A Tough Nut or a Bitter Pill: The Realities of Global Food Safety

The most passionate minds in global food safety and traceability are gathering in Anaheim, CA this week for the Global Food Safety Conference (GFSC).  With mission statements like “One World, One Safe Food Supply”, retailers, manufacturers and suppliers alike are slowly but surely beginning to embrace a significant paradigm shift and fundamental change in the way they prioritize the safety and compliance of their food offerings.

Andrew Smith, author of the article “The Three Pillars of Food Safety in the 21st Century” explains, “At the heart of these changes are two things: The power and influence of the GFSI [Global Food Safety Initiative] in driving a consistent, harmonized approach to food safety and the shift in the certification and audit services towards more professional assessors consistently delivering more valuable assessments.”

His points indicate a slow shift towards global accountability and collaboration.  But in a 2/25 Food Safety News article, “Is FSMA Sparking Concern Abroad?,” it seems that “the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) is not held in the highest regard by foreign governments.”  The reasoning behind this, the article goes on to say, is “Some foreign governments are worried that implementation of the legislation will focus more on imported food than on domestic production….He points to China and the European Union for now, but said countries in Latin America and Southeast Asia could also take issue.”

The complexity of this tough nut is defined by not only the operational aspects of maintaining and securing a global supply chain, but by a tight weave of economic and political forces.  It seems our safety has come to this.

For any of you in Anaheim this week for the GFSC, I encourage you to be bold, approach the microphone, and ask the tough questions around accountability and collaboration.

What say you, FoodieData thinkers?

The Spotlight of Social Media: How Does the Food Chain Really Work?

You cannot scan your news feed or check your Twitter or Face Book account these days without seeing some post about food safety.  Whether it be bacteria tainted infant formula in China, unsafe handing of bean sprouts in Germany or the infamous Mad Cow disease scandal, the proliferation of stories of unsafe foods in our local food chain has now become a frequent and unwelcome buzzing in the background.

Stories of such outbreaks spread instantaneously across social media, leading this humble blogger to wonder about the role of information technology in changing both producer and consumer behavior.  The “pink slime” beef incident in the US recently lit a fire under the issue of the media in public safety.  Meatingplace, the meat processing industry’s trade magazine, fired back and wrote an article about the incident and role social media and non-food experts played in creating consumer fear.   Last year, a shopper at Safeway in Arizona made a splashy social media play to a local news station when she found a chicken foot shrink wrapped in a package of chicken breasts.  These kind of local stories have the viral capacity to lead consumers to wonder, just who is minding my food?

How well does the average consumer really understand how the food we consume is produced, processed and brought to market?  The complexity of sourcing, tracking, reporting, packaging, marketing, and distributing through a variety of end user channels is vastly different for fresh perishables like summer tomatoes and lettuce, proteins like beef and fish, and packaged goods like breakfast cereal and frozen dinners.  Add Nutrition Labeling and Allergen policies mandating the food system make ingredients and nutritional data more transparent to consumers and we are all swimming in one complicated food chain stew.

As consumers read more news stories, scan new product packaging and begin to worry about the safety of food on their dinner tables, will the inevitable proliferation of social media news change our dialog about food?  Will the average consumer connect the dots between a local product recall and the source of that product?

What say you, FoodieData thinkers?