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TECHNOLOGY

Orgns must cut complexities within supply chains to manage challenges
Monday, 31 December, 2018, 15 : 00 PM [IST]
Larry Keener
Food safety challenges exist along each step of the supply chain from concept to commercialisation. The very name “supply chain” assumes that this is a linear relationship.

However, as we all know, the complexity of the modern supply chain, from its inception to its terminus is an exceedingly difficult process to accurately document and control. To effectively manage the challenges facing the global marketplace, organisations must reduce the complexities within their supply chains to enable accurate documentation, traceability and control.

Documentation of the supply chain will enable proactive identification of potential risk and promote their mitigation, resulting in brand protection and, meeting ever changing consumer demands.

Addressing the challenges facing organisations and their supply chain partners will require investment in an integrative IT system, blockchain, end-to-end documentation of the supply chain, and the building of food safety capability.

Key areas
The following are some key areas that must be managed to address food safety and myriad of other challenges faced by independent food organisations and governmental agencies overseeing food safety.

The global food supply is interdependent and dependent on highly efficient and well-regulated supply chains. Under the best conditions and with state-of-the-art controls, supply chains represent a monumental source of risk for food safety and also for an enterprise’s financial wellbeing.

It is often observed that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. For many in the industry, the safety of its inbound ingredients, its packaging materials and other essential process related equipment arriving at its manufacturing facilities is that proverbial weak link. The profound complexities of managing the often nuanced risk associated with inbound supply chains can be tedious if not overwhelming.

And then consideration must also be given to the outbound elements of a comprehensive supply chain. What risk are you accepting when placing your products into forward distribution and transportation systems? Shareholder performance correlates well with supply chain management.

A new scientific discipline
If we accept and understand that modern food processing can be traced to 1810 with the opening of a canning facility in France, and further that food safety as a subject was first codified in about 1906 with the advent of the Pure Food Act in the US. Then we understand that food safety is truly a new scientific discipline.

By way of confirmation consider that it was in 2011 that the US FDA passed its most comprehensive food safety legislation, the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). Similar legislation, the Safe Food for Canadians Act (SFCA), was enacted by the Canadian government in 2012.

Validation and verification

A key feature of the US legislation is the Foreign Supplier Verification requirement. Essentially, all foreign shipments of food arriving at US ports of entry are expected to meet the same food safety standards as those imposed on domestic producers.

It is anticipated that this element of the FSMA regulation will result in great upheaval for  many of the US’s supply chain partners; it is also anticipated that the regulation will result in improved food safety across the entire expanse of the supply chain. Both of these landmark pieces of legislation are predicated on acceptance of fundamental scientific principles for confirming food safety. Validation and verification, the hallmark for both the FSMA and SFCA, are the pretext upon which these laws are written.

Critical business process
Food companies around the world are grappling with the concept of food safety and how it fits or where it fits in their corporate culture. Food safety is a critical business process and it demands the highest level of visibility in the corporate structure and in the company’s strategic plans. Leading food companies have made this calculation and understand the importance of assuring that the products they manufacture and market will not cause irrevocable harm to the consumer or to the enterprise.

Ensuring that food safety is an enabler of business growth, company leadership must provide adequate and necessary resources and demonstrate behaviours that confirm the importance of food safety to the organisation.

Discussions of “food safety culture” are very topical. It is an important discussion. At its best, food safety culture will only be a subset of a much broader corporate culture. Defining corporate culture is the CEO’s prerogative. When food safety executives are effective in causing the organisation to consider food safety proactively as opposed to an afterthought and when food safety is a part of every transactional conversation, it is then part of the company’s culture.

Risk and risk tolerance
Food safety is ultimately about risk and risk tolerance. Some CEOs are very risk averse and others not so much. This propensity then will likely impact both corporate and food safety culture. Another great challenge is that food safety culture, to be effective, must be shared among the company’s many supply chain partners.   

Globalisation of the supply chain; cost of implementing foods safety measures; challenges with end-to-end transparency across the supply chain, multiple and discordant regulatory requirements; cost pressures; speed to market, ageing infrastructure are some of the major food safety challenges that companies must address to remain competitive.

Increased impact of natural disasters, climate change; innovative methods for intentional adulteration; changing regulations; increased sensitivity of testing tools, natural disasters; better detection of multistate and international outbreaks also contribute to the future challenges faced by those responsible for ensuring and overseeing the safety of the global food supply.

Step-change in supply chain operations
It was absolutely revolutionary when 225 years (circa 1790) ago Nicolas Appert was able to stuff food into glass bottles, immerse them in boiling water and thereby preserve them for ambient storage and distribution. Canning was a great innovation in food safety and a monumental step-change in supply chain operations. Napoleon’s armies (1805 -1815) benefited momentously from this singular supply chain improvement.

Since the Spanish American War (1898) the canning industry has thrived and in a very real way changed the world and global economic development. Perhaps the only other recent technological advancement in food preservation to rival or surpass the societal impact of the canning industry has been the development of mechanical refrigeration.

In the developed countries the demand for food in the cold supply chain is rapidly expanding. Similar trends have emerged in many developing nations where the availability of reliable electrification and mechanical refrigeration are far from universal. Thus, exacerbating the potential public health risk that may be associated with refrigerated foods.

Devastate and disrupt supply chains
There is also increasing risk to food supply chains associated with climate change and natural disasters arising from its impact. Floods, hurricanes, and forest fires are prime examples. These disasters have the potential to devastate and disrupt supply chains.

In fact these climate related natural disasters may be the biggest contemporary issues facing the global food industry. Interruptions to the flow of goods and services and especially of food and foodstuffs portend great harm for civil society and its stability. Climate change, an extrinsic risk, is causing the food industry, and especially food safety leaders, to rethink business plans and strategy to cope with this new reality.

The brave new world of food science and technology has been an inestimable boon for mankind. Today we are able to produce and deliver food and foodstuffs more efficiently than any other time in history. The power of science and technology has transformed food processing and allowed the projection of supply chains to the far reaches of the planet.

Complex supply chains are at the fulcrum of the great interdependent and interconnected global food supply. Effectively managing supply chains and supply chain partners will continue to be a monumental challenge as we contend with rapid population growth and the need to feed many, many more people using fewer resources.

(The author is president and CEO, International Product Safety Consultants Seattle, WA, USA. He can be contacted at lkeener@aol.com.)
 
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