quickly as possible. The quicker you remove it, the less adverse media attention you will receive.
To do this, you need to be able to:
- Immediately and accurately identify the affected batches and their distribution.
- Identify the stages at which the problem has occurred.
- Demonstrate the accuracy and comprehensiveness of your records.
The retail food industry is taking action to protect its own brands by initiating food safety audits and mock recalls that require their suppliers to have quick access to accurate product lot information and detailed supporting results. Many require their food suppliers to conduct mock recalls. Even one failed mock recall can result in a processor being dropped for another supplier.
Without comprehensive supporting data a product recall will necessarily extend beyond what may in fact be a relatively small case of contamination. A successful recall should involve a minimum number of products. The more unnecessary products that get caught up in a recall, the greater the cost to the business.
Software for Today’s Challenges
The SoftTrace quality management and traceability software system tracks and integrates all relevant data from raw material intake, in-process and packing, finished goods, dispatch and customer information to guarantee an efficient response to internal and external quality issues and maximise rapid response capabilities. Contact SoftTrace for a free online traceability software demo.