Consumers have more reason now than ever before to be skeptical about the food they eat in restaurants and which they purchase at the local grocery store. Major food recalls on a consistent basis have become part of the norm in the U.S. Most recently, meatball manufacturer Buona Vita Inc. recalled more than 300,000 pounds of various frozen meat and poultry products due to possible listeria monocytogenes contamination, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS). The U.S. Department of Agriculture also announced in May a recall of August Foods Inc.’s approximately 20,520 pounds of lamb koftis.
With a growing list of recalled perishables not to mention the 24-hour news cycle that shines a light on the impact that recalls have on public safety and health, consumers are more aware of quality issues that can arise at any step in the supply chain—be it in fertilizing the crops and feeding the cows; or while cooking, processing, packaging and distributing goods. And manufacturers and produce companies need to step up to the plate to meet FDA regulations and ensure safe precision in their supply chain.
Recoil from recall
While not all companies are fortunate to survive major recalls with unscathed brand portrayal, those that do find that the associated costs come in waves. First, recall execution produces a series of unexpected expenses to cover the logistics, personnel, overtime and loss of product. However, the true costs cannot be weighed until a company factors in public health and future lost revenue due to damage to the corporate brand. In the most egregious cases, recalls are followed by costly legal proceedings and possibly even congressional subpoenas.
To establish standards that help companies avoid recall events as a result of contamination, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) passed the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) in 2011—a vital legislation that establishes the foundation for a 21st century food safety system. Additionally, the FDA published guidelines on food safety hazards to the seafood industry; issued a ruling requiring that the country of origin be visible for all imported food; drafted guidelines for the food supplement industry; and established the Food Safety Preventive Controls Alliance (FSPCA)—an organization that develops training courses and material to prevent contamination of food during production.
With these regulations coming into place, food manufacturers and importers are under pressure to implement the new safety protocols outlined in FSMA by proving they have the ability to quickly identify and respond to issues, enable visibility into production across the globe and provide an audit trail that tracks product and process genealogy throughout the supply chain.
Yet, quality challenges are even more complex with imported food. According to the USDA, in 2011, the United States imported more than $98 billion worth of agricultural products. Amazingly, less than two percent of imported food is inspected, and much of this meat and produce does not yet have the lot number or genealogy data required to support traceability in the case of product recalls. Moving forward, international food companies and manufacturers will be held accountable for not only the safety of ingredients received from their suppliers, but they must also demonstrate the same level of responsiveness, visibility and genealogy as their domestic counterparts.
Initiate the right food safety steps
Some manufacturers are taking these increasingly stringent regulations in stride. However, many still struggle with basic challenges such as data collection and reporting, and only about one-third are able to track supplier quality. Though the ability to meet emerging regulatory requirements may seem like an elusive goal for many manufacturers, there are six vital steps these and other food companies can take to improve control and transparency across their supply chain.