Fresh & Easy's Food Safety Systems
Food Safety Update
December 30, 2007
Fresh & Easy’s Food Safety Systems
FOOD SAFETY UPDATE
The USDA Economic Research Service says that we are currently in the midst of successfully developing and maintaining food safety traceability systems, but many customers would probably beg to differ. Recent food safety scares are doing a number on consumer confidence in the food industry. According to the Food Marketing Institute (FMI), the number of consumers “completely” or “somewhat confident” in the safety of supermarket food declined from 82% in 2006 to 66% in 2007.
That’s why U.S. retailers may want to look to UK-based Tesco – and their new U.S. store Fresh & Easy – for some tips. Britain’s largest food retailer has invested heavily in a system that helps manage product safety and quality as well as traceability. The benefits of this system are clear – greater transparency and in-depth product information which all contribute to building trust with customers.
Tesco’s U.S. system is top of the line. Their technical library is a web based data management tool that holds a detailed specification for every Fresh & Easy private label product. It is a secure system that is accessible to their suppliers and technical team; suppliers can only see the information on their own product. In other words, it is their point of reference for technical information on their entire private label product range. Every minute detail about a product is agreed between the Fresh & Easy team and the supplier and this information is stored in this library.
Fresh & Easy provided us with a specification for a hypothetical product. The specification starts with logistical information about each supplier. Every supplier goes through an approval process with audits and reviews being undertaken by the Fresh & Easy team of food safety specialists. All suppliers provide a declaration of responsibility for complying with the safety standards, technical policies and codes of conduct for Fresh & Easy.
“Food safety is a priority for our business,” says Breda Mitchell, Trading Law Director for Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market. “All of our private label suppliers must meet our stringent requirements before they produce anything for us. Then, supplier performance is continuously monitored using a variety of tools.”
The specification captures detailed information on the ingredients that make up the final product including the names of the ingredient suppliers and where they are located. For example, in a hypothetical chocolate layer cake all the ingredients are detailed by their weight in both the premix and final product. Both the country of manufacture and country-of-origin information (the two are not always the same) are recorded. Nutrition facts and allergy information are also part of the specification.
“We always want to have as much information as possible on our private label products,” says Mitchell.
Not only are the ingredients for each product specified but information on each item of packaging is also retained with information on the country of origin of the materials being captured. This extends to the tamper evident closures used for security.
The agreed standards for the finished product are also featured in this specification. Appearance, aroma, texture and flavor are all specified alongside the criteria for chemical and microbiological testing. Compliance with these measures ensures consistency of quality and minimization of food safety risks.
“In some cases, the supplier will test for compliance at their facility and in other cases competent independent laboratories will undertake the testing. Non-compliances are handled on a case by case basis. The technical team and the supplier work closely together to resolve any issues,” says Mitchell.
Key operating steps to manufacture and package the product are recorded, followed by critical control points – operational steps that are key to product safety – and quality control points – steps throughout operations that are checked for product quality. Finally, product storage information captures what time frames and temperatures are necessary for product delivery. Mitchell says that the systems they are using in the U.S. have been in operation in their UK business for a number of years, and have worked well.
“We hope that our clear labeling and that the level of information that we can provide to our customers will help them understand the robustness of our systems and the level of care and attention to detail that goes into bringing private label products to them. We are continuously reviewing our food safety program and the controls that we have in place,” Mitchell adds. “We strive for excellence in everything we do. Everything is geared to bringing our customers great food that they can trust.”