BrainTrust Query: How should retailers and manufacturers step up their attack of the global food safety challenge?

Apr 10, 2009

By Ralph Jacobson,
Global Consumer Products Industry Marketing Executive, IBM

Grocery Manufacturers
Association (GMA) President and CEO Pam Bailey sent a letter to Barack Obama on March 20 in support of the President’s proposal
to create a food safety working group to coordinate federal food safety

enjoy one of the safest food supplies in the world, but food and beverage
companies recognize that steps must be taken to make our food supply even
safer. Ensuring the safety of our products – and maintaining the confidence
of consumers – is the single most important goal of the food and beverage
industry. Product safety is the foundation of consumer trust, and our industry
devotes enormous resources to ensure that our products are safe.

“Our industry
strongly supports efforts to continually improve the safety of America’s
food supplies and we urge the Administration to continue to make the prevention
of contamination the foundation of our nation’s food safety strategies.”

Within the letter,
GMA offered the President six specific recommendations:

  • Increase
    FDA food-related spending
  • Require
    food safety plans
  • Require
    foreign supplier safety plans and build foreign capacity
  • Regulate
    fruits and vegetables
  • Adopt
    a risk-based approach to inspections
  • Authorize
    mandatory recalls

Peanut butter.
Milk. Baby food. Spinach. These are just some of the higher-profile recalls
we’ve seen in the past year. In the U.S. alone, 300 million pounds of meat
and poultry products were recalled between 1994 and 2007. Consumers increasingly
demand to know more about the food they buy, such as how animals were raised
and in what conditions they were kept, from farm to dinner table. It’s
understandable, when there are 76 million cases of food borne illnesses
every year in the U.S. alone.

Matiq, a subsidiary of Norway’s largest food supplier, is
developing a technology infrastructure to potentially track every chicken
breast, every pork chop, every lamb shank and every beef filet they produce
for the Norwegian food market. Their system will enable the packaging of
products with RFID tags to help keep them in optimal condition. At the
production factory, sensors will be encoded with data and included with
each piece of meat. As the meat is cut, the system will provide information
to the sensors, including the farm of origin and the animal’s age and health
records. RFID readers will then capture the information as the sensors
pass through the different stages of the process, from production to distribution
to delivery.

As a result,
Norwegian food suppliers and supermarkets will have more and better information
about the meat they sell, and will be able to use software to trace the
food anywhere in the supply chain.

Matiq’s smart food system can help suppliers and grocers reduce
costs and improve safety. Even more importantly, it can increase consumers’
confidence in the quality of the food they purchase by providing detailed
information on where any given animal has lived and what it has eaten.
One industry analyst expects that, by 2015, 900 billion food items worldwide
could be RFID tagged.

Discussion Questions: How
do you provide the end-to-end visibility across the supply chain necessary
for improving the safety of our food supply? Is RFID the answer? How
are efforts complicated as products cross international borders? Which
stakeholder needs to spearhead the effort: retailers, manufacturers,
or both?

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6 Comments on "BrainTrust Query: How should retailers and manufacturers step up their attack of the global food safety challenge?"

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Pradip V. Mehta, P.E.
Pradip V. Mehta, P.E.
13 years 9 months ago

The recent lapses in food safety have been due to poor managerial judgments, not because of lack of controls or inspection and testing systems. Therefore, the real crux of the problem is, how do we motivate management to make the right decision, which some times will involve losing money, if the product needs to be scrapped/destroyed, etc, due to not meeting requirements? We can have all the systems and controls in place and yet, if the managers do not make right decisions, we will not improve food safety.

Len Lewis
Len Lewis
13 years 9 months ago

The government, in effect, just fired the head of General Motors. Put managers on notice that there will be a zero tolerance policy when it comes to following and initiating food safety and quality procedures and guidelines.

Frankly, there is no such thing as end-to-end visibility in the supply chain. There will always be someone looking to cut corners for for the sake of profits. But any foreign supplier found to be shipping tainted product should be dropped immediately, with prison terms for those who knowingly did so.

Finally, just throwing money at the FDA is not the answer. We need a complete overhaul of a federal bureaucracy that’s tripping over its own feet.

Susan Rider
Susan Rider
13 years 9 months ago
Yes…I love the supply chain discussions. End-to-end visibility is here and many companies are using it now. It’s being done with software and barcoding. In the food industry they have been capturing lot codes for years but with today’s technology, it is possible to capture the lot in very minute detail. Usually bar codes are sufficient for this functionality. At every given point in the supply chain there is a scan-in and scan-out which will give you the complete path of product; a complete visibility from raw goods, through to the kitchen table. (If the segments throughout the supply chain have the software and capability). I agree, it’s not just technology and the adherence to these capabilities because you can certainly scan a contaminated product. The barcode or RFID tag does not capture the contamination. The cure or solution is a combination of several things: adherence to safety standards, technology, better processes and better management. RFID is also being used now on animals in the US. The embedded chip tells the history, locations, etc, of… Read more »
Herb Sorensen, Ph.D.
13 years 9 months ago
You can’t “inspect in” quality, it is a process that can’t be managed by monitoring the output. The serious failures seen within the US were noted long before they cropped up on store’s shelves, by process inspectors. Of course these were not official inspections, but inspections by potential manufacturer customers. Not that major brands never get caught out on these issues, but these are the people who invest large sums assuring these quality failures do not happen. It’s a part of the “hidden” value of a brand, that is not so hidden when they avoid a recall because of their own proper diligence and expertise. It’s what HACCP–Hazard Analysis at Critical Control Points–is all about. As the supply of food continues to globalize, the real problem is that 40 years of HACCP practices within the US industry–which still aren’t perfect–will take a long time to become common in many parts of the world. However, I am optimistic. The Japanese (with Deming’s and Juran’s help) beat the US at the process quality game 50 years ago,… Read more »
Guy Blissett
Guy Blissett
13 years 9 months ago
Too many CP companies continue to view food safety and supply chain visiblity as a compliance burden with at best a tenuous business case, effectively treating it as a form of insurance. Under this thinking the investment decision gets boiled down to the following: “Is it cheaper for me to possibly incur the costs associated with a contamination and recall at some time in the future, or to definitely invest precious capital now when there is no immediate problem?” What this analysis fails to appreciate is: 1) the role of changing consumer expectations vis-a-vis the information they want about the source and contents of the products they buy, and 2) the increasing value of measuring the water and carbon water footprints of products. Consumers the world over are demanding more information about the products they buy and are adjusting purchasing behaviors as a result. We are already seeing more information made available about the farmers who grow produce and raise beef, chickens and pork. We are also seeing companies like SC Johnson and Seventh Generation… Read more »
Jerry Gelsomino
13 years 9 months ago

The measures being discussed appear to be focused on regulating the distribution of food. Is there also an investment and attention paid to how the world’s food supply is kept safe in the first place? We have heard stories of how Chinese food suppliers have supplemented milk and other products with melamine to increase the content, so combating greed must be a battle on one front. But what about unsafe handling or toxic chemicals which find their way into foods? Is enough research being done on food production to ensure it is safe in the first place?


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