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2021: Food safety gets more complex

The 2020 pandemic created unprecedented complexities in ensuring food safety.

“These new challenges only highlight preexisting food supply chain concerns and underscore the importance of maintaining food safety at every point of the journey,” says Amy Childress, vice president of marketing and sales, cargo solutions for Emerson Cargo Solutions, BB #:194324 Boise, ID.

“From harvest to production, shipping and cold storage, order fulfillment and delivery, to food preparation and handling, grocery retailers must adhere to food safety best practices across a wide range of disciplines.”

Carmela Cugini, chief revenue officer at Bowery Farming in New York, agrees, believing the pandemic exacerbated the global food supply chain’s vulnerabilities and “heightened the need for food systems to be more transparent, traceable, and accountable.”

Yet despite these additional challenges, food safety protocols remained intact, says Jennifer McEntire, vice president of food safety and technology for United Fresh Produce Association BB #:145458 in Washington, DC.

“Although third-party audits and government inspections were impacted due to the limited ability to travel, food safety itself wasn’t directly affected by the pandemic,” she explains.

McEntire looks forward to research that North Carolina State and other universities are doing to understand the effect of Covid-19-related mitigations.

“I would hate to see companies doing the right thing for worker safety by installing plexiglass divides, and then have challenges trying to maintain them from a sanitation standpoint,” she says.

“This past year has seen outbreaks and/or recalls associated with all the typical pathogens,” McEntire adds. “The vehicles (onions and peaches) may have surprised some people, but it’s critical for all producers to remember that without a kill step, any product can be vulnerable to contamination, and risks need to be actively managed.”

The FDA released the Food Traceability Proposed Rule in September 2020, establishing additional traceability recordkeeping requirements for certain foods, a key component of the New Era of Smarter Food Safety Blueprint. The rule would implement Section 204(d) of the Food Safety Modernization Act.

“The electronic recordkeeping system this rule proposes would implement standards around key data elements and tie critical tracking events, such as growing, shipping, and receiving, together by linking to lot code numbers as the common thread,” Childress says. “The main emphasis is to use existing technology and couple it with harmonized data standards to get smarter about food safety.”

“Although it will be about four years until firms need to comply with the final rule, the proposed requirements are extensive and will require that many companies begin charting their path to compliance now,” McEntire says.

This is a feature from the cover story of the January/February 2021 issue of Produce Blueprints Magazine. Click here to read the full article.