Recently, Food Quality & Safety published an article written by TEKLYNX General Manager, Doug Niemeyer, on the importance of labeling accuracy to prevent product recalls.
Food recalls, an unintended consequence of the continued globalization of the food supply chain, continue to make headlines. According to Swiss Re’s “Food Safety in a Globalised World” report, the number of U.S. food recalls per year has almost doubled since 2002, a fact that is not hard to believe at a time when headlines related to Listeria, Salmonella and E. Coli are quickly becoming the norm.
So what is driving this concerning increase in food recalls? The fact of the matter is that while the globalization of the food supply chain continues to open new markets and opportunities for food suppliers, manufacturers and retailers, it has also increased the complexity of food traceability, labeling and recall planning and management. When combined with the fact that the prevalence of food allergies continues to increase, food safety concerns are likely to continue to grow in importance. According to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, food allergies among children increased approximately 50% between 1997 and 2011.
This means that for many consumers, food recalls related to the mislabeling of required allergens represents a serious health threat.
The FDA’s creation and enactment of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), its most comprehensive food safety reform in over 70 years, is testament to the growing concern for the safety of our food supply and the need for change. Signed into law by President Obama in 2011, the FSMA is notable because it is a major step in shifting focus from how food manufacturers, suppliers and retailers respond to food contamination to how they prevent food contamination in the first place. In other words, it requires food companies to take a more proactive approach to food safety management.
According to the article “The Future is Now for the Food Safety Modernization Act”, “The FSMA is about far more than new rules. It’s about how FDA changes fundamentally its approach to implementing food safety rules, including how FDA works with other governments and the food industry to achieve food safety success. That’s why FDA has devoted such huge effort over the past two years rethinking every aspect of what will go into achieving high rates of compliance with the FSMA rules — for both home-grown and imported food — compliance that is essential to food safety and to achieving the level playing field on food safety that American consumers and industry both demand.”
So how does the FDA’s fundamental change in food safety management from reactionary to preventive impact food suppliers, manufacturers and retailers? First, the FSMA shifts more power over food safety controls from companies to the FDA because, for the first time, the FDA will have mandatory recall authority and the ability to keep suspect food from being shipped.
Second, the FSMA calls for increased preventive controls from food manufacturers themselves. It requires companies to either establish or enhance operations, plans and procedures for preventing food safety issues, including product recalls. “Rather than just react to outbreaks, we are requiring food facilities to take measures to prevent them from the get-go,” says Jenny Scott, M.S., a senior advisor in FDA’s Office of Food Safety. “Food facilities will need to think upfront about what could be harmful to consumers, and then put controls in place to minimize or prevent those hazards*.”
Third, it requires food suppliers, manufacturers and retailers to rely more on emerging products and technologies that help keep food safe. According to Freedonia’s “
Food Safety Products to 2016 - Industry Market Research, Market Share, Market Size, Sales, Demand Forecast, Market Leaders, Company Profiles, Industry Trends”, “demand for food safety products in the U.S. is forecast to increase 7.3 percent annually to $4.5 billion in 2016. Smart labels and tags, and software and tracking systems will see the fastest gains by product.”
The change is here. As of September 2016, large companies (defined as 500+ full-time equivalent employees) must comply with the FSMA’s Final Rule for Preventive Controls for Human Food, including the requirement to have a product recall plan. Small companies (defined as fewer than 500 employees) have until September 2017 and very small businesses (less than $1 million in average annual sales) have until September 2018 to comply**.
So why does labeling accuracy play a key role in this change and its required product recall plans? Labeling accuracy is one of the food industry’s biggest allies in recall prevention. According to Stericycle ExpertSOLUTIONS’ Q4 2015 Recall Index, 42% of USDA recalls were due to “misbranding.” Such labeling errors whether due to a missing or incomplete label, mislabeled ingredients or failure to properly declare a required allergen, can not only be detrimental to food safety, but it can also prove costly to companies.
According to Barbara Kowalcyk, Ph.D., CEO of the Center for Foodborne Illness Research and Prevention, “initiating a recall costs a company an average of $10 million, the amount saved in reputation, consumer trust, and the avoidance of additional illnesses is priceless.” TEKLYNX International, the leading barcode and RFID labeling software developer, provides food manufacturers, suppliers, and retailers with barcode label software solutions that help increase labeling accuracy, because the software itself significantly reduces the room for human error throughout the labeling process.
In addition to recall prevention, labeling accuracy plays a key role once a product recall is initiated because it allows companies to quickly identify, locate and remove affected products. Barcode labeling software solutions prove invaluable on the back end of a recall because the software enables a full view into labeling history. In a few simple clicks, food manufacturers can identify the products labeled with a specific lot number which can more accurately pinpoint the products impacted by a given recall, reducing the amount of time required to locate the products and expedite the recall.
The bottom line is there’s a lot at stake when a food recall is initiated, both for the companies and the consumers affected by them. What does this mean for food companies? It means that, now more than ever, they need to partner with and rely on technology partners to ensure their preventive controls operate smoothly and accurately to comply with increasingly stringent food safety standards and those demanded by consumers. To learn more about the FSMA’s Preventive Controls for Human Food Rule, visit the FDA.gov.
Read the article as it is published in Food Quality & Safety.
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