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New Rules for a More Transparent Road.

Byline: Bridget Goldschmidt

As it awaits the impact of a major political shift in Washington, D.C., the food industry grapples with a heightened level of transparency requirements.

With a new presidential administration headed to Washington, D.C., next month, augmented by Republican majorities in the House of Representatives and the Senate, the implications for the food industry are on the minds of many. The legislative and regulatory policies enacted in the past eight years -- which include what is widely viewed as the most sweeping food safety updates since the 1950s, culminating in the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) -- have been significant.

When campaigning for his new job, President-elect Donald J. Trump pledged to limit federal government regulations, which inherently involve two of the food industry's most influential federal agencies -- the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) -- both of which play central oversight roles with regard to food safety, immigration, nutrition, federal agricultural policy and international trade.

While it remains to be seen whether the incoming president will completely dismantle, maintain or only tweak the existing rules and regulations, no candidates for such key cabinet positions as agriculture secretary or FDA commissioner had been announced at press time. Those two key roles are among more than 4,000 that the president-elect will be required to fill in relatively short order as part of a complex transition process. The industry will certainly be on the alert, with the only known being that the new commander-in-chief's pro-busines s/small-government stance is -- in part -- what carried him to victory.

In the meantime, as retailers continue to refine and retool their food safety practices in the wake of the passage of FSMA, they're running into issues related to compliance.

"The legislation requirements in the FSMA include creating mandatory food safety plans, increased inspections, managing the new authorities of the FDA on rulemaking and recalls, and more," notes Liz Gonzalez, marketing manager for SafetyCulture, a global technology provider with offices in the United Kingdom; Australia; Lenexa, Kan.; and San Francisco. "These pose a new operational requirement that can be time-consuming to implement but costly to public health, and with possible fines if not [implemented]."

Greater Transparency

"The greatest challenge for retailers to ensure food safety lies in achieving total supply chain visibility all the way back to the farm or manufacturing plant," asserts Angela Fernandez, VP of retail grocery and foodservice for Lawrenceville, N.J.-based GS1 US, leader of the GS1 US Retail Grocery Initiative and the Foodservice GS1 US Standards Initiative. "Product traceability enables stakeholders to locate potentially harmful products within the supply chain in the event of a recall or foodborne illness outbreak. To do this, they need standardized data they can retrieve quickly and accurately -- or precisely, to those products that truly need to be removed from shelves.

"The problem," she continues, "is that while most companies have some level of traceability in place, some are further along in implementing standardized traceability processes than others, or are using proprietary systems that are not interoperable. Outdated, proprietary or paper-based systems that are not based on standards can lead to time delays during a recall, when time and accuracy are essential."

To address this particular problem, retailers "should have all suppliers sharing complete, accurate product information in real time," counsels Fernandez. "Retailers can make the food supply chain safer by working proactively with manufacturers and distributors to implement effective traceability programs. It's time for stakeholders to evaluate the effectiveness of their current traceability programs, or accelerate their development if they have not yet been implemented."

She adds: "Retailers, as a community, also need to align their approach to product data requirements relative to traceability, so that suppliers won't have to provide the same information in multiple ways to different customers -- this collaboration can accelerate their ability to fulfill requests.

According to Fernandez: "Implementing supply chain visibility shows a strong commitment to traceability, and that a company is staying vigilant instead of simply reacting to a recall. With enhanced traceability procedures, businesses can prepare for crisis situations and avoid the damage a widespread recall can inflict for months or even years afterward."

Under Audit

Integral to transparency is an effective audit system, as Gonzalez acknowledges.

"Where food retailers have increased exposure to compromised food safety is in the non-dry goods areas," she points out. "Foods in these areas have shorter shelf lives and can often be harmful if not kept at proper temperatures, and similarly, if food is handled improperly, there is risk for contamination. What will facilitate the FSMA requirements will be internal auditing controls, where a food retailer can inspect their location on a regular schedule to ensure compliance and food safety precautions are met on an ongoing basis."

To address this need, FoodSafety offers iAuditor, which Gonzalez describes as "a mobile inspection checklist that can ensure proper protocols are taken to keep correct food temperature, storage and handling procedures. Inspections can be conducted throughout the store via mobile device, and audit results can be viewed in real time to take quick action on unsafe food conditions. With digital inspections, food retailers can capture images of unsafe food storage or handling, record temperatures of food, scan bar code information, and more."

The system has been implemented by Coles, one of the largest food retailers in Australia, allowing it to operate more efficiently in accordance with that country's food safety laws, she notes. iAuditor is used across Coles' 760 stores, enabling each location to conduct its own audits and thereby providing management visibility over all store operations.

In a similar vein, Rochester, N.Y.-based Wegmans Food Markets recently upgraded to PAR Technology's SureCheck Advantage Solution, a state-of-the-art food safety and checklist system that captures required data in real time and synchronizes it to the SureCheck cloud for seamless, automated storage and recall of food safety records for management, maintenance, analytics and auditing, at all 95 of its stores. Before the grocer deployed New Hartford, N.Y.-based PAR's SureCheck in November 2015, it was still using paper-and-pencil recording methods.

"PAR's SureCheck Advantage is a key tool in the day-to-day operation of Wegmans foodservice," says Tom Adams, Wegmans' food safety coordinator. "SureCheck Advantage has provided a 15 percent to 25 percent improvement in operational efficiency, and the cloud-based online reporting saves time and money from our original paper recording process."

Additionally, the Safe Quality Food (SQF) Program and ReposiTrak Inc., a subsidiary of Salt Lake City-based Park City Group and a provider of compliance management and track-and-trace solutions for food, pharma and dietary supplement safety, have joined forces to integrate SQF audit management into ReposiTrak's compliance management system. The partnership aims to benefit SQF's thousands of registered suppliers, as well as its certification bodies and auditors, in managing the audit process from initial request and payment, through collection of results and reporting. As part of the initiative, ReposiTrak will host and provide exclusive access to SQF's audit results database.

The collaboration also lets SQF-registered suppliers use ReposiTrak's compliance management system to collect and manage all of their vendor documents in one place, including SQF-required documents such as a current register of approved vendors, along with third-party audits and food safety plans, and other vital business documents.

Notes Robert Garfield, SVP of the Safe Quality Food Institute (SQFI), a division of Arlington, Va.-based Food Marketing Institute: "This is an exciting time at SQFI, as we look to roll out version 8 of the SQF Code, a new Retail/Wholesale Grocery Program, and start gaining extensive supplier and buyer use and support of our Ethical Sourcing Certification. We were looking for a technology partner to help us raise the bar not only with our data management and reporting, but also with upgrades to all of our user interfaces."

By focusing on transparency, the grocery channel can ensure greater compliance with FMSA, as well as keep pace with a rapidly changing retail landscape.

"The grocery industry is evolving quickly, along with consumer expectations," notes GS1 US' Fernandez. "The safety of our food supply will continue to hold center stage, and advancements will be needed even as sales and supply chain channels diversify. For example, e-commerce is a growing area, and carrying food safety precautions through to this channel will require the same diligence in traceability."

"What will facilitate the FSMA requirements will be internal auditing controls, where a food retailer can inspect their location on a regular schedule to ensure compliance and food safety precautions are met on an ongoing basis."

--Liz Gonzalez, SafetyCulture

"The greatest challenge for retailers to ensure food safety lies in achieving total supply chain visibility all the way back to the farm or manufacturing plant."

--Angela Fernandez, GS1 US

Distribution of Safety

Before food ever gets to grocery stores, it's important that the integrity of the supply chain be preserved, so along with suppliers like those registered with the Safe Quality Food Program, distribution centers are also beefing up their food safety solutions. For instance. Commerce, Calif.-based Unified Grocers, the largest retailer-owned wholesale grocery cooperative in the western United States, supplying more than 2,900 retail locations, recently implemented the automated system of ReposiTrak, a division of the Park City Group, in Salt Lake City. The solution "will enable us to better manage our growing list of required documents to ensure that we remain in compliance and continue to provide safe food to our retailers and consumers, which is our top priority," says Unified VP of Procurement Mark Johnson.

Additionally, Salt Lake City-based Associated Food Stores (AFS), which serves more than 400 independent retailers across eight Intermountain West states, has deployed two new systems from Boise, Idaho-based PakSense, the AutoSense Inbound and the AutoSense Real-Time logger, at its Farr West distribution center to help monitor temperature and ensure that products comply with food safety regulations during transport and storage.

AutoSense InBound enables AFS to track the temperature of a pallet during transport from the vendor to the distribution center. Vendors purchase, program and set the chip on their pallets prior to shipping. When the pallet arrives at the distribution center, it syncs with AFS' iBrite monitoring system and provides a temperature report, allowing the receiving team to determine whether the product is safe before it accepts the load.

"A few months ago, we received a load of bananas that had basically cooked inside the trailer during transport," recounts Terri Jensen, receiving manager at the distribution center, who, with her team, led the effort to bring the AutoSense trackers to the facility. "With the report from AutoSense Inbound, we were able to show that it wasn't safe, and it saved us from losing the load."

The AutoSense Real-Time logger, meanwhile, helps monitor the temperature of products stored in trailers when the distribution is in overflow. The system monitors the temperature inside each trailer and sends an alert to the receiving team if any go out of range, enabling them to be quickly checked and adjusted before the product is compromised.

"The AutoSense systems are basically insurance policies for us and our vendors," explains Jensen. "They allow us to ensure the products we receive and send to our stores are safe, and prevent us from losing product."

Meeting of the Minds

As part of their commitment to food safety, Wegmans Food Markets and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. participated in a Nov. 15 Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA)-focused food safety briefing in Washington, D.C., held by the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI), at which some 200 attendees, also including Coca-Cola, Amazon and Mondelez, as well as government representatives, discussed how GFSI could be employed by governments and the food industry for FSMA implementation, international business and public health.

"Science guides industry and policymakers to the same place as we work towards our common objective of ensuring a safe food supply for consumers," notes Mike Robach, chair of the board of directors of GFSI, which was established and is managed by the Paris-based Consumer Goods Forum. "Public-private dialogue and collaboration is paramount to achieving this goal."

Safer Sprouts

Ra Foods LLC has developed Cold Grown Ra Nanoshoots as an alternative to traditional sprouts, which often have food safety issues. Tiny living plants grown in sealed packages at cold temperatures to ensure the highest level of food safety, Ra Nanoshoots have a naturally long shelf life of 21 days that the company maintains means less shrink for grocers and better value for shoppers

As well as being ready to eat, available year-round and produced sustainably, the nanoshoots are herbicide-, pesticide- and GMO-free, and use only a fraction of the water required to grow traditional sprouts.

"We wanted to go beyond the standard practices of seed sanitation and water testing as the means of assuring food safety," explains Dan Sholl, general manager of Sacramento, Calif.-based Ra Foods, which worked with The Vista Institute LLC on the product.

The traditional sprout-growing process germinates seed under conditions that encourage the growth of dangerous seedborne pathogens, and also requires a considerable amount of product handling that can introduce environmental pathogens.

"Cold became our key to inhibiting pathogen growth," notes Susan Harlander, managing partner, The Vista Institute, in Eden Prairie, Minn. "After more than two years of research, we succeeded in developing the patent-pending Cold Grown process that creates a product environment hostile to pathogens, and allows Ra Nanoshoots to grow in the package to prevent environmental contamination."

Ra Nanoshoots come in several varieties: Clover, Clover/Alfalfa, Clover/Broccoli blend, and Spicy Blend (Clover/Radish blend).

Packed six 3-ounce clamshells per case, Cold Grown Ra Nanoshoots are currently available on a limited basis at select West Coast grocers.
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Author:Goldschmidt, Bridget
Publication:Progressive Grocer
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 1, 2016
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