The nut industry prides itself on being sincerely interested in learning about and leading the evolution of food safety best practices. After all, it is not an overstatement to say that good food safety outcomes are necessary for business success. Food safety is mission critical to every business in the industry, and solid and successful programs protect brands and consumers alike. Food safety programs also influence difficult business decisions and significant investments, including both time and financial resources.
Recently, during time spent with member companies of the Peanut and Tree Nut Processors Association (PTNPA), we engaged in candid discussions where many unanticipated and constructive discoveries were made. These members include innovative, marquee companies in the nut industry that are determined to efficiently and effectively understand and comply with the myriad federal, state, and even international food safety requirements. Their input says a lot about the landscape of industry food safety and where we are headed.
Based on these discussions, consumers and regulatory agencies can count on nut industry businesses to prioritize the following:
- An integrated business unit approach to food safety: A majority of PTNPA member companies regularly and proactively educate financial, maintenance, and inventory teams on what it means to operate in a culture of food safety.
- Food safety training: Nearly 89 percent of PTNPA member companies conduct food safety training at least once a year across all departments and segments of their business. Food safety is a topic when onboarding new employees and at stakeholder—and shareholder—meetings.
- Emotionally intelligent leadership: Strong communication and collaboration skills were rated the most critical leadership factors when working to prevent food safety risks or deficiencies in the market.
- The value of food safety culture: Creating a culture of food safety and implementing programs designed to successfully achieve food safety expectations and requirements emerged as key topics of importance. Almost 95 percent of PTNPA member companies assert that their businesses prioritize food safety for their overall business operations.
- Innovative, safer products: Nut product innovation is an exciting space, with companies working on creative new solutions and ingredients, which can play a key role in creating a safer food supply.
Our Concerns Go Beyond Our Own Businesses and Industry
With businesses operating in the tricky world of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), the New Era of Smarter Food Safety blueprint, and organizational and leadership changes within the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Human Foods Program, along with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), there is a lot going on. Even within the topic of appropriations and steady budgeting for training regulatory investigators and inspectors, there are many concerns for our industry. With so much change and uncertainty, it is easy to worry about how much the industry will need to further inform regulatory agencies when it comes to a very specialized and yet complex industry.
Nut industry companies are hopeful that they will be able to demonstrate more actively what happens in their facilities and operations, and have more meaningful collaboration with regulatory agencies. Trust and the true implementation of "education before regulation" will need to be proven for the greatest shared outcomes as we achieve the goal of consistently providing safe food for all consumers.
That said, the PTNPA and our members remain completely committed to participating and collaborating in any way we can to provide safe and nutritious products in markets across the world. It will be interesting to see how 2023 ends and 2024 begins as we continue our quest for better food safety with determination.
Educating, Celebrating Nutrition, and Giving Back
As we close out the year, we continuously work to educate stakeholders through the playful lens and celebration of National Nut Day, which takes place on October 22. A few days beforehand, on October 19, the PTNPA will host a meal-packing event featuring healthy protein- and nutrient-rich shelf-stable nut products to be donated to the Capital Area Food Bank in Washington, D.C.
Volunteers from congressional offices and the larger food industry are invited to participate on Capitol Hill as we network, give back, and showcase the innovative, delicious, safe products we are so proud to produce and distribute worldwide.
Our Curiosity Continues
We are a curious industry. As we strive to do and be better, our curiosity guides us toward building a safer, more resilient nut industry and food safety system. When we look to the future, there are many questions we ponder that impact food safety:
- What will FDA look like in the coming year?
- How can we make the biggest difference when it comes to regulatory management and implementation?
- Who will be our best partners and allies as we continue to work toward compliance in the growing and complex parts of the industry and the world?
- Will regulatory agency investigators and inspectors be trained to really understand our facilities before visiting or issuing direction?
- What coalitions will help us be the most robust and resilient industry possible?
- What allies do we have in the legislative realm who can ensure that appropriations and funding are allocated in a way that supports food safety?
- Will we find efficiencies with emerging technologies?
- Will trade and geopolitical forces lead to relief or resolution in the food system?
- How will AI help us transform our businesses and food safety outcomes?
- Will we continue to struggle with supply chain issues at ports and beyond?
Moving ahead, the PTNPA and our collective nut industry representatives and colleagues will continue to show up. We will engage, advise, and challenge ourselves and others. We will question and ride the next waves of food safety regulatory action with the hope of collaborating to bring the public the safest food supply ever. To that end, we remain committed and curious!