On average, 35-45% of interviewed consumers reported being extremely concerned with food safety and the hazards posed by unsafe food supply. Studies conducted by the World Health Organization show that 1 in every 10 people in the world falls ill eating contaminated consumables resulting in 420,000 losing their lives. These numbers reflect a trend and an increase in people at risk of consuming contaminated food are suggestive of a frightening reality: a rise in the problems with food safety.
Causes for Rising Food Concerns
There are several factors that have collectively caused the rise in food safety problems. Consider current methods of distribution, our increased reliance on imports, and the quality and regulations involved in food handling during production and at the consumer level.
Imports & Food Safety
The volume of imported food, particularly meat, vegetables, and fruit, is on the rise globally. “Some 95% of the seafood consumed in the US is imported; 50% of the fresh fruit and about 25% of the vegetables are imported”, Matthew Wise, deputy branch chief for outbreak response at the CDC.
The wider the geographic area is, the more challenging it becomes to effectively check, monitor, and screen the diverse imports. This high volume is enabling hazardous food content to enter our nation and be distributed for consumption.
Food & Animal Production
The quality of the methods used in the production and distribution of food is also to blame for the rise in food safety issues. A constant need from suppliers and wholesalers for an increase in profits and a decrease in expenses has led farmers to integrate risky practices into production.
Farms that raise poultry and animals for meat might opt for poor quality feed that could be either pre-contaminated or contaminated by poor handling practices to increase their profit margins.
Moreover, it isn’t easy to spot sick animals as some illnesses do not present outward symptoms. For example, Listeria, a rare but very serious foodborne illness with a high mortality rate of 20-30%, presents in ruminants (such as cattle, goats, and sheep) most commonly as neurologic signs. This can be a loss of balance, circling, fever, decreased activity and unusual body spasms. – Source
Another example of difficult disease prevention, if a hen’s reproductive organs are infected, the yolk of an egg can be contaminated in the hen before it is even laid.
Produce & Potential Harm
Poor practices related to increased production aren’t only limited to meat, but also affect fruits and vegetables. An increase in awareness in food safety has moved some to opt for fresh produce, unfortunately, fresh produce doesn’t undergo processes to remove contamination and kill germs. Furthermore, if contaminated water or ice is used to wash, pack, or chill fruits or vegetables, the contamination can spread to those items. – Source
Restaurant & Food Preparation Industries
The production of food isn’t the only industry plagued by poor quality. Restaurant and food preparation industries have their own vices.
Economically Motivated Adulteration
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has defined economically motivated adulteration (EMA) as the “fraudulent, intentional substitution or addition of a substance in a product for the purpose of increasing the apparent value of the product or reducing the cost of its production, i.e., for economic gain.”
To maximize profits, food can be subjected to questionable practices to either make it last longer, taste better, or increase its volume.
Cases of EMA
- Melamine in Food
- Added to infant formula & dairy apparently to enhance the perceived quality
- Added to flour intended for pet food apparently to enhance protein content
- Diethylene Glycol
- Drugs and foods contaminated from substitution with toxic syrup. At least eight mass poisonings around the world in the past two decades.
Food Handling & Safety
Lifestyles pressured by time have increased “leftovers” and buying ready to eat dishes, and people often use the same utensils working on different substances causing cross-contamination. Risks are highest during the summer when food is much more prone to contamination if it isn’t refrigerated properly. Germs grow quickly at room temperature, multiply in as little as a few hours, and reheating or boiling food after it has been left at room temperature won’t always make it safe. – Source
HACCP provides a solution to many of food safety concerns. HACCP is an acronym for Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points. The system is preventative in nature rather than reactive. This allows problems to be dealt with at the root rather than by reacting to outbreaks or problems after they occur.
HACCP has 7 basic principles:
STEP 1: HAZARD ANALYSIS
A team analyzes the sequence of steps or procedures and identifies all the points where a hazard is likely to occur.
STEP 2: DETERMINE CCP’S (CRITICAL CONTROL POINTS)
Keeping the earlier hazards in mind, the team identifies critical control points where a hazard may be completely eliminated or reduced.
STEP 3: ESTABLISH LIMITS FOR CCP’S
A critical limit is then established using scientific data to a maximum/minimum value for something to be at such that it eliminates or reduces risk of hazards to an acceptable level.
STEP 4: ESTABLISH PROCEDURES FOR MONITORING
A complete procedure of how, when and by whom measurements or readings are taken to compare them with the previously established limits for CCP’s.
STEP 5: ESTABLISH CORRECTIVE ACTION
A plan of action that needs to be followed after a deviation in the critical limit for something has occurred. This is required in the case of, for example, identifying contamination that exceeds the maximum limit and following a sequence of steps to clean that contamination, discard all product on the line and restart.
STEP 6: VERIFICATION
The verification process is the act of making sure that the process controls are adequate in controlling the hazards, and the HACCP plan is being followed properly.
STEP 7: VALIDATION
A sequence to validate the HACCP plan as a whole. Scientific evidence needs to be obtained and then evaluated that the plan to eliminate hazards from the food production process as a whole is, in fact, capable of doing so.
While there are factors like distribution, production, preparation, and EMC’s that have collectively resulted in a rise in food safety problems, there is a movement towards a solution. Quality Standards and regulations using Critical Control Points and HACCP’s 7 Principles allows problems to be dealt with at the root rather than by reaching to outbreaks and devastation of inaction.
Is your organization working in the food production, handling or preparation industry? Looking to implement HACCP within your organization? Find a Consultant and Registrar to help you implement your system and get certified, right here on ISOUpdate.com!
To the novice quality manager, ISO jargon can be extremely overwhelming. What is an NCR? What do you mean by OFI? Are we certified or accredited? But before you go and pull out your hair, let’s take a moment to go over some of the most frequently used terms and their definitions with regards to ISO and Management System Certification.