Prevention a Much Better Approach Than Response to Food Contamination Risks

How well is your warehouse or distribution center prepared to prevent food contamination risks?

For food manufacturers, as well as companies that ship, load, carry or receive food products, complying with the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) is a serious issue. The FSMA affects almost everyone involved in the U.S. food supply chain.

According to the FDA, “the FSMA is transforming the nation’s food safety system into one that is based on the prevention of foodborne illnesses. It will be a system in which the food industry systematically puts in place measures proven effective in preventing contamination.”

A significant milestone in U.S. food safety legislation that was signed into law in 2011—and the most far-reaching reform of food safety laws in more than 70 years—the FSMA includes seven primary regulations. The Sanitary Transport of Human and Animal Food (STHAF) is the latest FSMA regulation to reach the enforcement phase with an effective compliance deadline of April 6, 2017.

What exactly is the STHAF rule?

Any food transportation company with revenues of more than $500,000 that serves as shipper, loader, carrier or receiver must comply with the STHAF rule:

  • A shipper is a person who arranges for the transportation of food in the U.S. by a carrier or multiple carriers. The shipper is responsible for communicating appropriate food handling requirements to the carrier. A person may be subject to these requirements in multiple capacities. For instance, the shipper may also be the loader and the carrier.
  • A loader is a person who loads food onto a motor or rail vehicle used during transportation operations.
  • A carrier is a person who owns, leases, or is otherwise ultimately responsible for the use of a motor or rail vehicle to transport food. The carrier is responsible for ensuring compliance with requirements during transport.
  • A receiver is any person who receives food after transportation, whether or not that person represents the final point of receipt for the food. A receiver may be a carrier or a shipper but not individual consumers or others who are not in the business of distributing food.

Food safety the driving factor

Food Logistics’ (April 2017 issue) latest in-depth cover story on where the food industry stands with the FSMA addresses how companies are meeting the law’s requirements that are designed to make a significant improvement in food safety.

The article contains several interesting research statistics:

  • 68% of leading food and beverage companies are currently building compliance and traceability systems into their production processes (Source: Sparta Systems).
  • Nearly 61% of consumers report substantial concern about food safety (Source: Hahn Public Communications)
  • $10 million is the average cost of a recall to a food company (Source: Food Marketing Institute and Grocery Manufacturers Association)
  • Nearly $78 billion was the economic burden of recalls in 2012 (Source: Ohio State University)

With food safety being the driving factor behind the FSMA, the article points out that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that foodborne illnesses affect nearly 48 million people (one in six Americans) per year. They also account for more than 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths annually.

Central to combatting this issue is the FMSA requirement for the food industry to focus more on prevention rather than response to contamination incidents. The article also emphasizes that transparency in the supply chain is no longer just a matter of ensuring efficiency and productivity. It’s a regulated and market-driven necessity.

Don’t take unnecessary risks

As a food manufacturer, warehouse or distribution center, contamination risks abound. Your dock area is often one of the most vulnerable points of entry for unwanted pests and other contamination problems.

A few key measures you can take to ensure your operation avoids the risk of food contamination includes:

  • Inspecting all dock doors and their proper operation so when they’re closed, there are no gaps or other openings for pests to enter through (hint: turn out all interior lights and look for daylight entering any areas around your dock openings).
  • Checking the pits under your dock levelers to make sure they are clean, especially from any past food-related spills or other accidents that would attract pests.
  • Making sure your dock seals are in good condition and fully operational so trailers will make a tight seal during loading and unloading activity.

Environmental cleanliness throughout your dock operation, and tight seals while your dock is both active and inactive, are important requirements that will prevent unnecessary food contamination throughout the supply chain.