If food manufacturers learned just one thing from 2016, it’s that even the most consumer-friendly, beloved brands can quickly fall prey to poor fresh, refrigerated, and frozen food handling. From Chipotle to General Mills, the list of companies that made headlines due to foodborne illnesses was both varied and well documented in industry publications like Food Safety News.
As organizations like The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) learned last year, prevention is not only about pinpointing and mitigating a single culprit; it’s also about keeping the entire end-to-end supply chain safe. In total, about 48 million people (1 in 6 Americans) get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die each year from foodborne diseases. This is a significant public health burden that is largely preventable, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
The FDA thinks the answer lies in more stringent regulation of the cold supply chain. On July 14, 2016, it issued a final rule to amend and update the agency’s food facility registration requirements, and implement revisions mandated by the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). According to the National Law Review, all FSMA comments submitted by March 27, 2017—for both the November 2016 and December 2016 draft guidance documents—will be considered in the drafting of the final version of the guidance.
What’s Behind the FSMA?
According to the FDA, the FSMA will be important for the health of both people and animals, and points to high-profile outbreaks of foodborne illness over the last decade—and data showing that such illnesses strike one in six Americans each year—as the driving force behind the following five core elements:
Preventive controls – For the first time, the FDA has a legislative mandate to require comprehensive, prevention-based controls across the food supply to prevent or significantly minimize the likelihood of problems occurring.
Inspection and Compliance – The legislation recognizes that inspection is an important means of holding an industry accountable for its responsibility to produce safe food.
Imported Food Safety – The FDA has new tools to ensure that imported foods meet U.S. standards and are safe for consumers.
Response – For the first time, the FDA has mandatory recall authority for all food products.The FDA expects that it will only need to invoke this authority infrequently since the food industry largely honors its requests for voluntary recalls.
Enhanced Partnerships – The legislation recognizes the importance of strengthening existing collaboration among all food safety agencies—U.S. federal, state, local, territorial, tribal, and foreign–to achieve our public health goals.
Staying Safe in the New Year
As the FDA nails down the fine points of the FSMA, and as more companies pay attention to the food safety aspects of their refrigerated/frozen supply chains, Hanson Logistics is paying more attention than ever to GFSI protocols, ASI Excellence, and GFM practices in the handling, storage, and delivery of food products. And while food safety has always been a priority, increasing regulation has made food safety a legal issue and the responsibility falls squarely on the shoulders of manufacturers, retailers, and their trading partners.
Here are seven ways that you and your logistics provider(s) can ensure a safer cold chain in the New Year:
- Audit your distribution facilities to ensure that safe food handling practices are being implemented and used (i.e., warehousing and storage facilities have their own criteria for audits, especially if they are third-party owned).
- Identify risks, focus on any potential problem areas, and put actions in place to fix any issues.
- Train all employees on the procedures for safe refrigerated and frozen food handling and distribution. Under the Sanitary Transport Rule guidelines, for example, employees must be trained so they are aware of proper handling and know how to prevent or recognize contamination.
- Document all procedures related to the above step and revise/update regularly
- Perform all preventative and routine maintenance on a predictable schedule
- Utilize technology (applications, software, cloud-based platforms, etc.) to more efficiently manage and track your refrigerated/frozen supply chain
- Know, understand, and following the ever-changing regulatory standards associated with the cold chain.
On a final note, the complexity of food safety regulatory standards requires dedication and expertise, and is a critical part of keeping your company up to date with improvements even before they become a law. This forward-looking mentality will give your company a competitive edge and ensure the safety and quality of its refrigerated/frozen supply chain in 2017…and beyond.