Food Safety Modernization Act: Safe Travels

Tags: 3PL, Legislation, Public Policy, and Regulations, Temperature-Sensitive Goods, Food Logistics, Specialized Logistics

The Food Safety Modernization Act will have a huge impact on food supply chains. Here's your passport to preparation.

President Obama signed the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) into law in January 2011. The most sweeping food safety law reform in 70 years, the Act seeks to keep food safer by shifting the focus from responding to contamination to preventing it.

Forty-eight million people get sick annually from eating tainted food, according to the U.S. Public Interest Research Group. After reports of a food- borne illness surface, the faster the source can be found and a recall issued, the better the chances of preventing further outbreak.

Unfortunately, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) often has a tough time quickly pinpointing the source of food-borne illness outbreaks. A lengthy food supply chain—where a product might change hands five times from farm to fork—complicates the process. So do the record-keeping challenges faced by growers, distributors, wholesalers, and retailers.

Under FSMA, ensuring food safety and integrity is no longer just an issue of what happens inside the manufacturer's walls. Instead, all players in the country's food supply chain must be able to quickly trace where they received a food product and where they sent it. That's why FSMA has such wide-reaching implications for food companies and their logistics providers.

"FSMA is stepping up the need for traceability from farm to fork," says John Bickers, director of product management at Testo Inc., a Sparta, N.J.-based manufacturer of data loggers. "Once a food product has been shipped, the manufacturer or supplier is not free of liability. Especially considering brand protection, it's important that food companies keep track of what happens after product leaves their facilities."

While the timeline for FSMA implementation is still uncertain—speculation is that the Act may be enacted in 2015, and companies will have two years to comply fully with the process—smart shippers are already preparing and making changes to their supply chain operations to ensure they will be in compliance from day one.

An increasing number of companies are partnering with third-party logistics (3PL) providers for compliance guidance. Columbian Logistics Network, a Grand Rapids, Mich.-based 3PL specializing in food logistics, sees a number of food shippers beginning to investigate or implement changes in response to FSMA.

"We have to stay on top of the mandates and changes because we act as an extension of our customers," says Jim Gadziemski, general manager at Columbian Logistics. "That means working with shippers to determine the right temperature control solution for each product, as well as ensuring inventory control accuracy.

"Inventory control is critical because if chocolate gets mixed up with vanilla in the system, the food supply can become tainted," he adds. "It's important that we control the way we ship ingredients. Inventory accuracy has to be spot-on."

To that end, Columbian employs a dedicated food safety team to help ensure all food items are handled properly while in its care.

"Every employee is responsible for making sure we have a sanitation program and pest control in the facility, and that we follow all food safety policies," Gadziemski says.

technology on the menu

In addition to 3PL guidance, many companies are turning to technology to help ensure compliance. One example is Frieda's Inc., a Los Alamitos, Calif.-based distributor of more than 600 varieties of fruits, vegetables, and gourmet items to supermarkets, foodservice, and wholesalers across North America. To get ahead of the FSMA, Frieda's implemented ReposiTrak, a collaborative solution betweenPark City GroupandLeavitt Partners.

The ReposiTrak platform, powered by Park City Group's technology, consists of a compliance management system that receives, stores, and shares documentation and uses dashboards and alerts to flag missing or expired documents. It also features a track and trace system that can quickly identify a product's supply chain path in the event of a recall.

An Appetite for Data

To meet FSMA's recordkeeping and lot-tracking requirements, all food processors must be able to track and trace products across the entire lifecycle—from source to finished product. The challenge is determining how to manage that data. Rather than using manual, reactive processes, food manufacturers that employ technology can automate traceability, allowing them to rapidly and proactively identify and track every ingredient in their products from processing and packaging through shipping to customers' locations.

"FSMA does not require food companies to employ technology, but it will push them in that direction just because of the drive for data," says Bickers. "When companies compare the cost and complexity involved in manual versus automated data collection, they realize it's more cost-effective to utilize technology."

Food logistics professionals are particularly interested in the FSMA's proposed Sanitary Transportation of Human and Animal Food rule, which is most focused on temperature control during distribution. The proposed rule includes provisions for monitoring temperature during transportation, communicating temperature to all supply chain parties, and keeping records of that information. In response, several technology companies have developed climate-control devices to help food shippers manage data and comply with the FSMA.

For example, Testo recently launched the Testo 184 Series Data Loggers specifically for use in the cold chain. The data loggers help shippers maintain the critical control point and traceability of temperature and humidity to ensure FSMA compliance.

"The data loggers help ensure that products don't exceed temperatures that would make them unsafe, which is what food shippers are most concerned about," says Bickers. "The data loggers also work like any mass storage device—just plug them in, no software is required."

Another technology company supporting food shippers is Beverly, Mass.-based Sensitech, which provides devices for monitoring temperature, as well as the software, processes, and services that can help ensure FSMA compliance.

"The TempTale line of electronic temperature monitors collects the data needed to comply with the proposed rule, while our web-based ColdStream software facilitates data communication and storage," says Jeff Leshuk, vice president of food strategy and business development for Sensitech. "These technologies can help drive quality and efficiencies beyond simple compliance for companies that distribute perishables."

Dallas-based ShockWatch helps shippers comply with FSMA rules by offering remote monitoring via its temperature indicators. "We can monitor the temperature in a trailer at multiple points, and report back every five minutes to our web-based solution," explains Larry Zaiter, national sales manager for cold chain solutions at ShockWatch. "If any kind of issue arises, we notify the shipper immediately via e-mail, text, or phone call from the customer service center."

ShockWatch also produces a robust data logger, the Trek View, that works alongside a web-based data management system.

"We offer multiple programs that help food companies and their suppliers and vendors establish the temperature ranges they need," says Zaiter. "We then program the data loggers, and send them to the shippers. All they have to do is activate them, and insert them into the loads. Upon receipt, the shipper can upload the information from the loggers to the cloud, so anyone who has access to the system can get that information."

EATING THE Cost

While they are turning to 3PLs and new technology to prepare for the Food Safety Modernization Act, food shippers are increasingly concerned with the cost of compliance.

"Margins are tight in the food industry, so it will be interesting to see how companies adapt to the new rules," says Zaiter. "Small suppliers might struggle with the mandate once it is enacted. Most larger companies already monitor the temperature of products in their supply chain, so they may not see a big change. But somebody is going to pay for it somewhere."

The cost of compliance may be worth it, not only financially—the economic costs of food products recalled between January 2011 and September 2012 alone topped $227 million—but also for consumer peace of mind.

"While consumers ultimately wind up footing the bill for food product safety, it's also an assurance that everything they purchase to eat has been maintained and handled properly," says Zaiter.

"FSMA is increasing focus on the cold chain segment from the distribution center to the store or restaurant," says Leshuk. "That segment was often deemed inconsequential in the past, due to the relatively short transit time. But that segment is now being recognized as an important—and sometimes highly vulnerable—link in the cold chain. That is a positive development."

3PLs will also likely feel the cost pinch as they work to help their customers make changes around FSMA. "We absorb the internal cost of employing food safety teams; that can't be billed back to the customer," says Gadziemski. "But we made the decision that it's more important to have that team in place."

Prepare Now or Wait?

Food companies are facing a dilemma. They can start preparing now to make changes that will help ensure they are in compliance with FSMA from day one, or they can wait, betting on the chance that additional rule changes or delays are on the menu.

"While some food shippers are purchasing temperature-control devices in advance of FSMA, others are waiting for somebody to pull the trigger," Zaiter says. "They are asking questions: What will the government do? Are they just talking or are they really going to do this?"

But no matter what happens next with FSMA, improving traceability is a smart move from both a technical and a business standpoint.

"Fundamentally, the FSMA seeks to enforce the industry's existing best practices," says Leshuk. "Monitoring product temperature, and using sound cold chain management practices, mitigates food safety risks, reduces product rejections, minimizes shrink, and maximizes quality and end-user satisfaction."

Shippers and 3PLs who are still on the fence can, at minimum, start looking at their standard operating procedures and how they might need to change them.

"The hardware is not the issue, it's the company culture and standard operating procedures that support the hardware," says Bickers. "That is the tougher issue to address."

Regardless of the government's next move with FSMA, food manufacturers that do not have proper traceability and quality visibility into their systems and suppliers are at risk. Fortunately, systems are available that allow food and food materials to be tracked and traced from supplier all the way through to finished product. Such technologies improve recordkeeping, which allows the FDA and food manufacturers to better visualize supply chains during a food-borne illness outbreak, and more quickly determine the source of the problem before a product reaches the store shelf.