As global pressures mount and the world continues to move at a faster pace than ever before, the food and beverage industry is sure to see significant changes. Through the coming years and beyond, food safety, in particular, will be impacted by several key factors. From global pressures to labor challenges and seemingly unending legislation changes, the influences that will shape the food safety landscape demand careful consideration — and preparation.

To approach these challenges successfully, today's food safety leaders will have to do more than just keep up. We must anticipate the changes that will come and ramp up our efforts accordingly.

Labor, Blockchain, & Legislation: 7 Factors Impacting Food Safety


The State of Food Safety Today

Manufacturers worldwide share the overarching goal of ensuring food safety and, in doing so, reduce exposure to natural hazards, errors, and failures. Of course, this also means reducing the number of food safety incidents and following standard processes to keep food safe.

While regulation exists to support food safety, it has historically taken a reactive approach. Nowadays, however, the industry is slowly moving towards a more proactive approach, with new regulations such as the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) in the U.S. That said, barriers to food safety remain in place. For instance, many facilities still operate using paper-based records, which can impede the ability to move quickly in the food safety realm.

Moreover, issues such as foodborne illness remain at large: there are 600 million cases of foodborne illnesses across the world each year. Because the U.S. has strong legislation in place to support food safety, it represents just 77 million of those cases. Of course, this number is still staggering, and when we watch the news, it may seem as if there are more foodborne illness outbreaks than ever before. In reality, FDA recalls are at a five-year low. However, communications surrounding food recalls have improved, which is why incidents seem so frequent.


What is Food Security?

The World Health Organization defines food security as a time "when all people at all times have access to sufficient, safe, nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life." Food safety is an integral part of food security. And with a population that will only increase in the coming years, the pressures to provide safe food will become more demanding. As we adapt food safety to this growing demand for food security, the methods that got us here – our current food safety status – will not take us where we need to be. As a result, it's time to weigh, very carefully, the key factors that will impact food safety in the near future.

environment food safety

Factor 1: The Environment

Environmental factors will shape our ability to provide safe food in several ways. Specifically, the following issues are likely to cause disruptions in the supply chain:

  • Extreme weather events. More than 80% of all major internationally reported disasters are climate-related (FAO). Natural disasters can lead to vulnerabilities in the supply chain and impact the safety profile of incoming products.
  • Global warming. Crop yield will be impacted by climate change within the coming years, which will prompt food companies to reevaluate their supply strategies. This could introduce new risks in production facilities and demand a new approach to food safety.
  • Disease. Global warming and an increase in extreme weather events will make crops and animals more vulnerable to disease, potentially jeopardizing food supply and requiring new means of preventing the outbreak of harmful pathogens.
  • Water stress. Limitations in the water supply and risks of contaminated water sources will likewise cause pressures and continue to be an issue both in the U.S. and across the globe.

While the factors above are worrisome and demand our attention, they make up only one area which will affect food safety. Next, let's focus on the impact technology will have on the industry.


Factor 2: Technology

Technology is revolutionizing all industries, with food and beverage being no exception. Luckily, it's one area which can have a tremendous, positive impact on food safety. Technology is changing the way we manage, treat, and trace food safety issues. Companies that are embracing these developments realize several key benefits of technology, including the ability to:

  • Leverage electronic phytosanitary certification data to facilitate trade and regulatory cooperation
  • Strengthen animal health and welfare
  • Foster prudent and responsible use of antimicrobials
  • Improve resilience to crises and disease outbreaks
  • Enhance consumer guidance
  • Reduce food loss and waste

As a whole, food safety represents a vast area of opportunity where powerful technology can solve challenges. One way in which many facilities have already begun to leverage technology is by accessing the "Internet of Things" (IoT) data. Machines throughout production facilities are sources of rich data which can be studied for trend analyses and used as decision-making support for creating safer, more quality-driven food practices. Mechanized sensors also help food safety companies access key insights in real-time.

Technology is also used to change our approach to sanitization. Digitalization makes tracing simpler and more accurate, allowing us to pinpoint and respond to incidents more efficiently. With the knowledge that technology helps us collect, we can become better at preventing and reducing incidents in the future.

Of course, technology tends to go hand-in-hand with logistics. Let's discover the role logistics will play in food safety moving forward.


Factor 3: Logistics

In addition to enhancing processes within the food processing facility itself, technology improves logistics. In specific, blockchain and similar technologies now make it possible to trace food from farm to fork. Traceability is critical for responding to food safety incidents in a timely and comprehensive manner. Yet, logistics can also be used to combat the food loss crisis. Digital recordkeeping and improved efficiency of the global supply chain can directly address food loss on a global scale.

Overall, the world produces enough food waste to feed an additional 2 billion people. If we can eliminate or even dramatically reduce this waste, we could provide safe food for the growing population without smaller increases to food production.

The food industry is working hard to become more creative in its use of previously scrapped food. For example, food manufacturers are now beginning to use the leftover pulp from cocoa products. While using parts of foods that have not been traditionally consumed can help combat global hunger and waste problems, the registration process of having these items approved requires additional steps. These steps must not be bypassed, as they're important to both compliance and public safety.

Of course, consumers also play a role in controlling food waste, which brings us to our next point.

food safety logistics employee


Factor 4: Consumers

Consumer preferences and behaviors are evolving, which impacts food safety. First and foremost, consumers in developed nations contribute significantly to food waste issues. Within these countries, consumers waste almost as much food as the entire net food production of Sub-Saharan Africa (World Food Programme). Finding responsible ways to avoid food waste will be important to providing the world's growing population with a steady supply of safe food.

Another change in consumer behavior is the increase in homes with pets. The pet population is growing globally and, while dried pet foods were once the primary source of sustenance for domesticated animals, consumers are now demanding different foods for their animals. However, these changes have food safety implications. For example, the shift towards raw food diets for canines has led to a spike in salmonella cases. Feeding pets raw foods in the home can be dangerous, and consumers have a responsibility to learn and employ safe food handling practices for themselves and their pets. Consumer illnesses have a direct impact on the food industry, so we all should discuss food safety with friends and family members when possible.

The industry will continue to adjust food production to meet changing consumer preferences. Yet, food safety must remain at the forefront as we develop new products and find new ways to reuse and recover waste. And we must do this in a working environment where efficiency can be challenging, especially with labor shortages, which we'll discuss next.


Factor 5: Labor

One factor that is often overlooked from a food safety perspective is labor within the industry. Food labor is at an all-time low, both in the U.S. and around the world, even though 28% of the global population is directly or indirectly employed by agriculture.

As the labor shortage grows, there is an immediate impact on production. To compensate for shortages, many companies turn to temporary and day laborers. Yet, many duties, such as harvesting and processing, are labor-intensive. Some companies employ mechanization to address this issue. While it allows processes like harvesting to be done in high volumes over a shorter period, it also changes the company's food safety and food waste profile.

Both manual and mechanical labor present their own food safety risks. Automatic harvesters pull up soil, which could introduce different pathogens into the food supply. This might not be an issue with manual labor, but other problems may arise. Many individuals find working conditions in food and agriculture to be subpar and leave the sector to find employment elsewhere. This means there's often insufficient time to train new, temporary hires or day laborers. As the industry adjusts and hires larger, more transient workforces, better training, especially in safety, must become a critical priority. Training challenges are many: training must be accessible, easy to deliver, and delivered in multiple languages to get frontline workers up to speed.

One area that influences labor across the food industry is policy, which is our next area of focus.


Factor 6: Policy

While policy can be a challenging topic to address, it's a key piece of the food safety puzzle and must not be overlooked. Immigration policies, in particular, have a major impact on labor in the food industry. Up to 60% of farmworkers are undocumented, and changes in immigration policy for migrant workers will play a significant role in the way food and beverage operations are run throughout the U.S.

Of course, the other major policy shift that has occurred in recent years is the development of FSMA. The U.S. isn't the only nation to have adopted new food safety regulations; Canada, parts of Europe, China, and New Zealand have also introduced new food safety laws. These factors, combined with changing tariffs, will shape the way we import and export food. This is especially true for the U.S., which both imports and exports food on a massive scale.

With these factors in mind, let's review a final but important factor that will influence food safety within the coming years: the media.


Factor 7: Media

As with all industries, the media has presented unique challenges for food companies within recent years. The rise of fake news makes it difficult for consumers to understand which information they should trust. Even when news is presented as reputable, many find that this is not always the case. The spread of misinformation can take its toll on a specific brand, but also on competing brands and the food industry as a whole. Whether a food issue is fake or not, it can be difficult to recover from reputation damage. It's also important to remember that the other factors discussed thus far all flow through the media. Consumers learn about food industry updates based on their interactions with the media. And, while sifting through information to find the truth can be time-consuming, it's important to stay tuned in. The factors affecting food safety are communicated through the media, which will ultimately influence the way consumers view the food industry as a whole.

Food safety is likewise interrelated to all the other aspects discussed. In many cases, one changing factor can spur consequences in other areas. For example, if immigration policies shift, these changes can impact labor dynamics and the way a facility uses digitalization within their plant since new, technology driven programs may require training. Thus, while factors such as labor, technology, and policy seem independent, they are interrelated in many ways.

As we think about food safety in the coming years, it is essential to take an interdisciplinary approach to navigate challenges that may arise. Shifting global pressures and their interrelationships will drive changes in food safety practices, and we need to begin sowing the seeds of interdisciplinary food safety innovation to assure we are all ready. We'll discuss some best practices for taking this approach in the final section.

food safety

Leadership Skills to Support the Future of Food Safety

Even if you are not in a leadership role, you can still adopt the skills needed to support a successful future in the food safety industry. Some of the most valuable skills to acquire include:

  • A broader understanding of food systems. Next time you're enjoying a meal, think of the many steps it took to get to your plate. Looking at food safety through a broader lens can help us understand the interdependencies within the food industry.
  • Understanding of the interdependencies. Everything is interrelated from farm to fork, and having knowledge of these relationships within the supply chain can lead us towards solutions that promote food safety across the globe.
  • Critical and strategic thinking. Breaking down issues into key pieces allows us to prioritize and tackle them with greater ease. Strategic thinking is not easy, but considering secondary and tertiary effects and examining "what if" scenarios allows us to adopt a more defensible approach to food quality and safety.
  • Problem solving across disciplines. Being able to address the concerns of different functions within a facility can help companies move forward and think "outside the box."
  • Communication and decision-making. Communicate succinctly, know your audience, and deliver your message in the way they prefer to be addressed.
  • Negotiation and crucial conversations. Critical conversations may be challenging, but they're often the most important ones to be had.


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