Examining the complexity of keeping food supply safe

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Food-safety audits and inspections are a key component of the nation’s food-safety system for both domestic and imported foodstuffs; however, recent failures in ensuring food safety bring into question the effectiveness of solely using audits as the only preventative measure, according to a new paper published in the journal Food Control.

Lead researcher Doug Powell, a food-safety expert at Kansas State University, contends there may be a disconnect between what consumers think food auditors are doing to ensure a safe food supply and what they actually are doing.

“Food auditors provide a snapshot of production practices. However, buyers often believe auditors are performing a full verification of every product and process of food production,” he said.

According to the paper, many food-safety outbreaks involve firms that have had their food production systems verified and received acceptable ratings from food-safety auditors or government inspectors. One such occurrence was the Salmonella outbreak linked to the Peanut Corporation of America in 2009 that sickened more than 500 and killed six people. The recall involved more than 3,900 peanut butter and peanut-containing products. According to media reports, a third-party auditor was responsible for evaluating the safety of those peanut products.

Powell said there are many limitations with food-safety audits and inspections, but with an estimated 48 million Americans sick each year foodborne illnesses, the question should be how best to reduce the number of sick people.

“Audit reports are only useful if the purchaser or food producer reviews the results, understands the risks addressed by the standards and makes risk-reduction decisions based on the results,” he said. “So companies who blame the auditor or inspector for outbreaks of foodborne illness should also blame themselves.”

Powell noted the biggest challenges to solving the food-safety issues we face currently are economic. “Making the nation’s food supply safe usually costs money and an investment in human capital. While inspectors and auditors play an active role in overseeing compliance, the burden for food safety lies primarily with food producers. Inspection efforts, even if doubled, would not be enough to make sure every food item is safe,” he said.

For more detailed information about the top trends influencing the direction food and beverage manufacturers will be headed to ensure the safety of their products in the months and years to come, check out Food Product Design’s digital issue “The Future of Food Safety”.

Source: Kansas State University