Now that 2016 is behind us, we are able to reflect on the year’s progress and shortcomings. To help us better understand this from SQF’s perspective, we invited LeAnn Chuboff, Senior Technical Director for Safe Quality Food Institute, to discuss a quick recap of the compliance activities (recalls, top non-conformities, etc.) SQF saw in 2016.
The following is a breakdown of the recalls seen from SQF certified suppliers in 2016. These recalls fall into four main categories:
- Other Issues*
*Other issues are usually quality related, or detainment at the border.
You’ll see that biological issues topped out at 35%, chemical at 42%, physical at 13%, and other issues at 10%. One thing to note is the increase in physical issues from previous years. This is due to reactionary recalls by the USDA.
What really needs attention are the biological and chemical aspects to this chart. When you look deeper into the chemical category, you notice that 99% of recalls are due to mislabeling of allergens. This is nothing new, as this graph tends to look like graphs from previous years. But just think, if we could somehow get rid of the mislabeling issues, we could reduce recalls by roughly 42%.
When looking at biological recalls, it needs to be emphasized that 71% of these recalls are due to Listeria monocytogenes, with another 22% from salmonella. Combined, these two pathogens make up roughly 90% of biological recalls, which are largely due to environmental breakdowns. Additionally, SQF notes that roughly 31% of both the recalls in the chemical and biological categories are the result of incoming sources and ingredients—meaning the incoming ingredients are already contaminated.
These numbers help to paint a better picture of where the industry needs to focus its attention in 2017. Recalls are an inevitable reality when working in the food industry, but there are three key areas, according to SQF, to keep an eye on to help greatly reduce how frequently they occur.
1. Mislabeling of Allergens
This area to focus on basically speaks for itself. If you make a product with an allergen in it, you need to make sure that the allergen is declared on the label and declared accurately. One of the number one reasons for the mislabeling of allergens is the use of the wrong package or the incorrect label for a product.
And while there are a variety of reasons for why the wrong package or label is used, one frequent issue is that packages for similar products made with different allergens/products with or without allergens tend to look very familiar. This makes it easy for workers to grab the wrong item during a production run. It’s an easy mistake to make, but a costly one.
A few best practices to keep in mind for your allergen control programs:
- Confirm the correct label is put on the line for rolls of printed film at both the beginning and end of the roll
- Create a transparency/acetate (i.e., clear sheet of film) with the correct ingredient statement to confirm ingredient statements on packaging for finished products and raw materials upon receipt
- When an allergen is added to a formula that did not previously contain it, the packaging or labels that were used for the old formula must be disposed of or otherwise made unusable
2. Environmental Pathogen Control
To help control pathogens, environmental monitoring should be conducted at a consistent frequency (e.g., weekly) and on a rotating basis of food contact and non-food contact sites across zones 1-4 to generate baseline and continued monitoring data of the facility environment.
This helps identify microbial growth niches, which could contribute to Listeria monocytogenes contamination in wet environments and Salmonella contamination in dry environments.
Additional best practices include:
- Separating raw products from cooked/RTE (ready-to-eat) products
- Controlling temperature and moisture levels
- Implementing pest controls
- Choosing equipment that can be cleaned easily
3. Approved Supplier Program
For food manufacturers, the safety of finished goods is not only dependent on the ingredients themselves, but also largely dependent on the suppliers used throughout the food supply chain. This is evident by the statistics we pointed out above.
Having a properly managed supplier program can help to ensure quality/safety is met, and helps to create great working relationships between manufacturers and suppliers as well. Who doesn’t want that?
One key component to having an outstanding supplier program is having a well-built and well-maintained supplier approval process. Not to mention, supplier verification in the U.S. is a big part of the Preventative Controls for FSMA.
When it comes down to it, your reputation is on the line should something fall through the cracks, but ensuring approved procedures and processes are followed any time a new ingredient or supplier is being considered will greatly help to mitigate the risks involved.
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