Five Challenges in Food and Beverage Supply Chains

The global food supply chain is one of the most complex yet important logistics programs our world needs for sustainability. While we assume that the food supply chain is finely-tuned, and incorruptible – like any other process – it is ever evolving and faces many challenges. As technology improves, and the need for safe, and fresh food increases, our ability to understand the unique hurdles and come up with effective solutions may be the only way of keeping our food supply fresh and safe to consume.

Noted below are five distinct challenges that the food supply chain currently faces and will encounter in the future:

Increasing Demand for Food Shipping Traceability

There was a time where traceability of shipping was a luxury feature that very few customers would pay. Those days have quickly vanished. Today’s food shippers and receiving customers require traceability that not only comply with growing food safety standards but also feed the need to provide peace of mind for their consumers. Multiple consumer agencies have reported that the food-buying public is becoming increasingly aware of the dangers of food contamination throughout the food supply chain.

According to OSHA and several food safety experts, most food-born illnesses either start or expand within the food supply chain. The need for retailers and suppliers to document the who’s, what’s, where’s, and when’s of every aspect of the food supply chain, not only for consumer safety and protecting their brands – but legal reasons as well, has stimulated a growing need for more accurate traceability standards.

Poor Communication Between Food Supply Chain Partners

Food Supply ChainWhile technology has improved communication channels and opportunities in recent years, there remain gaps within the food supply chain. There are multiple actors involved throughout the supply chain. With so many people, companies, and each with unique transportation and communication methods, there are times when things simply fall through the cracks. In fact, there are multiple instances where different individuals within the supply chain of the same commodity, never interact. This can cause many hurdles, including delays in moving products, the increase of bacteria growth, food poisoning, or spoilage.

To reduce these potentially dangerous issues, improving the communication process within the food supply chain needs to be a focus point.

The Potential of Food Fraud

When most people think of food fraud, one two-word phrase often comes to mind – organized crime. To be honest, the concept of the Corleone Olive Oil Company from The Godfather is more realistic than many would believe. There are multiple instances of organizations who produce and ship counterfeit food products or use food shipping to move other illegal products. While this is mainly an issue within Europe, it does impact the global food supply chain. In fact, the US FDA has recently expanded their ‘Food Defense’ division, which specializes in investigating food fraud with importers and within the continental United States. As the potential of food fraud increases, so does regulation, which tends to create more hurdles within the supply chain.

Lack of Honesty and Transparency

Honesty and transparency in logistics is not a strength. These issues have plagued the shipping industry since it’s inception. However, when withholding facts or covering up mistakes leads to food poisoning and potential for death, it needs to stop. Several actors within the food supply chain have activated continual communication logs, which document multiple critical components of food safety including cargo container locations, internal temperature, humidity readings, and periodic food inspection checkpoints. In some cases, photographs and video documentation is used to provide evidence of inspections and reporting.

Growing Regulations

It’s often assumed that regulations within the supply chain are enacted to protect people. However, sometimes they make things worse. We’ve discussed above how delays in shipping within the food supply chain can have a significant impact on product freshness and food safety. One recent regulation enacted in the United States is the ELD Mandate. This regulation requires carriers to install an electronic logging device to document the driver's service hours each day. While many companies comply with federal driving safety standards – the ELD Mandate is causing others to significantly cut back their driver hours. In some cases, the cost of purchasing, installing, and implementing ELD systems are causing smaller carriers to shut down.

The impact of the ELD Mandate has seen a significant increase in shipping rates, fewer drivers available, and thus – a delay in shipping commodities, including fresh and perishable foods. While the current struggles with the ELD Mandate are expected to pass shortly, growing regulations will continue to impact the food supply chain negatively.

While the challenges discussed above seem daunting, they also present some opportunity to solve issues, as opposed to simply putting tape on the problem. Professional shippers and carriers – growers, manufacturers, and suppliers working together to resolve the challenges in the food supply chain will accomplish their goals mainly through open communication and transparency.