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Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Food Safety and Acrobatic Balancing Acts – Where do you stand?

One could watch food safety management circus acts for entertainment but the victims of careless moves are not at all amused. The arena hosts a myriad of balancing acts and many of them remain painfully out of balance. 

Among the groupings of growers, manufacturers, import/export enterprises, distributors, retailers, and supportive service providers, auditors, many players are found in the industry. We also have a further expansion of the field to regulators and consumers. Educators and trainers also play a significant role.

As much as I have observed, each group has specific things to balance. Each group also has so-called independent operators who work with an insular approach - each taking care of its own business. The balancing acts faced by these operators include but are not limited to as follows:

  • The costs of implementing safety assurance programs versus derived level of safety
  • Food safety management program investments costs versus desired profit margins
  • The extent to take food safety measures versus practical feasibility and economic survival of the business
  • Shareholders expectations versus consumer interests

Regulators have to balance:
  • The costs of developing and enforcing regulations versus the derived public protection
  • Import restrictions due to safety concerns versus political backlash due to short supply (with respect to sufficiency and/or variety)
  • The national economic benefits of food export trade versus the integrity of issued export certificates
Consumers are burdened with the need to balance:
  • Their safety versus affordability
  • Their social conscience versus the enjoyment of food produced by companies that are guilty of unfair or inconsiderate labour practices
  • The convenience of unhealthy foods versus the inconvenience of healthier alternatives
Educators and trainers have the challenges of balancing:
  • Education or training income versust the outcome
  • Theory versus practical realities
  • Ideal conference hall or laboratory setups versus the daily uncertainties in the front lines
We have good players in these balancing acts. However, the loud invitations of frivolity,  the distracting displays of fumbling actors, and the "catch me if you can" attitudes of fraudsters obscure the efforts of good operators. As the real challenges facing the food industry on the ground continue to be side stepped in favour of boardroom or desk-top directives and frivolous antics, an increasing number of companies will continue to suffer very unpleasant fate. Too many companies have already encountered and continue to encounter unfortunate food safety incidents. Some of my friends would add that food fraud and food sabotage incidents are also on the rise. In some unfortunate instances, the companies became casualties of creative document juggling and the audit-ready acrobatics that produced deceptively high audit scores. In the end, the high scores did not provide actual safety of products or any litigation protection. Some executives and owners of these companies have been criminally charged. Operation suspensions, bankruptcy declarations and complete closures have been reported for some of the affected businesses. I am not making this up - take a look at some of the unfortunate casualties 

The Case Against Insular Companies:
With these events taking place, the industry urgently needs to build an army of critical thinkers and real food safety solution providers on the ground instead of building a pool of so-called food safety coordinators or managers who are forced to proceed independently as mere document jugglers with a very narrow and superficial focus on "passing third party audits".

With collaborative efforts poorly pursued, the predominant insular approach to managing food safety and quality assurance is doing enough damage to many operations. Although some system managers gain prowess at mere document juggling, this task alone overburdens them to the point of effectively becoming powerless to productively manage the systems.

Document juggling prowess can produce impressive audit results that “lack substance” as some observers have pointed out: Observations-to-Ignore-Admit-or-ContestSystem managers are often forced to become so focused on paperwork that opportunities for more meaningful system improvement tasks are bypassed. The industry needs to re-focus with the adoption of concepts like SSQA.

The industry also has a critical need for genuine transparency, business integrity and social conscience. The benefits go to all of us, including the business owners. We are all consumers.

Those companies that learn what truly leads to the production and sale of safe and quality food to the consumers will always be light years ahead of the pack that are merely following the pied pipers’ schemes. The piped tunes may be enchanting. However, any company that remains deceived and merrily follows the scheming pied pipers may find itself jolted from the spell by a blow too heavy to permit recovery.

Where does your company or business stand? Where do you stand as a consumer? Do you share in the zeal and would you participate if invited to join the effort of the Global Coalition for Sustained Excellence in Food & Health Protection (GCSE-FHP)?

Blindfolds come off with the implementation of SSQA concepts:
SSQA leads the way to making the system serve us instead of making us serve the system.

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

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