By: Hilary Thesmar, PhD, RD, CFS, Chief Food and Product Safety Officer and Senior Vice President, Food Safety, FMI
FMI’s Food Protection Committee (FPC) establishes annual initiatives to focus work, allow for resource allocation and highlight food safety issues that are topical and need industry collaboration for improvement. This year, the initiatives for the FPC were identified by members and are as follows:
- Produce Safety (with an emphasis on leafy greens).
- Undeclared Allergens.
- Toxic elements (heavy metal) contaminants.
Traceability has been an important goal of the food industry for well over a decade when we discovered that knowing where food products are coming from and where they are going can help mitigate risk and improve response time by identifying the source of problems as quickly as possible. The FDA Bioterrorism rule mandated “one-up, one-back" traceability. Now a proposed rule from the FDA seeks to require broad record-keeping requirements throughout the supply chain for foods listed on FDA’s Food Traceability List. The FPC goal is to address regulatory requirements and, at the same time, shape practical tools for the food industry to know where products have been and where they are going for food safety and business management purposes.
Produce safety is an ongoing initiative for the food industry, especially since the romaine lettuce outbreaks of 2018. The FPC’s goal is to work with many stakeholders to identify appropriate interventions for controlling hazards and to reduce the risk of foodborne illness. Establishing and implementing industry best practice standards along with collaborating with regulatory officials and scientists are part of the plan going forward and will be key to improving the safety of leafy greens. The current document FMI Recommended Food Safety Practices for Leafy Greens will serve as the foundation for future work.
The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic cannot be understated with regard to the food industry. While there is no evidence that COVID-19 can be transmitted via food, there is a need for food safety professionals to apply their knowledge of controlling microorganisms to help control viral transmission during this pandemic. Cleaning and sanitation took on a new level of importance as well as employee health programs both of which have long been in existence to help reduce foodborne illness transmission. The FPC will be working on best practices for the new normal and identifying new practices that may need to continue post-pandemic. The role of the customer was, and continues to be, paramount in working through the pandemic and ensuring a safe shopping experience.
Undeclared allergens remain the number one reason for food recalls. This topic is not new to the FPC as the group developed a Retail Allergen Resource Guide several years ago that will serve as the basis for new work. The challenges with allergen control exist throughout the entire supply chain. Although the causes of undeclared allergens are many, most of the issues are preventable and can be avoided with proper communication and having appropriate procedures and control measures in place.
Finally, the FPC will address the topic of heavy metal contamination in foods, particularly in baby foods. Several recent reports have raised concerns about the presence of heavy metals in these food products. By working with regulatory officials and scientists, the FPC will address this issue and identify ways to reduce contamination levels through a variety of strategies.
The FPC is open to all FMI retail and wholesale members and we welcome participation. For more information on these or any other food safety topics, please contact the FMI Food and Product Safety Team at email@example.com.