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Every year, we see a number of food safety trends rise to the surface that have the potential to impact companies across the food manufacturing and packaging industries. Some challenges and opportunities in food safety remain ongoing; some are just gaining traction with impacts yet to be known. Regardless, the start of a new year provides the opportunity to plan for food safety issues and trends on the horizon and prioritize efforts to ensure ongoing compliance.
Here are some of the top food safety trends KTL is keeping watch on in 2024—and some guidance to help you as you set your food safety strategy for the new year.
In November 2023, California became the first state in the U.S. to ban four food additives in foods sold in California through the California Food Safety Act. These additives—Red No. 3, brominated vegetable oil, potassium bromate, and propylparaben, have been linked to an array of diseases, including cancer. The rulemaking will require companies to tweak their recipes to offer products with healthier ingredients by the Act’s 2027 compliance deadline.
On the heels of California’s action, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is also reevaluating the use of additives, such as Red No. 3 and brominated vegetable oil. In addition, New York proposed a Bill for a similar statewide ban earlier in 2023.
Guidance: Several top brands, including Coke, Pepsi, Dunkin’ Donuts, and Panera, have taken the lead in voluntarily pulling these additives. Companies who produce foods that commonly use these additives (e.g., candy, fruit juices, packaged baked goods, and more) should be prepared for pending state and federal legislation. It is important to inventory all ingredients and to start adjusting and testing new recipes with healthier alternatives to ensure products do not have to be pulled from the shelves when compliance deadlines hit.
Food Safety Culture
Food safety culture continues to garner attention across the food industry, as it is being integrated more completely and significantly into the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI)-benchmarked food safety certification standards, including SQF, BRCGS, and, most recently, FSSC 22000. In fact, FSSC 22000 Version 6.0 incorporates both food safety and quality culture, requiring senior management to “establish, implement, and maintain a food safety and quality culture objective as part of the management system.” Organizations must develop and implement a documented Food Safety and Quality Culture Plan that outlines objectives and timelines and follows the management system process of continuous improvement.
Guidance: Shifting culture is a complex process that requires not just developing a Plan, but truly implementing it. Developing a robust food safety culture requires addressing how people work and what they believe. Senior leadership must prioritize food safety and quality to help create awareness, understanding, and ownership of the organization’s shared beliefs and values. Implementing robust food safety management systems (FSMS) can further help ensure consistent commitment, communication, procedures, training, performance measurement, and trust.
Food Loss and Food Waste
Wasted food makes up the largest percentage—over 20%—of any one material sent to landfills and incinerators each year in the U.S., and 58% of methane emissions released to the atmosphere from landfills are from food waste. In December 2023, the FDA, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published a Draft National Strategy for Reducing Food Loss and Waste and Recycling Organics. The Strategy defines four objectives and associated actions to meet the National Food Loss and Waste Reduction Goal of reducing food waste by 50% by 2030.
Efforts are also underway at the state level. As recent examples, New Jersey published its Recycled Content Law requiring manufacturers to meet minimum recycled content requirements for regulated containers and packaging products sold or offered for sale in New Jersey beginning on January 18, 2024. In addition, California Senate Bill 1383 further mandates a 75% reduction in organic waste disposal and requires that not less than 20% of edible food that is currently disposed be recovered for human consumption by 2025.
Guidance: GFSI standards like FSSC 22000 are now requiring organizations to develop a documented policy with objectives and detailed strategy to reduce food loss and waste within the organization and the related supply chain. A thorough food and packaging assessment serves as the foundation for these reduction efforts. Having this general understanding can help identify appropriate strategies to avoid waste, cut down on disposal costs, reduce over-purchasing and labor costs, reduce water and energy use associated with food production, and reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
The focus on supply chain management and food traceability remains a concern as companies prepare to meet the requirements of FDA’s Food Traceability Rule by January 2025. Significant efforts and investments are being made to improve traceability recordkeeping to create standardization, stronger linkages throughout the supply chain, enhanced communication, and faster response.
Guidance: Having a good document/records management system will be essential for maintaining the vast number of documents required by the Food Traceability Rule. Such a system can help ensure process and document standardization; central and secure storage, organization, and access to documents and records; enhanced workflows for approving and completing tasks involving documents; and easy access to documents for audits and clear audit trail.
In April 2023, FDA issued a letter to developers and manufacturers who intend to transfer genes for proteins that are known food allergens into new plant varieties for foods. The letter serves as an important reminder that developers of these new plant varieties are obligated to 1) make sure the products they market are safe for consumers; and 2) implement all measures needed to comply with the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic (FD&C) Act. If not appropriately managed, the development of these plants could result in the presence of an unexpected allergen in the bioengineered food product. And if an unexpected allergen enters the food supply, there is real risk of a severe or even life-threatening allergic reaction and, subsequently, needing to recall affected products.
Guidance: The FDA is asking developers to consider the food safety risks posed by such allergens and to plan early in development to manage those risks. Developers who intend to create these plant varieties using proteins that are food allergens need to develop a robust risk management plan that includes significantly stronger mitigation strategies and practices (e.g., crop segregation) to provide assurance that foods containing the transferred allergen are not mixed with other foods, as well as proper labeling to declare the presence of allergens.
CBD and FDA
The FDA issued a decision on January 26, 2023, concluding that “a new regulatory pathway for CBD is needed that balances individuals’ desire for access to CBD products with the regulatory oversight needed to manage risks.” FDA is concerned with the growing number of products containing CBD that are being marketed for therapeutic or medical uses without FDA approval. The Agency has sent warning letters to companies illegally selling CBD products that claim to “prevent, diagnose, treat, or cure serious diseases,” as well as to companies that sell CBD-infused food and beverages (e.g., cookies, gummies, etc.). Until a regulatory framework is established, FDA will continue to act against CBD and other cannabis-derived products to protect the public.
Guidance: Companies getting involved in this growing industry need to stay on top of the rapidly changing regulatory environment. Take the time now to assess operations, determine what emerging standards might be appropriate, identify gaps in existing programs, prepare for a new regulatory framework—state and/or federal—and begin implementing solutions to eliminate risks.
There is a common need across the food industry to manage emerging risks with solutions that also provide transparency, security, and sustainability. The recent heightened enforcement of the Foreign Supplier Verification Program (FSVP), traceability regulations, and food security concerns are pushing requirements down the supply chain and testing the entire supply chain management system. More food companies are relying on technology solutions to help manage these businesses and food safety requirements—and that will continue in 2024. Artificial Intelligence (AI) is still emerging as a business tool and could have significant impacts on how companies do business in the future.
Guidance: Having a simple, centralized FSMS to manage, track, communicate, and report compliance program information can enable staff to complete required tasks, improve compliance performance, and support operational decision-making. Companies can and should leverage existing information technology (IT) solutions to create compliance efficiencies. A well-designed and executed compliance information management system brings IT and management systems together to coordinate, organize, control, analyze, and visualize information in such a way that helps organizations remain in compliance and operate efficiently.
Other Regulatory Issues to Watch
The following Acts are all ones to watch in 2024:
- Food Labeling Modernization Act of 2023 would align labeling regulations with the latest nutrition science and advance national public health priorities through food labeling policies. The Act would require FDA to establish a standard front-of-package nutrition labeling system for all the packaged foods it regulates.
- No Toxics in Food Packaging Act of 2023 aims to prohibit certain harmful chemicals, including ortho-phthalates, PFAS, bisphenol A, styrene, and antimony trioxide, from being used in food packaging due to their cancer-causing and hormone-disrupting effects.
- Food Chemical Reassessment Act of 2023 proposes the creation of a new office within the Center of Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. The Office of Food Safety Food Assessment would reassess the safety of food additives and food contact substances.
- Transparency, Readability, Understandability, Truth, and Helpfulness (TRUTH) in Labeling Act of 2023 would require FDA to develop new front-of-package labels for foods and beverages to improve consumer access to health information.
Set Your Goals for 2024
With these challenges simultaneously competing for attention—and with fewer resources to manage it all—companies need to assess priorities, needs, and requirements and create a plan for how to meet them. KTL suggests completing the following early in 2024:
- Get senior leadership commitment and invest in creating a food safety culture that prioritizes food safety and quality.
- Understand current and pending regulatory and certification requirements and their applicability to your company. Know your operations, inventory your ingredients, understand your supply chain, quantify your food waste. All of this is necessary to help ensure compliance and sustainability.
- Seek third-party oversight. Having external experts periodically look inside your company provides an objective view of what is really going on, helps you to prepare for audits, and allows you to implement corrective/preventive actions that ensure compliance.
- Leverage IT solutions to streamline compliance, manage certification requirements, create transparency, and ensure business efficiencies.