The rollout of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) is in full swing across the food industry, and this August small businesses with 500 or fewer employees will be required to implement the standard as well. And while the last wave of businesses (those that are considered “very small”: food processor with less than $1 million in revenues and animal-feed companies with less than $2.5 million) will need to come into compliance by August of 2018, it’s never too early to get ready. In fact, some “very small” firms may have already seen FSMA’s impact as larger companies pull you into their preventative controls for pathogen control as part of the supplier verification program.
You’re Not Alone
The idea behind FSMA is simple enough, implementation of modernized preventative controls across five core areas: process, food allergens, sanitation, supply-chain controls, and a recall plan. While many firms have already checked some or all of these control action boxes, fully meeting any new regulatory requirement like FSMA is usually easier said than done. In addition to the initial costs of implementation, which are not trivial especially for a small or very small business, there are ongoing compliance requirements and costs.
The good news for small business owners is you’re not alone. One of the first places to start is by looking to your partners both up and down stream. If you work with large food processors, ingredient suppliers, co-packers or distributors, they have most likely already completed their FSMA implementation. Many of these larger firms have made significant investments in risk mitigation and are now offering to meet some of FMSA’s heavy lifting for their clients. Think of it as the Software as a Service (SaaS) model meets food safety: you get the flexibility, scale and access to the latest technology all backed by your partner. For example, several of Agri-Neo’s co-packer and ingredient supply customers have installed the Neo-Pure Food Safety System to control pathogens on food products, and are now offering it to their customers as a value-added food safety service.
An Opportunity to Innovate and Differentiate
The rapid demand for healthy and less processed foods has ripped through every segment of the food industry. It’s a consumer driven trend that looks like it’s here to stay and has resulted in everything from the elimination of partially hydrogenated oil, the largest source of trans fats, to the creation of supermarkets dedicated to healthier foods. This movement has unleashed a new era in food safety that is requiring the industry to look beyond traditional pathogen kill steps such as pasteurization, irradiation and fumigation- each of which have their challenges.
As such we are seeing investments in new food processing technologies that maintain the sensory and nutritional integrity of products, while still delivering required effectiveness. From whole genome sequencing, to DNA tracking, to natural, non-thermal pathogen control, we can improve food safety while allowing foods to remain raw and organic. This can be a powerful differentiator in today’s marketplace and one FMSA is indirectly helping to facilitate.
Mitigating Pathogen Risk Is Good Business
While the U.S. food system is remarkably safe, even a single incident is one too many. Bringing food safety up to “modernized” standards benefits everyone from the seed provider and farmer, to the end consumer. Recalls have a significant impact on food segments from lost production, to contamination remediation cost, and lost consumer confidence that can dramatically impact sales of a whole food category for years. Proactively taking the steps to mitigate your risk of a recall and then ensuring you have a plan of action in place to identify and fix contamination make FSMA simply good business.
Rob Wong is the COO of Agri-Neo, whose mission is to help safely feed the world. The vision of the company and its founders is to set new food safety standards, starting with Neo-Pure for nuts, seeds, grains and sprouts. Since 2009, Agri-Neo has invested significant resources from private investors and grants in research on food safety science performed by chemists, microbiologists and engineers. For more information, visit www.agri-neo.com.