FSMA Proposed Rule for Food Traceability: What You Need to Know

On January 12, 2021, the FDA proposed new traceability recordkeeping requirements beyond what currently exists for the food manufacturing industry. As a key part of the FDA’s “New Era of Smarter Food Safety Blueprint”, these measures form the bedrock of an initiative aimed at curbing foodborne illness in the United States.

For a nation with illness at top of mind, these proposals present an array of challenges to an industry that has largely kept this information in paper records rather than a digital platform. It also presents an opportunity. Upgrading existing systems across the board, including automating your food processing line, can help control costs and improve efficiency overall.

Below, we define traceability, outline basic problems that the industry is currently experiencing, and identify ways that food processing  manufacturers can upgrade their systems into the 21st century.

What is Traceability, & Why Does it Matter to Food Processing Manufacturers?

Traceability is a method that food processing manufacturers can employ to turn data around their supply chain into actionable decisions for their manufacturing process. By getting a set of eyes on every part of your supply chain, bottlenecks in your production process can be prevented before they affect your business.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, increased pressure has been placed on food processing manufacturers to supply goods to consumers. Unfortunately, these very same manufacturers have had to contend with social distancing measures and lockdowns. This was most clear at the beginning of the pandemic: while there wasn’t a shortage of food, demand heightened as millions of Americans stocked up on frozen foods to wait out the first round of social distancing protocols.

It has also placed new attention on health risks that emerge in food processing. While the majority of health concerns have pivoted around worker proximity, the CDC considers the risk COVID-19 transmission from handling food to be very low.

Summary of FSMA Proposed Rule for Food Traceability

In short, the FDA has proposed that food processing manufacturers document and maintain records for foods at greater risk for contamination, such as cheeses, leafy greens, eggs, nut butter, some produce, and seafood. These are included under their food traceability list (FTL).

Most relevant to food processing manufacturers are records pertaining to receiving, transforming, creating, and shipping food off to its next location. Specifically, the FSMA proposed rule requires information such as:

  • Manufacturers to maintain records containing and linking the traceability lot code
  • Quantity of each traceability lot of food used in production
  • Sending all of these records (excluding reference record type, number, and transporters name) to the immediate subsequent recipient

These new requirements aim for companies to provide traceability reports within 24 hours of a request, and for this information to be stored in an electronic spreadsheet in the instance of an outbreak or related health hazard.

Are Food Processing Manufacturers Doing Due Diligence in Traceability?

In a study conducted by the FDA, they found that 59% of manufacturing food facilities failed to conduct due diligence in maintaining records on their sources, recipients, and transporters. More, 25% of the managers who were contacted were not aware of the FDA’s records requirements.

The FDA’s current guidance on record-keeping for food processing manufacturers may be found here.

For legacy food processing manufacturers, making the switch from old technology to the latest tools like traceability tools and automating their food production line, can present challenges, particularly for those running on a tight budget.

Yet the evidence is clear: failing to follow these new guidelines can have disastrous consequences beyond illness alone. Removal and destruction of contaminated products, hiring damage control experts, business interruption, and property damage costs can derail business

Benefits for Food Processing Manufacturers Who Embrace Cutting-Edge Technology

The FDA’s interest in monitoring records is primarily tied to the risk of foodborne illness and contamination. However, this situation also provides your food processing plant with the opportunity to re-examine existing systems and upgrade them to accommodate new business, including:

  • Utilizing traceability tools for easy and rapid data access
  • Automating your production line to reduce disease transmission on the manufacturing floor
  • Using predictive maintenance to reduce unplanned downtime

Bottlenecks in food manufacturing have long posed a threat to the operation of business. Traceability provides manufacturers greater control over their suppliers, and can allow quick and informed decisions to pivot towards other suppliers in the case of a food outbreak.

At Quantum, we provide businesses with cutting-edge food processing automation to keep operations running even in unpredictable times. Contact us today to learn more about our service and offerings.