Retailers' food safety double standards

By Laurence Gibbons

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Retailing Business

Retailers denied operating double standards with regard to foreign objects in food
Retailers denied operating double standards with regard to foreign objects in food
Some retailers may operate double standards in demanding high levels of food safety from suppliers, while being unaware over the amount of products contaminated with foreign objects they sell.

Neil Giles, marketing communications manager at product inspection firm Mettler Toledo, told​ at the firm’s headquarters in Germany that retailer pressure on suppliers to conform to food safety standards was pushing businesses to improve standards.

But improved detection methods are still leading some supermarkets to sell products contaminated with foreign bodies.

“One big retailer suggested it had about 600 metal contaminated products in store over 12 months. But people won't always say if they find a contaminated product,” ​said Giles. “There are thousands of incidents that don’t come to light.

‘Finish a business off’

​The cost of a recall is massive. It costs millions of pounds to recall an item, forces production to be stopped and is severely damaging to a brand’s reputation,”​ said Giles. “For a small business, contamination can be enough to finish a business off.”

Britvic’s recall of two of its Robinson’s fruit juice drinks after a six-year-old boy nearly choked on a ‘spill proof cap’ cost the firm £25M​ last July.

But the British Retail Consortium (BRC) denied its members operated double standards with regard to foreign objects in food. It claimed retailers were determined to work with their suppliers to achieve the highest safety standards, but denied that contamination was a widespread problem.

BRC spokesman Richard Dodd said these kinds of contaminations are “extremely rare” ​because retailers and suppliers work continuously to ensure safety.

“Retailers have well practised procedures to ensure customer safety if things happen, and make sure they don’t happen again,”​ said Dodd. “We are all consumers and know from our own experience how often we will find something. If you ask yourself or someone you know how often you find a foreign body, they will say never or once in a lifetime.”

Dodd said retailers were subject to BRC audit regimes that ensure safety is met, and that these audits confirm it is very unusual for contaminated products to leave a factory.

Future of standards

Giles said in the future, the food and drink sector’s standards for checking for contaminated products would align with the pharmaceutical industry – which has always been more stringent than the food and drink sector.

​A lot of firms are coming to us saying their systems​ [to X-ray food on the production line] are old and don’t comply with standards. They ask us to provide more stringent systems that show due diligence to retailers,” ​he said.

Giles encouraged firms to adopt new technologies that prevented human error or malicious tampering of products from occurring. As well as proving due diligence to retailers.

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