Certification of Ingredient Supply Chains

Originally Published: October 22, 2019
Last Updated: February 4, 2021

Mincing no words in his presentation covering the certification of ingredient supply chains, Steve Taormina, Business Manager, NSF International, warned of major battles brewing in the food certification arena in his presentation “Behind the Label: Clean Label ‘Musts’ for the Ingredient Supply-Chain.” NSF International is a not-for-profit organization focused on science-based health and safety services that operates independently and is committed to professional certification. He emphasized, “NSF does not take positions on the merits of perceived public health issues, such as GMO or clean label definitions.”

Taormina warned that science is losing its battle to influence public perceptions on food safety risks, putting added pressures on food and beverage companies to comply with ever shifting and sometimes vague consumer expectations.

Taormina cited a 2018 PEW Research Center survey of 2,537 U.S. adults regarding their perceptions of food and beverage risks. While 70% of respondents acknowledged that science had had a “mostly positive effect” on foods, nearly 50% also expressed fears about the safety of food additives and claimed that GMO foods could lead to health or environmental problems.

Science and industry have been trying to push back by promoting uniform certification standards, such as the federal National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standards. Independent groups, like the Non-GMO Project (Bellingham, Wash.) are writing their own standards for GMO-free food certification, with the ultimate goal of revolutionizing how foods are produced and processed worldwide, noted Taormina. Referencing “non-GMO” and “gluten-free” certifications, Taormina proposed a five-step approach toward companies’ certifications of their ingredient and food supply-chains.

Step one is to commit to full supply-chain transparency. “In the context of non-GMO standards, it all comes down to DNA verification,” expressed Taormina. Full transparency anticipates consumer expectations that all that is hidden will become exposed.

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Step two is segregation of high-risk inputs. “For non-GMO certification, we know that minerals (salt, baking soda) have no DNA, so they can be overlooked,” said Taormina. “‘Low risk’ applies to crops and other ingredients not currently available in genetically modified forms. Most fruits and vegetables fall in this category, as do herbs and spices. ‘High-risk’ ingredients, on the other hand, include corn, soybean, canola, alfalfa, sugar beet, papaya, potato, squash/zucchini and ‘arctic apple,’ all of which may or may not include GMO variants. These warrant scrutiny,” he added

In order to comply with organizations such as the Non-GMO Project, one must be able to document the raw material sources of ingredients ranging from amino acids and flavors, to vitamins and the materials used in their processing. In the case of animal products, it also requires certifying the non-GMO status of feed ingredients…even the plants and flowers used to produce honey.

Step three is to establish, document and guarantee the traceability of ingredients all the way throughout the supply chain. Pointing to the ingredient list for a raspberry filling as an example, Taormina asked, “If it is sugar, is it made from beet or sugarcane? If citric acid, what was its raw material source? If flavors, what are their origins and methods and materials used in their extraction, and was the extraction material non-GMO?”

Step four is to ensure that allergen-control systems are in place to eliminate allergen risks. “What are the traceability protocols and operating procedures necessary to prevent commingling or cross-contamination by allergen or gluten-containing ingredients?” he asked.

Step five is to determine third-party certifications or the proper certification agencies with which to work. While certain retailers such as Whole Foods make clear their expectations, manufacturers face a plethora of choices. NSF is also working with the Plant Based Foods Association, an organization focused on providing vegan-friendly certification. Taormina anticipates some potential regulatory confusion regarding emerging plant-based products, given the liberal application of terms, such as “meat” and “milk” applied to plant-based products. Increasingly, companies must also deal with emerging consumer and retailer expectations regarding certifications pertaining to social justice issues, such as human and animal rights.

Remember, in the end, the goal of those seeking certification is not only about science, health or reason; it’s also about changing the face of global agriculture and the types of foods we eat.

“Behind the Label: Clean Label “Musts” for the Ingredient Supply- Chain,” Steve Taormina, Business Manager, NSF International

This presentation was given at the 2019 Clean Label Conference. To download presentations from this event, go to https://cleanlabel.globalfoodforums.com/category/clean-label-rd-academy/

See past and future Clean Label Conference Events at https://cleanlabel.globalfoodforums.com/clean-label-events/