If these allegations are true, they raise multiple issues regarding food safety and quality. Most laypersons know that perishable food like milk and meat must be stored at proper cold temperatures to maximize food safety and minimize the growth of many dangerous pathogens. The USDA recommends discarding many perishable foods that have been held above 40 degrees F for more than two hours. Sysco clearly understands these concerns, as it (1) presents ServSafe “state-of-the-art food safety training” and (2) tells investors all about the high technology used in its climate-controlled warehouses.
Refrigeration is also critical to maintain food freshness throughout its recommended shelf life. Perishable foods that have been subjected to temperature abuse rapidly degrade in quality, so buyers may not be getting all of the freshness they paid for.
This also raises an issue of unnecessary food waste. Even utilizing modern temperature controls, each year, Americans throw away almost half of their food, worth an estimated $165 billion. This means more than just people going hungry; it wastes massive amounts of water, land productivity, and energy. Sysco represents that it takes its sustainability responsibility “seriously.”
So how can buyers protect themselves from temperature-abused food that might look just fine when it is delivered? Technologies like RFID provide data to verify proper holding temperatures throughout the supply chain, but they are not used as widely as they could be.
If the allegations are proven, “Sysco faces misdemeanor criminal charges and a one thousand dollar fine for each violation,” not including possible customer lawsuits.
The March 2011 Deloitte Consumer Food Safety Survey confirms that customers are aware of food safety issues, and they are willing to pay more for safer food products. Food processors, distributors, and retailers may all benefit from this trend by developing and implementing food safety risk management plans.
Customers are Aware of Food Safety Issues
According to the Deloitte survey, 73 percent of consumers are “more concerned than they were five years ago about the food [they] eat,” an increase of eight percentage points over 2010 figures. The top five food safety concerns include ingredient safety, toxins and chemicals in packaging materials, and contracting a food-borne illness. About 91 percent of consumers think the number of food recalls has stayed the same or increased since the prior year.
Consumers Concerned about Safety of Fresh and Imported Foods
Consumers generally reported the greatest safety concerns about fresh foods, such as meat, fish and seafood, and fruits and vegetables. Fresh food producers, distributors, and retailers may benefit from developing, implementing, and regularly updating their cold chain risk management and HACCP plans to maintain and improve food safety to minimize the risk of food-borne illness and food recalls (as well as the risks of litigation and lost brand value).
Consumers Hold Manufacturers and Retailers Accountable for Food Recalls
More than three-fourths of those surveyed told Deloitte that they hold manufacturers responsible for communicating food recall information. A majority expect that retailers will also notify them about food recalls. Critically, almost 20 percent of consumers reported they would buy “somewhat more expensive” products that included traceability information, compared to lower-priced products without it. These data highlight the need for food growers and manufacturers, distributors, and retailers to adopt and implement food recall risk management plans before a problem arises to meet your customers’ rising food safety demands. (You will be able to read more about food recall risk management plans in my upcoming July 2011 publication).
What is a “Cold Chain?”
A cold chain is just a supply chain that maintains a constant cold temperature. This helps ensure product safety and stability.
What are Some Critical Cold Chain Risks?
The effort required to identify and minimize cold chain risks (and verify your efforts to do so) depends in part on whether your ingredient sources and final product distribution are local, regional, national, and/or international. A cold chain export logistics system may include 39 or more steps and 21 or more potential cold chain failure points. The greater the number of variables, the greater the risk of cold chain failure.
Risks to the supply chain during domestic transportation include training employees to load products properly into refrigerated trailers to maintain the consistent desired temperature, such as 45 degrees F for shell eggs.
Why is Cold Chain Risk Management Important?
If you cannot document that you have maintained temperature security for your perishable products, you might unintentionally sell spoiled food to your customers. This presents organoleptic concerns as well as health risks, because pathogenic bacteria may not be detectable by taste or smell.
How Can My Company Manage Cold Chain Risks?
Your company can apply HACCP principles to manage its cold chain to identify risks, mitigate them, and maintain optimum product quality and safety. This includes keeping good records of your compliance by, e.g., using integrated time and temperature recording devices to monitor cold cargo.
The FDA provides a wide variety of free forms to document compliance for a number of types of regulated food processors, both at the production plant and in transit.