Food safety is a big deal in the 21st century. Just ask any one of the 48 million people each year who suffer from various forms of food borne illness. From E. Coli in strawberries, to undercooked chicken breast products and listeria-infected salad fixings, the news seems filled with reports of consumer illness caused by food products.
With the passage of the new Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), Congress hopes to shift the focus of regulation from responding to contamination to preventing it. That’s a big move and, in fact, the FSMA represents the most significant reform of food safety law in more than 70 years.
While much of the impact of the new law will be felt by food producers and processors, there will clearly be some responsibility on the part of restaurant operators. Their response, though, should not be too burdensome, and may actually come with some added benefits.
Inventory management is one of the key concerns and an area that has been focused on by the Foodservice GS1 US Standards Initiative (www.gs1.org). GS1 US, a member of GS1, is an information standards organization that brings industry communities together to solve supply-chain problems through the adoption and implementation of standards. The initiative is closely tied to the FSMA legislation and supported by a group of industry-trading partners who are voluntarily adopting and implement GS1 global standards.
The overarching goals of the initiative are to reduce inefficiencies, enhance food safety and improve product information. This will be done through an infrastructure that provides automatic data capture, electronic order management, inventory visibility, traceability and product attributes. Standards form the foundation for these efforts and include standardized product definition, standardized location identification and standardized product identification (see figure, “GS1 Standards for Foodservice”).
Dennis Harrison is senior vice president, foodservice at GS1. “What we’re doing is working right now to make sure we implement standards for the way we label products,” says Harrison. So, for example, tomatoes will have a specific number that represents product from a certain grower. “Locations will be standardized so that everybody knows when you get a number of a location what that location is.” Ultimately, says Harrison, the goal is to develop a Global Data Synchronization Network that will allow for the continuous, real-time exchange of consistent, accurate product information among supply chain partners.
Identification will occur through bar coding, Harrison explains. “As product is moving through a supply chain, each of the supply chain people will be touching their products and picking up this information. So I’ll know that this product, with this lot number or this serial number moved from location A to B to C and D, right on through the supply chain.”
Restaurant operators, he notes, should be able to rely on their software solution providers and inventory management systems. “The solution providers who understand this whole process will embed the standards in their software,” he says. Restaurant owners will need to scan the products as they’re being received and then again as they’re being consumed. “The software will take care of the rest,” he attests.
The impact on restaurant owners should be minimal, Harrison stresses, but the benefit may well be significant. For instance, if restaurant owners receive notification of a recall, they can immediately go into their computers and, based on the lot number, determine if they bought that particular lot of tomatoes, received the tomatoes and how many have been used or may still be in inventory. “They’re going to have much richer information than they have today,” Harrison Concludes.
Keeping food safe once it is on premises is also, of course, a concern. Here, refrigeration technology can play a key role says Chris Fuller, general manager of Alleghany Meats, a USDA inspected slaughter and processing facility covering four counties around Monterey, Va. Maintaining proper temperature is crucial to protecting the assets of livestock producers and other community members of Alleghany meats, admits Fuller. “We need to know if our refrigeration systems are maintaining the proper temperatures,” he states.
Fuller uses Kitchen Brains’ (www.kitchenbrains.com) SmartDirect2 remote temperature monitoring system which provides off-site data storage that can be accessible from anywhere. “The flexibility and accuracy of the program is what drew me to look at the system in more depth,” he recalls. “Once I was convinced that this system was what we wanted, the price point is what drove the sale home. The cost to acquire and run the system and services is very affordable, which is essential to our start-up budget.”
The system works through a series of four remote wireless sensors, one in each of the facility’s refrigerated rooms — two refrigerated walk-in coolers, the refrigerated cutting room and a freezer at the facility. The sensors communicate wirelessly to a communications hub connected to Alleghany Meats’ onsite network. When the temperature in an area exceeds the predefined conditions an alert is sent directly to Fuller, and to the SCK Direct Help Desk and anyone else designated by the company. “Should the USDA need to see proof of the refrigerated condition of our products for a specific time, I can pull up a report for the time requested and print it out,” Fuller adds.
Technology options are a must in these days of increasing regulation and scrutiny of food products and services — a necessary evil that can bring benefits along with new requirements. “Make sure that the system you purchase is going to be very simple to use, has great customer support, and is able to hold the large amount of data in off-site storage,” Fuller suggests. “ In 2012, there is no reason to invest in a system that is going to cost you a lot of money to install, operate and manage.”