Driving Food Safety Downstream

Columns - View Point

December 10, 2013

Lisa Lupo

In QA, and in this column, we have often discussed the necessity of upstream communication for supply management and downstream communication to ensure consumers understand their role in food safety. What has not always been as much of a focus are the interim steps between food manufacturing and the consumer ... that is, taking steps to ensure that the food safety and quality of your product stay intact through distribution and retail.

Earlier this year, our cover profile focused on Walmart’s driving of food safety standards through requirements it makes of its suppliers (Walmart Drives Food Safety Standards, May/June 2013). Other retailers have such upstream requirements as well, or are beginning to follow Walmart’s lead. But do you set standards for these downstream providers of your product? Do you inspect their facilities, communicate your expectations, or work with them to educate them on the food safety and quality needs of your product?

In this issue of QA, our cover profile features a company that does just that. Each year, for at least the last 20 years, Nestlé Purina has held a Food Safety Symposium at which it hosts associates of its distribution and retail partners. A predominant food safety challenge in pet foods is pest infestations, and in the 1990s, this was becoming particularly challenging as “big box retailers” began expanding to carry food without having the background knowledge of controlling pests associated with that. Additionally, those same decades have seen a change in owners’ perspectives of their pets. The family dog or cat used to be just a dog or cat, and an insect or two in a bag of generic pet food kept in the garage or shed wasn’t a major issue. Today, those same pets are members of the family; their food brand and nutritional components are carefully scrutinized and selected, and the quality and purity of the food of the family’s pet is just as important as that of the family’s people. Further, today, pet foods are getting more regulatory scrutiny with the recent publication of the Food Safety Modernization Act’s (FSMA) proposed rule on preventive controls for animal foods—which varies little from that of human foods.

But, at Purina, the challenge of all of this is being met through food safety and quality practices at its plants and requirements for its suppliers ... and education of its distributors and retailers through the symposium that its downstream partners vie to attend, that has had to turn away participants in recent years because of its popularity, and that has competing downstream providers talking freely and assisting one another with food safety challenges and issues.

But, perhaps most important for attendees, the Purina event addresses and involves a segment of the food industry that, as several attending distributors stated, often feels neglected and out of the loop with few resources focused toward their specific issues. Important as well, because, whether a distributor of pet or human food, FSMA’s proposed rules also address and involve this segment in new ways, with regulations not previously applied to distributors.

And, perhaps most importantly for Purina, the communication and education is, as this issue’s cover profile headline states: protecting business and strengthening consumer loyalty. Objectives that are key to the success of any food producer: animal or human.

(Read the Purina profile, page 8.)

The author is Editor of QA magazine. She can be reached at llupo@gie.net.