Moving beyond FSMA

Now that the first regulations from the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) have been issued, it's time for retailers to start creating an enterprise-wide culture of food safety. The reason is simple. While FSMA is the most impactful set of safety regulations on the grocery industry since before World War II, there are many other elements of consumer protection that need to be implemented to ensure a company's brand is protected, and that must permeate the entire organization.

Another way to think about the issue is to answer this question – How you want your company to be perceived in the market? Do you want to be thought of as a leader in food safety initiatives? Or do you want to be considered a company that puts its customer's safety at risk?

If you'd prefer to be thought of as a leader, and we're sure you do, everyone in the organization must understand their role as it relates to food safety. Store personnel need to be trained on job specific food safety information and have the latest information on recalls to remove product from the shelves and notify consumers, the logistics team must be able to accurately monitor product throughout the extended supply chain with the best traceability system and merchandisers have to work with suppliers to ensure that all government and company rules are followed. Every team meeting, even those with IT or finance, need to have a food safety element, something as simple as a review on how to wash your hands or maintain product temperatures. All retail employees are responsible for food safety.

This culture of food safety starts and stops with the executive suite. Not only do corporate leaders need to constantly reinforce messaging on food safety through their communications to the rest of the company, they need to put in place the proper incentives and devote the appropriate resources so every team member understands the importance of the issue to the company. Only then will customers recognize the retailer as being committed to food safety.

Some examples of projects on the operational side of the business to bolster companies' food safety culture include addressing non-FSMA issues like transparency in packaging, labeling of social responsibility programs, a move toward clean labels or reducing the number of ingredients in processed food and refreshing facility auditing requirements. For compliance issues, companies should consider going beyond simply collecting verification data of their supply chain's adherence to regulations to automating their management of compliance documentation to make sure compliance is up to date. And once that system is in place, the same technology can be used to ensure that information supplied by trading partners on things like gluten-free products or items containing nuts is frequently updated to ensure lapses do not occur that could lead to lawsuits or worse.

There certainly are a few different visions of the future of food safety. In any scenario, without the enterprise-wide culture of food safety, one that extends from the corner suite to the store and beyond, retailers will remain at constant risk for issues that could impact their brand and, more importantly, their customer's health.