FoodLogiQ Talks Recall Readiness with Dr. Darin Detwiler
FoodLogiQ recently spoke with Dr. Darin Detwiler, Assistant Dean at Northeastern University’s College of Professional Studies. His work at the university includes quality assurance supervision for all undergrad and graduate programs. He is also a Professor of Food Regulatory Policy, responsible for the development and instruction of courses related to food safety, global economics of food & agriculture, and food policy, for graduate students who work in the food industry. He additionally advises industry and government agencies, addressing food safety and authenticity issues in the U.S. and abroad.
Why are outbreaks and recalls getting more coverage in the news today?
Detwiler: As our food systems have become more complicated, global, and isolated from the consumer (meaning that over time, we have become distanced from the source and from the manufacturing / preparation), the likelihood and severity of outbreaks and recalls have increased. Also, with more centralization and wider distribution in food supply chains, the sheer quantity of products in a single recall have increased.
We must also look at the role of media coverage and big brand names associated with outbreaks, as well as the role that social media plays. Over the last 25 years, consumers have become aware of these incidents, and they see themselves or their families as much more at risk than prior to that time. Furthermore, consumers have gained significant strength as stakeholders who not only demand trust, transparency, certification and reputation from their brands and stores, but who also actively seek information about their foods.
Finally, one cannot ignore the seemingly non-stop occurrences of nation-wide recalls and outbreaks. These are no longer localized and infrequent.
How do you believe the recent Romaine lettuce outbreak will affect future regulations throughout the produce industry?
Detwiler: First, I join many other experts and advocates who have concerns that the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act implementation is too slow and that these companies could have prevented the problems in the first place by actually complying with the regulations.
Second, the romaine outbreaks showed the nation that the multi-state and multiple-agency elements are all at play, meaning that federal oversight is paramount to our nation’s food safety. Of course, a government shutdown does not help, nor does undermining the federally-mandated testing of irrigation water and other elements.
Finally, the future of food innovation and technology now has more public support than ever before. Consumers may have seen or heard the message over the past few years that Blockchain can make food safer and can expedite traceback and can increase transparency. Now is the time to see this actually come to fruition. We can no longer rely on paper-based recordkeeping which, as FDA commissioner Gottlieb noted, actually hindered a timely response to these two outbreaks.
What positive impact will end-to-end traceability and recall preparedness have on consumer safety and brand reputation in the near future?
Detwiler: These promises are no longer considered to be ‘cutting edge technology’ or ‘the Cadillac of systems’ in the food industry. Consumers demand safety, end-to-end traceability and recall preparedness. These should be high on a company's list of priorities and well-etched into their mission statement. Venture capital investors frequently consult with me about these in terms of what questions to ask when looking at investment risks.