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Business Trends: Looking glass

Experts pinpoint food-safety issues for the next decade

Microbiological safety is a top concern for food
    suppliers and health officials.
By Joanne Friedrick
April 01, 2010

Just about every segment of the food industry has had its brush with food-safety issues. Whether it's Listeria and mad cow disease or, in the case of seafood, bisphenol A-tainted tuna cans, concerns about food and the supply chain increases each time a food-related health scare occurs.

A panel of experts gathered recently to review the many aspects of food safety covered in a survey conducted by Diversey Corp., a global provider of commercial cleaning, sanitation and hygiene solutions based in Sturtevant, Wis. The survey, sent to 3,900 food manufacturers, retailers and government personnel worldwide, was used as the basis for a seminar Feb. 4 in Washington, D.C., at the 2010 Global Food Safety Conference and Webinar "Emerging Issues in Food Safety: Where Will We Be in 2020?"

When asked to predict the top three food-safety issues in 10 years, survey respondents identified biological risk and microbiological safety, the supply chain and chemical and physical contaminants as the leading issues.

When then asked to explain where contamination is most likely to occur, 32 percent cited (agricultural) farms; 32 percent said food processing and manufacturing plants; 13 percent said private homes; 12 percent said foodservice operations; 7 percent said retail food stores; and 2 percent cited transportation.

"Anticipating and addressing the future issues that face our industry and face our value chain over time is critical from the farm all the way to the fork," says Ed Lonergan, Diversey's president and CEO.

Looking at the top concerns, Bob Gravani, professor of food science at Cornell University, notes that biological risk will be a factor in 2020.

"We have issues with emerging pathogens. We have viruses. We have parasites that are becoming more and more apparent to us in the food-safety area," says Gravani.

On the issue of food security, respondents were evenly split on whether intentional incidents, such as food tampering or bioterrorism, would have a higher impact than accidental incidents. Those strongly agreeing or agreeing that intentional incidents will have a great impact represented 37 percent of respondents, while those disagreeing or strongly disagreeing accounted for 35 percent.

"We need to build partnerships, not just relationships - true partnerships with our suppliers to truly understand where those ingredients, where those finished products are originating and to make sure that they're appropriate in terms of a food-safety situation," says Gravani.

To achieve this, he says, the food industry needs to harmonize standards, audits and auditor competence. And when it comes to thinking about ways to reduce 
food-safety incidents, 51 percent said barcodes and RFID tags will enable the food industry to collect data and reduce problems.

Looking at the issues of geography and population in 2020, John Lamb, senior agribusiness adviser-rural and sustainable development for The World Bank, says one of the biggest shifts taking place is the rate of urbanization worldwide. "Last year, for the first time in history," he says, "the world was more urban than rural."

The diversity of the marketplace puts a greater demand on year-round availability of products, he says, which in turn has food-safety implications as products need to be sourced from greater distances or non-traditional areas at different times of the year. Survey respondents agreed at a rate of 63 percent that competition for raw materials and supplies will heighten the risk of food fraud.

However, Lamb says, this can be offset with increased traceability. "Traceability systems may be a limiting factor in a positive sense toward the increase in food-safety problems and hopefully that will prove to be the case," says Lamb.

The bottom line, says Diversey's Lonergan, is "our food supply is definitely complex and it's definitely interconnected." Over the past decade, he says, consumers have become "increasingly connected and knowledgeable, so one small contamination case in one place becomes a global issue for a brand."

 

Contributing Editor Joanne Friedrick lives in Portland, Maine

 

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