Food safety conference

Food safety survey: five fears and four hopes

By Michael Stones

- Last updated on GMT

Food Manufacture’s food safety survey identified five fears and four hopes
Food Manufacture’s food safety survey identified five fears and four hopes

Related tags Food safety Food Food standards agency

Five food safety fears keep factory managers awake at night, while four hopes offer them encouragement, reveals Food Manufacture Group’s exclusive survey.

The survey – commissioned ahead of last week’s Food safety conference – asked readers what food and drink safety topics kept them awake at night, as the industry heads towards Brexit and as the Food Standards Authority (FSA) changes the way it polices the sector.

The top five food safety fears were: the prospect of safety standards being compromised to meet production targets, food fraud, third-party hygiene audits, allergy management and emerging risks.

The fear of safety standards sometimes being compromised to ensure production targets were met was shared by most respondents (54.4% of 555 responses).

But more than one-third (40%) disagreed that was a threat. And 83% of respondents claimed a culture of food safety was already embedded in their business.

However, one training manager at a poultry company insisted: “Food safety always seems to be compromised against volume.”

Another worried about the lack of adequate training and a poor understanding of instructions by some non-English speakers.

One dairy processing operations director linked the threat of safety corners being cut to supermarkets pressuring their suppliers in the pursuit of profit. “Downward pressure on prices from supermarkets is causing manufacturers to bypass critical procedures to reduce costs and increase shelf-life,” ​he told us.

A food transport boss raised the risk of contamination of food during transport between factories, supermarket regional distribution centres and supermarkets. He highlighted the threat from contaminated pallets, trays, roll cages and the vehicles themselves.

Food fraud was a cause of sleepless nights for nearly 63% of respondents, who worried that fraud was a growing problem in the UK food and drink supply chain.

Audit woes

“I am over-stretched, under-resourced and overloaded with requests/audits to the point where the core job is being diluted.”

  • Compliance manager

Worried that fraud was a growing problem

More positively, 61.8% of respondents trusted the Food Crime Unit to protect their anonymity, if they were to share information about suspected illegal practices in the food supply chain.

Third-party hygiene audits also made the worry list, with 62% of businesses complaining of being over-burdened by audits.

Several respondents even questioned the competence of inspectors.  

One compliance manager told us: “I am over-stretched, under-resourced and overloaded with requests/audits to the point where the core job is being diluted.”

A technical director with an ambient food manufacturer complained audits were too broad. “Retail and British Retail Consortium audits try to cover too much ground – the scope is too wide – they lose focus on genuine food safety risks,” ​he said.

Further cause for sleepless nights came in the form of allergy management, which was identified by many respondents as a major worry.

Common complaints in this area included the lack of consistent standards used by different players within the sector.

Another was the absence of threshold levels, despite a wealth of clinical studies and other work in this area.

‘Retailers’ conflicting approach’

Five food safety fears

  1. Safety standards being compromised to meet production targets
  2. Food fraud
  3. Third-party hygiene audits
  4. Allergy management
  5. Emerging risks.

A technical director of a snacks supplier blamed: “Retailers’ conflicting approach to allergen management in factory environments, which was causing much confusion.”​           

A unified standard needs to be agreed by all and enforced, said the technical director.

The final cause of sleepless nights can by categorised as emerging risks. Fears focused on the food safety threats posed by climate change and antibiotics.

On climate change, microbiologists and other food safety experts worried about the negative impact of climate change in the form of new and emerging bacteria.

Nearly two-thirds (62%) believed climate change posed a serious risk to global food safety, regarding the spread of existing pathogens and the emergence of new ones.

Regarding antibiotics, their overuse – both in humans and in the food chain – caused concern.

But the survey also revealed four hopes that readers believed, if realised, would help to allay food safety threats.

Those were: more risk-based approach to policing food businesses, which acknowledged good track records; the prospect of early warning about food safety incidents via social media; high-tech help to cut food safety risks; and better funding of food safety inspections.

More financial help from government to fund the FSA and local authority environmental health departments was supported by 81% of respondents.

Two-thirds (67%) of respondents did not expect the regulatory burden of food safety on business would fall after leaving the EU.

The results of the survey were based on 571 responses to a survey of readers conducted between March and June 2017. All respondents were assured of anonymity.

The conference – Food safety 2020: preparing your business for change – took place at the Woodland Grange, Warwickshire on Thursday June 22. The event, chaired by Professor Steven Walker, director general Campden BRI, was sponsored by: Checkit, Dycem, eurofins, Ishida, Pal International, Westgate Factory Dividers.

Meanwhile, watch out for more reports and video interviews from Food Manufacture Group’s Food Safety conference later this week.

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