Food safety is the primary concern of consumers, with Salmonella, E.coli, SARS, mad cow disease and genetically modified organisms cropping up around the world.
More than 76 million illnesses are caused by food contamination every year in the United States alone.
Government food safety regulations are not confined only to aspects such as expiration dates and packaging, but also extend to traceability of the product throughout the entire supply chain, from raw materials through manufacturing to shipment and final store delivery. The capability to track (farm to fork) and trace (fork to farm) details per product or per lot is critical in the food industry.
Tracking begins when raw materials are received. The date and time of receipt is recorded along with the product name, shipping data and lot number. For a manufacturer, consumption must be recorded to link the consumed material to the end product lot. This includes ingredients, packaging materials and all equipment that touches the product.
The operating personnel who are involved in the manufacturing or distribution process should also be tracked. The key people are those who receive the material and those who run the process since they have the greatest impact on the safety and security of the final product. For food manufacturers and distributors, shipping information must be recorded, including lot numbers and selected shipping details.
The ability to trace ingredients, parts and lots to the source is very important in the food industry as demonstrated by the recent contamination of pet food in the United States. More than 60 million cans of dog and cat food were recalled on March 16, 2007, by Menu Foods of Streetsville, Ontario, manufacturer of store brands for companies such as Wal-Mart, Kroger and Safeway, and for brand-name pet food companies, including Iams, PetCare and Science Diet. The company recalled gravystyle foods made from Dec 3, 2006, to March 6, 2007, after hearing complaints that an unknown number of cats and dogs who ate the food had kidney failure, and about 15 died.
The contamination was traced to wheat gluten from a company in China. The Food and Drug Administration acted against wheat gluten from Xuzhou Anying Biologic Technology Development Co. in Wangdien, China. The pet food was determined to be tainted with the chemical melamine, which somehow became mixed with the wheat gluten at the Chinese company.
With the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) having authority over more than 80 per cent of the U.S. food supply, the U.S. Bioterrorism Act of 2002 has more impact on the worldwide food industry than all other regulations combined.
The Bioterrorism Act pertains to all companies that manufacture, process, pack, hold, transport, distribute, or receive regulated food products.
The Bioterrorism Act has significant impacts on food manufacturing operations.
Food companies must establish and maintain a record of the source and destination of ingredients and products. This is called the "One-Up, One-Back Traceability" rule.
Trace-Back: For all products intended for human consumption, the processor must maintain the source identity of all the ingredients contained in that product.
Trace-Forward: For all ingredients received, the processor must be able to identify the diffusion of the ingredients in all intermediate and finished products.
Processors are required to create tracking records at the time of processing. They must maintain the records for a minimum of two years and they must make the records available to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) within four hours if requested.
Food importers must notify the FDA at least one day before a shipment arrives in the United States, disclosing details on the shipment and the contents and estimated arrival time.
Regulatory compliance is not just about the regulations. Regulations focus on both minimizing risk through Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP), and responding to incidents through recalls. How aggressive a food company becomes in compliance efforts should be based on the risk level of an incident. Categories that process or sell fresh product (for example, seafood, meats, fruits and vegetables, and dairy) are at higher risk of having an incident occur.