Recalls and foodborne illness outbreaks raise serious concerns among US consumers and manufacturers alike. Each year, the federal government estimates there are about 48 million cases of foodborne illnesses, resulting in approximately 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths. Furthermore, consumers are increasingly interested in knowing the origin of the products they consume. As the globalization of food production has made the supply chain more complex, FDA is fully committed to enforcing a proactive approach envisioned by the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). Many deadlines for preventive measures have already passed—and by May 31, 2016, manufacturers must have taken appropriate steps to deter, detect and prevent any act of intentional adulteration, such as food fraud for economic gain.
Prevention and innovation
Preventing any contamination issues is always the best course of action, as the consequences of an outbreak can be severe. Most recently, Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. reported a 30 percent sales decline due to outbreaks of E. coli, Salmonella and norovirus late last year at several of its restaurants. According to the LA Times, the company expects to spend up to $10 million to help produce safer meat and vegetables from its smaller suppliers and to implement new food chain safety standards.
This expense is on par with industry expectations. The average cost of a recall is about $10 million, according to a Food Defense Whitepaper Series by Tyco Integrated Security. This cost includes communication across the supply chain to all stakeholders, the retrieval and likely destruction of the recalled product, the investigation of why it occurred and implementation of corrections to prevent reoccurrence. It does not include costs associated with litigation, should any tragic events occur, such as injuries and even death. Additional expenses include loss of sales and brand equity, as well as the costs of brand crisis management.
Provisions of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) emphasize planning and prevention. In terms of supply chain risk reduction, minimal food contact surface area design and modular parts can make processing and packaging equipment faster and easier to clean and sanitize between runs. Manufacturers can also turn to robotics and sensors along production lines to modernize their operations and address food safety concerns. These solutions reduce the need for human contact, as mistakes can significantly increase the likelihood of contamination.
Manufacturers can also equip their lines with innovative X-ray technology and video detection systems at critical inspection points to pick up any quality defects or foreign objects in their products. High-pressure processing (HPP) is an example of a non-thermal method viewed as an effective alternative to kill bacteria that may cause foodborne illnesses. These and many other solutions enable manufacturers to achieve greater standards of safety and hygiene as part of their plan for preventing contamination issues.
Consumer demand for greater transparency on where their food comes from is also driving the way products are packaged and labeled. To provide more information, brand owners are using packaging to tell the story of their products’ origin. Upfront labeling of organic, preservative-free and locally raised products also help consumers quickly find the goods they are seeking on crowded store shelves. To allay consumer concerns about possible allergens, labeling should indicate what other food products may have come into contact with ingredients as they moved along the supply chain.
PACK EXPO International
Manufacturers should continuously take the time to evaluate their equipment and processing lines to identify ways of enhancing overall efficiency and performance. Part of this evaluation should include ways to reduce the likelihood of food safety compromises to protect consumers and the value of the manufacturer’s brands. Food manufacturers seeking food safety insights and solutions should mark their calendars for PACK EXPO International 2016 (November 6-9, 2016, McCormick Place, Chicago).