US food industry focus is squarely on food safety, Eagle finds

Ardagh (left) and Geary on stand at the Food Safety Summit in Illinois.

The United States food industry’s focus is squarely on food safety, a New Zealand meat industry supplier Eagle Protect has observed.

A Convention Center in Rosemount, Illinois, near Chicago, provided this year’s venue for United States food safety professionals to attend the 18th Annual Food Safety Summit. The Summit attracted nearly 1,700 registered food safety professionals and over 200 exhibiting companies, a 20 percent increase from last year. During the three-day event, held at the Donald E.Stephens Convention Center, food safety professionals discussed the most pressing issues facing the US food industry including listeria, the implementation of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), the integration of the Nation’s Food Safety System as well as liability and jail time.

Eagle Protect a well known supplier of disposable consumables to the New Zealand meat/food industry exhibited at the Summit to announce the opening of the Eagle US branch based in the San Francisco area.

Steve Ardagh, general manager and owner of Eagle Consumables.
Steve Ardagh, general manager and owner of Eagle Consumables.

The Summit was dominated by discussion about the FSMA which is having a profound impact on the food industry in the US and has significant ramification for New Zealand exporters to the US, explains Eagle general manager and owner Steve Ardagh.

“As an example, the US Food & Drink Administration (FDA) has recently finalised a new food safety rule under the FSMA that will help to prevent wide-scale public health harm by requiring companies in the United States and abroad to take steps to prevent intentional adulteration of the food supply,” he says. “Under the new rule, both domestic and foreign food facilities, for the first time, are required to complete and maintain a written food defense plan that assesses their potential vulnerabilities to deliberate contamination where the intent is to cause wide-scale public health harm. Facilities now have to identify and implement mitigation strategies to address these vulnerabilities, establish food defense monitoring procedures and corrective actions, verify that the system is working, ensure that personnel assigned to the vulnerable areas receive appropriate training and maintain certain records.”

There are many other facets to the FSMA and Ardagh has no doubt New Zealand exporters are keeping well abreast of FDA communications and updates as the FSMA comes into force.

The Act came about over concern about the 48 million people (one in six Americans) who get sick, 128,000 hospitalised, and the 3,000 that die each year from foodborne diseases. According to the FDA, this is a significant public health burden that is largely preventable.

Ardagh says the common theme from attendees who visited the Eagle booth at the Summit was a little nervousness regarding the upcoming audits – the first under the new Act for many.

“Eagle was well received with several companies expressing surprise at the range of gloves and other products Eagle has introduced into the food processing sector. They appreciated the risk mitigation that our frequent factory visits and audit process adds to the Eagle offering.

“The focus in the US food industry is squarely on safety with the procurement decisions being based on this rather than price as may have been the case in the past.”

Eagle new business and key accounts manager Kyle Geary adds that many delegates he spoke to were simply unaware that disposable food safety personal protection gear (PPE), such as gloves, disposable clothing and so on had a part to play in their food safety programmes.

“They had the realisation that indeed many of these items were in direct contact with food: in the case of gloves, they are the last thing to come into contact with food before packaging or preparation.  We had robust discussions around the very things that Eagle hold as vital to our business: ethical sourcing, hygienic factory processes, independent auditing of factories and worker care programmes amongst others.”

Geary reports that the US representatives were very interested in some of the products the company had designed for specific work practices in the New Zealand meat industry:  gloves for the beef industry, disposable clothing to fit workers correctly, reducing the risk of loose objects and contamination through new dispensing options and designs for waste reduction.

As a result of the Summit, there are now Eagle products being trialled in such institutions as Stanford University, United Airlines and Costco, among others.

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