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Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Evidence of a Shameful Social Responsibility Failure – Food Recalls

Which has greater influence on food companies: human nature or social responsibility?

What attitudes differentiate those who are engaged in the food safety business from those who are engaged in the business of ensuring safe, sufficient and good quality food? 

Marks of grave social irresponsibility shown by the producers involved:

WASHINGTON, Sept. 10, 2016:  ". . . 662,049 pounds of various meat and poultry products that were stored under insanitary conditions . . ."

In the World Health Organization’s Rome Declaration on World Food Security of 1996, the Heads of State and Government and their representatives reaffirmed:
 “the right of everyone to have access to safe and nutritious food, consistent with the right to adequate food and the fundamental right of everyone to be free from hunger”.

They also pledged their:
“political will and . . .  common and national commitment to achieving food security for all and to an ongoing effort to eradicate hunger in all countries, with an immediate view to reducing the number of undernourished people to half their present level no later than 2015”.

What part does the food industry have to play in the reaffirmation and pledge? What part does your food business have? What part do you have?

All of the deaths caused by food are not reported and cannot be reported. Most reported cases are typically limited to only when the victims exhibit the common symptoms of food-borne illness. Even then, not all incidents of the common symptoms are reported:

Without question,  the theorizing about food safety, the seminars, webinars, conferences and institutionalization of food safety have kept the industry too busy to notice this reality: Food recalls show evidence of a shameful

social responsibility failure. Where the intent and purposes are considered, recalls themselves, never mind their causes, already violate the basic consumer (human) right to safe and secure food supply.  Food that is recalled (withdrawn) from the market is no longer available and undermines the consistency, sufficiency and often the affordability of supply. From every perspective and in all instances, businesses must have a mindset of recall prevention rather than seeing recalls as DESIRED corrective actions. Recalls may unfortunately be required but they should never be desired.

Why is the food supply empire burning in spite of industry boasting about highly touted systems standardization, tight regulations, stringent regulatory inspections and commercialized certification schemes?

Suppose, for example, that a team of food safety experts worked to actually reduce failure incidents, food poisoning outbreaks  etc. Suppose that such work actually enabled the food industry to save 50% of the Cost Estimates of food wasted to Foodborne Illnesses as provided by the United States Department of Agriculture. Suppose the experts got half of the savings to share as bonus pay.

The cost of food wasted to recalls, food poisoning, etc is ultimately borne by all tax payers/consumers. The cost, as estimated by the USDA, only show a fraction of the picture. Other costs borne by consumers worldwide include the cost of sustaining the manufacturing, food safety auditing and certification sectors as well as costs due to food fraud, etc. 

The so-called civilized food business and regulation world has a large number of food companies with a long history of regulatory compliance and food safety certifications. Yet a huge tonnage of food is lost to recalls annually while many people are going (and in fact dying) without food. Even to the seared conscience, this social responsibility failure should be sufficiently disturbing.

The failure is not due to a lack of technical knowledge within the industry. It is also not caused by the absence of sophisticated food safety certification programs. There is no shortage of consultants and experts. Even the usually assumed weaknesses in regulatory enforcement are not to blame. We, the industry and the guardians of food safety are failing and are guilty of this failure because we continue to ignore or give little attention to the realities that are causing the derailment of our efforts. The spoilers of success include some of the very things we are doing to supposedly solve the problem. For example, many approaches in the monitoring and enforcing compliance within the industry are punitive in nature and are causing operators to hide deviations instead of correcting them. An institutionalized and dangerously narrow view of food safety considerations is discussed in:Food safety -Protection of consumers involves more than ‘food contamination control’”. 

We should be concerned and we need to care no matter where we live and irrespective of our economic status. Never mind the poor who are dying for lack of food (not that we should be that callous). If our food supply is not safe, we are not safe either. Sure, there are many other daily dangers in life but no danger presents itself as perpetually and inevitably as the food we eat. We may not all face the quick death caused by E. coli 0157:H7 or other pathogens but we may be dying slowly due to other food-borne contaminants. The time to act beyond mere formalities is now. The time has come for meaningful action. It is the dawn of SSQA (Safety,Security and Quality Assurance).

If you wish you may register to receive SSQA Updates

Posted By Felix Amiri
Felix Amiri is the current Food Industry Chair of GCSE-Food & Health Protection

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