The following Q&A is part of the International Foodservice Distributors Association’s (IFDA) series featuring interviews with women in leadership roles in foodservice distribution. In this excerpt, Syndee Stiles, vice president of operations support at McLane Foodservice, discusses the regulatory environment surrounding food safety, the GS1 US Standards initiative and more…
Q: You’re a part of IFDA’s Food Safety Committee, which over the past few years has been tasked with providing comments to the FDA on rulemakings for the Food Safety Modernization Act. Can you talk about some of the work the committee does on behalf of the industry?
Stiles: The food safety committee has been very active as the FDA develops the rules to implement the Food Safety Modernization Act. That legislation has the potential to really change our industry, in the way we handle product, the way we store it, the way we ship it, and the way we track it — virtually everything that’s done through the supply chain. This is a great committee; it’s got some pretty amazing people on it. I understand operations and I understand basic food safety but I do not have the level of technical expertise of some of these people. It’s really a good mix.
Our primary role is to make sure the regulators understand foodservice distribution and our place in that supply chain. So, we review proposed regulations to understand how they could impact our members. We discuss whether and how the underlying food safety concerns are already being addressed within the industry. Then we create comments and other communication for IFDA to help the government entities understand existing controls that are already in place and how the requirements that they’re crafting can be modified to meet their desired objectives without placing an excessive burden on the industry.
We meet or talk whenever one of the proposed rules is issued and then through every subsequent revision of those rules. One of the big ones concerns traceability. Some of our distributor members actually participated in the FDA’s pilot, so they could demonstrate the level of control that already exists — and how we can effectively track the product.
The regulators don’t really understand our part of the industry. We’re primarily handling closed cases — we’re concerned more with maintaining the cold chain, maintaining product integrity and product security. The Food Safety committee works to help improve that understanding.
Q: What food safety areas has McLane been mostly focused on?
Stiles: We service restaurant chains. Our customers are interested in ensuring the integrity and safety of the supply chain so they can protect their customers, their brands, and their reputations. To support that effort we must continuously ensure product integrity, product security, and preserve the cold chain. Over the last several years, we’ve also invested heavily in technology and we’ve worked very closely with our customers to improve case labeling, especially GS1-128 barcodes because they enable us to efficiently capture and track information that’s critical for traceability such as vendor lot numbers and vendor dates. That’s been a big focus for us.
Q: You mentioned GS1-128 barcodes. How has McLane Foodservice been involved in shaping those foodservice standards? Have you been involved in the GS1 US Standards Initiative since the beginning?
Stiles: Yes, we were at the initial meetings. We were one of the original founding members. The initiative is so important because it’s the basis of establishing a single set of standards for the foodservice industry — one that is also in sync with related industries like retail grocery because we share many of the same suppliers.
Q: I know there are many advantages on the sales side for product data and images, but from your perspective, what are two important outcomes of standards implementation?
Stiles: There’s the global data synchronization network — the GDSN. The core idea is that there should be one source of information. Historically, when you set up an item, you have information passed on from a supplier to a buying group and possibly other entities before it gets to the distributor. As the information gets handed off, you have opportunities for error. Through GDSN, the key pieces of information that are needed throughout the supply chain are identified and then provided by the entity with the best access to accurate information — the manufacturer. They publish it in a standard format that is accessible to trading partners. You don’t have to rely on information being passed along in an email or on a spreadsheet — you can go directly to the source. The anticipated benefits are accuracy and efficiency.
Another very important outcome for foodservice operations is the opportunity for improved speed and accuracy in traceability. The GS1 barcode standards are taking advantage of a well-established technology that has been around since the ‘70s. Improvements in technology have made it possible to make the barcodes more dynamic, to relay more information than was possible in the past. That can be a challenge for suppliers. It means they are not preprinting a static UPC code, which is the same for every case they ship. The GS1-128 barcode changes with what’s in the specific case to include the actual lot or product date. This wouldn’t be possible without something like GS1 that’s setting a single standard across all products and industries.