Food safety. These two words dominated headlines over the Thanksgiving holiday with recalls of romaine lettuce. And, food safety continues to appear in headlines as of late. That’s why when it comes to food safety, action needs to be preventative.

The American Frozen Food Institute (AFFI), Arlington, Va., embarked on a strategic plan in 2017 that prioritized the advancement of food safety within the frozen food industry supply chain. This was shortly after a Listeria monocytogenes (Lm) recall for frozen vegetables. We knew then that AFFI could be instrumental to our members and the collective frozen food industry in developing the science and best practices to ensure that frozen foods and beverages are safe.

While food safety has always been a priority, AFFI is now dedicated to an ambitious effort to lead the science and understanding of Lm. In fact, the majority of AFFI resources are devoted to key areas of food safety, including scientific research, best manufacturing practices and education.

For starters, AFFI invests in scientific research to guide best food safety practices to prevent Lm from farm to frozen food facility to freezer to fork. The first phase of AFFI’s Lm Quantitative Risk Assessment (QRA) Research, conducted by Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., resulted in a new computer model that simulates the most likely locations in a food manufacturing facility where Lm might be found. The model, which Cornell researchers named Environmental monitoring with an Agent-Based Model of Listeria (EnABLe), allows food production safety managers to then test these designated areas for the bacteria’s presence.

Secondly, AFFI has spent the past two years working with more than 70 food safety professionals from over 40 member companies and the broader frozen food industry on the development of best food safety practices aimed at Lm control and prevention.

The results of these efforts were released during AFFI-CON 20109, which is also when AFFI unveiled its new Food Safety Zone, designed to serve as a one-stop food safety resource for all frozen food companies. Manufacturers can search for, access and incorporate food safety practices created by food safety professionals for food safety professionals. The tools are available for download, so they can be applied to the food safety plans of today’s industry companies.

To coincide with AFFI-CON, AFFI hosted an inaugural Food Safety Leadership Conference comprised of workshops and education sessions on environmental monitoring, sanitation, hygienic design and process validation based on the industry’s best thinking when it comes to Lm control and prevention. AFFI plans to host more food safety programs throughout the year on the areas covered in the Listeria Control Program, including environmental monitoring, sanitation controls, hygienic design, process validation, good manufacturing practices, hygienic zoning and freezer management. AFFI is also administering a program to formally recognize participants who complete a series on these topics.

It’s this level of food safety education that will lead to a food safety culture that empowers employees to make critical food safety decisions, ultimately taking preventive action and reducing odds of their facilities being a recall statistic.

Lastly, we must ensure consumers understand most frozen foods are intended to be cooked and to follow the package cooking instructions. There’s strength in numbers when it comes to sharing this knowledge. That’s why we collaborate with AFFI members and other organizations on educational strategies that effectively bring food safety messages to consumer audiences.

One way we do this is through the work of AFFI’s Frozen Food Foundation. Since 2016, the Frozen Food Foundation has sponsored the Partnership for Food Safety Education’s “Story of Your Dinner” initiative, targeting seniors, parents and more than 14,000 local health officials with important food safety messages.

On the journey from farm to table, it takes many people to keep frozen foods safe. That’s why AFFI is committed to advancing food safety practices throughout the food chain. I invite every domestic and international frozen food processor to utilize the best practices and related resources at THIS is how we raise the bar on food safety.