Although food safety and security is better today than ever before, it seems every step forward is offset by a new set of vulnerabilities—some of these are related to growing supply chain complexities, while others are the result of tampering or cargo theft.
Food Logistics checked in with industry experts to get their perspective on where the risks lie and how they can be mitigated, starting with food safety…
Don Hsieh, director of commercial and industrial marketing for Tyco Integrated Security acknowledges the proliferation of risk associated with an increasingly global food supply chain.
“The biggest risk to food safety in the global food chain are the multiple points of vulnerability directly related to the complexity and length of the supply chain,” he says. “In the U.S. alone, there are approximately 2 million farms that produce food; over 400,000 food facilities that process or distribute food that are registered with the FDA, of which over 60 percent are foreign facilities; millions of containers of food are moved on trucks, trains and ships every year; and ultimately food is distributed to over a million points of sale, such as restaurants, grocery stores and other food service outlets.”
Managing risk is this environment has become more challenging due to increased food imports, says Hsieh. For example, “the U.S. imports about 20 percent of the food we eat, and that ratio is even higher in some categories,” he says, such as seafood imports, which run as high as 80 percent, and fruits and vegetables, which are in the 50 percent range. “Even a simple loaf of bread can contain ingredients that come from 14 countries,” Hsieh points out.
“Every node in this global food chain is a potential point of vulnerability for unintentional or intentional food adulteration, and to quote an oft used phrase, ‘The global food chain is only as strong as the weakest link.’”
According to Hsieh, “ It is incumbent on every player in the food chain—from suppliers, manufacturers, distributors and retailers—to implement a proactive food defense program to help prevent food adulteration; first and foremost to protect the safety and health of the consumer, as well as protect the reputation of the brands that consumers trust.”
Of course, the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) is helping drive action on this front, he says. “The focus of FSMA is on implementing preventive controls to protect against foodborne disease from both intentional and unintentional sources. The law, for the first time, now clearly requires companies to implement a food defense program.”
When it comes to food defense strategies, Hsieh offers this advice: “It is imperative that food and beverage manufacturers and distributors develop a proactive food defense program that delivers comprehensive control over the integrity of their supply chain to combat food adulteration. Implementing preventive and proactive controls built on actionable intelligence to protect the food supply chain is significantly more effective than reacting to an adulteration event after it happens. The benefits of a strong food defense strategy include increasing consumer safety, reducing operational risks and protecting brand reputation.”
Hsieh suggests using “the Four A’s” of food defense as the core components of a proactive food defense program:
- Assess: Vulnerability assessment of critical control points
- Access: Allow only authorized staff access to critical control points
- Alert: Continuously monitor the whole supply chain to alert appropriate individuals of intentional and unintentional instances of food adulteration
- Audit: Determine operational and regulatory compliance to best food defense practices and provide documentation of compliance to regulators