United States

Food safety: a public health and business imperative


In recent years, consumer confidence in the safety of the U.S. food supply has declined. According to the International Food Information Council Foundation's 2014 Food & Health Survey, more than 70 percent of Americans have expressed concerns about the safe production of their food and beverages, and approximately 40 percent of consumers changed their diet because of perceived food safety issues. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that produce is the leading cause of food-related illness, attributable to 46 percent of contamination incidents in the United States, and beef and poultry are the leading causes of food-related deaths, attributable to 29 percent of contamination incidents. Clearly, there is much for food manufacturers to be concerned about regarding the safety of their food products.

Impact on your business
In addition to public health concerns, food safety challenges cause other hazards, such as legal and financial consequences for a food company, as well as damage to its reputation. The rapid spread of negative information, whether true or not, via the news and social media has a significant impact. Food safety incidents have great potential for ruining a company's name and product line, making food safety protocols even more vital. Companies must take a proactive approach to maintaining proper controls and monitoring activities throughout their products' life cycles, specifically related to food safety and security. Adopting food safety standards, identifying and addressing the risks across the organization and benchmarking against other businesses in the industry are essential practices in addressing this growing issue.

Addressing food risk in your company
How does a food company improve its awareness about food safety challenges that might be a risk to its own operations? First, be mindful of the factors that could create food safety vulnerability. Companies should examine these high-risk areas that could affect food production within their organizations:

  • Exposed crops
  • High concentrations of livestock and poultry
  • Transportation quality control along the farm-to-fork chain
  • Foods imported via a complex and global supply chain
  • Growth in niche and foreign markets

Doing a thorough risk assessment of each of these areas and creating measures to address challenges is crucial for food companies.

Regulatory compliance should be another area of focus for these organizations. With the federal Food Safety Modernization Act signed in 2011, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is focusing now more than ever on prevention. As a result, there are stricter safety standards and higher accountability for prevention. To that end, the FDA implemented the following to monitor food safety compliance. Businesses should be positioned to work with regulators and have processes in place to optimally maintain these compliance initiatives.

  • Prevention: This is the cornerstone of the Food Safety Modernization Act. The FDA has been given explicit authority regarding preventing foodborne illnesses. The FDA will closely monitor produce safety standards, international adulteration standards, and prevention of contamination during transportation.
  • Response: More frequent inspections will help to stop food contamination before it begins. New tools have been adopted to respond to threats. These tools include mandatory recall, expanded records access, expanded administrative detention, and more.
  • Import safety: It is now the responsibility of importers to ensure that their suppliers operate with proper preventive controls. If the FDA is denied access for an inspection, the importer may deny entry to the foreign supplier.
  • Enhanced partnerships: Advantages include access to a consortium of laboratory networks, increased visibility to recall information, improved foodborne illness surveillance, a national agriculture and food defense strategy and the ability to rely on inspections by other agencies that meet a common set of standards.

Food safety standards are critical to a successful food and beverage business. Understanding the market and catering to those partners that most value your product, as well as upholding the FDA's regulatory efforts, are major strategies to support. The time and money invested in the safety and security of your product and brand name are critical to the needs and health of your customers and the long-term success of your business.


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National Food and Beverage Sector Leader