Guest article

Food labelling and supply chain audits are key: legal firm

By Peter Bennett

- Last updated on GMT

The upcoming FIR label changes may provide a good opportunity for firms to introduce compliant labelling
The upcoming FIR label changes may provide a good opportunity for firms to introduce compliant labelling

Related tags Food European union

The recent halal food scandals and reports of the presence of blood serums and offal in meat product tests serve to highlight several challenges for the food and drink industry.

The ‘method of slaughter’ hype currently doing the rounds is highlighting the necessity of going above and beyond legal requirements when it comes to labelling. The UK government has skirted around the issue and refused to act unless a law is written in on an EU wide scale.

But that doesn’t mean food manufacturers shouldn’t take it upon themselves to introduce labelling where the method of slaughter is of importance to the end consumer.

It is in the interest of many producers to consider this when redesigning their packaging – the upcoming Food Information for Consumers Regulation (FIR) label changes may provide a good opportunity for many to introduce compliant labelling, which includes information on sensitive issues. The EU regulation becomes law on December 13 2014.   

A costly business

Whatever the action taken by food and drink manufacturers, they will need to be aware of the demands being made by the public. Amending labels to comply with the upcoming FIR requirements is already a costly business, having to repeat the process when legislators bow to public pressure for method of slaughter labels will leave many out of pocket. 

The halal food issue widens beyond a discussion around labelling, the presence of pork DNA in Cadbury products in Malaysia seems to be sparking a ‘horsemeat’-sized scandal on the sub-continent.

This is not to say that pork products were used when making the chocolate or that any actual meat was found in the bars. But clearly there is a problem to be resolved by Cadbury and a challenge for the food industry as a whole.

In the instances where unlabelled offal and blood have been found in food, this could be explained by a lack of understanding of the law – the inclusion of either is completely legal so long as it is labelled, in terms of offal the label must specify the type, ie heart, tongue etc.

The label must specify the type

These additions could also have been made at an early stage unbeknownst to the end manufacturer who is aware of the requirements and acting in good faith.

However, the horsemeat and Cadbury scandals are evidence that a DNA trace was, and still is, enough for consumers and the media to react unfavourably.

Everything should be done to prevent cross-contamination, and many manufacturers have comprehensive training programmes, policies and practices in place to negate adulteration. The simple truth however is that all the policy and correct paperwork in the world will not placate the end customer should unlabelled ingredients end up in a product.

Supply chain audits and a comprehensive understanding of not only the provenance but the journey a product and its component ingredients take is vital. This will allow manufacturers to identify potential flaws and help pinpoint where contamination has taken place and prevent it from recurring.

In the current climate food and beverage brands would be well advised to ensure not only they but their suppliers are fully compliant, it is only a matter of time before the next scandal. 

The Food Manufacture Group is staging its annual Food safety conference on October 15 at the Heritage Motor Centre in Gaydon, Warwickshire. More information about the conference – chaired by Professor Colin Dennis – is available here.

Take advantage of our early bird ticket price offer here.

  • Peter Bennett, head of the food team at Roythornes. During the past 75 years the firm has worked with many top industry names including: Adams, Geest, Quenby Stilton, Univeg Katope, TMI Foods and the Cornish Pasty Company.

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