SQFI Shares Five Food Safety Production Topics to Watch in 2024

Dec 13, 2023

By Gigi Vita, Chief Food Safety Assessment Officer & Senior Vice President  

In the constantly evolving food safety landscape, 2024 will usher in both challenges to overcome and innovations to  leverage. The industry is navigating a complex web of risks and opportunities, from the intricacies of combating food integrity and vulnerability to the imperative verification of foreign suppliers. Additionally, food waste, the integrity of packaging materials, and the intertwined concern of food security are emerging as pivotal areas demanding heightened scrutiny and technological solutions. 

SQFI data insights drawn from more than 12,000 food safety certifications globally give us a unique perspective to identify common gaps in management systems and trends in continuous improvement. Below, we outline five key food safety topics to watch in 2024. 

Let's break down the key points: 

1. Food Integrity and Chemicals of Concern: 
  • Chemicals entering the food supply, through fraudulent activities or environmental contaminants in agricultural products and ingredients, are receiving heightened scrutiny by regulators and consumers.  

  • Product safety concerns are prompting a reevaluation of risk assessments, verification requirements, and supply chain visibility. 

  • In 2023, chemical hazards prompted recalls including naturally occurring toxins and heavy metals, which is a failure in risk assessment, supplier controls, and verification. 

2. Supply Chain Programs 
  • Enforcement of foreign supplier verification requirements and implementation of traceability regulations are driving major shifts in supply chain operating systems. 

  • The lack of robust information technology (IT) systems to manage traceability and risk identification will disrupt the industry if adequate preparatory steps are not implemented in a timely manner. Large and small organizations will likely experience challenges when deciding to invest in and implement trustworthy IT resources.  

3. Food Waste 
  • Food waste is a topic driving strategy at a federal level around food loss and waste prevention, and an increase in recycling organic waste. Increased support for policies that incentivize and encourage participation in these key areas also introduce challenges in food safety. 

  • Ingredients or food processing by-products destined to be reworked into new value-added products must be identified and managed intentionally as a potential food ingredient; in other words, they must be identified, handled, stored, and transported safely.  

  • A well-controlled system for identification and tracking of reworked ingredients supports traceability in the event of recall or food safety incidents.

4. Food Packaging Materials Safety  
  • While the transition to more sustainable packaging is worthwhile, it is critical that these efforts in the food industry do not lead to increased food safety risks to consumers. 

  • Risks of prohibited substances found in recycled content are controlled by implementation of the SQF system for managing supplier approval and materials specifications. 

  • The intended use, handling, and cooking conditions that the packaging materials are subject to must be considered to reduce food safety risks. 

5. Cybersecurity  
  • Awareness of cybersecurity threats is building with several recent high-profile incidents that resulted in devastating business disruptions.  

  • The consequences of an attack are significant. Supply chain disruptions with global impacts have occurred through the infiltration and ransoming of operational process control systems. Incidents of cyberattacks have resulted in temporary closures of major food processing facilities as well as transportation ports, notably the total shut down of several ports in Australia in November of 2023.  

  • Beyond business disruption, the integrity and safety of food products is put at risk when processes or other critical control measures are manipulated or impacted by cybercriminals. 

These five topics to watch in food safety have a few things in common:  
  • They are linked together by a common need to manage emerging risks and the solutions that address the consumer demands for transparency, authenticity, and sustainability.  

  • The need for sophisticated information technology systems to manage traceability and risk identification is disrupting established businesses and start-ups getting off the ground.  

  • The lack of resources to assess and implement IT systems is a barrier across the industry in the drive to reduce risk. 

Utilizing a Trusted Food Safety Management System 

Employing third-party certification, such as SQF certification, is a reliable approach to providing an oversight system for food safety management. Requiring suppliers to achieve certification drives the whole industry to higher standards. This is our shared responsibility as we meet consumer and retailer demands for variety, transparency, and safety in the food industry. The SQF Code has elements to address the trends above: 

  • The SQF Code requirement to annually evaluate the food defense plan provides an opportunity to include cybersecurity in the overall assessment. Proactively implemented plans to protect food safety controls and ensure business continuity. 

  • The growth of SQF certifications for food sector category 27, Manufacture of Food Packaging, demonstrates the recognized benefit of managing food safety risk comprehensively.  

  • In July 2023, SQF earned recognition by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration - FDA for its alignment with the FSMA Preventative Controls of Human Food Rule. 

  • SQF Edition 9 Section 2.6.12 Product Traceability and Crisis Management – Mandatory Product Identification Specifics emphasizes the importance of effectively managing product changeover procedures. It requires organizations to have documented procedures in place that outline the steps to be followed during product changeovers to prevent cross-contamination, allergen transfer, or other potential hazards. Additionally, 2.6.2.1 The responsibility and methods used to trace product shall be documented and implemented to ensure finished product is traceable at least one step forward to the customer and at least one step back from the process to the manufacturing supplier; 

  • SQF certified sites are well positioned to build on these procedures to encompass the FSMA rule 204 and customer traceability requirements. 

For more information on SQF certification, please visit sqfi.com. 

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