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2018 in Review: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

By Jeff Chilton   |   

2018 has been the year of the Good, the Bad and the Ugly in the food industry. The Ugly is still going on right now with the two major foodborne illness outbreaks and product recalls plaguing the industry. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) advises not to serve or sell any Romaine Lettuce contaminated with E. Coli O157:H7 from the Central Coastal growing regions of North and Central California. This outbreak has resulted in 52 cases in 15 states with 19 hospitalized and two of the 19 experiencing kidney failure. The CDC expects these numbers to rise as more cases are brought to light.

The Bad is that foodborne illness outbreaks and product recalls continue to vex the food industry. CDC reports an increase in outbreaks since 2017, with 23 foodborne illness outbreaks reported in 2018 from products that include meat, vegetables, seafood, eggs, cereal, cake mixes and more. The number of product recalls has lowered but it’s still way too high, with FDA reporting 178 food recalls and USDA reporting 117 meat recalls (so far) in 2018. While it’s true certain food products have more of an inherent risk of pathogens than others, when people get ill or die from food products that should be safe, it’s a breach of trust. 

Our industry needs to invest in antimicrobial processes, ingredients, and post-lethality processes that will increase our food supply’s safety. There are great technologies available from HPP Processing, UV Lights, Ozone, Heat Treatments, and others along with dozens of antimicrobial ingredients and interventions that can be used for additional safe harbors. I encourage everyone in the industry to research the best available products and processes, then invest accordingly. Trust me — you’ll sleep better at night knowing consumers are better protected.

But wait! There is good news too! The Good in our industry includes a long list with a few notable points such as:

  1. Continued growth and investment in the industry
  2. Regulatory consistency and advancement
  3. GFSI standard updates
  4. Technology advancements

There have been many recent large investments for new food processing facilities. Maple Leaf Foods announced plans for a new state of the poultry processing facility with a massive $660 million dollar investment. Impossible Foods has raised over $214 million dollars in the last 18 months to expand production and distribution. Harrison Poultry plans a new $72 million feed mill and hatchery. Finally, Smithfield announced a $45 million expansion at a South Dakota facility and Stampede Meats built a new $36 million facility in New Mexico — to name just a few.

FDA continues to march forward with implementing FSMA. All FDA-regulated companies must be in compliance with the Preventive Control for Human Food Rule by September 2018. Most animal food companies must be in compliance with the Preventive Control for Animal Food Rule. The recent announcement of Frank Yianas joining FDA will be a positive move for the agency and industry to drive FSMA implementation and new technology development. USDA also strives for continuous improvement with tightening performance standards and publication of microbial testing results. 

The GFSI standards for SQF, BRC and FSSC 22000 are all driving continuous improvement with edition updates this year that comply with the updated benchmarking standard. These include new requirements for Environmental Monitoring, Product Changeovers, Labeling Controls, Food Fraud, Food Defense and improvements to other programs. Industry must embrace these changes to fully implement world class food safety and quality systems.

 

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Technology advances continue to help the food industry. There are great products on the market that help companies automate their food safety and quality assurance systems to improve compliance and trends. Take some time to research what’s out there to see how it can help your company improve and protect your consumers.

 

Final Thoughts

Let’s make 2019 a great year for the food industry! A new year brings fresh opportunities with hope and optimism. Let’s learn from the past and grow in the future. Best wishes for a blessed holiday season and a happy new year!

 

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About the Author

Jeff Chilton currently serves as Vice President Consulting at Intertek Alchemy. For over 20 years, Jeff has consulted with hundreds of food manufacturing firms to develop and enhance their food safety and quality programs, environmental safety and health, and operations management. Prior to consulting, Jeff worked in the food industry for 15 years as plant manager of two large food processing companies, as well as a director of quality assurance earlier in his career. Jeff is a contributing writer for several national trade magazine and has spoken on food safety and quality topics for numerous trade associations. Jeff is a Certified Lead instructor by the International HACCP Alliance and a FSPCA Lead Instructor. He also teaches Basic and Advanced HACCP and Preventive Control for Human Food courses for client companies and in public courses.

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