Emerging Trends in Food Safety Controls for Packaging, Transportation and Supply Chain Storage
As percentages of imported food start to increase, foodstuffs are transported over ever increasing distances. Due to centralisation, internet shopping and global procurement, food safety scares and quality defects are also increasing in number and geographic spread. This is creating a new era for logistics, storage and transportation, one that highlights a need for innovation in product formulation, packaging and transportation logistics, amongst others.
Climate change could impact on consumer behaviour, and affect food trade, as well as food and feed processing and handling. Product vulnerabilities to climate-induced changes could, amongst others, relate to the degree of direct exposure of a product to those changes, the level of intrinsic risk of microbial contamination, the level and type of processing applied to inactivate microorganisms, and the way products are packaged, stored and transported. A significant increase in ambient temperature will affect all aspects of the cold-chain from the chilling/freezing of raw materials to storage, transport, distribution and retail display. As a result, and to avoid compromising on food safety and quality, retail and domestic refrigeration temperatures will need to be significantly reduced. It was recently reported that the cold chain currently accounts for 1% of the world’s CO2 production, a percentage expected to significantly increase as temperatures rise. Reducing energy usage in the food cold-chain still remains a challenge. It has been estimated that 40% of all food requires refrigeration, and 15% of the electricity consumed worldwide is currently being used for food refrigeration.
Environmental changes and increases in emerging pathogens challenge current food safety management systems and impact on the industry’s ability and readiness to manage, integrate and control food safety in existing quality management systems and chains. A key challenge for food manufacturers and retailers is to maintain product safety and integrity during (1) packaging, (2) storage and (3) transportation.
1. Packaging. The primary purpose of food packaging is to protect food from physical, microbial and chemical contamination. Therefore, the type of packaging used plays an important role in determining the shelf life of a food. Packaging also works as a tampering deterrent, usually in the form of tamper-evident features such as banding, special membranes, breakaway closures, special printing used on bottle liners, heat-seals used on medical packaging and others that cannot easily go unnoticed when breeched.
Today’s consumers increasingly demand mildly preserved convenience foods with fresh-like qualities. In addition, advances in retail and distribution practices (e.g. internet shopping) have led to greater distribution distances and longer storage times for a variety of products. Different temperature requirements trigger the need for significant packaging innovations.
Active and intelligent packaging technologies are a potential way to extend shelf life, improve safety and improve the sensory properties of packaged foods. This is achieved by providing the best microenvironment within the package, through optimal gas composition and humidity levels. Active packaging systems extend the shelf life of food products by extending product quality and increasing safety, protecting against intentional and unintentional contamination, and enhancing the convenience of food processing, distribution, retailing, and consumption. Intelligent packaging is considered an emerging technology. It has attracted a lot of attention from many stakeholders, due to the range of benefits it offers (e.g. monitoring and reporting the safety and integrity of products across the supply chain, from producer to consumer). Intelligent packaging is defined as ‘packaging that contains an external or internal indicator to provide information about aspects of the history of the package and/or the quality of the food’. It can improve the quality or value of a product, provide more convenience, or provide tamper and theft-resistance.
2. Storage. Food storage conditions can be an entry point for pathogens and/or permit the growth of pathogenic and spoilage microorganisms. Proper post processing storage and handling, including temperature control, are necessary to ensure food safety. This is likely to vary according to the type of commodity/foodstuff. Beyond the use of singular food preservation techniques, many strategies employ a combination of preservation techniques, e.g. refrigerated/cold chain storage under modified atmosphere and reduced heat treatments, combining several factors to assure microbiological safety and Hazard and Critical Control Points are identified and controlled.
3. Transportation. Following the harvesting of nearly all commodity types, raw foodstuffs are usually transported to holding, shipping, or processing facilities. Even processed foods that have received microbicidal treatment are frequently transported to other locations for bottling, packaging, and/or shipping. Transport conveyances are a vulnerable part of the food chain, with truck sanitation and temperature control being important contributors of product and ingredient contamination, including post process contamination. Many different types of vehicle are utilised in the logistics chain, including machinery, rail, road vehicles, shipping vessels and air transportation. In addition, the interfaces and cleaning regimes between transportation of different commodities should be considered to help prevent contamination.
Regardless of what has or has not happened to commodities on their way from farm to table, the final common pathway for food involves storage, preparation, and serving at potentially unsafe storage temperatures that permit the growth of low levels of pathogens. Strict attention to good manufacturing practices, sanitation control procedures and hygienic practices of plant employees are effective in controlling many of these hazards, and help ensure the safety and integrity of a complicated supply chain such as the food supply chain.
The implementation of management systems to control logistics i.e. TAPA, FSR or TSR certification, or through GFSI benchmarked certification such as the BRC Global Standard for Storage & Distribution, will help control these processes in the chain as the BRC Global Standard for Food Safety will for manufacturers. This will also help to provide customers with due diligence, visibility, traceability and transparency, thereby helping to keep food safe from contamination throughout the supply chain.
For further information, please contact:
Dr Evangelia Komitopoulou
Global Technical Manager – Food
t: +44 (0)7824 089985
Global Programme Manager – Transported Asset Protection Association (TAPA) &
Global Special Projects / 2nd party Manager – Food
t: +44 (0) 7889 939738