Combining temperature monitoring and product traceability for FSMA compliance in the food cold chain

Food & beverage   28 Jun 2018

The U.S. Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) mandates standards and documentation for traceability and verification of the cold chain. The Act, which was signed in January 2011 is considered the most sweeping overhaul of food regulations and puts the goal of reducing foodborne illness into operation at every step of the food chain. FSMA’s goals are a healthier, safer, more responsive food system for society and mandates standards and documentation for traceability and verification of the cold chain from farm to fork, and real-time, cloud-enabled cold chain monitoring and traceability technology can help facilitate the process.

FSMA compels businesses to continually assess risk in their operations and verify the safety of any food entering the food supply chain. That data needs to be furnishable to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which carries greater authority for inspections and food items, and not just those that are suspected of causing a health concern.

Product traceability

Consumers are increasingly interested in where their food comes from, both for ethical and safety reasons. Traceability is a large reason why consumers — especially Millennials — purchase the brands they choose. According to a study from Mintel, 56 percent of U.S. food consumers stop buying from companies they believe are unethical. This growing awareness on the part of consumers is helping to fuel the adoption of newer traceability technologies, including blockchain.

Food product traceability is important for safety reasons, as it increases the speed of response if an outbreak occurs. Documenting food shipments from a producer or grower to the consumer, whether through a restaurant chain or at the retail level, makes it easier to take swift, specific action to track, locate, and recall food products before they are consumed by others.

Quick identification of tainted foods helps preserve the integrity of the cold chain so that the remaining, unaffected products can continue moving and don’t go to waste. Preserving that flow of food products translates to profitability for businesses and greater protection for consumers.

To focus on the prevention and detection of food safety issues, cold chain compliance is critical. Managing the condition and quality of the product with real-time monitoring and traceability technology allows for better compliance with cold chain requirements. This may mean that contracts with vendors,  producers/growers, suppliers, and logistics partners are capturing data required.

Temperature monitoring

FSMA requires companies to maintain documentation of the chain of custody for temperature-sensitive, perishable food items that present a high risk of food safety issues. These food products have a definite shelf life and require special handling at every step of the food chain. Food executives and quality management teams are already sensitive to the various demands of the cold chain; even minor disruptions can affect a product’s shelf life or even its safety. One food safety incident can devastate a brand for years. Monitoring and operational processes must be established around the transportation systems, containers, and refrigeration systems.

IoT devices with temperature, humidity, and light sensors and product location traceability work together with the unique environment for perishables, from food production through distribution, transportation, storage, and sale. Technology today no longer requires bar coding at each step of the cold chain with RFID tagging. Today’s wireless technology allows for automated data capture via geofencing.

Data collected can be used to help certify the origin of the food product, the time that was spent in transit moving through the supply chain, and the conditions under which they were stored and transported. Real-time data can be utilized while products are in transit to intercept and save product loads and product food integrity.

Container monitoring

For shipping container safety monitoring, to comply with FSMA, containers must be monitored as units. The cold chain must be verifiable down to each container, which means that sensors need to report on its status. Today, not only can ambient temperatures be monitored, but IoT loggers with sensors can be placed directly on the pallet and product level to measure meats, fresh produce, and other high-risk items to improve the granularity of the data captured. Real-time data can help flag temperature issues before they escalate and product movement monitoring enables a successful intervention.

Refrigeration units

From the moment lettuce or other perishable foods leave the farm, time is of the essence to maintain freshness, quality, and safety. Modern refrigeration can extend that life, but, under FSMA, the integrity of the environment must be documented and maintained. Data tracking and sensors enable up-to-date reporting so quality teams can intervene far in advance of a cold chain being broken.

FSMA recognizes the importance of the food system in ensuring integrity. Food cold chain leaders, including restaurants, food retail chains, and logistics partners can drive best practices in handling perishable goods forward.  With software and real-time, wireless sensor technology designed specifically for the unique demands of the cold chain, like Controlant offers, companies operating at any point of the cold chain can meet the goals of protecting consumers while protecting their brands, efficiency, and profitability.

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