A Tough Nut or a Bitter Pill: The Realities of Global Food Safety

The most passionate minds in global food safety and traceability are gathering in Anaheim, CA this week for the Global Food Safety Conference (GFSC).  With mission statements like “One World, One Safe Food Supply”, retailers, manufacturers and suppliers alike are slowly but surely beginning to embrace a significant paradigm shift and fundamental change in the way they prioritize the safety and compliance of their food offerings.

Andrew Smith, author of the article “The Three Pillars of Food Safety in the 21st Century” explains, “At the heart of these changes are two things: The power and influence of the GFSI [Global Food Safety Initiative] in driving a consistent, harmonized approach to food safety and the shift in the certification and audit services towards more professional assessors consistently delivering more valuable assessments.”

His points indicate a slow shift towards global accountability and collaboration.  But in a 2/25 Food Safety News article, “Is FSMA Sparking Concern Abroad?,” it seems that “the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) is not held in the highest regard by foreign governments.”  The reasoning behind this, the article goes on to say, is “Some foreign governments are worried that implementation of the legislation will focus more on imported food than on domestic production….He points to China and the European Union for now, but said countries in Latin America and Southeast Asia could also take issue.”

The complexity of this tough nut is defined by not only the operational aspects of maintaining and securing a global supply chain, but by a tight weave of economic and political forces.  It seems our safety has come to this.

For any of you in Anaheim this week for the GFSC, I encourage you to be bold, approach the microphone, and ask the tough questions around accountability and collaboration.

What say you, FoodieData thinkers?

Creating a Better Mousetrap – How the Debate about Food Chain Transformation is Changing

With the proliferation of food safety recalls, sustainability concerns, food availability and resource scalability, compliance and cost to market concerns abound for many whose businesses rely on an efficient food chain.  Amongst a plethora of one-up-one-down analytics has emerged a team approach to problem solving, versions of crowdsourcing techniques, at the local level, to address what all agree is a limping, if not a broken global food chain.

In their 2013 Food Tech Media Funding & Acquisition Trends Report, media and research company Food + Tech Connect reports that VC funding for food startups is accelerating, reflecting the momentum and entrepreneurial vigor around this very challenge.  Three specific examples of virtual communities forming to share ideas and germinate the next change in our global food system have caught my attention in recent weeks. Might this be the genesis for a better mouse trap?

The first example comes from Silicon Valley, California, a community long regarded as the land of eternal possibility – where the brightest minds hunker down to hatch a better plan.  The effort to problem solve and the journey to fruition is the reward, and some high tech leaders, like Ali Partovi, a foodie and passionate local entrepreneur, has stepped in to encourage the best technology minds to noodle on how recreate and change the food system.  In a recent article, “Silicon Valley’s Next Big Goal: Fixing Our Broken Food System” Silicon Valley vanguards were encouraged to fundamentally rethink the systems governing our food, many of which we have come to take for granted.

Recently in New York City, Food & Tech Connect sponsored NYC Food +Tech Meetup: How New Tech is Transforming Restaurants.  For the benefit of a packed audience, the meetup brought to the microphone six innovative technology entrepreneurs in an accessible, collaborative model, to discuss their work to revolutionize the food industry.

Finally, the percolation of food ideas is a daily exercise at Boston’s Babson College. Their Food Sol “action tank for food Entrepreneurship of All Kinds™” Community Table Workshops and formal “Quick Service Incubator”   formalizes collaboration for tech innovators.  The program encourages the blending of ideas and solutions, by creating an environment for entrepreneurs to pitch their food start up ideas and receive feedback from small groups of fellow entrepreneurs and expert panelists.

There are no doubt numerous other examples of how local technology leaders are combining forces with their fellow foodies and supply chain experts to concoct version 2.0 of our food chain, and begin the transformation towards a better mousetrap.

What say you, FoodieData thinkers?

The Spotlight of Social Media: How Does the Food Chain Really Work?

You cannot scan your news feed or check your Twitter or Face Book account these days without seeing some post about food safety.  Whether it be bacteria tainted infant formula in China, unsafe handing of bean sprouts in Germany or the infamous Mad Cow disease scandal, the proliferation of stories of unsafe foods in our local food chain has now become a frequent and unwelcome buzzing in the background.

Stories of such outbreaks spread instantaneously across social media, leading this humble blogger to wonder about the role of information technology in changing both producer and consumer behavior.  The “pink slime” beef incident in the US recently lit a fire under the issue of the media in public safety.  Meatingplace, the meat processing industry’s trade magazine, fired back and wrote an article about the incident and role social media and non-food experts played in creating consumer fear.   Last year, a shopper at Safeway in Arizona made a splashy social media play to a local news station when she found a chicken foot shrink wrapped in a package of chicken breasts.  These kind of local stories have the viral capacity to lead consumers to wonder, just who is minding my food?

How well does the average consumer really understand how the food we consume is produced, processed and brought to market?  The complexity of sourcing, tracking, reporting, packaging, marketing, and distributing through a variety of end user channels is vastly different for fresh perishables like summer tomatoes and lettuce, proteins like beef and fish, and packaged goods like breakfast cereal and frozen dinners.  Add Nutrition Labeling and Allergen policies mandating the food system make ingredients and nutritional data more transparent to consumers and we are all swimming in one complicated food chain stew.

As consumers read more news stories, scan new product packaging and begin to worry about the safety of food on their dinner tables, will the inevitable proliferation of social media news change our dialog about food?  Will the average consumer connect the dots between a local product recall and the source of that product?

What say you, FoodieData thinkers?


Puzzling by a Data Minded Foodie

A strange thing happens when you spend almost 15 years working with Supply Chain software – you start to notice the complexity of the world around you – how things inter-relate, how dependencies are formed and how end user satisfaction can evaporate with something as simple as an inefficient response.

This Food Geek wasn’t thinking about much more than whether she could make it across the farmers’ market in time to purchase the last of the rosemary sourdough bread loaves when in the beautiful summer morning buzz, I found myself thinking about the market as relationship of entities – the foot traffic, the supply and demand, the cardboard boxes broken down behind the tents, the uber selective shoppers requesting samples, loading up their tote bags and hefting CSA shares back to their cars.

A questions came fast, and started to germinate in the back of my mind:

How does “Technology” , with an intentional capital T , serve, or miss the opportunity to serve, the larger concept of the food chain?  Where T = software, infrastructure, front end APIs, mobile, biotech, startup governance, analytics – any and all.

Then, directionality:  WHERE in the food chain is technology advantageous?  WHAT exists today?  Does it serve and can it scale? How adaptable is the technology rooted there today, and can it efficiently flex and change with time, market, policy, and environmental pressures on the system?

Next:  Gap Analysis – what part of the food chain does not leverage technology today?  Why not?  What will be the impact on not adding technology to those links, as these aforementioned pressure on the system increase? Where is the data coming from and what form does it need to take to feed the technology engines?  How does that data differ between the various food streams such as Perishables, Non-Perishables, Proteins, and Beverages?

What role do standards and governmental mandates play in how food is measured, traced, recalled, distributed, labeled, packaged, shipped, disposed of, recycled, and imported?  Would technology serve to help suppliers of all sizes comply and succeed?

So Virginia, there is a Santa Claus, I just know it….when one thinks about the application of technology to the food chain, in support of the rapid changes going on in Food (with an intentional capital F) today.

My question is:   As a marketing and business development executive, how can I find a way to add value to this puzzle?