I am not a clairvoyant nor do I possess any magical powers or abilities to see into the future. However, looking back at 2022 and attempting to connect the dots based on trends, pain points and my experiences in the food industry here are my seven food safety predictions for 2023:
Labour shortages have hit the food industry all over the world. The resultant shortages will result in shortcuts being taken which will inevitably impact the quality of work performed. I predict that standards will drop as the industry experiences a revolving door of inexperienced workers.
To maintain food safety standards companies should not rely on individuals to set the standards. What happens when they leave? It is about the company setting its standards and establishing systems and rituals which develop habits in individuals and the combined impact of these habits (also known as culture) will help ease the impact that resource shortfalls are going to have.
To support the company in maintaining standards, food safety leaders should consider placing more focus on why things need to be done when they are training on what should be done. A person who understands the importance and benefit of why they need to do something is more likely to do it. Leaders should not only train, but also practice, demonstrate and reinforce to boost employee confidence and retention. Encourage employees to ask questions, seek feedback, and feel empowered by creating a collaborative culture rather than a punitive one.
2. Supply Chain
The effects of Covid, labour shortages, extreme weather and wars are all significantly impacting access to materials and goods such as raw materials and pallets, resulting in production delays and food shortages. The supply chain challenges are resulting in many businesses having to source materials outside of their trusted network often resulting in exposure to lower quality or even unsafe materials.
The supply chain challenges are further magnified by the industry’s inherent lack of supply chain visibility and flexibility. Vendor assurance programs based predominantly on price are being hit the hardest. There is a need for companies to place more emphasis on full supply chain transparency through digitisation and organise supplier certifications and streamline supplier collaboration in the process.
Raw material receiving programs need to be more than just taking the product off the truck. Receiving is your food safety program’s first line of defense. This is a good place to start protecting what comes into your factory.
While it is critical to implement safety and quality protocols for your own business, it's not enough. You must also manage safety, quality, and traceability all along the supply chain. Thanks to more affordable, accessible tech tools, this is now possible for brands of all sizes and budgets, and you can get started without a big investment. Focus on what the regulations require and use digital solutions to seamlessly manage your vendors' safety and QA certifications.
3. The Covid hangover
With the return to normalcy and an increase in in-person audits expect to see a higher number of food safety audit non-compliances as a result of complacency or issues that have fallen through the cracks. Documented systems appear to have survived due to the virtual audits but the implementation and adherence to requirements are predicted to drop off with the result being more recalls. Trends show that after dropping during Covid, that food safety recalls have returned and are beginning to surpass pre-Covid levels.
Instead of returning to reactive compliance, food companies should focus on developing a more engaged workforce that is proactive. Food safety leaders should work to be “audit ready every day (proactive).
4. Social Media
Social media will continue to play a big role in food-related crises. Today, the life of a food-related crisis is a roller coaster, thanks to the fast-paced and never-ending news cycle. Since there’s always another story around the corner, people often tend to move on quickly to the next story. While this is ultimately a good thing for food safety-related crises, it will be critical to have a crisis manager who knows how to handle the ins and outs of social media in 2023.
A Crisis Management Program must include how to effectively respond on social media. Food safety leaders need to get to the source of the problem quickly. Supply chain traceability needs to be rapid. It is no longer good enough to be able to track materials one step back and one step forward within 2 hours. Traceability along the entire supply chain within seconds is needed to be able to quickly react during a recall.
It has been said that “if the US sneezes the rest of the world catches a cold”. With the introduction of the FDA’s blueprint for the “New era of smarter food safety,” there will be more emphasis on the use of technology to improve traceability and more focus on food safety culture to support change. With supply chains being global I predict that the new era of smarter food safety will see more technology being used across all supply chains.
There is clear evidence that the food industry is open to and is already making more use of technology. Moving from paper to electronic records as well as the use of apps to monitor pest control devices and cool room temperatures are just some simple examples. Dubai has launched Food Watch which completely digitises food safety and nutritional information for high-risk foods. Its “Predict, Prevent, Protect” approach is similar to the New Era of Smarter Food Safety blueprint that the FDA is rolling out.
A healthy relationship with technology and embracing change through strong employee engagement are all going to be key to meeting regulatory compliance this year.
The top motivating factor for the adoption of more sustainable practices has been customer demands, while the most widely used strategy for becoming more sustainable was reducing waste and spoilage across the supply chain. The demand for safe, wholesome, and sustainable food is a clear customer expectation that not only will trend this year but I think well into the future.
Like food safety, companies need to make sustainability a priority. Sustainability is embedded within the food industry and has been for quite some time. But in 2023, I believe that sustainability’s real business value will come to light. Not only is it a good look in general, but it also has real value for shareholders. We’ll see a shift where the industry realises the value of working more towards sustainable production.
Climate change is putting food production at risk. Therefore, there will be a renewed effort around sustainable food production, like vertical farming, hydroponics, and aquaponics. As the industry continues to accept sustainability targets, data will be used to measure how brands are doing when it comes to sustainability. Those who don’t put sustainability front and center in 2023 will be left behind.
Numerous global political and socioeconomic factors are resulting in higher costs. As a result of higher labour, raw material, distribution, and energy costs expect to see many companies cut costs and spend on food safety. Some may even decide to take shortcuts for the promise of saving money. We often see that when profitability is down perceived overhead costs such as cleaning are the first to be slashed. This is bound to reduce standards and result in more food recalls.
Food safety leaders can support profitability by reducing the amount of work that needs to be repeated. Think about how much rework, recleaning, recalling, repairing, retesting, and redoing is done.
Knowledge is power and digital efforts don't have to break the bank. There exist many new opportunities to leverage technology to gain visibility and identify/predict the operational improvements that will maximize your business success. We have seen how many industries track the supply chain through real-time applications to achieve fast accurate and effective tracking of goods and shipments. Advances in artificial intelligence (AI), The internet of things (IoT) and blockchain technology (BT) are all making digital food safety a reality.
About the Author. Anthony Raschke is the Technical Director at EyeOnRisk. He is a food safety coach that endeavours to adapt complex technical content into practical information that food safety professionals can effectively apply and make positive contributions to how they manage food safety every day.