A generation ago, average consumers rarely thought about food safety; there was no real need. But that was before terrorists staged a series of blatant, coordinated attacks in the United States on September 11, 2001. That turning point exposed America’s vulnerability.
Across the country, protecting the safety of communities large and small became a top priority. People feared what would happen next. From the perspective of people whose job it is to feed the world, the possibility of a deliberate act to contaminate the food supply became more real than ever.
Despite the best efforts of food safety inspectors and regulators, food does become tainted. We’ve all heard the news stories about salmonella and listeria. The vast majority of food security issues are the result of carelessness, accidents or other inadvertent actions. But consequences are profound. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says 48 million people get sick each year from foodborne illnesses; 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 people die.
Dr. David Franz, the director of the National Agricultural Bio-Security Center at Kansas State University, is quoted in the book The Impact of 9/11 on Business and Economics: The Business of Terror as saying,
“In a modern, complex economy such as ours, attacks on a single point of the food chain can have wide ripple effects on seemingly unrelated segments.” It could affect commodity markets, food stores, even land and machinery prices. Such an attack, which some experts say would be “relatively easy” to execute, would also torpedo consumer confidence in food produced in America, which would of course have dire economic consequences.
Given these facts, it’s easy to see why the Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act of 2002 (the “Bioterrorism Act”) is so critically important. Previously, laws only punished people or businesses that caused food contamination. The Bioterrorism Act instead improves the nation’s ability to prevent, prepare for and respond to bioterrorism. It requires businesses that manufacture, process, pack, transport, distribute, receive, store or import food to register with the Food and Drug Administration. Businesses must also create and maintain records that identify the “immediate previous source” of all food received (seller), as well as the “immediate subsequent recipient” of all food released (buyer). Dates of inbound and outbound shipments must be captured, as well as the type of commodity received and shipped, and the identity (with contact information) of the transporter.
Grain businesses have a responsibility to keep the records, and the FDA has a responsibility to diligently use the information gathered to ensure our food supply is safe. For a mock or real emergency, the FDA wants a report within 24 to 48 hours, depending on the circumstance.
The Office of the Inspector General did a study in 2009 in which they bought 40 food products and tried to trace them through each stage of the food supply chain back to the farm or border. They could only trace five of the 40. For 31 of the 40, they were able to identify facilities that likely handled the products at some point. The study uncovered that 59 percent of the food facilities they encountered didn’t meet the FDA’s requirements to maintain records about their sources, recipients and transporters. Why? The report said: “In some cases, managers had to look through large numbers of records – some of them paper-based – for contact information. Additionally, some facilities did not have integrated recordkeeping systems that linked sources and recipients to specific shipments or to transporters, and managers had to search separate systems to obtain the contact information.”
A follow-up report in Food Safety Magazine about the study concluded, “It would be very helpful if stakeholders can supply their traceability information electronically to regulators and other members of their supply chain when called upon to do so.”
That’s exactly what the binSight system allows grain businesses to do. “If we are called upon to show the FDA our records, it is very simple for us to show the inbound and outbound load information and the movement from bin to bin,” a co-op’s quality systems manager tells us. “The system helps us to be compliant with the anti-bioterrorism requirements.”
The day-to-day use of binSight provides ongoing value far beyond the regulatory aspects. “The regulation mandates may be one factor, but we realized, Wow, this is really something beneficial to us,” she says. “Being able to track our transfers and our blending, and having that information so easily accessible… that is something managers find very beneficial. Before, some may have been digging into files or looking for tickets. And now we have the information we need right at our fingertips. With a seasonal location, offsite managers can pull up the information in binSight and look at what’s at that facility, even if we don’t have staff there.”
Sure, maintaining records is a big job and can be time-consuming. But adding some efficiency to the process makes a required task that could take days take only minutes. You can keep track of your grain from start to finish – where it came from, where it went in the facility, and where it shipped – for traceability and identity preservation. You’re in compliance and you can rest easy, knowing the sources of your grain.