Thought Leadership

Food Safety & Quality Areas to Prioritize Now

4 minute read

This article originally appeared on Food Business News.

As the rate of recalls and new reporting regulation grows, food and beverage companies are faced with no choice but to enhance their food safety & quality (FSQ) initiatives. In this article, we tap into our team’s expertise to highlight current FSQ priority areas and why building a culture that supports FSQ is vital to these initiatives.

#1: Food traceability

In late 2022, the FDA published Section 204 of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), also known as the Food Traceability Rule.

The rule governs that by January 2026, businesses that manufacture, process, pack, or hold foods on the FDA’s Food Traceability List must adhere to new traceability requirements. The list of high-risk foods includes non-pasteurized cheeses, nut butters, fresh produce, fresh seafood, and ready-to-eat salads. The goal is to enhance food safety by enabling the quick identification and removal of contaminated food from the market.

Though the compliance date isn’t until 2026, now is the time for companies to enact a strategy for meeting the regulation. However, many roadblocks stand in the way, including difficulty with process changes, improper training, out-of-date technology, and—most noticeably—a lack of data management and supply chain visibility.

“Although all companies follow current FDA regulations and guidelines, few have started the process to become compliant with FSMA 204 by the deadline because many don’t have the supply chain visibility needed for this regulation,” said Geoff Coltman, Senior Vice President of Catena Solutions. “It takes highly accurate data to be able to identify the journey of an ingredient. This is an area where outside experts can be incredibly helpful to prepare for compliance.”

To be able to accurately track items throughout the supply chain, organizations need to improve their data management strategies including governance, privacy, architecture, capture, processing, and standardization.

    food production worker looking at data

    #2: Recall communication and prevention

    In 2022, the FDA saw a 700% increase in recall units compared to 2021. While this sounds alarming, food and beverage companies understand increased recalls are linked to stricter guidelines to prioritize consumer safety.

    However, consumers remain largely distrustful of large food manufacturers. Approaching recalls in a strategic, swift, and transparent manner can remedy this.

    “Unavoidable problems can happen to anyone, no matter how robust of a system an organization has,” said Food Scientist Esther Levy. “Consumers may not realize this, so it’s up to the organization to ensure they’re releasing the right information on the PR front. This is almost as important as getting to the root of the problem.”

    This means taking more time to work with the FDA and USDA to understand the recall process and creating a plan to proactively navigate it rather than approaching recalls with a damage control mindset.

    For example, Levy is seeing more companies assemble multi-disciplinary teams to get to the root cause of issues and implement preventive/corrective actions. Companies’ internal team often can’t reach that conclusion alone, she says, so organizations need to leverage external partners to ensure they identify and address where in the process something went wrong.

    #3: Allergen management

    Though allergen-based recalls may not make headlines as much as foodborne illness-based recalls, they’re the most prevalent type of recalls: In 2023, undeclared allergens made up 63% of recalls, compared to 30% for foodborne illnesses.

    The list of major food allergens manufacturers need to declare is up to nine (milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat, soybeans, and sesame) since reporting on sesame began in 2023.

    There are many opportunities for allergen-related problems to arise: cross contamination, miscommunication with suppliers, supply chain shifts, and mistakes during the packaging and labeling process.

    “Food manufacturing is a fast-paced and complex process,” said Stacy Johnson, Consultant Engagement Director, Supply Chain Practice at Catena Solutions. “Mistakes happen. Pallets get shifted around, employees miss steps in processes, QA checks fail, or there can be a lack of documentation or confusion during changeovers. However, the consequences of undeclared allergens can be major, so manufacturers need to make allergens a top priority.”

    To improve allergen management programs, we recommend revamping SOPs and control plans, enhancing ingredient sourcing, improving supplier management, implementing technologies to aid in product inspections, and—most importantly—providing sufficient training and resources to employees.

    food quality worker inspecting products

    #4: Creating an FSQ culture

    At the end of the day, successful FSQ programs rely heavily on employee action and knowledge. However, companies may not have a culture that encourages FSQ initiatives.

    Roadblocks include:

    • Production focus: Production leadership may be focused on speed and meeting KPIs instead of sanitation, safety, and quality.
    • Worker shortages: The labor shortage is impacting all areas of the food manufacturing industry. More than 75% of manufacturers are finding it difficult to fill critical labor gaps, with 66% reporting it taking longer than usual to fill open positions.
    • Evolving regulation: Food safety regulation is complex and evolving. A lack of thorough understanding can lead to disorganization and mistakes.
    • Introduction of new initiatives: When new initiatives are introduced, companies may not provide enough time and resources to ensure adoption.

    To build an FSQ culture that empowers workers, companies need to adequately invest in training, development, and education. The good news? Employees are eager to learn: 80% of workers report being interested in upskilling and additional job training. Additionally, leaders should educate all teams that prioritizing FSQ doesn’t hinder success—it only strengthens it.

    “Organizations need to allocate enough budget for continuous education for FSQ departments,” said Levy. “A company may have comprehensive, well-documented procedures, but if they don’t have the right training in place, they can’t ensure employees are following them. That leads me back to management and creating a culture that makes FSQ important.”

    Looking for help with FSQ initiatives?

    Catena Solutions supports food and beverage organizations, leveraging our expertise to drive growth, optimize operations, and navigate industry challenges. Our network of consultants can help your organization with FSQ challenges spanning workforce, regulatory, and more. You can also learn more about the role FSQ plays in food and beverage facility optimization in our latest report.

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