Food Industry Must Not Be Distracted By High-Profile Food Scares, Warns Trace One
London, UK, 22/04/2015: Global PLM and transparency software company Trace One today stated that the food industry must be wary as it reacts to public pressure from high-profile food crises. The February announcement that spices such as cumin and paprika have been contaminated with nuts is only the latest such incident to grab the public’s attention since the horsemeat crisis. Unlike horsemeat, which posed no real danger to human health, there is the potential of very real harm to those with nut allergies who could unwittingly consume contaminated foodstuffs. Yet the true threat to the public comes not from these widely reported cases but from everyday contamination and health issues that, while usually dealt with before the public are aware, can still result in harm to unwitting consumers. As a result, the industry must ensure that it is following a consistent and comprehensive approach to food safety, rather than focusing on the rarer, higher profile and, arguably, more emotive incidents.
“In our 24-hour, always-online culture, shoppers are becoming far more aware of food incidents. It can therefore be tempting to spend the most time and attention on those that receive the most public interest,” said Nick Martin, SVP Trace One. “However, by the time the public is aware of a food scare, any damage to health will invariably already have been done. Indeed, by this point, at-risk foodstuffs should have been recalled and investigations should be underway. Instead, the industry needs to be certain that it has complete transparency and traceability over its products and supply chain so that, when a potentially dangerous product or ingredient is discovered, it can be isolated and removed from the chain as soon as possible. If the industry does not follow this procedure, it runs the risk of the absolute worst case scenario: a food risk doesn’t attract public interest, but instead is overlooked and causes harm to consumers; and ultimately to the reputation of the retailers, suppliers and authorities who allowed it to get to that point.”
In the 21st century, there have been a number of food scares in the UK that, whilst posing a greater risk to health, did not receive the same degree of public outcry as the horsemeat crisis. In 2012 alone the Food Standards Agency raised alerts around salmonella-contaminated peanut butter; beer bottles containing glass; botulism in Italian olives; and isotonic drinks with loose plastic in their containers. In each of these cases it was the swift action of retailers and authorities, rather than pressure from the public, which ensured products were removed from shelves and consumers were not affected.
At the same time, there is evidence that the public are still wary of the food industry following the horsemeat crisis. A 2014 survey commissioned by Trace One revealed that 63% of shoppers’ trust in the food industry had been damaged by the crisis and similar revelations. Against this background, one might expect increased attention towards food scares. Yet no post-horsemeat scare has so far raised a comparable reaction. Indeed, while The Elliott Review has given advice on changes that should be made to food safety legislation in the wake of the horsemeat scandal, such large-scale responses will not be the norm for every single potential food scare. The food industry itself will still be the first line of defence for the public.
“Shoppers are demanding more information and reassurance than ever before,” continued Nick Martin. “While these demands might not be for the right reasons, the industry still needs to provide the confidence those consumers require. Retailers and suppliers have a crucial role in protecting both their customers and their reputations, and a consistent approach to transparency and food safety is part of this. Whilst the majority of actions the industry takes to protect the consumer will go unremarked and unrewarded, the public will appreciate the work retailers do on those rare occasions when an incident spills out into a full-blown scare or scandal.”