The changing role of produce safety
Safety has always been of chief concern for produce companies, but ever since the world closed down because of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s become even more vital in the eyes of consumers and the companies supplying them the food.
A number of companies have come up with innovative solutions to help with food safety, and the FDA has made it a major focus of its 2021 strategy.
Providing packaging options that are tamper evident and instill confidence the sealed product has not been touched is therefore important. Additionally, the hermetic seal on a rigid tray ensures the product stays safe and doesn’t get damaged along the supply chain. This is specifically important for consumers that have changed their buying habits to utilize home delivery services or curbside pick-up to ensure their product arrives in the freshest state possible.
Kaitlin Wyatt, assistant sales contracts and brand manager for Proseal America Inc., based in Richmond, VA, noted all Proseal tray-sealing machines incorporate hygiene by design, a vital requirement in the food packaging sector.
“Our machines feature a robust stainless-steel construction able to withstand frequent and rigorous cleaning, with full chemical specification machines available for applications requiring a chemical wash-down,” she said. “An additional key focus of our machine design is the avoidance of spaces where food could become trapped or bacteria develop, while electrical components are well insulated for maximum protection during wash-down.”
The company’s products contribute to produce safety by offering a consistent seal quality and shelf-life extension, which can mean better profit margins and less food waste.
“Once a tray is sealed, the product is protected from outside contamination,” Wyatt said, adding that in today’s post-COVID-19 world, that’s top of mind to consumers. “Robust packaging materials allow food protection from vigorous handling throughout the entire supply chain.”
New era of smarter food safety
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently announced its plan to begin sampling lettuce grown in Salinas Valley, CA, testing for Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli (STEC), including E. coli and Salmonella.
The agency will sample and test nearly 500 post-harvest samples of iceberg, leaf and romaine lettuce, in an effort to ensure that things are safe.
This is just the latest initiative by the FDA and its New Era of Smarter Food Safety blueprint, which leverages technology and other tools to create a safer, more digital and traceable food system. It includes work to enhance traceability, improve predictive analytics, respond more rapidly to outbreaks, address new business models, reduce contamination of food and foster the development of stronger food-safety cultures.
Rhonda Bassett-Spiers, CEO of iTradeNetwork, said the company offers innovative incident management and food recall technology that can precisely identify the exact product compromised, no labels required.
“Food safety is an old problem that’s really impacted the industry for a very long time, and costs tens of millions of dollars annually,” she said. “More importantly are the number of people who are getting sick, and that number is increasing over time.”
With recalls happening more than ever with produce, such as recent incidents with leafy greens, romaine, and spinach, traceability is more important today than ever.
iTradeNetwork launched software where it can leverage data and know where the produce is from, when it was picked and all of its identifying characteristics.
Normally, when a problem arises, the FDA would have to go through a manual paper trail process, which could take weeks to source. With iTradeNetwork’s solution, it can alert retailers and companies instantaneously.
“I really believe that the pandemic has affected how people think about food safety and consumers’ attitude regarding food,” Bassett-Spiers said.
Another tool the company offers is Advanced Shipment Notification, which not only offers better information about the source of food, but details when something is going to arrive at the warehouse, improving traceability.
“So, we believe it can be a differentiator, both for the grower shipper to charge the buyer more,” Bassett-Spiers said. “We also believe for retailers, it can provide them with differentiation. If you can go into a grocery store and you can see exactly where the product you’re buying comes from, you may be inclined to pay more.”