Keeping Food Safe in the New Distribution Model
A significant shift is occurring in today’s food market, leaving manufacturers to face new pressures from consumers. One trend specifically — that of food being delivered straight to the consumer’s door — is forcing manufacturers to change the way they handle food safety.
Further complicating this trend is the fact that consumers are also less likely to purchase products that include ingredients unfamiliar to them. This push toward “clean labels” limits the number and types of preservatives that manufacturers can use in their products. For food that potentially will be left to sit on a consumer’s porch for hours, food safety becomes an issue.
The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) focuses on shifting the food safety approach in the U.S. from reactive to proactive. Under rules set forth by FSMA, food manufacturers must develop a food safety plan that considers all operations, from how they receive ingredients to processing and distribution.
FSMA’s Final Rule on Sanitary Transportation of Human and Animal Food seeks to mitigate the risk of a food safety issue during the transport of food between manufacturer and receiver by including such requirements as temperature controls and records. Under this rule, however, exemptions might apply to certain home grocery delivery operations, ultimately creating a vulnerability in the food supply chain.
What does this mean for food manufacturers?
Because manufacturers ultimately are responsible for their products and the brand reputation they carry, they must consider two conflicting issues: the “clean label” push from consumers to rid their food of ingredients designed to preserve and control pathogens; and the need for food to withstand harsher conditions during the new home delivery distribution model.
To counter these issues, manufacturers must start by controlling sanitation more rigorously in their plants through the use of new technology and processes that allow them to maintain a cleaner environment.
Secondly, products must pass more comprehensive failure modes — the ways in which a product may fail in the course of moving through the supply chain. Because the new distribution model is subject to a wide range of conditions, these failure modes will help manufacturers design their products with ingredients that account for sitting on a consumer’s porch for eight or more hours.
Finally, manufacturers must explore new packaging options that comply with increased sanitary conditions and new processes. The future will likely bring more shelf-stable products that require less refrigeration, contained in packaging materials that are able to withstand the high temperatures and pressures of retort and only contain ingredients familiar to consumers.
In the end, temperature is the most critical food safety parameter in the new home delivery distribution model. To prepare for this, manufacturers must look for ways to move away from temperature control as a pathogen control measure, instead relying on packaging and processing to safely meet customer demands.