High-profile cases of contaminated food products, as well as an increasing number of recalls, have stimulated an ongoing awareness of — and concern about — the foods that reach America's tables. As a result, food safety has become a growing concern for consumers and industry leaders. It is also a major focus of reform for the U.S. government.
With budgetary increases of as much as 30 percent in 2011, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration will soon have the authority to carry out and enforce core elements of President Obama's new Food Safety Working Group. And despite numerous setbacks in Congress, the Food Safety Modernization Act (S. 510) was signed into law by President Obama on January 4.
According to Food Safety News, the law will "expand the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) authority to access records and require food facilities to evaluate hazards and implement preventative controls and food safety plans." The act will increase the number of FDA inspections by setting mandatory inspection frequencies. Facilities deemed high-risk will be inspected once within five years of the bill's signing date and no less than once every three years thereafter. Non-high-risk facilities will be inspected within seven years of the bill's signing date and no less than once every five years thereafter.
The bill also grants the FDA mandatory recall authority and gives the agency the ability to mandate certification for high-risk imported goods, allowing for penalties for firms not in compliance with standards. And the FDA is authorized to collect fees for facility re-inspections and recalls.
A "Game Changer" for Retailers
But perhaps the most important outcome is that for the first time in history, the food chain is facing more than a "one-up/one-down" responsibility. At no point prior has a member of the food supply chain been held responsible for an upstream action. Previous legislation, such as the Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act of 2002, only required that each member of the supply chain know the immediate upstream supplier of the ingredients and the immediate downstream consumer of the product.
The newly enacted legislation really changes the game. Growers and manufacturers will be required to implement food safety plans, and foreign facilities importing food to the U.S. will have to meet the same requirements. The FDA will also have expanded access to food safety records, and electronic records are the ones that will matter most, as these must be immediately available in the event of an investigation.
These demands mean it's time for retailers to take a close look at how their systems and software can help them comply with the pending legislation and how they can make a track-and-trace system pay for itself by enabling additional efficiencies.
Global Retailers Lead the Charge
To date, traceability systems have gained more traction in Europe, where they have been mandated since the enactment of the General Food Law in 2005. There, traceability systems are now viewed as both a tool to comply with the law and a means to gain customer loyalty and trust by having the ability to rapidly respond to a serious situation. Global retailers are now increasingly leveraging this capability to distinguish themselves from competitors.
In fact, large global retailers have been aggressively rolling out RFID mandates to track product movements at the pallet level to all their suppliers over the last few years. By injecting these measures into their supply chains, they are in essence letting their customers know that in the event of an outbreak, the problem will be contained fast and without loss of retailer credibility.
Within their traceability strategy, a number of global food retailers have also adopted events-monitoring functionality that, within minutes of a safety warning's receipt at the company's headquarters, enables them to prevent further sales of affected product across all stores. Alerts can automatically be triggered via e-mail, SMS or text messaging to all managers' cell phones, even if the items in question are not part of their current assortment (just in case an affected product was mistakenly sent to the wrong store). These systems can also push out the change to the stores' point-of-sale system, preventing any further sales of the product.