Last year was an eventful one for food safety in North America, and 2019 is already shaping up to be more of the same. Coming off another widespread E-Coli outbreak to new food safety regulations and furloughed food inspectors, 2019 is off to a bumpy start. Furthermore, consumers are demanding fresh, locally sourced, and/or organic food. This creates a challenge for restaurants, retailers and foodservice companies to keep up with the demand while maintaining food safety and balancing the cost of fresh foods. Here are the newest policy updates and trends we’re keeping an eye on this year.
This year is big for the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). The law, originally signed by President Barack Obama in 2011, is intended to limit risk of food borne illness and represents the first major reform to the FDA in more than 70 years. As of Jan. 26, there are several new rules for small farms and food handling facilities. Here are two of the new regulations that businesses must follow to be FSMA compliant:
Produce Safety Rule: Businesses that handle fruits and vegetables before they are sold to consumers must keep detailed records of how the food is grown and handled. There are also rules around health and hygiene for workers, water testing measures and animal and equipment handling rules. If you are a farmer or food handling facility, it’s important to know whether your business needs to be in compliance this year.
Food Defense Rule: This rule applies to a wider scope of businesses: any company that manufactures, processes, packs or holds any kind of food for human consumption must adhere to this rule. This includes packers, processors and any farmers who process food on site. These businesses must register with the FDA and develop a Hazard Analysis and Risk-Based Preventive Controls (HACCP) plan to put into place. Businesses must also continue to follow existing regulations, such as the current Good Manufacturing Practice guidelines.
In Canada, the Safe Food for Canadians Regulations went into effect on Jan. 15. The new law is similar to FSMA and also aims to reduce unsafe food handling practices, improve food traceability, consolidate previous laws and protect against tampering and deceptive practices. U.S. exporters must comply with the law, which stipulates regulations for Canada’s fresh fruit and vegetables, fresh-cut products and specific labeling instructions. These regulations are good news for producers and other industry professionals. At a time when North American trade relations are under a spotlight, these similar reforms will help facilitate smooth trade within our highly integrated food supply.
These policies are extremely important, and are in line with the broader industry trends projected for this year:
Transparency: Between a consumer demand to know their foods’ origin stories and the FSMA regulations coming into effect, it’s no surprise the industry will continue to shift toward greater transparency. We should be prepared to share with our customers (and the government) where our food was raised, how it was handled and the quality of the ingredients. Today’s consumer wants complete transparency in their food. Little wonder, as the CDC estimates that one in six Americans get sick each year from foodborne illness. What does this mean for 2019? Companies large and small will commit to transparency and educating consumers on their products’ journeys. This includes best practices at the farm and processing plant to sustainable packaging and clean labeling.
Even the FDA is getting on board. After 91 people were sickened and 35 were hospitalized after an E-Coli outbreak associated with Romaine lettuce in late 2018, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) rolled out a new voluntary labeling measure to identify origin and date of harvest. While this initiative is limited in scope and faces an uncertain future, it’s a step in the right direction.
Digitization: Part of that commitment to transparency will mean investing in technology. New technologies such as blockchain could drive major change within the industry by digitizing the supply chain, bringing transparency and helping to restore consumer trust. In stores, consumers can scan a barcode to learn more about where their food was raised. In the back of the house at restaurants, kitchens largely still rely on pen and paper-based systems that are prone to error, inefficient and easier to falsify. Digital checklists, sensors and automation will soon replace manual entry, so businesses can be assured they are fully compliant.
Natural, organic, locally-sourced food: Driven by consumer demand, the food industry will
have to cater to the desire of a natural, healthy lifestyle. When tracing their foods’ origin stories as mentioned above, consumers want to see that the food didn’t travel far. However, as anyone in the industry knows, a shorter supply chain doesn’t necessarily mean a less complicated one. Oftentimes local sourcing of ingredients actually fragments the supply chain, thus complicating it. Farmers, distributors and other foodservice professionals will have to keep a strict eye on their standard quality control procedures, and plan to go above and beyond to ensure locally-sourced food meets safety requirements. Luckily, the consumer is willing and expecting to pay more for locally sourced and/or organic items, so it’s worth the investment to make it right. After all, a food safety crisis, real or imagined, can pop up at any time.
I am passionate about the future of the industry and work hard to stay ahead of the trends, helping build brands that resonate with their key audiences.