In a recent blog post, we reviewed the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) and the sea change that it presents to food safety in the U.S. Gone are the days of reacting to problems after they occur; the FSMA seeks to prevent them from occurring in the first place.
Exactly what are these problems that the FSMA seeks to prevent?
The major problems relate to foodborne illnesses. And, without completely getting into Health Ed 101, the better logistics professionals understand those illnesses as manufacturers and food logistics companies, the safer we will make the food supply chain.
What is Foodborne Illness?
There are three basic causes of foodborne illness: biological, chemical, and physical.
Biological foodborne illness is caused by bacteria, viruses, and parasites, with bacteria being of major concern to suppliers and food logistics companies. Bacteria exist everywhere in nature but when food conditions are favorable for growth, bacteria can grow rapidly and cause illness to consumers.
According to safefood.eu, a European food safety agency, the right conditions for bacteria growth are as follows:
- Warmth. The ‘danger zone’ temperatures at which bacteria grow best are between 5ºC and 63ºC” (that’s between 41°F and 145°F).
- Food. Like any other living things, germs need food to grow. High-risk foods that bacteria love best include dairy products, meat, poultry, fish and shellfish.
- Water. Bacteria need moisture to grow. This includes moisture in ‘wet’ foods such as juicy meats, sandwich fillings, soups, sauces and dressings.
- Time. A single bacterium can multiply to over two million in just seven hours.
Chemical foodborne illness is caused by toxins and chemical contaminants. The University of Rhode Island Food Safety Education Program summarizes the chemical causes as follows: “Some natural toxins are associated with the food itself (i.e., certain mushrooms, PSP in molluscan shellfish), some are made by pathogens in the food when it is time/temperature abused (i.e., histamine development in certain seafood species). Some additives, such as sulfites, can be a hazard to some people.”
Food allergies are also a form of chemical foodborne illness, as is exposure to synthetic chemicals such as cleaners.
Physical hazards are also a cause of foodborne illness and injury. These include broken glass, sharp plastic pieces, and metal shavings.
Working with Food Logistics Companies to Prevent Illness
From the packaging plant and the warehouse to the loading dock and the truck, a food logistics company can work with you to address foodborne illness throughout the entire supply chain.
Together we can:
- Ensure that temperature and other important food conditions are regulated and monitored correctly to prevent biological contamination. Importantly, this includes all touchpoints, including some that are often overlooked such as loading docks. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provide an example of just how many touchpoints the average food item can have: “frozen hamburger patties might be trucked from a meat processing plant to a large supplier, stored for a few days in the supplier’s warehouse, trucked again to a local distribution facility for a restaurant chain, and finally delivered to an individual restaurant.” Without even mentioning loading docks, that’s seven touchpoints, and thus seven opportunities for contamination.
- Prevent biological illness through cross contamination by following appropriate cleaning procedures. For example, if a truck was handling animal products and wasn’t cleaned properly after delivery, the next items loaded on to the truck (e.g., fresh produce) could be contaminated by bacteria from the animal products.
- Prevent chemical foodborne illness by keeping at-risk food items from having any contact with other foods, and by ensuring that all synthetic chemicals are used appropriately.
- Prevent physical hazards from harming consumers through safe packaging, food warehousing, transportation, and inspection/QA practices.
- Respond to recalls quickly and thoroughly with advanced tracking and warehouse management systems.
As we mentioned in our last FSMA blog post, the government won’t dictate to you, as the shipper, what needs to happen to ensure safe food transport; only that you need to define the plan and follow it – or else. The right food logistics companies can help you do just that.