© Sirichai Puangsuwan | adobestock

As we shift into the next decade, we are seeing growing, evolving, and shifting trends. What are the dominant trends in today’s — and tomorrow’s — food industry? Why do food safety and quality assurance managers need to be aware of them? QA asked those questions to a range of subject matter experts. Following are their responses:

SUSTAINABILITY. Sustainable food production remains a concern for the food industry. This includes practices all along the supply chain — from regenerative agriculture to single-use plastic/recycling. The IFIC 2019 Food and Health Survey found that while taste and price are still “kings” when it comes to primary factors that drive purchase choices, environmental sustainability was significant as well. Over half (54%) of people noted it was important that the foods they purchase be produced in an environmentally sustainable way. We have seen this trend in the past few years as well, even when asking consumers if, less specifically, “sustainability” was an important driver. It is no secret that consumers care about this factor, but industry also wants to know what signals environmental sustainability for consumers. In response to a question as to whether they find it difficult to know if their food choices are environmentally sustainable, 63% of consumers said it is hard to know. Of these, 63% said environmental sustainability would have a greater influence on their food choices if it was easier to know which were environmentally sustainable. In 2020 and beyond it is likely that consumers will continue to look for “sustainability cues” when making food purchases; although these attributes are not readily recognizable, the hunt for them will remain. While the survey also found that 68% of consumers are confident in the safety of our food supply, their desire to know more about where their food comes from and how it is produced remain important as well. These factors are linked to both safety and sustainability and are intertwined with “food origins” — something we continue to see consumers steadily wanting more information on.

– Tamika Sims, Director, Food Technology Communications, International Food Information Council (IFIC), IFIC Foundation


TRACEABILITY & TRANSPARENCY. We know FDA is writing a rule (the high-risk foods list and traceability standards), scheduled to be proposed in September 2020. FDA is also challenging the industry to up our game to use available technology to connect supply chain data in ways that benefit public health and business. In 2020 we’ll get more insight into FDA’s thinking as they publish their blueprint for a smarter era of food safety. I’ve also seen interest in traceability from the buyer side. Buyers have long required that their suppliers be able to trace products. Now, buyers are starting to figure out how to capture data themselves, be it through blockchain (IBM’s or another brand) or another means. In 2020 we’ll have some case studies of process changes needed for full supply chain traceability, and the value derived by different segments of the supply chain. Traceability is that weird topic that falls to food safety and quality assurance (FSQA) staff in the context of a recall or outbreak, but day to day has more to do with IT, supply chain efficiencies, and even marketing. FSQA managers need to figure out who within their company is already working on this, who should be involved, and the role they play in that team. Because this is happening, digitization and sharing of data are happening.

– Jennifer McEntire, Vice President, Food Safety and Technology, United Fresh Produce Association, and Co-Editor of Traceability, from Binders to Blockchain


AUTHENTICITY. I have been working in the food industry for over a decade. While I have seen much good being done, especially by those entrusted with ensuring that our food is safe, the industry is still mired in corruption. When looking at this, people fall into one of three categories: 1) those committing fraud; 2) those who are aware of fraud and turn a blind eye; and 3) those who are powerless to do anything about fraud. Most food safety professionals fall into the third category, although some fall into the second. It is the second group that needs to step up and do something. The efforts made thus far around food fraud have been completely ineffective. The problem is more pervasive than ever, and we are at the mercy of some very sketchy food producers. Realizing the word fraud is where the problem begins, one can appreciate the need to focus on a positive. Authenticity is that positive. While nothing has really changed in the work I’ve done through the years, I have changed the way that I present this. Instead of proving a negative, I have decided to prove a positive, authenticity. Food safety professionals need to do one thing only with respect to food authenticity. I will borrow from our homeland security protectors — See something, Say something. To whom? To a third-party food fraud investigator who can use the information discreetly to make your job easier without threatening your position.

– Mitchel Weinberg, Founder and CEO, Inscatech Global Supply Chain Authenticity Detection & Prevention


FOOD SAFETY CULTURE. While 2019 was a year of transitioning from providing clarity on food safety culture to bringing it to life, 2020 will be an exciting year to assess recent efforts and share best practices on what is working — and insight on what is not. We see increasing support from various organizations in helping companies bridge food safety and behavioral science to positively impact food safety culture. This is a critical element of our efforts on the IAFP Food Safety Culture (FSC) Professional Development Group: to promote methods that measure and strengthen food safety cultures. In short, to shift “culture” from a nebulous concept to a measurable reality. As such, the key elements of the GFSI FSC position paper are being imbedded into new benchmarking requirements with an expected launch of early 2020. This trend can only help FSQA managers: a true food safety culture means every employee is on the FSQA team, it’s no longer the FSQA manager alone. Companies are embracing the “preventive controls” process by cascading the responsibilities down to individual employees and empowering each to make decisive operational decisions to support food safety commitments. FSQA managers are moving away from just annual classroom training and implementing a blended learning approach to continually reinforce and engage employees on food safety. Senior management is increasingly aware of the importance of providing teams with the time and resources necessary to elevate the company’s focus on effective food safety risk management and FSC improvement.

– Laura Dunn Nelson, vice-chair of the IAFP Food Safety Culture Professional Development Group, and vice president of food safety at Intertek Alchemy


“HEALTHY” FOODS. On September 27, 2019, Dr. Susan Mayne, director of FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN) said FDA is “close” to proposing its new definition for “healthy” labeling claims on food products. FDA already sent a proposed rule to the Office of Management and Budget for final clearance. The agency last defined “healthy” in 1993, so many industry and consumer groups have been eagerly awaiting a new definition. In recent years, FDA has refreshed its nutrition policy by updating its serving sizes and issuing new requirements for the Nutrition Facts Panel, including a declaration of added sugars. The agency is now considering modernization of standards of identity. FDA received more than 1,000 comments in connection with its “healthy” definition overhaul. While some commenters wanted the revamped definition to broadly address processed foods, pesticides, and food additives, it is more likely “healthy” will focus on types of fat, rather than total amount (consistent with the FDA’s 2016 interim guidance), added sugars, vitamin D, and potassium. There is a natural nexus to the healthy foods that FDA wants to encourage people to eat and the critical role that FSQA managers play. The Food Safety Modernization Act itself highlights food safety concerns for healthy foods like produce. It is yet to be seen what impact, if any, a revamped healthy claim or imagery will have on consumer buying. Meanwhile, there likely will be a rush for companies to market newly qualifying “healthy” foods with formulation and supply chain changes as they face healthy competition from the clean labeling trend.

– Rachel Lowe, counsel in Alston & Bird’s Litigation & Trial Practice Group


INNOVATIVE PROTEIN. Plant-based meat is a growing global trend, evolving from niche protein to center-of-plate. Consumers already expect beef, pork, seafood, and chicken on foodservice menus, and increasingly, they are expecting plants. Major grocery chains are creating products to meet customer demands; the meat industry is embracing production of innovative protein foods; and non-meat companies are eager to break into the market. Our food system currently relies primarily on about 15 crops, but a significant 2020 expansion is expected in research and development of indigenous crops (e.g., chickpea, mung bean, pigeonpea, and millets) and protein-rich foods from plants, microorganisms, fungi, and byproducts to help diversify the global sources of protein. These crops are inherently hardy and sustainable (good for the planet), can offer affordable nutrition for consumers at scale (good for people), and represent a huge opportunity to create lucrative diversification for farmers and business (good for profit). Innovation will impact each step of the supply chain: optimized crops for plant-based meat, robust cell lines for cultivated meat, new methods of texturizing plant proteins, and procedures for cultivating meat at scale. This is the future of food. Using methods from the biopharma and cell-therapy industries and insights from the fermentation industry’s operational controls and closed systems, cell- and plant-based meats can help address two of the greatest food safety challenges in conventional meat production: fecal contamination and antibiotic resistance.

– Anabelle Broadbent, Director, Food Safety, The Acheson Group


SMALL FOOD BUSINESSES. New small businesses popping up across the country are introducing unique and healthy products. Some established smaller food companies are branching out into new product lines to address the latest consumer interest. Refrigerated, fresh, frozen, and shelf-stable products are in high demand and dominate specialty retail sales. This gives small food companies exciting opportunities to take their product(s) to market in ways that work best for them. Depending upon the product and category, there also are challenges. Fresh, refrigerated, and frozen products require different types of distribution and store placement and can be more costly for smaller manufacturers; this should be calculated into their cost of goods to prevent surprises later. According to Mintel, one of the “hottest” retail segments is plant-based specialty foods. These products cover a wide range of categories: from salad dressings to plant-based meat alternatives. The challenge is to make them taste great and meet all labeling requirements. Demand for specialty beverages is also increasing, and due to their “one-time use” and variety, sales are growing quickly. All these products should be strong in 2020, but FSQA managers must continue to focus on preventing adulterated or fraudulent ingredients. Manufacturers must continue to be extremely vigilant with their supply chains and approved supplier programs because new ingredients are coming in through many different sources from around the world.

– Shawn Mcbride, Vice President, Foah International, Past Chair of the Specialty Food Association

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