For today’s food or ingredient processor, food safety is an integral part of doing business. Producing safe and wholesome foods makes basic good economic sense. Companies implicated in an outbreak of foodborne illness are faced with a myriad of problems. First, they have to make changes to their operations and implement programs to assure that the foods they produce in the future are safe and that the chances of similar occurrences are minimized. Restoring consumer confidence is the first step to bringing them back.
The classic example of how a company should react in a crisis situation is the Tylenol incident of 1982. When Tylenol capsules were implicated in a tampering incident, the manufacturer conducted an immediate recall and informed the public of its plans to adopt the caplet and tamper-evident containers. An open and honest approach struck a positive chord with the public and sales suffered very little.
The importance of food safety is worded quite well in “Facts & Myths About the Meat Industry,” developed by the National Meat Association. In response to the question, “What has the industry done to assure safety?” part of the answer is as follows: “Food safety is in the best interests of the meat industry from an economic standpoint. Companies who do not meet this responsibility will not survive.”
This statement can be applied across the food industry worldwide. We, as an industry, should hope that more companies adopt the attitude of Premium Standard Farms’ Manager of Food Safety Michael Bradley. “A company’s commitment to food safety can be evaluated not only by the resources dedicated to addressing food safety issues, but also by the prerequisite programs in place encompassing everything from GMPs to vendor certification programs,” says Bradley. “From sanitation to purchasing, everyone must know they work for a company whose first priority is producing a safe product for their customers, with employees recognizing that everyone has a clear role to play. These programs should not be in a dusty binder on the shelf only to be brought out during third party audits, but should become ingrained to the company culture. Implementation and adherence to the prerequisite programs is really the key.”
The commitment to food safety and the acknowledgment that sanitation and good manufacturing practices are the foundation of safety has spawned new businesses. Companies that conduct audits for safety and sanitation are increasing. The importance of HACCP as a means for assuring food safety and as a means for marketing products and services is becoming more prevalent throughout the food and foodservice industries. There are “HACCP Certified Handwashers,” and a myriad of products that claim to help processors assure that they operate under HACCP.
There is also a growing desire for many companies to have certified HACCP plans. Many European companies require these plans despite the fact there is no internationally recognized system for HACCP certification. Since the international standard does not yet exist, companies that wish to be certified must tread carefully. The “HACCP certificate” they seek should be treated as a means for marketing their company only. In response to this issue, Codex Alimentarius has taken the first steps for establishing HACCP as an international standard and, realizing the importance of the program and its potential business implications, is making an effort to fast-track the program. The Codex Committee’s efforts will include incorporation of prerequisite programs into HACCP.
Food safety is not only about protecting the consumer, it is and will continue to be an essential element for doing business around the world.