The Top Three Food Safety Lessons of 2020 – and Implications for 2021

Christy Draus, Marketing Manager, Eagle Product Inspection

27 November 2020

2020 may not be over quite yet, but looking through the lens of hindsight, it’s clear that there are important takeaways from this challenging year. For one thing, food and beverage manufacturers need to continually assess (and adjust if needed) their safety plans and processes and their use of available technologies to get through periods of disruption that can cause labor shortages and varying levels of supply and demand. In addition, companies must pivot to new platforms to stay compliant and up-to-date with regulatory audits. 

January began with a lot of talk about 2020 being a year of perfect vision. Flash forward several momentous months and it’s clear that this year has ended up being about focus: honing in on opportunities to overcome challenges and move forward as successfully as possible with product safety, quality and regulatory compliance.  Here three key lessons to take from 2020:

The need for multifunctional and automated systems is greater than ever

When the global marketplace was quickly and dramatically affected by COVID-19 shutdowns, demand for food at retail was still strong, even as food manufacturing plants faced their own issues with restrictions and employee illnesses and exposures. With operational disruptions and labor shortages, the deployment of multifunctional equipment and highly automated systems that could do more tasks at once or replace labor to perform key tasks, became even more crucial. As one component of automated systems, multifunctional x-ray inspection systems have allowed operators to conduct simultaneous quality and safety checks with greater traceability.

This is no time to risk a costly product recall

In uncertain economic and socioeconomic times like the past year, companies can ill afford any setbacks, including product recalls due to possible physical contaminants. Today’s consumers are more knowledgeable and wary, another reason to best leverage technologies that keep products safe. To prevent recalls and maintain consumer trust, food safety plans and processes need to be updated and adhered to within a broader food safety culture. At a time when tracing is essential across many sectors of the industry, companies with comprehensive traceability capabilities in place are well positioned to prevent recalls and react swiftly to any potential issues with quality and safety. 

The ability to switch to new platforms to stay compliant in a pandemic

Food safety efforts cannot and do not take a break, even for a global pandemic. To continue to stay compliant with ever-stringent food safety standards and regulations, manufacturers can work with certification bodies on COVID-19-related postponements or the use of technologies for remote or partially remote audits.

Several new options have emerged for remote auditing. For example, following earlier directives on possible six-month postponement of recertification due to COVID-19 restrictions, the GFSI is accepting part-remote audits for certification to the FSSC 22000 standard. Pre-audit risk assessments are still mandatory.

Although there are differences in the ways remote and partially-remote audits are conducted for the GFSI and other standards, certification bodies are doing many of these audits via video from cameras installed in operational areas and via walk-through videos recorded by a manufacturer’s employee or employees. Livestream platforms like Zoom, WebEx and MS Teams are another tool that companies are using to communicate with auditors. When planning to conduct such videos and livestreams, it’s important to ensure that technologies and hardware, such as tablets, are secure and that employees are trained on how to work with remote audits.

Like other aspects of life and business in the pandemic, some of these adjustments may outlast the current health situation. Videos and livestreams, for example, may prove to be a part of auditing going forward both for internal assessments and third party audits to certain standards and regulations. With ongoing labor concerns and food safety and quality as priorities in a competitive marketplace, multi-functionality and investments in recall prevention including x-ray inspection systems will also continue to be at the top of many manufacturers’ list for moving into 2021 and beyond.