April 15, 2013
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By Steve Wise
Listeria in wild Alaskan sockeye salmon and apples. Salmonella in peanut butter and cantaloupe. E.coli in spinach and lettuce. These are only a few of the recent reasons that the FDA continues to implement stricter and more specific food safety standards for both domestic and imported foods. The latest advancement is the announcement of two long-awaited food safety rules that will force entire supply chains to evaluate processes and procedures. Facilities that manufacture, process, pack, or hold human food must look for ways and means to implement the changes before compliance deadlines.
In the next phase of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), the FDA plans to address the fact that approximately 15 percent of the food consumed in the U.S. is imported by proposing rules that would target importers. By implementing a means to verify that food products grown or processed overseas are as safe as domestically produced food and determining accreditation standards to improve third-party food safety audits overseas, the FDA will move another step closer to its goal of ensuring that the U.S. food supply is safe.
The FDA is not the only voice to be heard. In October, restaurant owners, culinary leaders, and more than 500 of the nation’s top chefs—Barton Seaver, Mario Batali, Rick Bayless, Daniel Boulud, Thomas Keller, Jacques Pepin, Eric Ripert, and Michael Symon, among them—joined Oceana, the largest advocacy group working solely to protect the world’s oceans, in a letter to the U.S. government calling for traceability for seafood from boat to plate “in order to prevent seafood fraud and keep illegal fish out of the U.S. market.”
Ninety-one percent of the seafood consumed in the U.S. is imported, but less than 2 percent is inspected. This, and the fact that many fish when filleted look quite similar, makes it simple for an anticipated shipment of white tuna to actually be escolar, which can lead to severe intestinal issues due to the laxative effect of the wax esters in its flesh. Recent studies show that seafood mislabeling can happen as often as 70 percent of the time for these types of fish—at any point of the supply chain including the restaurant, the distributor, or the processing and packaging plants.
Beyond cheating the customers, seafood fraud can have costly—even deadly—consequences. For example, it can threaten human health with unexpected contaminants, toxins or allergens; create a market for illegal fish taking business from honest fishermen; make it nearly impossible to sustain conservation efforts when consumers cannot make eco-friendly, informed decisions; and mislead the general public to believe the marine environment is healthy, when in reality overfishing is abundant and many species are in serious trouble.
This does not have to be the state of the seafood industry. In reality, the chefs’ demands can easily be met by going beyond the basic regulations and implementing available technologies.
Global Quality Hub
A major shift can be seen across the food market as manufacturers are utilizing cloud computing and manufacturing intelligence to improve product quality, ensure current and future compliance, and minimize IT expenditure and support costs. Cloud computing enables facilities at all points of the food supply chain to collect, input, and analyze data through a global quality hub. Therefore, a grocer can ensure that there are no metal fragments in the frozen pizza it sells, a creamery feels confident that the milk it receives to make ice cream has been properly flash pasteurized, and chefs know they will be serving the same fish to their patrons that they ordered from their suppliers.
Powered by a statistical process control (SPC) engine, a global quality hub can create the “boat-to-plate” traceability for the seafood industry. With multi-lingual, mobile devices such as tablets and smartphones, data can be easily collected from anywhere around the world, from nearly any system, and made immediately available to the manufacturer. This means knowing whether or not a product meets specific requirements as soon as it is produced. There would not be a need to wait for shipments to arrive at the receiving dock when Certificates of Analysis (COAs) could be created in real-time—at the time the product is being produced by the supplier.
For example, nearly 70 percent of imported tilapia comes from China, which is the third largest fish and shellfish importer to the U.S. Unlike the open-water systems of the U.S., China’s pond and cage cultures are two common ways of farming tilapia. However, these closed systems limit the ease of expelling fish waste, uneaten food, and chemicals used to treat disease, increasing the risk of creating a polluted environment. By implementing quality checks by the fisherman, it is possible to ensure that the fish being sent to the U.S. were in fact healthy when they were caught. After the first check, the tilapia may make several stops before reaching U.S. soil, making it quite simple for the less-than-reputable to make a swap with escolar along the way.
There would not be a need to wait for shipments to arrive at the receiving dock when COAs could be created in real-time.
With a global quality hub implemented by seafood manufacturers, tilapia can be checked on the boat, at the fishery, with the at-sea and land processors, as well as at the distributor through easy data entry via mobile computers and smartphones. The seafood producers can then send the resulting, real-time dashboards, analysis reports or email notifications displaying lot numbers, temperatures, check-in times, visual indicators, and general condition of shipping materials and delivery vehicles to the grocers and chefs to confirm the type of fish they will receive, and ultimately ensure the highest quality of product for the customer. Supermarkets can take it one step further and enter point-of-sale data such as on-site inspection, shelf placement, and in-store location into the same global quality hub to inform the producer that the product is also being displayed and sold properly.
Beyond the Fishing Hole
Ensuring traceability around the world and throughout the food supply chain is just one of the benefits of a global quality hub. Because all the data is stored in a single repository, food manufacturers improve their readiness for audits because they can run a report of data already in the system to prove they are in compliance with required quality checks.
Furthermore, upon entering the second life of the data, there are numerous opportunities for process improvement due to variation or overfill. With minor adjustments, both waste and costs can be driven down resulting in hundreds of thousands, if not millions, in cost savings. With tools available that incorporate real-time automation within a global quality hub, food manufacturers can meet time-specific regulatory requirements by scheduling quality checks at precise intervals and incorporating visual, audible, or electronic reminders. With the centralized data repository and specification limit automation capabilities of a global quality hub, these manufacturers can easily comply with SSOP (sanitation standard operating procedures), FSMA, 21 CFR Part 117, Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP), and other regulatory requirements.
As more regulations are passed, food manufacturers face the growing concern of ensuring compliance based on many different stipulations. The key to compliance with both traditional and the new regulatory framework is embracing advancements in technology, such as cloud computing, mobile devices, and global quality hubs. With an effective system in place, food manufacturers can utilize manufacturing intelligence to mitigate the risk associated with product contamination and recalls, and optimize manufacturing operations to deliver a low-cost, high-quality product to the customer.