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At this year’s BRC Food Safety conference retailers, manufacturers and food industry professionals debated the key events in food safety over the last year and how they need to adapt to meet the challenges yet to come. At the forefront of this debate is how, one year on from the horsemeat crisis, the industry can pick up the pieces and ensure another similar catastrophe is avoided in future. For example, at this year’s conference we moderated a panel discussion on transparency, discussing its role in aiding food safety. The discussion revealed that many felt that there is not enough collaboration between retailers and the manufacturers further down the supply chain and that more work is needed.
Clearly, one of the biggest changes in the industry is that food safety and provenance have now moved to the very heart of consumer concerns regarding the food supply chain. As a result, the industry is preparing itself for a wave of new legislation on the sourcing and labelling of ingredients. With increasing legislation comes increased levels of risk. Effectively sharing information throughout the supply chain will be key to maintaining standards and avoiding the wrath of regulators. Rather than wait for new legislation to come into effect, the industry can act now to limit the risk of human error leading to a food scare by ensuring information is accurately and effectively shared.
So what typically happens when a food scare results from deliberate fraud or contamination, as with the horsemeat crisis? A product recall can take weeks to complete and during this time the risk to both the consumer and the reputations of retailers and manufacturers swiftly escalates. Consumer demands and increased focus from government and legislators now mean this timeline is no longer acceptable. Product recalls should be turned round in days, if not hours. Complete transparency in the supply chain can address this by ensuring that if a crisis hits, all affected products are swiftly located and a recall is resolved quickly and effectively, protecting the reputation of the food industry as a whole.
Responding to food crises does not need to be a passive process. It can also be an active way to create new opportunities. Giving consumers an insight into the supply chain highlights the integrity of products and can be used as a proof-point to concerned consumers. More granular insight into what goes into a product and its provenance allows retailers and manufacturers to create more specific private label ranges to appeal to niche consumer requirements; e.g. Fair Trade, GM Free etc. This open approach turns transparency into a way for retailers and manufacturers to innovate and engage with consumers in ways they may never have done before.
Food safety is an issue that will always be at the top of the food industry’s agenda and, while we have not seen the last of large scale food scares, the industry can learn its lessons now to limit the impact in years to come. If manufacturers and retailers create greater collaboration and improve levels of transparency, the industry will have a bright future ahead.
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