Recalls, Grocers, FSMA and the Guilty Parties

Earlier this week, several publications including The USA Today and The Wall Street Journal reported on findings from the Centers for Disease Control relating to food safety which detailed that leafy greens such as lettuce, spinach and kale accounted are the guiltiest parties a caused the most food-borne illnesses nationwide from 1998 through 2008. Dairy products accounted for the most hospitalizations. The most deaths were linked to poultry. The study looked at 4,887 outbreaks that caused 128,269 illnesses, hospitalizations and deaths when the food that caused them was known or suspected.

Sure, shopping for lettuce can be fun, but is it safe?

Sure, shopping for lettuce can be fun,
but is it safe?

According to Patricia Griffin a food-borne disease expert at the CDC who was the senior author of the report the “The study isn’t meant to be a “risk of illness per serving” list for consumers. The statistics are meant to help regulators and the food industry target efforts to improve the safety of food.” She adds that “The vast majority of meals are safe, so don’t let the numbers for leafy greens keep you from eating vegetables.”

What does this have to do with retail grocers and the pending Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) regulations?

Well, most of us purchase these products at our favorite grocery store. Simply put, we trust that our local grocer has taken good care to ensure that the food he or she is selling to us has been properly washed, dried, packaged, handled and stored and that it is safe to eat and of good quality. We, as consumers, have no way of ensuring this ourselves. This trust relationship is critical.  It’s why we chose a grocery store.

But retail grocers, according to Deloitte, executed an average of 117 recalls PER YEAR!

In addition to complying with the 2005 Bioterrorism Act which relates to recalls, grocers need to understand the potential impacts of the FSMA as well. On January 24, I blogged about a white paper from Food Safety expert Dr. John Ryan about what grocers should be doing today with regards to the FSMA.  You can find his article here.  I subsequently came across this excellent, brief Retail Impact of the FSMA summary by Leavitt Partners. It’s well worth the five minutes or less it takes to read.

I asked Jennifer McEntire, Senior Director, Food and Import Safety, how she would summarize what retailers should be thinking about the FSMA at this point.  She said, “From a practical standpoint, knowing who is in your supply chain, in this case, looking forward toward retail, and having confidence that they are following the rules is paramount.”As consumers, we want to maintain that trust relationship with our food providers. There are new tools and methodologies available to the industry to help further the cause of food safety and quality.  And, while the FSMA may not be primarily directed to retailers, as Jennifer points out, from a practical standpoint it’s essential for grocers to have complete confidence in their suppliers and confirm that they’re following the rules.As grocers are the captains of the cold chain, let’s encourage them to lead the way in addressing and implementing the rules.Kevin Payne
Senior Director of Marketing

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Does the FSMA Have a Direct Impact on Retail Grocers?

Will the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) have direct impact on the retail grocery industry? According to industry food safety expert Dr. John Ryan, the answer is an emphatic YES!  The FDA published the first two sets of proposed rules under the FSMA on January 4 of this year and the rules are available for public and industry review for 120 days.  At first glance, the two proposed rules would appear to focus on the grower and the supply chain, sparing the retail grocery industry the task of having to do anything.

FSMA Retail Ryan Thumbnail

But, in his new whitepaper, Dr. Ryan points out that there are three things that retail grocery executives should consider:

  1. Changes to one end of the food supply chain impacts the entire supply chain.
  2. The model the FDA will follow for subsequent rules has been established.
  3. Retailers have vicarious liability.

Because traceability and food safety are connected throughout the cold chain, what impacts one segment has implications for all of the other segments and vicarious liability represents a potentially huge risk for major brands. Dr. Ryan concludes his paper by making three recommendations that retailers should consider today:

  1. Be proactive.  Preventive planning is the name of the game.
  2. Consult with inspection agencies to determine how FSMA changes will impact retail inspection procedures.
  3. Consider there may be additional benefits, such as insurance reductions, that can result from addressing FSMA regulations.

FSMA is sure to be a complicated beast and, while it may take 1-3 years or more for it to be implemented in entirety, there are actions that retailers should take now.  You can download Dr. Ryan’s white paper here.

I would also add that the one step forward, one step back traceability requirements are part of FSMA. This is not a simple task and many retailers may find that their current monitoring and paper traceability tools aren’t up to the task.  Getting a holistic view of your cold chain as it relates to all of these issues sooner rather than later can provide the ability to turn potential liabilities into potential opportunities and advantages.

You can learn more about what Intelleflex can offer retail grocers and food service providers by clicking here.

Kevin Payne
Senior Director of Marketing