Food safety and transparency are the cornerstone of operators | modern restaurant management

Few scenarios strike more fear into a restaurateur’s heart than the prospect of serving food to customers that makes them sick. Apart from the obvious impact on customers, it can be extremely difficult to bounce back from such an event as the news spreads and casts doubt on the establishment’s reputation.

Avoiding such a calamity will always be a top priority for restaurant managers, not only by optimizing internal hygiene and safe handling practices, but also through rigorous sourcing and supply chain management. However, even with the utmost attention to food safety, there is no single way to eliminate all foodborne illness, as its sources are many and diverse. The network of food suppliers serving operators spans a wide spectrum – from small family operations and independent bakeries to massive global conglomerates and everywhere in between. Every food item and ingredient that makes it onto a dinner plate first goes through an epic journey from source to table; across harvest and processing locations, distribution channels, cold chain operations, warehouses, trucking and storage. In the event of contamination, the rapid and coordinated response of industry can have a real impact in reducing exposure and the spread of infection.

Traceability is essential

While recalls can happen for a multitude of reasons, food contamination is often discovered when someone becomes ill from something they ate. If this food source can be identified, traceability can begin – allowing the operator, supplier and distributor to erect a sort of firewall, preventing further spread by removing all contaminated products from the supply chain .

However, you can’t eliminate what you can’t identify, and you can’t delete what you can’t find. Tracing contaminated products back to the original source through the supply chain is usually the only way to find out what caused or enabled the contamination. Often a specific location or facility is identified as the initiator; for example, it could be a groundwater problem in a particular field on a certain producer’s farm or a refrigeration problem in a processing plant. These findings will lead to corrective actions to prevent further incidents and minimize costly callbacks.

Industry stakeholders work together to leverage technology and exchange standardized digital data that helps identify, locate and trace a product’s journey back to its original source. A successful traceability process allows any remaining potentially contaminated products (perhaps from the same batch or harvest) to be located in real time and quickly removed from the supply chain.

Regulatory requirements

To drive industry-wide improvements in traceability, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) uses legislation to drive advances in food safety and recommends the use of digital technology to support instantaneous and automated data exchange that improves product traceability. The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) represents the agency’s comprehensive efforts to advance this cause.

Later this year, the FDA will propose mandatory traceability requirements for “high risk” foods on the FDA Food Traceability List (FTL) under FSMA Section 204(b). The additional precautions target 16 food categories that are the most common sources of outbreaks, and include leafy greens, melons, tomatoes, nut butters, ready-to-eat deli salads, fish and shellfish , and all types of fresh cut fruit. and vegetables. Previously, the FSMA only required “one up/one down” visibility of the movement of food products through the supply chain. Now, supply chain partners who handle food listed on the FTL will be required to keep more detailed records, with an emphasis on digitized data, to drive greater transparency.

The proposed rule would require companies that “manufacture, process, package or preserve” food on the FTL to record certain Key Data Elements (KDEs) associated with different Critical Tracking Events (CTEs) in the supply chain. CTEs include growing, receiving, creating (manufacturing or processing), processing, and shipping; different KDEs will be required for each event. Supply chain partners will be required to retain data in their systems for two years and provide it to FDA within 24 hours of an outbreak. Industry-wide compliance is expected by the end of 2024.

GS1 US has been working with industry to improve system compatibility and make traceability more efficient through the use of GS1 standards, the world’s most widely used supply chain standards, for years – long before the FSMA. These standards help companies uniquely identify companies, products, locations and supply chain assets. Standardized data, embedded in barcodes or radio frequency identification (RFID) tags, creates a common language for sharing information between trading partners. Now, GS1 US is working with the food industry to identify how best to leverage GS1 standards for tracking CTEs and KDEs.

Collaboration in Support of Standards

All supply chain partners are responsible for food traceability and must work together to make it effective; the use of standardized data systems so that all stakeholders can generate, exchange and understand information from each other in real time. In many industries, GS1 standards are already being implemented to enable granular traceability as well as to improve supply chain efficiency and inventory management. Some of the standards include:

  • Product identification and barcodes – The GS1 Global Trade Item Number™ (GTIN®) uniquely identifies a product so that it can be seen for tracking in the supply chain. The GTIN can be embedded in a barcode, whether it is a linear UPC barcode on an individual item for use at checkout, a GS1-128 barcode on crates and pallets products, or a new data-rich two-dimensional (2D) barcode. These barcodes can also encode additional data such as expiration dates, lot/batch/serial numbers, and production dates to help support fast and accurate data capture and inventory tracking.
  • Location identification – The GS1 Global Location Number (GLN) identifies locations and parts such as a farm or field, packing plant, manufacturing plant, wholesaler, loading dock, grocery store or restaurant. GLNs help companies unambiguously map each stage of a product along the supply chain.
  • Master the sharing of product data – The GDSN (Global Data Synchronization Network™) enables trading partners to automatically share trusted product data, helping to meet growing consumer demand for accurate, complete and consistent product information.
  • Transactional data sharing – Sharing transactional data through Electronic Product Code Information Services (EPCIS) allows trading partners to record transaction events such as shipping or receiving information to maintain a complete product lifecycle history while along the supply chain.

Two-dimensional barcodes carry unlimited data

Forward-looking companies are investing in technology to advance data exchange and food safety. With robust traceability records providing end-to-end supply chain visibility, trading partners can quickly identify products involved in an outbreak and remove or recall them. When these records are digitized, traceability can be automated for faster and more efficient response.

In addition to digital record keeping and interoperable data exchange between supply chain partners, many suppliers are transitioning to a new and improved two-dimensional barcode (such as a QR code) , which offers much greater data capacity than traditional, linear (UPC) or GS1-128 barcode. This migration will support unlimited use cases, including better callback handling and more.

The ability to fit unlimited data into a 2D barcode also gives suppliers the ability to meet customer demand for detailed product information. More and more, consumers want to know everything about the food they eat. A data-rich 2D barcode makes all this information available with a simple scan. In the catering context, this gives chefs and servers quick and easy access to details such as country of origin, sustainability and fair trade practices, and much more – enabling deeper engagement with customers who are increasingly interested in knowing the details. Savvy foodservice operators can build value-based relationships with customers by highlighting product attributes beyond the standard ingredient list.

Sharing synchronized and standardized supply chain data can reduce the impact of food safety issues

Harmonizing supply chain data across the food system is essential to help mitigate and contain the spread of foodborne illnesses by quickly identifying affected products and removing them from distribution and storage. stocks. Modern and effective traceability systems based on industry standards that are universally understood and used can radically transform the entire food system by enabling complete end-to-end traceability.

The restaurant industry, like so many others, is still recovering from two years of upheaval, while learning to navigate new and uncharted territory in the post-pandemic environment. As the fight continues, it’s good to know that technology is unleashed to make the food supply safer than it’s ever been – helping to ensure customers return to their favorite restaurants again and again.

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About Imogene T. Bishop

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