Date Posted: May 16, 2018
The Future of Food Safety
The Future of Food Safety – Making It Stick
The food industry is a very dynamic industry driving product innovation, developing sustainability models in the face of international economic pressures and raw material challenges, and addressing nutritional requirements of increasingly sophisticated consumers. To support this push is a base of food safety and quality management systems to ensure that the food and beverages provided are safe. However, as the number of food recalls and safety scares show us, no undertaking is without risk. To address this, food manufacturers and retailers have taken increasingly sophisticated measures to manage this risk. Many have adopted bench-marked international and/or private standards. These are all familiar to quality professionals and all have at their core a desire to protect the health of the consumer. To understand where the future of food safety management lies, it is useful to look at how we arrived at the current cusp of change for the food industry.
THE EVOLUTION OF FOOD SAFETY AND QUALITY SYSTEMS
1. CHECK IT (1960s)
Quality Control checks were common practice in the food industry since it evolved into a professional manufacturing industry. This was based on the assumption that quality and food safety would be consistent in the product and could be inspected or tested at the finished goods stage. We know better now; food pathogens and issues are not homogeneously distributed and at best gross failure of our food safety systems can be found this way.
2. PREVENT IT (1970s)
Enter HACCP. This system is based on preventing an issue occurring by applying scientific understanding to issues of biological, chemical, allergen and physical risks to the food product. This is supported by pre-requisite programs that ensure that the processing environment and handling is safe.
HACCP is a well proven methodology and when implemented rigorously manages risk well at the site level.
3. PROVE IT (1990s)
With increasing retailer involvement in ‘own brands’ and food and beverage manufacturers having to manage an increasingly long, international supply chain, the need to prove that HACCP systems work in practice has increased dramatically. Food companies are extensively audited, some many times a year, to comply with a variety of standards. Whether the focus is on documents proving compliance or on observations on the manufacturing floor, these programs only provide a snapshot of whether compliance is achieved, or not. Arguably, this auditing system is currently at the stage 1, namely the ‘check it’ stage.
As with quality control, this methodology is fraught with issues.
4. LIVE IT (2000s)
It is now well recognised that the ‘patchy’ auditing of food and beverage manufacturing and retail sites does not ensure consistent implementation. Food safety culture has emerged as a useful concept to help with the day-to-day focus on food safety.
The basic tenets of food safety culture are:
• Creating a food safety culture though staff awareness; providing suitable training using easily understood tools, equipment, environment and self-assessment tools; management leading with real commitment; ensuring an open environment to raise concerns; and accountability at all levels.
• Communicating the food safety culture to the business and supply chain and reinforcing it consistently.
• Measuring the food safety culture.
• Providing positive feedback to all staff where warranted and celebrating the food safety culture.
This is the current focus of best practice food safety implementation around the world. Is has been firmly embraced by leading manufacturers, retailers and regulators in Australia as shown by recent publications in food australia by Safe Food Production Queensland and on-line by Food Standards Australia New Zealand. The aim is to keep the food safety system live at all times, offsetting the potentially very costly consequences of failure, for example through the need for recalls that can run into millions of dollars, potential business failure and personal liability of quality practitioners, staff and senior managers. The limits of this approach are now evolving given the increasing global risk of food fraud and food attacks that cannot be managed by focusing on a given site alone.
5. INTEGRATE IT (2020)
Where to from here?
Globally, many industry sectors are going through a rapid phase of innovation and transformation, often driven by technical disruptors. The food industry has much to gain, or to lose if ignored, by adopting these new developments. Here, I will focus on four momentous developments for the now global food and beverage industry. They will transform the industry in the next 2-10 years and remove some of the costs of food safety system maintenance. They will also have a major impact for service providers to the sector, such as testing, inspection and certification companies.
FOOD SAFETY AND QUALITY INTEGRATION ENABLERS
Blockchain and similar technologies rely on a secure (encrypted), distributed (not centrally held) ledger of information that is transparent and cannot be altered after creation (without collaboration of the majority of users). This way information on raw materials and food products can be passed on in a transparent way from origins, through the supply chain, and to the final consumer. This transparency allows risk mitigation through authentication and can be used, for example, with other developments such as labelling each item with a unique code to prevent food fraud. Another application would be ensuring that raw materials come from a defined supply chain, rather than from unapproved suppliers or farms that pose unacceptable food safety risks.
THE INTERNET OF THINGS
The internet of things (IoT) simply is the increasing networking of equipment, sensors and switches to allow direct data exchange. This allows the direct acquisition of data during processing, for example critical control point (CCP) data, that can be automatically monitored by the site production, quality and management team. Already, thee billion IoT devices are in use in industry globally. Going a step further, this data could be used for remote monitoring and certification of sites without auditors stepping on site. This could be through exception reports for CCPs not being under control, tracking completion of prerequisite program tasks such as cleaning as well as reporting security breaches on a site in relation to TACCP and VACCP (Threat and Vulnerability Analysis Critical Control Points). Where failure is reported, corrective actions could be tracked in real time. Auditors could therefore reduce the number of site days, reducing impact on manufacturers, and focusing on the factory floor rather than documentation on site.
Here is a product that seemingly was a total flop, except that in its ‘re-born’ form it is becoming an industrial tool that gains significant efficiencies during manufacturing. Wearing these glasses, operators are able access step-by-step visual and text instructions, data and records, and check on compliance of processes. Whether it is cleaning instructions, maintenance instructions, real time CCP data, once the systems have been integrated with the glasses, information is instantly accessible to the operator where they need it on location. Using the embedded camera, operators will also be able to record verification information, and networking and storing of the data will reduce compliance paper work. By 2025, it is expected that more than 14 million US workers will be wearing Google Glass for work and several companies are supporting business integration.
Big data as a term refers to structured and unstructured data being acquired from multiple sources such as social media, genomics data sets, food safety incidents, internet reports, supply chain information, legislative information and so on. This, when integrated, analysed and visualised appropriately, can be used for agricultural and food chain management and food safety risk evaluation and management.
In 2015, WHO embarked on the project FOSCOLLAB, which integrates monitoring programs, alert systems, chemical data, consumption data and surveillance reports on diseases to gather here unto unavailable insights. As computer power and storage is becoming less expensive, these systems and data gathering and analysis will become widely used. Big data will also be able to draw from the above three trends of reliable supply chain data (blockchain), real time data acquisition (IoT) and on-site recording (Google Glass).
These new, exciting technological developments will mean that food safety quality systems and management will evolve further from the current HACCP, auditing and food safety culture to a holistic, integrated solution that will make real time food safety effective.
Words By Dr Andreas Klieber
Partner & Managing Director, Quality Associates
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