How to fix food safety issues in your supply chain

How to Fix Food Safety Issues in the Supply Chain

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Securing the food supply chain yields benefits beyond just compliance

Food safety is obviously a major concern for the food sector. Perishable items can spoil without best practices and proper precautions, which could lead to food-borne illnesses. They can cause severe health issues and even lead to death.

Food service, restaurant, and meal kit businesses all come with varying degrees of risk. Prioritizing food safety in the supply chain is an essential but challenging task.

Why Is Food Safety Essential in the Supply Chain?

With all the problems in the food supply chain, staying on top of protecting the freshness and integrity of food shipments is vital.

Minimizing food safety vulnerabilities in the supply chain protects consumers from food-borne illnesses and other health issues. Contaminated items can lead to a myriad of health issues, ranging from fever, vomiting, diarrhea, joint pain and fatigue. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), spoiled food due to chemical contamination can cause long-term diseases, lasting disabilities, and even death.

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The lack of food safety best practices can damage a company’s reputation if recalls are needed; they disrupt the entire supply chain as companies try to identify and remove affected product; recalls can cost millions in current and future sales, and if severe, can inflict major damage on a brand and significantly reduce customer loyalty.

On the other hand, proactively addressing food safety issues in the supply chain yields numerous benefits.

In addition to keeping consumers safe, improved food safety can increase operational efficiency. Proper quality control reduces the amount of waste and minimizes the number of supply chain disruptions.

Organizations that take food safety seriously show consumers they have set and achieve high industry standards which builds customer trust and loyalty.

But ensuring food safety in the supply chain takes a network, not just a company or a few suppliers.

Meeting the Challenges of Food Safety in the Supply Chain

Businesses should communicate with all their suppliers to foster a transparent relationship where food safety is a high priority throughout the supply chain. This allows everyone involved to ensure the quality of produce and ingredients are up to legal standards.

A transparent relationship between business and supplier allows for promptly addressing risks and adjusting food safety protocols where needed. However, while it is vital to prioritize best practices throughout the supply chain, the food sector faces a few challenges. Here are some of the factors that can influence safety.

Storage in the Food Supply Chain

Many factors can influence the quality of food in storage, and dangers lurk in unexpected places.

The sector must ensure items aren’t in the sun for significant periods. Exposure to direct sunlight creates a dangerous breeding ground for bacteria, which is why temperature control is so important.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends storing food under 40 F or above 140 F to prevent food poisoning. (These are the extremes, ideally food in storage should stay well below 40F.) Anything falling outside these temperatures is in the danger zone, and the rate at which bacteria grows greatly increases.

Organizations should utilize handling equipment that does not require gas to operate. Instead, they should use electric machinery. Gasoline-powered machines can release harmful toxins or odors that can contaminate food.

Be cautious and vigilant in using cleaning materials where food is stored. Many products contain chemicals that can infect food quality and make it unsafe for consumption. To minimize the risk, all food products should be properly isolated and packaged; and all cleaning products should be vetted for safe use around food.

Rodents and other pests can pose a major threat to food in storage. Openings or gaps where pests can enter a building should be sealed to ensure they can’t come in contact with the stored ingredients and food products, and regular inspections conducted to maintain the integrity of food storage facilities.

Food Safety During Transportation

Many factors must be considered to ensure food quality is maintained during transportation. Vehicles that transport various products can pose a problem, and increase the risk of contamination from bacteria, strong odors, and cleaning products used to clean the vehicle. Even strong odors could affect the food. The same goes for any chemical odors left behind after cleaning the truck.

A guide to spotting food safety dangers in the food supply chain, from cross-contamination, cleaning chemicals, and other hidden dangers…. Click To Tweet

A common cause of food spoilage occurs during the transportation phase due to a lack of adequate temperature control. Ensuring that perishable food is not in the danger zone when transported is essential.

A secure cold chain for relevant food products is important; and using dry ice, ice packs or gel packs alongside temperature tags is vital. They will help keep the perishable food safe in transit, and the tags can notify shippers, carriers, and customers, of any temperature violations.

Transporting large quantities of various foods increases the risk of cross-contamination. Raw and ready-to-eat ingredients should be separated and appropriately packaged to ensure they do not come into contact. The vehicle should be inspected before loading to guarantee it poses no risk to the products it is carrying.

Taking these simple precautions can drastically reduce the amount of food lost in transit, and minimize the risk of a food-borne illness outbreak and recall.

Food Safety Risks for Meal Kit Organizations

Meal kits include recipes and the ingredients to make them and are delivered directly to consumers. Some can also be customized based on individual preferences.

Meal kit ingredients are pre-measured and include everything needed to make the recipe. These companies have the same safety risks as the rest of the food sector, but they pose additional risks.

Ingredients are often obtained from various suppliers that likely follow different food safety best practices. All meal kits must be returned if something is recalled. This can significantly affect the organization’s reputation and result in a decrease in future sales.

Meal kits often include raw and ready-to-eat ingredients that could become cross-contaminated if not properly separated.

Meal kit organizations face the same challenges as the rest of the food sector regarding transportation and delivery. However, they also must consider if the kit is delivered and the customer is not at home to receive the package. This can pose a tricky situation for the client and company.

Many people are unaware of proper food safety handling procedures, and this adds an additional burden in educating and training them. From source to customer, they must know how to adequately store the ingredients and check the temperature to ensure safety.

Putting Precautions in Place

Various industry and regulatory precautions are in place to help the food sector with these challenges.

Food logistics businesses must obtain certificates to remain in compliance. These certifications can differ depending on a few factors, such as where the organization is located and whether meat products are stored. In most cases, they must register with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). These organizations have strict regulations to ensure items are stored properly.

The food sector and meal kit businesses must have written food safety plans, including documents listing certain safety risks and the specific preventive measures employed to overcome them. This helps companies establish awareness and policies around food handling, storage, and transportation that reduce the likelihood of food becoming dangerous while in the supply chain.

Proper handling, packaging, and temperature control are critical. In addition, meal kit businesses must consider alternative ways to decrease the chance of cross-contamination. They can package products individually in robust containers such as glass jars.

The greatest dangers are likely outside your organization. So it’s not enough to ensure compliance within a particular organization. Companies should verify with suppliers that the proper protocols are followed. Temperatures must be kept out of the danger zone and constantly monitored throughout the entire life cycle of perishable food.

Meal kits pose additional problems and risks. One important and common problem is when the customer is not home to receive the order. Meal kit companies should work with consumers to develop a solution that ensures delivered meal kits are correctly stored even if the consumer is away, perhaps providing an alternative (nearby) address. 

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Ensuring Food Safety Across the Supply chain

The food industry faces many challenges that can impact ingredient quality and make items dangerous to consume. The likelihood of food spoiling can be greatly reduced with proper precautions and regular checks.

It is especially important to ensure food safety is prioritized across all trading partners, sites, and vehicles, throughout the supply chain.

And, with good procedures and policies (handling, packaging, temperature control, etc.,) in place across the organization internally, and across the supply chain, companies don’t just avoid a food-borne outbreak or recall. Companies can ensure fresher and tastier food on the plate of the consumer, that keeps them coming back again and again.

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Ellie Gabel