The primary goal of an FSQA manager has always been to maintain food safety standards. However, the role has changed over the years with the emergence of modern technology, increased consumer interest in food safety, and more rigorous regulatory standards. Just a few decades ago, an FSQA manager had a very different job than those in the role today. Understanding how the role has changed in the past can help you prepare for how you might have to adapt in the future.
The Rise of Technology
Changes in technology impact every industry, and food safety is no exception. Before pathogen testing technology existed, inspections relied on touch, sight, and smell. Now, rapid testing and other methods can help detect contamination in a facility before food is sold. It can also be used to determine the source of an outbreak after the fact, protecting more consumers from illness.
Testing for pathogens is a growing business, with rapid testing technologies expected to grow in value 7.5 percent by 2025. For FSQA managers, this means staying on the leading edge of the testing technologies that contribute to food safety. On a practical level, this might include identifying the most innovative testing labs or incorporating new technologies for in-house testing.
The Information Age
With the internet making information so easily accessible and immediately shareable, consumers have taken a keen interest in food safety. Illness outbreaks, product recalls, and contamination reports make it easy for consumers to stay informed, and they have expectations that food safety information will be shared immediately. Formerly announced only in the news media and regulatory publications, food recalls were not always widely known. Now that they can be spread through channels, such as social media, mobile notifications, and other digital methods, consumers naturally expect to be informed. When information is withheld, the backlash can result in unnecessary illness, lawsuits, and lack of trust.
The prevalence of easily accessible information has had an impact on food safety professionals. FSQA managers are facing more pressure than ever before to maintain clean facilities, train employees, track sanitation schedules, record test results, and implement other food safety best practices.
Pathogen Reduction/HACCP Systems
The history of food safety goes back to the time of Abraham Lincoln and has evolved as consumer habits changed and new knowledge about pathogens has come to light. Critical developments that impacted the evolution of food safety standards in the US include:
- The expansion of railroads
- Refrigerated rail cars and electricity
- Prevention of using diseased animals for food
- Inspection of imported meat products
- The publication of The Jungle and the attention it drew to meat-packing conditions
- The growth of the highway system and refrigerated trucks
- Increase in consumer demand for dressed, ready-to-cook, and processed poultry
- An unprecedented outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 in 1993
The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), responsible for the safety of meat and poultry products, was born in the 70s and fully formed in 1981 to perform meat and poultry grading and inspection activities.
The most recent initiative of the FSIS was in response to the 1993 E. coli outbreak. Prior to that point, most inspections relied on sensory-based tests. In response to a desire for a more science-based approach, FSIS focused on the benefits of Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP), marking a sea change in the approach to food safety. The landmark rule, Pathogen Reduction/HACCP Systems, was issued in 1996 and focused on the prevention and reduction of microbial pathogens, completely changing the way FSQA managers did their jobs.
The Food Safety Modernization Act
The FDA, which was split from the USDA in 1940, is the government body responsible for food safety outside of meat and poultry. The most recent legislation was the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), which was signed into law in 2011. Similar to the FSIS HACCP regulations, the FSMA focuses on prevention rather than just responding to outbreaks of foodborne illness. In recent years, this has caused a major shift for FSQA managers who must implement new systems and practices. This includes third-party certifications, using risk-based controls, and a host of new standards for food processing and transportation.
Prevention is Key
Being proactive is the best way to stay ahead of the curve with FSQA standards. Staying current with the technology that can help you maintain the existing standards, and implementing scalable systems will make it easier to adapt as new developments arise. In addition to technology and systems, sanitizing chemicals have also evolved. D7, a sanitizer that kills bacteria at the DNA level and removes biofilm without the need for mechanical action, is an example of a new chemical solution that can help you keep bacteria at safe levels. To learn more about how to incorporate D7 into your sanitation protocols and implement other best practices, read The Busy FSQA Manager’s Guide to Proactive Plant Sanitation.