Food-safety management requires broad view: Deloitte

by Bryan Salvage
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TORONTO, ONTARIO — Requirements and benefits of superior food-safety management go far beyond on-site food plant and production measures and protocols, states a new report by Deloitte titled Safe to move: Food safety risks are rising.

Study results indicate it's time for action, food-safety risks are increasing and the challenges transcend the entire food-supply chain — from farmers and food producers, to distributors, foodservice companies, product manufacturers and retailers, Deloitte said.

High-profile crises such as Salmonella, Listeria and E. coli outbreaks and deaths amidst high-profile food recalls have kept food safety in the headlines and fueled public anxiety. As a result, food safety has become a critical issue for consumers, governments and industry leaders.

Another Deloitte study states 83% of consumers can name a product that was recalled due to safety concerns in the last two years; 76% said they are more concerned today than they were five years ago about the food they eat; and 57% have stopped eating a particular product because it was permanently or temporarily recalled.

Recent IBM research reveals 60% of today's consumers are concerned about the safety of the food they eat, but less than 20% trust food companies to produce and sell safe foods.

"Globalization and increased consumer awareness have made food safety a critical issue that must be addressed," says Stephen Brown, national leader, consumer products industry, for Deloitte.

Benchmarking for Success 2009 claims that among Canada's food and beverage processors, 50% of survey respondents took concrete measures towards improving food safety in 2008 — either working towards a recognized safety certification and/or process improvement. More than ever before, they are recognizing companies encountering significant food-safety problems face potential remediation costs in the tens or hundreds of millions of dollars and potentially irreparable damage to their brand reputation.

"Companies that take a broad view of food-safety management and supply-chain integrity will have the most effective food safety programs," Mr. Brown said. "The traditional view of food safety as a plant-management responsibility is too narrow and does not take into account the cultural and other organizational considerations that drive food-safety effectiveness."

In order for companies across the food-value chain to develop world-class food-safety programs that will help mitigate risk in this area, they must develop a comprehensive strategy involving three steps:

1. Assess the company's capabilities for preventing and responding to food safety threats.

2. Build the governance, skills, processes and systems to improve food-safety capabilities.

3. Monitor risks and trends on a regular basis, adjusting the food safety program to address significant changes.

As companies seek to strengthen their approach to food safety, two key trends are driving improvement and facilitating forward movement in this area. First, universal principles are now emerging that provide a clear and consistent direction for the future. Second, standards and certifications are converging globally, making it easier and more efficient for companies to comply, Deloitte states.
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