In the Global Supply Chain, Who is Responsible for Food Safety?

This article is an excerpt from an online panel discussion hosted by Burton Software on September 17, 2015. Start from the beginning of this seven-part series on innovations and development in food safety from the points of view of industry, technology, and policy or watch the entire panel discussion.

Our panelists are: Steven Burton (creator of Icicle cloud-based food safety application), Darin Detwiler (senior policy coordinator at STOP Foodborne Illness), and Michael Koeris (co-founder of Sample6 pathogen detection and control technology). Learn more about them at the end of this article.

Start reading at part I.

Q2: Cucumbers are in the headlines right now for salmonella contamination in both the USA and Canada, though it’s not yet clear if the outbreaks are related. However, the American recall of cucumbers from California follows another high-profile recall for cilantro and other produce from particular Mexican food producers. How are new regulations addressing the increasingly international supply of food and what are the challenges associated with this?

Burton: There is new food legislation passed in both the US and Canada (the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) and the Safe Foods for Canadians Act) that is designed to address that issue particularly. The new rule that came out in FSMA last week requires not only that food manufacturers themselves have food safety plans but that their suppliers do as well. There is an issue around enforcement, however, and the limited resources that the regulators have to bring to bear on the problem. Generally, if companies were to follow the rule we should be in a better position to address that issue going forward. But I think it’s a long, long way from where we are today to when we really have full compliance not just in terms of the documentation but in the practice as well.

Detwiler: I think that the nature of the game has completely changed and that these newer regulations are requiring a more proactive approach. Up until now, the FDA inspections have been rather minimal and have pretty much resided on this side of the border, if you will. So the idea of the US government playing a major role in that regulatory oversight will now take place outside the borders before a product is even imported is a game changer. Between the Foreign Supplier Verification program, third-party auditing, and the idea that this alliance of food safety partnership that involves the importers and even those who act as middlemen between the source and destination – between the paper trails, between the overall regulations and everything associated with HACCP and pre-requisites for food safety plans ‐ it’s a major game changer and ideally one that will play a big role in keeping families free from fear that what they serve their families will not be connected to illnesses and death.

Koeris: What we at Sample6 have seen as industry participants (having spoken to quite a few constituents of the supply chain) is that the traditional end point of the supply chain, be they Walmart or Costco or large retailer or wholesale organizations, actually act as enforcers of policy by and large because they want to make sure that safety throughout the supply chain is a given because they are the point of purchase for the customer. We have seen Costco and Walmart taking a good amount of leadership on that side, particularly Frank Yiannas [Vice President of Food Safety at Walmart] and Craig Wilson [Vice President of Quality Assurance and Food Safety at Costco] who have pounded the problem with regards to food safety continuously.

Importantly, also, every link in the food safety supply chain is responsible for maintaining the safety of the food. That’s great, but it doesn’t just matter that the foreign supplier has verified it’s safe before it has transited or been imported into the US. When you’ve admitted it and sell it you still have to verify that it’s safe. So, it’s a continuous process throughout the supply chain.

Moderator: And at the same time, there are the high-profile mergers of international food companies or when one company purchases another and that puts additional pressure for international compliance.

Koeris: When there are mergers, there are always cost pressures, too. Let’s also be realistic about that. We see this many, many times that these safety functions within each company are always under cost pressure. Let’s be realistic about what can be expected and how we can actually make it easier for those professionals to really protect the food.

Burton: I went to meet with one of the provincial health authorities here in Canada regarding the current situation of food manufacturers in the province and they told me that there was about 5500 facilities in their jurisdiction. Their research indicated that there were about 4900 out of those 5500 who did not have a comprehensive food safety plan in place. And their rate of bringing these companies into compliance through various programs (educational outreach programs, grant initiatives and all of that) was so slow that would take probably a decade before all the facilities would be in compliance. And I think that the particular problem is not necessarily the large companies that are exporting across international boundaries but it’s the smaller operations that are operating regionally or locally.

Detwiler: I agree.

Up next: There’s no question that high-profile food safety recalls have influenced the direction of policy and law. The new law in China, for example, is gaining a lot of attention in industry for its severe penalties for non-compliance, including making it easier for individuals to be prosecuted as criminally liable for outbreaks and recalls. At the same time, the recent federal criminal trial of Peanut Corporation of America (PCA) executives made headlines this summer after tainted peanut butter sickened thousands and killed seven in 2009.
How are consumers playing a role in these policy and legislative developments and how does consumer advocacy affect business objectives for food producers and retailers?

Go to Part 3: Changing Consumer Apathy Towards Food Safety >>>

Watch the whole panel discussion here.

About Our Panelists

Steven Burton, creator of Icicle Technologies Inc., is a software architect who started his career in architecture and moved into construction before establishing a successful manufacturing business in the ’90s. Moving into the software sector in the late ’90s, he established Burton Software in 1999 to specialize in the development of high-performance web-based software application. Burton initially designed Icicle to address the challenges to managing food safety for small to medium-sized stakeholders in the food industry. With Icicle, Burton strives to improve the safety of the world’s food supply by developing the tools to empower companies involved in the production, processing and distribution of food products to develop and verify codex-based HACCP systems.

Since the 1993 “Jack in the Box” E.coli outbreak, policymakers at the state, federal, and food industry levels have called upon Darin Detwiler as a significant voice in strengthening America’s food policies. Detwiler is a frequent speaker at national food policy conferences, delivering keynote speeches before government, industry, and university audiences across the USA and Europe. Detwiler is the senior policy coordinator at STOP Foodborne Illness, the nation’s leading nonprofit, public health organization dedicated to the prevention of illness and death from foodborne pathogens. He is the lead academic consultant and an adjunct professor in the MS Program in Regulatory Affairs of Food and Food Industry at Northeastern University, where he is also a Doctoral Candidate in Law and Policy with a focus on food policy.

Dr. Michael Koeris co-founded Sample6, Inc. and serves as its Vice President of Business Development. Koeris served as the President and Chief Operating Officer of Sample6. Koeris previously worked at KPMG Consulting and McKinsey & Company in Germany, as well as Flagship Ventures in Cambridge. Mr. Koeris was a recipient of the German Academic Exchange Fellowship (DAAD) to study at MIT. Koeris did his doctoral work on network approaches to combat antibiotic-tolerant bacteria with Professor James Collins, and co-developed Sample6’s technology, working with Tim. Koeris is a visiting scholar with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in the Biomedical Engineering Department at Boston University as well as at MIT. Prior to his doctoral degree, Koeris graduated with a M.S. in Biochemistry from the Free University of Berlin.

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