Food Security Trends 2022: Learning to live with COVID

As the United States enters its third pandemic year, the virus’ influences on the food industry will continue, even as supply chain partners embrace new trends and reject old ones this year not just to survive, but to thrive.

John Rowley, Vice President of NSF International’s Global Food Division, recently shared his views on 2022 trends in the food industry, with a focus on food safety issues. NSF specializes in food safety training, testing, consulting and other services.

Rowley said all segments of the supply chain, from growers to retailers and restaurants, continue to move to meet challenges, even as the pandemic has led to staffing issues and exacerbated the supply chain’s stalemate. ‘supply.

Key trends predicted for the industry, according to Rowley, include:

  • Growing demand for home delivery;
  • Personnel crisis;
  • Opportunities to reduce food waste; and
  • Durability.

Knock Knock. Who is here? Having dinner
As coronavirus variants continue to dampen restaurant dining and increase uncertainty in the industry, home meal delivery will remain popular in 2022, Rowley said. This includes traditional restaurants, pop-ups and ghost kitchens. An NSF survey released this month sheds light on pandemic-related concerns among employees and decision-makers at quick-service restaurants around the world.

According to the survey of nearly 700 people, 38% of respondents said they felt extra pressure to prepare food faster. NSF reported that 22% said home delivery increased food risks.

Rowley said food establishments, regardless of their business models, have an obligation to serve safe, quality food. This includes preparation and how food is handled during transport to the consumer, or the “post-order supply chain,” as Rowley calls it.

“As an industry, we need to help these companies succeed, help them have the opportunity to succeed so that the consumer can get a satisfying product,” Rowley said.

We hire
A staffing crisis in the restaurant and other industries is threatening recruitment and retention, he said.

“Staff shortages are a fundamental problem, but what are the unintended consequences?” Rowley said, noting that retail and restaurant outlets are under pressure to operate with pre-pandemic hours, staff and services.

“Does this put food safety first?” he said.

The problem won’t go away once the pandemic is over — but it is decreed — and Rowley said efforts must focus on a campaign to promote food safety careers at the college level.

“I think as an industry we need to make sure that this (food safety) is seen as meaningful work and a critical role for the industry,” he said. “We need to market the job better, working together to make it a satisfying and enjoyable career for those who do it.”

Rowley said longtime food safety professionals are choosing to step back from the industry as the pandemic continues. Retaining their collective institutional knowledge is key, he said.

Don’t Waste…Don’t Waste
The food industry has made great strides in recent years to reduce food waste, from “recycling” expired but edible foods to selling “ugly” products that don’t meet industry standards. This year’s food waste issue will ensure the failing supply chain doesn’t make a food waste food safety problem worse, Rowley said.

“When food is delayed in transit, it puts pressure on quality controls in storage and distribution,” he said. “…If the food safety standards are good, it’s not really a food safety issue. It becomes more of a food waste issue.

At the start of the pandemic, some retailers and foodservice operators began sourcing from closer suppliers. An example are retailers in the eastern United States who purchased leafy greens from nearby small hydroponic farms. The shift to local producers is a continuing trend, he said.

Sustainability as a trend continues
As more and more companies organize their sustainability programs and publish annual reports outlining these milestones, sustainability programs are gaining momentum across all food sectors. Rowley said sustainability is a huge metric for measuring a company’s performance, as well as food safety and finances.

“As we move forward, companies need to be measured not just on traditional financial metrics, which tend to be the baseline measure of a company’s performance. I think we should elevate the importance of sustainability,” he said.

Post-pandemic view
Rowley warns businesses against returning to pre-pandemic trends once life becomes “more normal” again, without first assessing the business climate.

“I think when the crisis is over, that doesn’t mean these trends will – or should – stop. Never waste a good crisis, if there is good that can come out of it.

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