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Whether it's peanut butter, spinach or chicken, food recalls always make headlines. The Obama administration has made food safety a key priority, with the most significant policy updates in more than 70 years coming down the pike through the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).
Several of the proposed regulations under the FSMA will have the greatest impact on smaller, local producers.
The food industry will see a pattern emerge, however: Large producers already practice a lot of what these proposed regulations preach. Each rule benefits consumers, but there will be added burdens for producers that could ripple through the entire supply chain, resulting in a number of foreseeable consequences for grocers further downstream.
By being proactive now, though, producers and distributors can minimize the impact later. For grocers especially, increased awareness of these adjustments will help maintain relationships with all stakeholders, supporting the steps required to stock shelves with goods customers want and expect.
Two components of the proposed produce safety regulation could potentially have a significant impact on the supply chain: water quality testing and raw manure use. Under the water-testing component, farmers who don't meet microbial standards during initial testing will have more options for meeting the benchmark. The regulation would also allow for a tiered approach to testing based on contamination risk.
As for manure use, the FDA is reviewing the required time interval between when farmers apply raw manure to fields and when they can harvest the crops. The agency is conducting a risk assessment to determine an appropriate amount of time between application and harvest.
It's all about reassuring customers that there's a slim chance their fruits and veggies will become contaminated with bacteria. Especially among smaller producers, however, that will bring additional costs associated with implementing the new standards, increasing testing and augmenting recordkeeping. More complex testing and preventive measures could also lead to slowdowns in production.
All of that could have a trickle-down impact on distributors, which might experience thinner profit margins as producers pass along some of the extra costs. Distributors might incur their own additional costs if they have to adjust warehouse processes to keep in step with the regulations. The time producers devote to meeting the new standards could also result in interruptions in distribution, and decreased customer satisfaction. Grocers will need to adjust to these disruptions and potential delays, factoring in the time it may take to meet increased regulations. If properly communicated and planned for, grocers can ensure their inventory is well managed, despite changing time frames.