3 Surprises from the 2016 Food Manufacturer Survey

Food Engineering Magazine’s annual State of Manufacturing Survey is here, and it shows the industry has a lot of room for growth, despite taking some extremely positive steps last year. In this year’s survey, 72% of respondents reported that they have a food safety management system in place, and 69% report having a recall plan.

2016 Food Safety Methods
Chart courtesy of Food Engineering Magazine

Though having a food safety management system in place isn’t the same as being FSMA-ready, in 2014, only 38% of those surveyed said they followed FSMA recommendations, and in 2015, manufacturers reported 41% compliance.

GFSI Adoption and Food Safety Management Systems Grow

As FSMA has begun to take effect this year, more plants are adopting Global Food Safety Initiative programs like BRC, SQF 2000 and FSSC 2200. Plants are following these schemes, which all include an audit protocol, to ensure they’re ready for the possibility of an audit by the FDA, as well as to ensure they’re following current best practices. These programs often include measures like color coding facilities to minimize cross-contamination and using durable tools that are less likely to contribute to foreign body contamination.

Allergen Controls Reportedly Used Less

It’s tempting, as an industry, to be satisfied with this growth. However, as plant managers put some measures and checks into place, they’re leaving others by the wayside. Food safety management systems and recall plans have gone up in use, but allergen controls, which could prevent recalls like the 2016 Oreo undeclared allergen recall, have declined in use.
Food Safety Magazine reports that 34% of all recalls between 2009-2012 occurred because of undeclared allergens. In 2015, that number was 33%. The lesson? We aren’t getting any better at controlling allergens and allergen cross-contamination. Now isn’t the time to step back on things like allergen control, especially when the FDA reports more consumers have food allergies than ever.

Lot-Level Traceability Experiences Sharp Decline

Traceability, a process done using adhesive labeling that tracks products from the farm to consumer’s hands, experienced a sharp decrease in use this year. It’s entirely possible the track-and-trace feature has been incorporated into ERPs or other inventory systems, but the survey doesn’t have a way of reflecting that possibility. Either way, the 15% decline in its use is unexpected in a year that’s been dotted with around 450 food recalls, according to the FDA’s website.

Looking Forward

It could be, as Food Engineering Magazine proposes, that other safety plans have made some measures redundant, but it’s worth examining whether stricter FDA regulations have made plants fall back onto the bare minimum, or whether safety and efficiency really are walking side-by-side now.