Michele Southall is implementation director at GS1 US. In this guest post, she explains how the Food Safety Modernization Act is driving traceability and helping to increase food safety in all areas of the foodservice industry.
With foodborne illnesses affecting 48 million people every year, food safety is of paramount importance to consumers and companies in the food industry — whether that be a farm, fishery, ranch, food manufacturer, processor, distributor, logistics provider, retailer or restaurant.
The FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), signed into law by President Barack Obama on Jan. 4, 2011, has become the primary driver for improved traceability in the food industry, and touches all sectors of the industry. By focusing on the importance of unique identification of products and the sharing of key data, supply-chain partners can begin to establish a foundation for traceability to meet the anticipated FSMA requirements.
FSMA affirms the Bioterrorism Act of 2002, which requires anyone playing a role in the food supply chain to identify from where the product was received, and to where the product was shipped, so that in case of a food-safety event, public health can be better protected. Regardless of upcoming FDA regulations, all sectors in the food industry are already actively establishing or implementing traceability processes to improve their own performance and food-safety procedures. Fresh foods, consumer packaged goods, grocery, retail and foodservice companies are looking to shorten response times in the event of an outbreak, streamline their business processes and improve consumer confidence in the safety of the food we eat.
In the fresh foods sector, the Produce Traceability Initiative (PTI) is an excellent example of industry participants coming together to tackle traceability, aiming even higher than current FSMA directives. Members of this group are not only produce suppliers, but also receivers, including grocery stores, foodservice distributors and operators. PTI focuses on case-level traceability for fresh produce by using GS1 Standards for identifying and tracking products through the supply chain, and for sharing that data among trading partners in a standardized format to tie internal processes to external processes.
As a result, PTI has become an industry model for driving an entire community toward whole-chain traceability. Other sectors, such as seafood, dairy, deli, bakery, meat and poultry, also have or are working on traceability guidelines.
In the foodservice sector, many companies are already leveraging GS1 Standards for dry and shelf food items they purchase. These companies, as members of the Foodservice GS1 US Standards Initiative, are working together to drive the adoption and implementation of GS1 Standards for improved business efficiencies and product information as well as for enhanced food safety. The group consists of leading operators, manufacturers and distributors representing all aspects of the foodservice and restaurant industry, as well as major industry associations (the National Restaurant Association, the International Food Distributors Association and the International Food Manufacturers Association). Supply-chain specialists and technology gurus are also involved. Together, this group is addressing not only FSMA requirements, but also other hot issues such as menu-labeling legislation and the growing consumer demand for enhanced nutritional and allergen information for all foodservice products.
The most effective way to understand FSMA requirements and develop solutions to meet an organization’s specific needs are by participating in industry working groups (many stemming from PTI and the Foodservice GS1 US Standards Initiative), staying active with industry trade associations, and attending conferences and other educational programs about traceability. This understanding will be crucial going forward, as the FDA is expected to release traceability regulation in 2013 with implications for the entire food industry, possibly including restaurants.
Part of this proactive stance toward food safety means all companies doing business in the foodservice industry need to continue to review their own traceability capabilities. Although many companies have excellent internal traceability controls, their data often cannot be easily shared externally with supply-chain partners. The good news is, all of the food sectors’ major traceability initiatives incorporate GS1 Standards, allowing all foodservice companies to “speak the same language” when communicating where our food comes from and where it goes.
With the expertise provided by GS1 US on standards-based business processes, and the industry perspectives that members bring to the table, the Foodservice GS1 US Standards Initiative is helping the restaurant industry better understand and prepare for — and exceed — regulatory compliance.