Research by the group found that there had been a reduced number of recalls in most regions for at least a few months of the pandemic. Of the businesses it interviewed, almost half said they did not think COVID-19 had impacted food safety.
However, almost a third of respondents said they did feel food safety had been affected. The report also found that almost three quarters of businesses covered had been forced to cancel audits due to the pandemic and just over one third had cancelled food safety training.
Challenges for food safety
When asked about their top three challenges in delivering safe food, 46% identified conflicting priorities, 42% poor food safety culture and 40% lack of resources. When asked specifically about food safety culture however, almost three quarters felt that their company had a good food safety culture.
Manager and senior executives responsible for food safety had suffered the most thanks to the pandemic, citing issues such as being unable to contact suppliers when product incidents and recalls occur.
Vince Shiers, managing director at RQA Group, said “Many food producers were already operating under extreme stress prior to the pandemic. The pandemic has further exposed many of these issues.
A prepared industry
“However, looking at it the other way, food companies were already used to working under pressure with tight budgets and a long list of incidents to respond to. That in itself may have made some of them more resilient to the current situation.”
Other key concerns identified by RQA included reduced team sizes, conflicting priorities, variability in food safety culture and a significant concern about food fraud in the future. Food fraud continued to be identified as the biggest risk to food safety, followed by allergens, Brexit supply issues and a ‘lack of investment’ at equal levels.
Despite these issues, a number of positive developments in food safety and quality were also observed in RQA’s report. There had been an increase in loyalty from staff, improved hygiene – likely on the back of COVID-19 advice – and in some cases significant increase in business levels.
Meanwhile, Food Manufacture’s free-to-access Food Safety Briefing webinar, which covers topics ranging from food fraud and detection and inspection to allergen and pathogen management, is now available.