Food Safety Industry Overview and Trends
Food Safety Industry Overview and Trends: A Four-Part Presentation
The first section below presents the top four challenges facing the food industry, as identified by three or four industry experts, analysts, and/or thought leaders. The challenges are all consumer- or regulation-based: (1) consumer demand for product innovation, transparency, labeling, and traceability; (2) requirements for food quality, compliance with regulations, and food safety; (3) consumer health consciousness, including organic, vegetarian, and vegan products; and (4) channel progression/e-commerce demands.
The second section presents three companies that are involved in traceability efforts: Walmart and Sam's Club US and Walmart Canada, Carrefour (a French company), and Bumble Bee Foods.
The third section presents three case studies of recent foodborne illness outbreaks where whole genome sequencing (WGS) was used in attempts to track down the source of the foodborne illnesses. The three case studies, all of which occurred in the US in 2019 and 2020, involved Romaine lettuce, ground beef, and clover sprouts.
The fourth section presents lists of food safety trade publications for two of the countries requested: US and Japan. For the other countries listed (Canada, South Korea, Thailand, Brazil, and Germany), no locally-produced food safety trade publications could be identified, but published articles providing information on the countries' food safety situations or other useful publications have been supplied where they could be found for all of the countries except China. We located an alleged food safety magazine published in China, but the website was in Chinese and we could not read it.
I. Top Four Challenges Facing the Food Industry
These four challenges were selected for presentation because they were identified in at least three or four industry publications focused on food industry challenges.
Consumer Demand for Product Innovation, Transparency, Labeling, and Traceability
- This challenge was mentioned by four recent food and beverage industry articles, as cited below. It affects every segment of the food and beverage industry. Consumers all over the world are demanding new products, transparency about their origin and processing, clear labels that contain all relevant information, and a method of tracing the ingredients to their sources.
- This challenge includes the need for food and beverage manufacturers "to keep up with evolving consumer demand for new products to try, in greater varieties...."
- This challenge also includes "consumer demand for detailed information about products—such as where exactly the ingredients come from, or how environmentally friendly the product might be."
- This challenge includes the need to "label products with easy-to-understand and comprehensive information" that addresses "food-related health problems like obesity, diabetes and hypertension." Food growers, producers, and manufacturers now need to label their products with facts and statistics that will help consumers who have health problems to determine whether they can safely consume the products.
- Traceability is one of the biggest challenges in the food industry, both for record management and revenue generation. Consumers are increasingly interested in knowing "what goes into their food"... and where it comes from. This requires food producers and manufacturers to maintain "precise data records".
- Traceability can include the demand for "hyper-local supply chains: going back to our roots and using ingredients grown in the same country, county, or even neighborhood."
- Food producing companies are deploying "advanced technology, such as IoT, AI, and the blockchain, for tasks such as supply chain analysis, weight measurement, [and] temperature monitoring...." With these tools, food producers can track "every ingredient in a supply chain" to meet customer expectations and regulatory requirements.
- This challenge includes having "other means to reach consumers, such as mobile-friendly websites and smart labels" on products, not just mass media advertising.
Requirements for Food Quality, Compliance with Regulations, and Food Safety
- This challenge was mentioned by 3 industry articles, cited below.
- The food and beverage industries in most countries are governed by regulations. In the US, government organizations including the FDA, EPA, OSHA, and FTC enforce norms addressing product health claims, product safety, food labels, and hygienic production environments.
- This challenge includes managing "label requirements that vary by both country of origin and [countries] where the products will be consumed." In addition to managing current requirements, the labeling rules and laws are constantly changing among the countries of origin and the countries where the products are used.
- Government and manufacturer recalls must be managed to assure consumers that products are safe to eat. Labeling can assist with recall techniques.
Consumer Health Consciousness, Including Organic, Vegetarian, and Vegan Products
- This challenge was mentioned by 4 industry articles, cited below.
- Today, consumers are increasing their demand for healthy food, including organic food.
- More consumers are buying vegetarian and vegan products. Demand has declined for meat and other animal products.
- Consumers are paying more attention to "the environmental and ethical aspects of animal products than they did in the past. This is reflected in consumer buying habits: plant-based food sales were up 20 percent in 2018; and non-dairy milk sales [were] up by 9 percent versus a 6 percent drop for cows' milk" in 2018.
- Consumers are demanding that healthier ingredients be used in basic products like bread and pizza bases. They want "artificial ingredients" eliminated from products.
- Consumers want "healthy products that provide ample nutrients" but do not [alter] "the aesthetics of the brand." The desire to maintain brand integrity "has led to a variety of nutrient-rich foods making it to supermarket aisles, labeled ‘gluten-free’, ‘dairy-free’, ‘sugar-free’", contains 'trans fats', or 'contains GMO'.
- This challenge was mentioned by 3 industry articles, cited below.
- "Customer loyalty and [company] profits are heavily influenced by how and where products are sold", according to Infor.com. How and where products are sold are issues of purchasing "channels". Traditional food buying channels include brick and mortar grocery stores, outdoor seasonal farmers' markets, and roadside stands in the US.
- The food and beverage industry has been affected "by the proliferation of e-commerce channels. Consumers are embracing home delivery of groceries (such as with Amazon Fresh or FreshDirect), and physically picking up groceries from their local grocery store after ordering them online."
- An online presence is a relatively new requirement for food and beverage companies. Today's consumers are "tech-savvy and socially informed" and demand that groceries be available for purchase online, with or without delivery service. Many consumers no longer want to make daily or weekly trips to brick and mortar grocery stores.
- The challenge of e-commerce has been enhanced by COVID-19. Food and beverage businesses that have remained open during the pandemic of 2020 have had to respond immediately to consumer demand and government requirements for contact-free purchase and delivery.
- In addition, during COVID-19, "Countrywide lockdowns have prevented employees from working in factories, severely impacting the supply chain" and adding to the challenge of changing over to or providing the new option of e-commerce.
Other challenges mentioned one time each in industry articles:
II. Three Companies/Brands Involved in Traceability
Three of the companies investing in traceability software and methods are Walmart, Carrefour, and Bumble Bee Foods.
Walmart (US, Canada, and worldwide)
- Walmart US is using blockchain technology "to identify contaminated products" and to "collect environmental data from end-to-end, across the food supply chain." In addition, Walmart Canada has implemented a freight-tracking system that works worldwide.
- One of Walmart's traceability test projects dealt with "tracing the origins of the mangoes being sold across Walmart’s stores in the United States, while [a second project] [sought] to trace the pork meat being sold via the company’s different Chinese outlets".
- "From an efficiency perspective, the research team at Walmart claims that by making use of this new system, the time needed to trace the firm’s provenance has dropped from seven days to just 2.2 seconds." This quick response would be a terrific help during efforts to find contaminated food sources.
- Walmart's third reported traceability effort required all suppliers of leafy green vegetables "to upload their data on a blockchain. Each node in the network will be a supplier that handled the product, making the supply chain completely transparent."
- In 2019, Walmart and Sam's Club outlets in the US "asked all their suppliers to come on board an IBM-based blockchain supply chain system for tracking produce from farm to shelf."
- "The Canadian division of Walmart ... launched a blockchain-based supply chain that includes freight tracking and payment processing for 70 trucking companies whose goods are transported to more than 400 retail stores."
- "The system [went] live [in 2019] and all of Walmart Canada's third-party freight carriers [were] to be on the network by Feb. 1, 2020...." The system uses a distributed ledger network.
- "The distributed ledger network used by Walmart, DL Asset Track, "was created by Walmart and its tech partner, Toronto-based DLT Labs. The system automates the tracking of freight shipments and invoice creation; it uses IoT sensors and GPS tracking in semi-trailer trucks as well as a web portal and a mobile app where information can be input manually by operators and suppliers."
- "DL Asset Track will literally track every shipment to Walmart's Canadian stores."
Carrefour (a French company)
- "In March 2018, Carrefour launched a blockchain initiative to trace its chickens, tomatoes, eggs, milk, salmon and cheese." In addition to providing "transparency and safety for consumers, the blockchain project also aimed to act as a showcase for suppliers. If consumers appreciated the food from a particular supplier, [Carrefour] might go back to that supplier."
- The project was intended "to record information [on a blockchain] on how, for example, a chicken was reared, what food it ate, the medication that was used and where it lived..., thereby making it immutable. This offers consumers guarantees about product origin and quality."
- Carrefour SA sales have increased since implementing blockchain ledger technology "to track meat, milk and fruit from farms to stores...." Carrefour plans to extend the blockchain ledger service to more products.
- According to Carrefour, "Blockchain’s digital tracking technology allows customers to see detailed information on products like when it was harvested or packed - reassuring them on the quality of items they buy and allowing them to avoid products with genetically modified organisms, antibiotics or pesticides if they want." It provides customers with more choices in the products that they buy.
- So far, as of 2019, "Carrefour has launched blockchain information for 20 items including chicken, eggs, raw milk, oranges, pork and cheese, and will add 100 more ... with a focus on areas where consumers want reassurance, like baby and organic products."
Bumble Bee Foods
- Bumble Bee Foods, an American company, distributes canned salmon, tuna, other seafood and chicken. In 2019, the company began recording yellowfin tuna "on a blockchain to increase traceability and transparency and prevent mislabeling and fraud. When consumers scan a QR code, they receive insights on where the tuna originated, which community caught it, the size of the catch, and how it came to be certified as fair trade."
- Bumble Bee Foods implemented the blockchain technology so that "consumers and customers [could] access information as the to the origin and supply chain journey of Bumble Bee Food’s Natural Blue by Anova yellowfin tuna through the use of smartphones and QR codes on product packaging."
- "Bumble Bee Foods uses a private blockchain developed by SAP. Using distributed ledger technology, every participant in a supply chain has access to real-time data. This data is immutable, traceable and verifiable." The purpose of using a private blockchain is to assure that consumers can trust that their canned tuna is safe and healthy. Eventually, this ensures trust that the canned tuna is safe to eat. "Since its launch, it has received overwhelming positivity from retailers."
- "Bumble Bee started its consumer-focused "Trace My Catch" supply chain visibility program in 2015 with its core product, albacore tuna. It eventually extended the program to its salmon and sardine product lines."
- Here is how the Bumble Bee Foods system of Trace My Catch works. "At the Trace My Catch section of Bumble Bee's website, consumers input a code from the can or pouch. The site retrieves ... information specific to the product including: fish species, fishing method, the ocean where the fish was caught, vessel names and countries, fishing trip dates, and processing location."
- "The long tail of traceability back to the point of origin is a growing concern among consumers, who began questioning where their food comes from and holding food companies responsible for their supply chain practices." Bumble Bee responded to consumer concerns with its Trace My Catch system.
III. Three Instances of WGS Use to Track Foodborne Illness
Three recent instances of foodborne illness where whole genome sequencing (WGS) was used to track foodborne illness are the 2019 and 2020 outbreaks of illness from romaine lettuce, ground beef, and clover sprouts contamination.
Romaine Lettuce from Salinas Valley, California: 2019
- According to the website of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), in this outbreak "167 people infected with the outbreak strain of E. coli O157:H7 were reported from 27 states."
- The CDC verified that "85 hospitalizations were reported, including 15 people who developed hemolytic uremic syndrome, a type of kidney failure. No deaths were reported."
- "Epidemiologic, laboratory, and traceback evidence indicated that romaine lettuce from the Salinas Valley growing region in California was contaminated with E. coli O157:H7 and made people sick."
- "In this investigation, WGS showed that bacteria isolated from ill people were closely related genetically. This means that people in this outbreak were more likely to share a common source of infection. WGS also showed that this outbreak was caused by the same strain of E. coli O157:H7 that caused outbreaks linked to leafy greens in 2017 and to romaine lettuce in 2018."
- Two of the companies involved were Ready Pac Foods and Fresh Express. "The Maryland Department of Health identified the outbreak strain of E. coli O157:H7 in an unopened package of Ready Pac Foods Bistro® Chicken Caesar Salad collected from a sick person’s home in Maryland. The Wisconsin Department of Health Services identified the outbreak strain of E. coli O157:H7 in an unopened bag of Fresh Express® Leafy Green Romaine collected from an ill person’s home in Wisconsin. The Salinas Valley growing region in California was the main source of the romaine lettuce in both products."
Ground Beef from Unidentified Source(s): 2019
- According to the CDC, "This multistate investigation began on March 28, 2019, when officials in Kentucky and Georgia notified CDC of this outbreak. Epidemiologic and laboratory evidence indicated that ground beef was the likely source of this outbreak."
- The CDC website reported that "209 people infected with the outbreak strain of E. coli O103 were reported from 10 states."
- During the outbreak, "Twenty-nine people were hospitalized. Two cases of hemolytic uremic syndrome, a type of kidney failure, were reported. No deaths were reported."
- Through WGS, the CDC reported that "the strain of E. coli O103 was identified in a sample of ground beef collected from a location where ill people reported eating. DNA fingerprinting was performed on E. coli bacteria isolated from ill people using a standardized laboratory and data analysis method called whole genome sequencing (WGS)."
- According to accepted protocols, the CDC supervised "traceback investigations of beef eaten by ill people.... A common supplier of ground beef to grocery stores and other locations where ill people reported eating was not identified."
- "USDA-FSIS and state regulatory officials collected products for testing at retailers and establishments, and all products tested were negative for E. coli."
Fresh Clover Sprouts: 2020
- An outbreak of foodborne illness occurred during February, March, and April 2020. Investigations revealed that Chicago Indoor Gardens and Jimmy Johns LLC were the sources of contamination of clover sprouts.
- "CDC, public health and regulatory officials in several states, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) investigated a multistate outbreak of E. coli O103 infections linked to clover sprouts."
- According to the CDC website, "51 people infected with the outbreak strain of E. coli O103 were reported from 10 states. 3 people were hospitalized. No deaths were reported."
- Epidemiologic, traceback, and laboratory evidence indicated that clover sprouts were the source of this outbreak.
- In interviews, conducted by government personnel, "ill people answered questions about the foods they ate and other exposures they had in the week before their illness started. Eighteen (56 percent) of 32 people interviewed reported eating sprouts. This percentage is significantly higher than results from a survey of healthy people in which 8 percent reported eating sprouts in the week before they were interviewed."
- "Seventeen (63 percent) of 27 people interviewed reported eating sprouts at a Jimmy John’s restaurant. Jimmy John’s LLC reported that all of their restaurants stopped serving clover sprouts on February 24, 2020. Clover sprouts are no longer available at Jimmy John’s restaurants."
- During the course of the investigation, "FDA identified the outbreak strain of E. coli O103 in samples of Chicago Indoor Garden products that contain sprouts. On March 16, 2020, Chicago Indoor Garden recalled all products containing red clover sprouts."
- "As of April 22, 2020, this outbreak appear[ed] to be over."
IV. Food Safety Trade Publications
- Food Safety Magazine. This is a bimonthly magazine designed to present "science-based solutions for food safety & quality assurance professionals worldwide." The magazine's website can be found at foodsafetymagazine.com.
- Food Quality & Safety Magazine. This magazine, published in New Jersey, is a Wiley publication. The magazine's website can be found at foodsafetyandquality.com.
- We were not able to identify any food safety trade publications originating in Canada. However, we noted that Food Safety Magazine carries articles about Canadian food safety.
- A Canadian government website offers a variety of articles about food safety and food regulations in Canada.
- We were not able to identify any food safety trade publications originating in South Korea. However, the South Korean government has a website for its Ministry of Food and Drug Safety that contains useful information in English.
- A food safety publication originating in Switzerland has an office in South Korea. It is called SGS. Information can be found here.
- The local office website address of SGS can be found here.
- We were not able to identify any English-language food safety trade publications originating in China, although we found mention of a China Food Safety Magazine online.
- This website was listed for the magazine: http://www.cnfoodsafety.com. This website is in Chinese, and we could not read it.
- Food Safety is the official food safety magazine of Japan. It is published quarterly.
- The magazine describes itself as "a peer-reviewed open-access online journal of English published quarterly by the Food Safety Commission of Japan (FSCJ). Since the first issue was published in December of 2013, this journal has been regularly published on broad fields of sciences on food-related risk assessments."
- We were not able to identify any food safety trade publications originating in Thailand. However, we found an article about the food safety situation that may be useful.
- This article was presented at the First Expert Meeting on Trade Facilitation Through an APEC Framework on Food Safety Modernisation, Ha Noi, Viet Nam, 15-17 November 2017. It is titled "Current Situation & Challenges for food safety modernisation or enhancement" in Thailand.
- A second article, this one about food hygiene and sanitary conditions in one area of Thailand, may provide helpful information.
- We were not able to identify any food safety trade publications originating in Brazil.
- However, we located one scholarly article that may provide helpful information about food safety in Brazil.
- We were not able to identify any food safety trade publications originating in Germany.
- However, we located a food industry trade publication called "Food Europe", designed for European executives of food organizations. It is published in the UK. The website is foodeurope.eu.com.
- An international publication called "Food Protection Trends" is published by the International Association for Food Protection (IAFP). It is designed for members of that organization. "Each issue contains refereed articles on applied research, applications of current technology and general interest subjects for food safety professionals."
- A website that lists and ranks 327 food science journals may provide good information. This website offers a list of food science magazines/journals published in countries including the US, the Netherlands, UK, Taiwan, Switzerland, New Zealand, Japan, Germany, Bangladesh, South Korea, and others. These are food SCIENCE publications, not trade publications, but they may be helpful.