Food safety at every step of the supply chain

Being at the top of the food chain is one thing. Being at the top of the food safety supply chain is another. It can be a precarious position to be in.

As any food industry professional knows, food safety can’t be guaranteed just because the practices used within one company’s facilities are spot-on. Top-notch sanitation practices must be used by the suppliers of every ingredient — and the supplier’s suppliers, as well. This gets complicated as suppliers and facilities are increasingly spread across international borders.

This year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), as part of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), implemented a Foreign Supplier Verification Program (FSVP). The rule mandates that importers must ensure that their foreign exporters produce food “in a manner that provides the same level of public health protection” that the FDA expects of domestic producers, and to “ensure that the supplier’s food is not adulterated and is not misbranded with respect to allergen labeling.”

“The FSVP rule requires importers for the first time to share responsibility of products that are coming into the country,” FDA senior adviser Sharon Mayl recently said, according to Food Safety Tech. “We have written this rule with a lot of flexibility.”

How can importers stay on the ball?

Keeping track of food transportation
The FSMA outlines several key areas for shippers, receivers, loaders and carriers. Vehicles must be easily cleaned and capable of maintaining the necessary temperatures to keep food safe. Cross-contamination between raw and prepared food, and between non-food and food items, must be avoided. Personnel should be trained in sanitary transportation practices, and all of this should be documented.

Watch out for food fraud
The Grocery Manufacturers Association estimates the annual global cost of food fraud to be $10 to $15 billion. Fraudsters make away with millions in illegal profits, while businesses suffer the impact of product recalls. Meat adulteration and unlabeled allergens are a high concern, as are falsified inspection results, transportation records and expiration dates. Organized crime groups even have their hands in food fraud.

Vet your suppliers
Russell Statman, executive director of FDA compliance firm Registrar Corp, said this recently: “When you’re looking at the FSVP, you also have to approve your suppliers. There are several aspects to this: you have to check their record with the FDA, whether they have any warning letters or are on import alert. That doesn’t mean you can’t buy from them, it just means you have to investigate what the problem is.”

In an article, Sean Crossey outlines the importance of communication between all actors. “It is vital that stakeholders within the chain prioritize communication with their suppliers…not only is this beneficial to the end consumer, but to the food producers themselves, allowing them to ensure that their organizational reputation remains solely their responsibility and not left in the hands of unknown and uncontrollable third parties.”

Transparency and traceability
Sean Crossey also discusses the importance — and consumer demand — for traceability. Consumers care about safety, and also want to trust that goods comply with their lifestyle choices and preferences. “Brand protection, demand forecasting and consumer loyalty all become possible for early adapters who show themselves to be taking practical steps to guarantee the authenticity of their products,” Crossey writes.

Keeping track of so many steps on the supply chain is an enormous undertaking. Dr. Amy Kircher of the Food Protection and Defense Institute offers advice to food companies in a recent interview.

  • Understand beyond one step back or ahead — know the details of every link in the chain.
  • Ask questions. Where does your supplier get its ingredients or commodities from?
  • Know the geography. Be aware of any instances of intentional adulteration, recalls, weather issues and natural disasters that may impact a region where your ingredients are sourced.
  • Have alternate supply sources as a backup.
  • Assess the vulnerability and risk of your supply chain, and use currently available technologies to keep track of each step.

Neogen offers extensive lines of food safety products, including sanitation verification, food allergen tests, pathogen tests and more. Click here for more information.

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