Just a few months ago, we entered into the enforcement period for the FSMA Preventative Controls rule, which largely came and went without incident. The passage was a bit anticlimactic; no reports came out of rolling food plant closures nor any images of executives being hauled off to jail. That’s not to say that was expected, especially since a whole industry has sprouted around providing companies FSMA-ready services to avoid these outcomes.

Also, in talking with the big food companies, the majority have already been doing much of what FSMA instructs for a long while. So, it was the smaller to mid-sized companies that felt most of the pressure and had to do some catching up.

Industry-wide, food safety has been important for decades, but FSMA put this importance on the books and shifted the emphasis to prevention of food safety incidents instead of reacting to them. Another area that might be ripe for this type of regulatory evolution is sustainability.

This month, we are featuring a special focus on sustainability practices in food processing plants. The issue has been gaining traction over the years, initially beginning with a few of the big companies employing some initiatives and possibly releasing reports on their efforts. Now even small breweries are hiring sustainability directors to develop zero-waste-to-landfill programs and water reduction strategies.

Just like changing consumer tastes, a big part of this change has been from the ground up, where customers are demanding more information about not only what they are eating, but how the food is being produced. For instance, with the drought in California getting massive media attention a few years ago, many people started questioning water bottling operations in the state.

Whether sustainability criticism of a food and beverage company is justified or not seems to be irrelevant. Instead, the consumer’s perception of the company doing good translates to the company being good, which can result in more purchases. So, there is a business case for installing and increasing sustainability practices.

However, might there be a new push for federal sustainability regulations of food manufacturing facilities? Who’s to say, but we’ve just seen the most sweeping reform of the country’s food safety laws in more than 70 years, so shouldn’t we be ready for anything?