Following the Global Food Safety Conference, we sat down for a conversation with Tatiana Lorca and Tom Ford. Tatiana is the Sr. Manager of Food Safety Education and Training, for the Food and Beverage Division of Ecolab. Tom is the Vice President of Food Safety within the Global Retail Services Division, also of Ecolab. The two shared their thoughts on the current climate of food safety, and the challenges and opportunities the industry will face in the future.
Tom and Tatiana offer their opinions on the current state of the food safety industry.
TATIANA: It’s complex. One of the biggest talking points that I’ve observed in the last few years was the Food Safety Modernization Act and its impact on the global food supply.
TOM: Definitely. I’m working with the group that’s trying to put harmonization into effect, and it’s really at a point where the Food Safety Modernization Act has forced a scenario where you now have to have countries and governments address GFSI directly. Some governments have already, but getting the U.S. government to recognize and participate at the conference and even discuss harmonization is a big event and a big step.
TATIANA: Absolutely, and that shift is affecting great change in the industry.
TOM: It’s creating an intersection of complexity and simplicity. The goal is simple—work toward a global standard and a global objective for food safety. Then you run into the complexity of trying to actually have that happen at the local level, at the municipal level, at the national level and then the international level.
TATIANA: I think that’s the whole point of the GFSI. And then you start layering in the complexities of different governments. That’s where things get a lot more specific. If you’re trying to manufacture food, or export food to the United States, that adds to the complexity because each government is approaching the challenge in a unique way. I think the industry has done a good job working on harmonization, but these challenges can pop up suddenly. That’s where things get complicated.
TOM: Exactly. And now things are trending toward smaller, local supply streams for organizations of all sizes. That brings its own level of complexity to somebody that’s maybe manufacturing in a very small way, but is still being held accountable to global food safety standards. So you’ve introduced this complexity to what might be a “mom and pop” level manufacturer. The industry is going global, but with a local approach.
TATIANA: And here’s where the industry has really started to help. These could be itty-bitty companies. Or maybe they are larger companies that just don’t have food safety management systems in place. The question is, how do they play in this international sphere? And GFSI has been working to lower that barrier and provide solutions for those small players. Over the course of so many years they’ve worked very diligently on what we call the Global Markets Programme. They’ve been able to create a platform that’s useful to smaller organizations who need to be able to go from ground zero to the hopes of achieving a GFSI recognized food safety scheme. These sort of initiatives are important, because they help people at every level pursue harmonization.
Tom and Tatiana were asked whether they believed “food safety could be a driver of growth, and if so how?”
TATIANA: I think from a small business perspective, food safety is already an engine for driving growth. We’ve seen as businesses start to implement initiatives like the Global Markets Program, which allows them to build their roster of trading partners. So, they’re growing internally from a food safety perspective. And as these smaller companies grow the local economy also grows around them. It leads to a positive feedback loop within the local economy that continues to foster the growth of these businesses. Everything starts to grow. Not just overseas either, it’s also happening in the US with local food processors and small farms.
TOM: And I’d add that, now, you’ve got this driving force of local and global suppliers who never were in the marketplace before, becoming an integral part of it. That encourages the growth that Tatiana mentioned both locally and globally. But there is also the technology that’s driving growth. Advances in technology are enabling transparency and openness in food production that consumers are craving. They want to know where their food is coming from and what’s in it. That technology exists now, and it’s generating a lot of trust in producers.
TATIANA: Yes, absolutely. Technology is unlocking a lot of potential.
TOM: The consumer wants to be engaged with the process. It’s not acceptable anymore to have the product just show up on the shelf and have all the trust behind it just be there and not demonstrated. Today, a customer can scan the bar code or an icon on the product and know almost everything about it including the conditions that the current facility is experiencing. That transparency and informational component is really an integral part of the industry right now.
TATIANA: And I feel we can’t bring up technology without bringing up connectivity. The exchange of information has gotten easier. It’s gotten cheaper. And it’s also enabled smaller companies who, previously, would have lacked the electronic means of record keeping to move in that direction and make their lives easier, because now it’s more affordable and accessible.
TOM: You raise a really good point. When I hear connectivity, I think “internet of things.” Organizations are implementing smart technology all the way down to the front line. This also makes the process more transparent—this open sharing of information. So, their front-line workers now have a greater understanding of their role in food safety, through technology. That’s just one of the benefits that connectivity provides, but I think that the best of the best are the ones that are using this technological openness to seek out partners and partnerships that make them even stronger. With their suppliers, with their third-party partners, even with their customers.
Tom and Tatiana discuss examples of how Ecolab has been a champion of progressive technology in the industry.
TATIANA: One of the big technological platforms that I’m excited about at Ecolab is called 3D TRASAR. It gives us the ability to monitor the sensors, valves and pumps on CIP equipment to verify the critical parameters of cleaning. There are also advanced sensors that can give the concentration of select chemistries. Less guesswork leads to better results. We’ve started seeing uptake in different parts of the world and it has become a way to help companies simplify their record keeping and their compliance. They’re able to tell that at, you know, two o’clock in the morning on Wednesday they did a CIP between this product that contained an allergen and this product that did not contain allergens. It’s an extremely powerful tool for them to be able to prove compliance, not just to the outside world, but internally.
TOM: And on the retail side we just announced at the GFSI meeting something we’re very proud of. A connected, integrated component for the retail industry specifically, called MarketGuard™ 365. It really is a game changer in providing accessibility to information and vital data for retailers. It’s tapping into technology and information from their sanitation systems, from their temperature monitoring systems, from their operational systems, and bringing it all into a cloud that they can easily interact with. It’s something that didn’t exist until now.
TATIANA: It really is a breakthrough.
TOM: It really is. The efficiency it enables by consolidating the data in one location, all the vital metrics from temperature, to cross contamination, to how they’re doing on their health department inspections, et cetera. It’s all accessible now. It’s safer, it’s more efficient. That’s why it’s a game changer for the industry.
Tatiana and Tom share their perspectives on the challenges the food safety industry will face in the future.
TOM: You know, when you think about it, food safety is simple. The basics of food safety and food science are very simple and well known. You know, there are pathogens, and you know you need to control the pathogens. You know how they grow and how they interact with us in harmful ways.
TATIANA: You’re right.
TOM: But today, the complexity of what we’re doing has gone off the charts. I sometimes use the term “running with scissors” to describe the food safety industry. We’ve gotten so complex at the retail level. We’re doing things that we didn’t think were possible even a few years ago. Things like juicing and doing global sourcing for food rapidly. Processing extremely complex recipes. And as you add this complexity, you really are upping the need for food safety systems that let you manage them safely and effectively. So while the food safety rules and the food safety regulations that we have are very simple, you execute them at a very rapidly-changing, intricate level. Things aren’t getting any less complex. So as we go forward, it will be even more of a challenge.
TATIANA: And the impact of rapidly-evolving consumer trends can’t be overlooked either. We’ve seen over the years a big move with consumers away from traditional processed foods, to foods containing much fewer preservatives. Food that is organic and “natural” and other similar initiatives. The more you start looking at these products and creating these products, the importance of the simple rules of food safety get even more important. At the same time, your ability to control food safety hazards becomes that much more complex. The basics are still really important and they’re still the same. But now you throw in the complexity of fewer preservatives, or less sugar, or pesticide-free, and it just becomes all the more challenging.
TOM: And another thing that’s making the food safety challenges more complex is the way we’re delivering and distributing food. It’s a challenge that exists even now, but will only get harder in the future.
TATIANA: That’s a great point Tom.
TOM: Delivery systems are changing at light speed. From drop off points, to drones delivering food, to people ordering food and having it delivered to their front door. When I first started in the industry, I mean I worked in the grocery store! That’s where you went for your food. Now, if you can get food through dozens of complex channels, it opens up more safety challenges. That’s something that we just didn’t think about 20 years ago but that will be commonplace down the road. So, needing to maintain a food safety system that’s robust enough, and sound enough, to adjust to whatever the delivery and distribution channels that we envision 20 years from now.
TATIANA: It’s vitally important.
This post was written and contributed by:
Vice President Food Safety
|Tatiana Lorca, PhD
Senior Manager, Food Safety Education & Training, Food & Beverage.