By: Hilary Thesmar, PhD, RD, CFS, Chief Food and Product Safety Officer and Senior Vice President of Food Safety Programs, Food Marketing Institutemg-caption:FMI Food Protection Committee members traveled to Yuma, AZ to visit leafy green farms. Left to right: Larry Kohl, Retail Business Services, Steve Oswald, Wakefern Food Corp., and James Schwartz, Albertsons Companies.

The FMI Food Safety Program supports the food retail industry in selling safe food to loyal customers every day. FMI has several member committees dedicated to food safety and the technical staff offers expertise, 24/7 crisis support and comprehensive food safety training programs for member companies. Last year, FMI members focused on Listeria prevention, cleaning and sanitation resources, and traceability technologies to advance food safety. The year ended up being a challenging one with a series of devastating foodborne outbreaks to hit retailers and our communities. 

As the FMI Food Protection Committee (FPC) looked at initiatives for 2019, public health and preventing additional outbreaks was at the top of the list.  

Last month, the FPC met in Miami to finalize this year’s food safety initiatives.  These results are based upon a survey sent prior to the January FPC meeting asking for initiative topics. Responses were grouped and finalized at the committee meeting.  This year’s initiatives are:

1. Leafy Green Outbreak Response
In 2018, retailers were blind-sided by two significant and separate romaine lettuce outbreaks. To help prevent these types of outbreaks from happening in the future, FMI will serve as the industry’s leading association to help prevent contaminated products from reaching grocery store shelves. This year, FMI Food Safety will focus on:

  • Visiting farms in Yuma, AZ to meet with produce safety experts and organizations to learn more about water standards, irrigation techniques and food safety practices in use
  • determining recommendations regarding food safety standards for leafy greens
  • Working with all industry and regulatory partners to help speed the time of investigations and make information available to the appropriate officials

2. Retail Food Safety Leadership Development
The food retail industry is undergoing rapid social and technological shifts. To help our industry more effectively recruit, train and retain future food safety leaders, FMI will focus on providing valuable resources to improve technical and soft-skill food safety knowledge competencies for the next generation of food safety professionals. These include: 

  • Organizing opportunities for FMI members to obtain additional food safety leadership skills from subject matter experts through webinars and the SQF International Conference 

3. Supply Chain Food Safety Programs
FMI research predicts that online grocery sales will reach $100 billion by 2025. Whether FMI members are seeking guidance on how to begin or enhance online grocery capabilities, FMI staff will provide detailed guidance to help assure that food remains safe whether it is stored in lockers, delivered by drones or transported by a third-party delivery service. This year, our team will focus on:

  • Sharing best practices to educate retailers and regulators about the regulatory landscape that governs food delivery in federal, state and local jurisdictions
  • Participating in industry and regulatory working groups to represent FMI members 

4. Non-O157:H7 STEC in Ground Beef
In the 1990’s and 2000’s, the USDA focused on ensuring manufacturers and retailers prevented E. coli O157:H7 contamination for ground beef. However, other species of non-O157:H7 STEC, such as “E. coli O26” are being linked to foodborne outbreaks. FMI will work with members and other stakeholders to educate and address this emerging issue. 

Food retailers and the FMI Food and Product Safety team are prepared to take a greater leadership role to protect the public from foodborne illness. These four initiatives represent the challenges facing the food retail and wholesale industries and where FMI and our collective members can make a difference.  We look forward to advancing food safety with our members, and we hope you join us in this effort in 2019. 

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