Food Supply Chain
Food Supply Chains
In the last two and a half years, we’ve heard a lot about the supply chain and how it is failing. There are lots of reasons this has come more prominent, including the high cost of gas and shipping, a shortage of truck drivers, the invasion of Ukraine, and increased consumer demand. Climate change causing weather disasters such as droughts, flooding, severe storms, heatwaves is also responsible for supply chain issues.
Before I explore these issues, I would like to briefly introduce the basics of the food supply chain. A straightforward food supply chain might look like this:
In the schematic above, most farm products appear to go directly to industry where they become processed food products or ingredients to be added to other food products. For example, if the farmer grows tomatoes for a manufacturer to make into tomato sauce. They may sell the sauce to other food manufacturers who use it for pizzas.
A farmer may might sell to a distributor or an aggregator or sell directly to the supermarket, school, restaurant or consumer with no middle steps such as with local food systems.
Few food producers (from farmers to retailers) have a holistic understanding of the whole supply system and their role in it.
Food Supply Chain and Food Safety
Food safety is why we are concerned about adequately managing the links in the food supply chain as the more complex the supply chain, the more chance of it breaking down.
One of the biggest food safety concerns is traceability as any point along the chain may have a safety failure or a loss of control of that product or ingredient.
Thus, anyone working with food must have a Supplier Approval Program so they know where their products, ingredients and packaging come from in case there is a problem.
Fresh produce eaten raw is a particular concern. During the last few E.coli outbreaks linked to Romaine lettuce, we could not adequately traceback to identify the farm that grew the lettuce. Many of the recent outbreaks relating to fresh produce were caused by poor quality irrigation water and so it is important to know where the food was grown.
This is true of other supply chains. Nestle, for example, only know about 50% of their cacao farmers as they buy a lot of their cacao from distributors and aggregators. Therefore, every couple of years, there are reports about child labor and deforestation linked to Nestle chocolate.
The complexity of the food supply chain is part of the reason we have problems when there is a shortage. Few of us realized infant formula was being produced in four facilities in the US before the current shortage, caused by a food safety issue.
A comprehensive Supplier Approval Program is essential to ensure food safety. If you are a specialty food manufacturer and you do not have a good Supplier Approval Program, book a food safety chat today and we’ll help you get sorted out.
Who is Cathy Davies?
I write about the intersection of food science and food systems with an emphasis on food safety, food justice and resilience. I am concerned that climate disasters and changing weather patterns are affecting our ability to eat healthy, nutritious food.
I run a food safety consultancy, Food Safety Mid Atlantic, supporting specialty food businesses with their food safety plans and programs. If you are interested in learning more about my consulting services, please schedule a free call.
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