Food Safety Act Brings Challenges to the Entire Food Supply Chain

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The new Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), signed into law earlier this year, is having and will continue to have a seismic impact on the global food supply chain. Growers, processors, wholesalers, and retailers must be prepared to meet the new regulations or face large fines and possibly closure.

The law, passed by a large bipartisan majority in Congress, gives the Food and Drug Administration unprecedented new powers of enforcement, inspection, and forced recall. According to the FDA Fact Sheet, the new law “aims to ensure the U.S. food supply is safe by shifting the focus of federal regulators from responding to contamination to preventing it.” The law’s passage was partially in response to public outcry after recalls of contaminated spinach, eggs, and peanut butter that hospitalized thousands. In fact, each year, one in six people suffer from a food-borne illness, while more than a hundred thousand are hospitalized and thousands die.

The new FSMA is focused primarily on fruits and vegetables, since the FDA already has rules in place for juice and eggs, as does the USDA for meat and poultry. The new law requires much greater accountability from farm to table, as well as increased visibility along the entire food supply chain because a breakdown at any point can cause catastrophic harm to the health of consumers.


Farm-to-table accountability calls for end-to-end visibility

Most notably for executives of distribution companies and restaurant chains, two provisions of the law will require new compliance and accountability:

• The FDA is requiring companies to provide transparent methods of tracking produce from farm to table to ensure contaminated food is located quickly and recalled safely. This will put additional pressure on all food handling operations, because they must now also certify the safety of any and all imported produce.

• The FDA is also requiring companies to maintain production records for tracking purposes. This will add a new layer of paperwork for the industry as well as responsibility for the safe practices of outside vendors.

For distributors and restaurant chains, the new law will require they have total supply chain visibility, as every piece of fruit and every vegetable must be tracked with case/pallet-level license plate numbers, lot number, and expiration date. This will call for a heightened level of supplier systemic capabilities that many simply don’t possess. However, responsibility for a supplier’s safety processes will force distributors and chains to become more connected—and require them to establish new policies regarding supplier compliance.

Supply chain visibility, though not explicitly written into the law, is the final requisite of the law. Companies must now be able at any time to check inventory across their entire network—suppliers, warehouses and in-transit inventory included—down to lot numbers. This visibility must include each step from farm to table, so the ability to scan delivery/receipt at the store is essential, as well as receipts from all store-to-store deliveries.


Companies must act quickly to ensure compliance

Though some provisions of the law won’t go into effect for months, organizations are already concerned about meeting all the new regulations while others have begun to set new policies for compliance. By acting quickly to put the right technology solutions in place, including warehouse management and transportation systems, companies can achieve the level of supply chain visibility required to ensure food safety and compliance with the Food Safety Modernization Act.

In order to comply with these new regulations, companies need to become “platform thinkers.” Tying together disparate point solutions with different data models and architecture is complex, costly, and time-consuming. Forward-thinking companies recognize the most straightforward approach to achieve end-to-end visibility is with a supply chain platform that shares data rather than aggregates and interprets it.