Keeping It Fresh

October 1, 2019

Keeping It Fresh

5 Food Safety Steps to Manage Freshness on a Global Scale

By Kelly Smith

As growing concerns over food integrity result in a greater emphasis on quality, “fresh” has emerged as an industry buzzword that resonates with today’s attentive consumers. But what constitutes fresh food? And how can producers ensure their food items remain fresh from farm to fork?

This indicates that growing conditions, practices, and environmental factors all play a role in establishing freshness—

and that customer-level transparency is the lynchpin that ties it all together.

First, let’s define “fresh food”. In the most literal sense, a fresh food is a food item that does not contain preservatives and is not spoiled. Considering roughly one in ten people in the world fall ill after eating contaminated food, food safety is integral to putting the fresh in fresh food. Beyond its literal meaning, however, are the larger implications associated with the term freshness. In fact, 30% of consumers state that when making a food purchasing decision, they consider whether or not a food is free of antibiotics, does not contain growth hormones, and is free of pesticides and fertilizers. This indicates that growing conditions, practices, and environmental factors all play a role in establishing freshness—and that customer-level transparency is the lynchpin that ties it all together.

Today, freshness has even surpassed price in perceived importance by customers when selecting food products for consumption. In order to compete in today’s freshness-focused food landscape, it is vital that food and beverage producers and manufacturers ensure freshness is upheld throughout the supply chain. And yet, with an increasingly complex and distributed supply chain, producers are challenged to institute a global strategy for universal freshness. Here are five steps to consider in order to manage freshness on a global scale:

1. Establish Ingredient-Level Traceability, Beginning at the Farm

A single food item is often comprised of multiple ingredients, each tasked with upholding their own standard of freshness. When freshness is called into question, it is often challenging to isolate the root cause of the compromise—whether it be the farm an ingredient came from, the factory through which it passed, or the retail environment in which it was sold. By establishing digital genealogies starting at the farm, food and beverage manufacturers can trace each fresh ingredient from its point of origin all the way to the store shelves, restaurants’ plates, or consumers’ refrigerators. This extends quality control beyond the factory walls where it traditionally resides to the earliest stages of the food lifecycle.

2. Take a Proactive Approach to Quality Management

Food and beverage producers are trained to react quickly to resolve quality compromises, especially given the immense cost of a recall and, more importantly, threat to consumer wellbeing. In particular, when working with fresh foods, food producers must consider the heightened risk of biological contamination, which can stem from a host of factors throughout the supply chain. For instance, a food brand recently issued a voluntary recall of select fresh vegetables due to concerns that items were contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes. Protecting the integrity of fresh food items requires a diligent approach to testing and monitoring of conditions during cleaning, processing, storage, and distribution. By obtaining real-time insights into all field and factory processes, food and beverage producers can detect anomalies in the supply chain proactively, addressing quality issues before less-than-fresh food items reach store shelves.

3. Eliminate Product Counterfeiting

While luxury brands are often what first come to mind when considering counterfeiting, the food industry is also a target. Food freshness and quality are often the first attributes to go by the wayside when ingredients fall off the regulated supply chain. In fact, global grocery trade is expected to reach $12 trillion in the next couple of years, with food fraud representing a whopping 10%. Food counterfeits range from olives painted with copper sulfate solutions to enhance their color to parmesan cheese that contains wood pulp in order to undercut the competitor’s cost. By adhering tamper-evident labels to each ingredient, food item, and batch in circulation, the entire supply chain can proactively focus on halting counterfeiters in their tracks. Further still, labels that leverage serialization can legitimize claims surrounding freshness and integrity by enabling consumers to scan labels and access a wealth of insights on each food item’s genealogy.

4. Store Digital Genealogies in a Secure Database

With billions of food items in circulation, tracking and upholding freshness requires food and beverage companies to maintain a unique, digital identity for every food item. Doing so requires producers to combine secure labels with a scalable technology solution that is capable of securely housing granular-level data on a high volume of food items. Blockchain is one way to securely manage simultaneous data entries on a massive scale. Informed by an accurate data record, constituents throughout the supply chain can scan each food item to retrieve and add to its digital genealogy, which serves as a living verification of its integrity and freshness.

5. Adhere to Stringent Compliance Standards

The food and beverage industry faces myriad regulations—many of which apply specifically to fresh food items—that aim to protect the safety of humans and animals. Specifically, the Food Safety Modernization Act (FMSA) gives the FDA the power to establish traceability solutions in any segment of the food industry, creating a more connected and data-rich food and beverage landscape. Even when formal traceability solutions are not mandated, food manufacturers must maintain diligent records of food genealogy, including supplier-level insight, to ensure all applicable quality standards are upheld.

Guaranteeing Freshness from Farm to Fork

With so many brands claiming “freshness”, it is more important than ever for producers to validate these claims at scale. At Ashton Potter, we empower manufacturers to differentiate themselves on the basis of freshness by tracing food items throughout the global supply chain and storing comprehensive digital genealogies in a Blockchain-enabled databases for real-time insight. Through the combined impact of high-security, tamper-evident labels and ProLinc® technology, manufacturers can affirm the integrity of their supply network and ensure the freshness of every ingredient, batch, and product on a global scale. Contact Ashton Potter today to learn how our solution can bring new meaning to the term freshness in your food and beverage supply chain.

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