Food safety developments seem to swing from event to event. An egg recall here, a Congressional debate on safety legislation there.
But the big picture is far more complex and integrated. That's important to remember as we approach 2011, because the industry's food safety agenda needs to proceed on multiple but coordinated tracks.
What are some of the chief goals for the coming year?
I recently contacted Food Marketing Institute's Jill Hollingsworth to get her take on key food safety challenges and related FMI initiatives. FMI just unveiled The Center of Excellence for Food Safety and Protection , and Hollingsworth, a veteran of the association, was promoted to FMI's senior vice president and will lead the center.
Hollingsworth pointed to some critical areas, including the following:
• Connecting all stakeholders: The food safety battle involves a wide range of people, from retailers to suppliers to consumers. But too often knowledge isn't adequately shared. That's where FMI's new Center for Excellence comes in. Boosted by a new website to be launched in the next few months, the center will be “a conduit for information on newsworthy items, new technologies and new ideas,” and a driver of collaboration between industry and government, Hollingsworth said.
• Improving store-level training: The store environment is a prime front in the food safety battle. The Food and Drug Administration recently made recommendations to drive in-store improvements based on a 10-year study, and it asked FMI to help grow a program for certifying managers in stores. FMI offers a program in which store or department managers can become certified food handlers. This training “tends to improve compliance with risk factors,” ranging from employee hygiene to temperature control, Hollingsworth said.
• Enhancing recall effectiveness: Rapid Recall Exchange, the one-year-old online recall notification system developed by FMI and GS1 US, hit a milestone recently by surpassing 500 subscribers (retailers and suppliers). But the service, which is also supported by other industry associations, needs more suppliers to jump on board so all retailers get the same alerts when recalls are needed, Hollingsworth said. She said the goal is to at least double the number of overall subscribers next year, including suppliers and retailers.
• Building supplier safety: Recently, FMI has seen a surge of interest in its SQF supplier food safety certification program. In the past year, the effort has experienced a 117% growth rate in the number of suppliers who have implemented the program and been certified. The biggest goal is to bring more suppliers into the program to boost the ability of retailers to assess manufacturers.
The points here touch on many aspects of food safety. The industry has discovered the hard way that there's no magic bullet with food safety. Steady efforts and progress are needed across a range of areas. That should be the goal for 2011.