Ask an Expert
The FDA has proposed two new rules to help prevent food contamination, a step toward codifying the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) that Congress passed in 2011, but what will be the real impact? We sat down with Hank Lambert, general manger of UL's Global Food Business to discuss the trends and regulations that are influencing food safety today and how UL is responding.
What trends are you seeing in food safety?
Overall, the trends we see in food safety are the ones that have been well documented in the media. There's clearly an increased consumer focus on the safety of the food supply. You can't pick up the paper or listen to the news without hearing about a recall. So it's something the consumer is increasingly aware of. And the consumer is really expecting their retailers and restaurateurs to be taking extra measures to ensure the safety of the food that they're selling.
So what's driving the demand for greater controls?
Retailers are pushing the demand for increased food safety measures and controls back up the supply chain to their suppliers. As FSMA is pointing out, and requiring, there's an increased need for preventative controls and food safety plans documented throughout the supply chain. There's also a significant need for training, and an increased need for audits, surveillance and inspections. Those are services we're offering now through the acquisition of Everclean and through our newly developed food safety process validation service.
RETAILERS ARE PUSHING THE DEMAND FOR INCREASED FOOD SAFETY MEASURES AND CONTROLS
Can you tell us a little about the new service offerings?
The bulk of our current food safety services are through our Everclean offering, which provides food safety and sanitation audits to food retailers. We have more than 130 auditors in North America who go into a grocery store or restaurant and basically audit the processes that are in place. Things like safe food handling, avoidance of cross contamination, time and temperature checks, etc. And then our auditors will provide a score, yes, but also a corrective action plan and training to the store staff to enable them to execute the plan. It's very comprehensive. We also have a relatively new service where we audit potential suppliers on behalf of the retailer. Again, it's something we're increasingly seeing demanded from retailers — greater accountability up the supply chain.
How important is training in all of this?
Training is critical. Through UL EduNeering, we've actually been appointed by the FDA to develop and deliver the curriculum and training for their food inspectors, and we're also developing a training program in conjunction with National Environmental Health Association (NEHA) food safety certification.
I think the demand for training will only increase as companies try to figure out how to get their arms around and try to comply with the new regulations that come out of FSMA.
Is it clear yet what FSMA and the surrounding regulations will really mean to the food industry?
There's still a lot of uncertainty as to how the FDA is going to interpret those regulations and how they're going to be enforced. Overall, everyone agrees this is definitely a step in the right direction. It's going to improve and enhance the safety of our food supply globally. I think the focus of the FSMA on preventive controls as opposed to historically being reactive is very welcome by industry.