Figuring out your mistakes before you enter the market is a big deal. This is especially true for the food and feed industry. By reducing cross-contamination and the spread of harmful pathogens, the food and feed industry can deliver a better outcome for both the farmer and the consumer. Consumers want to trust the products they get from the local grocer, while the farmer and supplier want to have a loyal clientele.
But the food supply chain is chaotic. Products move freely, causing all sorts of potential problems. Without detection and early mitigation, cross-contamination can seriously affect a product, rendering it unusable by both suppliers and consumers. As soon as contaminated products enter production, they are placed in the same processing equipment as other food products. If they are polluted, they will effectively pollute everything else.
Early mitigation starts with the farmer. They are interested in producing and offering pure products because the reputation of their distributors directly affects their profits. This is true for everyone in the supply chain. But when discussing early mitigation, it’s best to start with the source.
Benefits of Early Mitigation
Of course, anticipating possible pollution problems is just good business. People rightfully want their food to be clean and safe. Trust is everything. When someone has a bad experience with a food product, they are unlikely to return to it again. By identifying contaminants early and decontaminating them or removing them from the supply chain, you can ensure that other food in the supply chain is also clean.
Early mitigation is good for the environment. Early detection of contamination minimizes food waste. When you think about mitigation, you end up thinking about sustainability. The less waste, the less methane goes to landfills. Reducing waste also has a positive effect on income. When you can reduce the amount of food waste produced, everyone in the supply chain gets paid more. Less waste, more money.
The sooner you can detect an infestation or pathogens, the less likely it is to affect the rest of the supply chain. And the less the supply chain is affected, the more ROI farmers and suppliers will see in their food. Or how The Food and Drug Administration stated in 2012: “If every pathogen included in FDA-regulated foods could be eradicated, the food industry would save $6.32 billion annually.”
Yes, you read that right: $6.32. billion. One pathogen can disrupt the entire supply chain. Early mitigation means you may find individual links that need to be removed as one link can act as a multiplier in the supply chain. The more pollution there is, the more it increases, which means that food waste also multiplies.
This is especially true in the United States, where we have high expectations and strict government standards for our food. Under Food Safety Modernization Act Companies in 2011 are even more scrutinized, especially if they have had problems in the past. After all, there is a saying in the food safety industry, “The more you search, the more you will find.”
Early mitigation results in fewer recalls. This is good considering how expensive reviews can be. It is estimated that the cost of a recall for safety reasons in the food industry is on average $10 million. The ripple effect could extend even further because if consumers get sick from contaminated food, they are more likely to avoid that brand in the future.
Best practices for early mitigation
The reality is that infection will occur. However, by catching it early on, you will be able to maintain the value of your product.
The best way to achieve early mitigation is through knowledge sharing. With the exception of a few big brands, knowledge sharing is commonplace in the food industry. This is good. If one company has a problem, it usually spreads to the rest of the industry. Sharing this information is critical.
First, to prevent infection, you need to start from the very beginning, when crops are planted. A lot can go wrong during the growing phase, so it is essential that farmers use best practices for growing their crops. A typical example: lack of water can lead to seed cracking, which can allow mold to enter the seeds and possibly end up contaminating the entire supply chain. Or, if it’s exceptionally moist and warm, fungus can sprout and be difficult to control. Because of these factors, proper water practices have proven to be one of the most important keys to early mitigation.
Another important element of early mitigation is storage. Farmers need to be aware of where they store their crops, as mold and fungus can grow in certain environments. This not only pollutes the crop, but also reduces the weight of the crop, which means a lower ROI for everyone involved.
Farmers are doing an incredible job and have a lot to do, and the food industry needs to support them to mitigate the impact as soon as possible. There are factors that farmers simply cannot control. Even if a farmer notices a defect in his crop, he may not know how best to deal with it. This is where the rest of the industry comes in, helping to find mitigation strategies for everyone in the supply chain. The better the harvest, the better the outcome for everyone in the chain.
However, the field is not the only place where you should pay attention to possible contamination. It is essential to test products at every stage of the supply chain. Just because the grain leaves the farm clean doesn’t mean it can’t be contaminated elsewhere along the way; dilution being the solution is outdated thinking. Careful and frequent testing can reveal where contamination is occurring, which will later be of great benefit to the supply chain.
How can advanced technology help?
With the help of genome sequencing, scientists have been able to find out which bacteria cause the most disease in humans. This sequencing, known as whole genome sequencing, could also provide answers to why certain bacteria are more or less resistant to antibiotics. By being able to find this information, scientists can determine outbreak and disease trends. By discovering these trends, scientists can gain a better understanding of what contaminates food and where the contaminant comes from.
Elsewhere, artificial intelligence and blockchains are being used to track food straight from its source. This is good for several reasons: these technologies help products get to market much faster (which is a huge plus), but more importantly, they allow us to control and track contaminated products. This is very important for early detection and mitigation, and also means a safer end product for the consumer. These advancements are also great for everyone because they help eliminate food waste.
There are even new technologies to kill contaminants in heavily contaminated food, such as cold plasma technology, which kills pathogens in food or feed without affecting product quality.
And the prices for these technologies are going down. This means even more businesses can now reap the benefits by making our food much safer. Cutting-edge technology has proven its value when it comes to ROI, but smaller companies often undervalue these revolutionary features. We need these technologies to be available to as many vendors as possible and deployed without significant cost or changes to the supply chain.
Ensuring that food industry leaders and everyone else in the supply chain is aware of how to improve food safety means we can lead the evolution of improving the quality of our food and feed. By being proactive, we can get safer products and fewer reviews. As a result, consumers have more confidence in the product and everyone in the supply chain benefits from it.
Larry Clark is the CEO NanoGuard Technologiesa company that prevents food and feed waste and improves food safety by destroying harmful pathogens and mycotoxins with its Aerolization technology. He has over 30 years of experience in agribusiness, including global business management, trading and international assignments.