19 May 2016
Food recalls add up—costing businesses about $20 billion each year in the U.S. alone, points out the Wipro consultancy. Account for lost sales, potential health risks, exposure to litigation and damage to a company’s reputation, and it becomes clear that stepping up food safety is critical.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) agrees—making it an increasing priority with the Food Safety and Modernization Act (FSMA). The recent legislation represents a significant agency shift from focusing on reacting to incidents of foodborne illness to taking a proactive approach—and encouraging food and beverage producers to do the same. Since FSMA passed in 2011, the legislation’s various components have taken effect in stages—whether affecting meat production, dairy processing, livestock feed or other aspects, they have one thing in common: requiring proactivity and accountability along each step of the supply chain to avoid costly and dangerous recalls and protect consumer health.

A recent Huffington Post blog describes how emerging technologies play a significant role in increasing the safety of the world’s food supply; key among its functions is food traceability. At The Global Food Safety Conference 2015(GFSC), thousands of food and beverage leaders attended sessions with discussion of how traceability technology gives stakeholders (including producers, retailers and consumers) easy access to detailed information about product history and ingredients throughout the production cycle. This technology can increase food safety, industry accountability and consumer confidence.

How can food industry leaders harness traceability technology and other tools to boost the safety of their companies’ products and add to the value chain?

Achieve operation-wide buy-in. During the GFSC session “Food Safety: Commitment from the Top,” presenters discussed how the managers in the front office of a food or beverage producer should support the company’s safety officers by providing the tools needed to create a food safety culture and securing commitment from everyone at the company, not just those on the production floor.

In an FDA Voice blog, two experts explain how FSMA aims to foster opportunities for the agency and stakeholders to work together, creating a “food safety culture” that better protects the public. Similarly, encouraging cooperation and buy-in from employees at all levels can increase the effectiveness of a company’s safety program and minimize risk. According to Lloyd’s Register Quality Assurance, an effective food traceability system supported by adequate employee training can facilitate adoption.

Leverage new technology. FSMA regulations require improved recording and management of production, safety and sanitation data in food and beverage operations. The regulations render hand-written records in binders obsolete and call for higher-tech computer records that streamline recording, accessing and sharing information.

Automated plants enable managers to track information across the supply chain, including material origins, processing procedures, packaging info and more. If a problem or concern arises, personnel can determine the issue quickly via a central computer and make appropriate adjustments based on the information with less legwork than in pre-automation days.

Maintain transparency. Traceability technology makes it possible to share product data not just among internal personnel or with regulators, but also with consumers. Shoppers worldwide are increasingly interested in the details about the food they eat—the origin of the ingredients, how they were grown or caught, and where they were processed.

The same information pipeline used by manufacturers, retailers and other producers and distributors can be used to share data with interested consumers. Brazilian dairy producer Aurora is just one of the savvy companies leveraging traceability technology as a marketing tool; the company enables consumers to track milk’s journey from farm to refrigerator via on-pack codes and a web-based interface facilitated by Tetra Pak’s PlantMaster technology.

Learn more about traceability and technology in this recent post.
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