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Monday, 1 July 2013

Food safety - Protection of consumers involves more than "food contamination control".

The Prince of Wales launches a scathing attack on food industry with a wide-ranging criticism of current practices within the industry.

The Prince makes several good points and there are more to consider. Ensuring the safety of food consumers extends beyond the usual focus on contamination control. Although such controls are essential in the assurance of food safety, they constitute only a fraction of the necessary considerations with regards to consumer protection. What is viewed as food contamination can even be ambiguous in some instances. For example, while the presence of allergens could be fatal to susceptible individuals, this is not a bona fide contamination concern for individuals who are not susceptible.

An institutionalized and dangerously narrow view of consumer protection: 

Ensuring the safety of food for consumers is the noble intention of food safety management programs. However, the scope of considerations is often narrowly focused on the control of contamination. Attention must certainly be given to food contamination control at the same time that other (collateral) considerations must be given equal attention.

One does not need to go too far afield to see a demonstrated narrow view about food safety management. Such a view is common among many of our professional friends. They still think that all we have to worry about is controlling microbes, chemicals, physical contaminants and allergens. Hence a common assumption within the industry and among regulatory agencies is that HACCP does it all for food safety. The attempt to expand on HACCP with certain variations of it such as the U.S. HARPC (Hazard Analysis and Risk-Based Preventive Controls), and the equivalent PC (Preventive Controls) proposed in Canada have retained the narrow view. HACCP and the associated pre-requisite programs certainly form a cornerstone in a food safety management system. The proposed variations of HACCP may be helpful but they still do not cover everything. They do not cover the dangers that certain foods (e.g the consumption of salt, sugar, fatty foods, etc. that could lead to health concerns without being contaminated).

A slightly broader view is provided by adding the so called “Management Commitment”  and “Food Defence” as in the commercialized auditing schemes (purported to be “standards”). Even with these additions, the view remains narrowly focused on controlling the microbes, chemicals, physical contaminants and allergens.

Since the European Horse Meat Scandal (, the idea of food fraud prevention or controls have also gained prominence in food safety management considerations. This broadening of the scope is encouraging although some parties still mistakenly believe that food fraud is not a food safety concern. Perhaps not all instances of food fraud result in issues relating to food safety. However, the possibility cannot be ruled out. Even with the inclusion of food fraud within the scope of food safety considerations, the view remains narrowly focused.

Insufficiently Covered Considerations:

Moral Obligation and Social Responsibility: The food industry is known to give a passing recognition to the sufficiency and equitable distribution of nourishing food. The task of dealing with these issues is largely left to charitable organizations. As far as I am able to tell from observing the industry and the news, the food industry does not care as much about these issues, except where their engagement leads to increased sales and greater financial gains.

Most people in affluent countries do not see these (sufficiency and equitable distribution of food) as significant issues. However, places abound where availability of nourishing food is of grave concern. Even affluent countries have such places, albeit, in small pockets.

How would  this guy define food safety?

Control of Food Wastage:
Insufficient consideration is given to controlling food wastage as part of a food safety management consideration because this is seen mainly as an economic matter. So, to include the control of food wastage as a food safety management consideration may appear to be a stretch.  Is it? Do individuals who have no food feel safe if they see food being thrown away? How much food ends up being thrown away due to food safety management failures? Many "well implemented" recall programs boast of the ability to track down and remove contaminated food from the market. I call this irresponsible boasting especially where the contamination is due to carelessness or negligence. The removal of contaminated product from the market may be seen as a successful contamination control but do consumers suffer any undesirable consequences as a result of this "success"?

Even with food that is not "contaminated" there is a wide array of harm that could be caused by different kinds of food, depending on consumption rates, individual susceptibility, processing or preparation methods, etc.  Any food business that is actually determined to pursue the noble cause of protecting consumers must learn and implement measures that cover the full scope of considerations. SSQA provides a door to the full scope. The systemic negligence of the industry has gone on for too long.

Other Related Posts:

Additional References:

The State of Food Insecurity in the World:

 Posted By Felix Amiri

Felix Amiri is the current Food Sector Chair of GCSE-Food & Health Protection

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