From the point of view of policy makers and regulatory authorities, what are the challenges in implementing new regulations and ultimately preventing foodborne illnesses and recalls?
Koeris: We started deploying our relatively new technology into plants and what we find is, generally speaking, that everybody wants to do the majority of the work to keep food safe. But they are also generally resource-constrained and training-constrained.
We need two things: we need the right tools that allow you to detect and control your environment and we need to have the right corporate mindset in order to enable those food safety professionals – that are truly brand-protection professionals – to be able to execute against their mission. The understanding that food safety is a corporate responsibility needs to bubble up all the way to the CEO and the executive suit as one of the core values to which each manufacturer must adhere.
Detwiler: At the same time, we have to remember that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. We talked about consumers just a bit ago. We need to remember that every single person who works in the food industry and policy-maker is also a consumer, and we have a consumer mentality that food is innately safe. We talk about “stranger danger”, we talk about what could happen just with walking across the street, holding our kid’s hands. Even with teenagers on the internet, we obsess about the idea of dangers that lurk on the internet. But we don’t talk about food in terms of how food could be potentially dangerous if it’s not handled properly, or cooked properly, or overseen properly in the industry. We need to look at the idea that we need proper training, we need a workforce that has a good understanding of not only what to do but why we need to take food safety protocol seriously.
Finally, I want to bring up the point that all of these actions take resources. Implementation and enforcement in FSMA takes resources, whether they be at the state or federal-level. The technology that is needed in corporations today (that is extremely critical in order to handle the new requirements in terms of HACCP inspections, GFSI, all the different principles and best practices that take place in commodity-specific industry locations) require more than just people who have a good set of core beliefs around food safety.
Burton: I hate to be the pessimist in the group, but I am concerned about the achievability aspect of the legislation. I think it’s well founded and well intentioned, but I go out almost every day to visit food plants all over the place to help people use our technology to start putting food safety plans together. But when we start talking about hazards, the most common I get is, “what’s a hazard?” And we’re talking about the people that are actually manufacturing the food products. So the fact that most (if you look at the absolute number of the facilities) facilities have no program in place or have inadequate plans, and they don’t even have the basic knowledge set to understand what it is that they’re supposed to be protecting their consumers from, it seems like a very long road from the legislative route to get to the point where everybody is in compliance.
Where I put my hope is more with the major retailers. If you want to sell to the Costcos or any of those facilities, those are the people that are saying, “so you want to sell to me? Let’s see your food safety program and we’re going to send inspectors by.” And I think that’s where we’re seeing the majority of the movement right now.
Detwiler: That’s very true. I’m involved with corporations that are doing that: they’re meeting with their suppliers, they’re meeting from corporate offices all the way down to push their agenda with their suppliers and distributors.
Also, FSMA is requiring certification of “qualified” individuals to write a food safety plan as part of the HACCP plan requirement and part of that qualification process involves learning about those hazards and how to identify and document those hazards within specific commodities. So there is a potential, a little bit of hope there. But it will take time. That’s a lot of training and certification to be given away as we implement FSMA.
Up next: In your opinion, how do the food safety laws recently introduced respond to scientific advancement in the knowledge of foodborne illness causes and technological capabilities? How can policy and technology help reconcile high food safety standards with business objectives? It appears that technology and policy both have critical roles to play in ensuring a safer future for food. How can one help the other?
Go to Part 5: The Economic Strategy Behind the Adoption of Food Safety Technology >>>
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.