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Food Safety and Who Is Responsible?

March 2016

By Lynn Gravley CEO

 

While attending the 36th annual Refrigerated Foods Association (RFA) conference earlier this month, I got to sit in on several interesting symposiums such as “DNA Fingerprinting: Friend or Foe?” and “Navigating in the Uncharted Waters of FSMA.”

All of the symposiums and presentations are primarily intended to help members manage various issues around food safety. I am encouraged at each meeting by the efforts and extent to which all players in the food industry will go to ensure our safety. Sitting in these seminars reminds me of all the Chemistry, Biology, and Biochemistry I took in college. The advances in gene sequencing technology that allows us to compare known ingested pathogens back to the actual sources/origins is evidence of the speed in which our knowledge of this field has grown and developed. In my genetics class in the middle 80’s, sequencing the entire human genome was a distant dream. Today, for less than $1000, we can each have ours sequenced.    I find myself also thinking about the more simple everyday benefits we have, starkly contrasted to the experience we have when we travel outside of the US and are advised not to drink the water in many countries. I have on many occasions gotten a touch of the “bug” from eating foods abroad. Of course, we are not free from food safety issues. During this talk I couldn’t help but think of the recent issues experienced by a Texas based company and the many ramifications caused by a Listeria Monocytogenes breakout. And of course, I must mention the good friend of mine who insists upon eating something under the heat lamp at a convenience store every so often in order to build up “immunity.”

While I am enjoying going down memory lane and having a little fun, “heat lamp induced immunity” is perhaps not a true technical term. I am, however, serious when I say we have a great food manufacturing system in this great country. We are fortunate to work within the supply chains for some of these excellent manufacturers and see firsthand their commitment to food safety. As a transportation provider to many food manufacturers and pet food manufacturers, we work hard to stay on top of current and pending regulations in this space.

While we all benefit from one of the safest food supplies in the world, foodborne illness continues to sicken some folks in our country each year. The Food Safety and Modernization Act (FSMA), passed by congress in 2011, represents the first major reform to the US Food and Drug Administration in over 70 years. This FSMA final ruling, due out very soon, alters the role of the FDA in food safety. Actually, the Sanitary Transport portion, the portion we anxiously await, must be released on or before March 31st. This ruling will apply to products for both human and animal consumption. Once the ruling has been released, manufacturers will have one to two years, depending on company size, to implement new processes to adhere to the new regulations.

The safety process changes, adding emphasis through regulation, requires everyone to take ownership in their role in the “food safety continuum,” or put another way, we are all responsible. In effect, this keeps food safer by shifting the focus from responding to contamination to preventing it.

While we are not yet certain what the Sanitary Transport portion of the FSMA looks like, it is a pretty safe bet that many of the current safeguards NT Logistics already has in place will continue, and we are prepared to meet any requirements for increased measures. Knowledge of the prior loads in each trailer that will be used for food transport, strict seal policies, and temperature monitoring have proved a value to the food we transport for both human and animal consumption.

In light of current practices here, and anxiously awaiting the new guidelines, I can’t help but wonder – how else does, or will, these affect you and me? For probably way more information than you would ever want, you can see a highly detailed list of FAQ’s at www.fds.gov. In short, this will certainly expand the sanitary transportation practices for both human and animal foods. The FSMA will require that operators of motor vehicles and other equipment used in food transportation be required to establish written procedure, subject to record keeping requirements for cleaning their vehicles and transportation equipment. We have certainly done this ever since I can remember, yet the site goes on to mention best practices concerning cleaning, inspection, maintaining , loading, unloading, and operating vehicles and transportation equipment. Once again, we await final ruling to see for sure.

I am not sure if our friends in DC know we have been making sure trailers are clean, making sure they have not been hauling anything that would contaminate the next load, or monitoring temperatures for years. This reminds me of a safety director I knew years ago. She reminded me that each day she was reminded that her drivers were driving on the same roads as her 17 year old daughter. Using this same logic, we have always known that our children and pets are eating the food items that our great customers produced and we were determined to take steps to insure the integrity of the supply chain on our end.

While we will continue to communicate the sanitary requirements necessary in order to transport our many Shippers loads in both writing and by verbal reminder, we will also evolve with the standards about to be issued in order to do our part to keep the entire supply chain as compliant and safe as possible. After all, each of us, our families, and our pets consume our customers products – not all of us are willing to hit the gas station buffet once a week to build up that “heat lamp immunity.”

We are all responsible for the safety of our food supply chain and NT Logistics will always be on the front end of the changes to do our part to ensure continued safety.