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Food Safety Briefing 2020: Food Safety Challenges

We have recently viewed the Food Manufacture webinar on food safety in 2020. We thought it would be a good idea to give you an overview of the event, to see for yourself the challenges the food industry is going to face as we enter the new decade.

The event was hosted by half a dozen presenters. These were Barbara Hirst, a consultant for food safety and quality from Reading Scientific Services Ltd., dr. Roy Betts, head of microbiology from Campden BRI Group, dr. Derek Watson SFHEA, associate professor in cultural management and consultant at the University of Sunderland, Gary Ridgewell, head of technical from Sieford Quality Foods, Rod Addy, editor for Food Manufacture and last-but-not-least, Steven Walker, the chief executive of Campden BRI.

If you have been keeping up with our newsletter and magazine, then you might have already read our articles on free-from and GMO. Some of the food safety issues that the biscuit industry is going to face in 2020 are connected to free-from products. There is a growing fear of cross-contamination, as certain allergens can harm the consumers’ health.

Hence why free-from products are increasing in popularity. To make a long story short, free-from products, such as free-from biscuits, are products which are one-hundred percent free of certain ingredients. If you go to your local shop, you are more than likely to spot “gluten-free” products.

Gluten is causing quite a bit of stir in the food industry as a whole, and while it is not harmful to most people, it is generally becoming less attractive. The various food companies are responding to this emerging trend by creating gluten-free versions of their products.

We recommend you read our article on free-from products, as it contains a plethora of information on what they are. In today’s article, however, we will be focusing on other challenges the food industry is facing. For starters, we are going show the highlights of the survey conducted by Food Manufacture.

Food Safety Briefing 2020: Food safety survey highlights

Before we begin the article in earnest, we would like to show you some of the results of the food safety survey conducted by Food Manufacture for the purposes of this webinar. The questions concern the different food safety issues that the modern food industry faces, such as the effect Brexit will have on food safety standards in the United Kingdom. Which brings us to the first question on the survey…

I feel more confident than twelve months that United Kingdom’s food safety standards will not be compromised if the UK exits the EU.

Table 1

Table 1. Source: Food Manufacture, "Food Safety Briefing 2020 Survey"

As you can see, not many people are confident about the United Kingdom leaving the European Union… The majority of the people who undertook the survey believe that the country’s food safety standards will be compromised by a no-deal Brexit. A little over fifty-two percent to be exact.

Forty-three percent of people believe that Brexit will have no lasting consequences on food safety standards, while a little bit over four percent of people had other opinions.

I am concerned about the threat posed to food safety by terrorism and cyberterrorism.

Table 1:  Concerned about the threat posed to food safety by terrorism and cyberterrorism

Table 2. Source: Food Manufacture, "Food Safety Briefing 2020 Survey"

It seems that the majority of people do not take the notion of terrorism and cyberterrorism lightly. Over sixty-eight percent of participants agreed that terrorism is a serious threat, while only twenty-seven percent of people disagreed.

But how can terrorism and cyberterrorism affect food safety standards? And most importantly, why would terrorists target food supply chains? Does it not make more sense for such groups of people to target civilians and public places instead?

Think about it for a minute. You have probably seen a couple of movies where a terrorist organisation tries to poison a water supply or something similar and in doing so spread fear and terror, all for the purpose of gaining more power and influence.

This is the plot of a movie V for Vendetta. In this movie, a radical right-wing political party releases a deadly biological weapon on the population of the United Kingdom. Many people die from the virus, and soon, bodies start pilling-up on the streets.

However, that very same political party that first released the virus also develops an antidote. They soon start vaccinating everyone and appear as saviours. They win the next election by a landslide and incorporate a dystopian government where everyone is constantly monitored.

This may seem funny at first, but the truth is that something like this is possible in the real world, especially today. Just imagine the disastrous consequences if terrorists were able to poison even a single food supply chain. Many people could get sick or, God forbid, end up dying.

That is why it is important for the different biscuit companies (and the food industry in general) to have harsh protocols when it comes to food safety and screening. Biscuits and other snacks need to be constantly monitored, so that there is no chance of a contaminated food source appearing in the market.

But what about cyberterrorism? The term itself allures to computer systems and hacking. How can something like that affect the quality of the biscuits we consume? It might not be clear at first glance, but there are very important reasons why the biscuit industry should be on the lookout for cyberterrorism.

What many people fail to realise is that the vast majority of food is produced, stored and transported in very specific environments, conditions and temperatures. The numerous factories across the globe operate at set parameters. Tampering with those parameters can cause serious damage to both the factory and the products.

And most of these facilities and warehouses are nowadays operated by advanced operating systems. They are the so-called “smart” facilities and warehouses, just like the smartphones we use every day. These facilities are vulnerable to cyberattacks in which cyberterrorists can sabotage the aforementioned parameters.

They can increase or decrease the room temperature of a warehouse, which can have a negative effect on the products stored in them. These products might then end up in market circulation where a consumer might get a hold of them. By consuming the product, the consumer unknowingly puts himself in danger.

Another way in which cyberterrorists can negatively affect the food industry is when they target the companies themselves. If they are able to bypass a company’s security system, they can completely shut down that company’s production capabilities. They can stop entire production lines, and this can lead to a huge loss of income.

Sometimes, these things happen, and luckily for most companies, they can bounce back from these attacks, although they do suffer a certain setback. However, there have been cases where entire companies had to close down due to the severity of the attacks instigated against them.

Luckily, there are numerous agencies today that deal with the issue of cyberterrorism. They deploy counter-measures and install firewalls and safety protocols with the sole purpose of diverting a cyberattack before it has a chance to do permanent damage. Investing into cybersecurity is very important, especially if you are a company that has its entire production line digitalised.

I am completely confident of my business’ management of ingredient cross-contamination risks in the production process.

Table 3:  Ingredient cross-contamination risks in the production process

Table 3. Source: Food Manufacture, "Food Safety Briefing 2020 Survey"

It is a good thing that the majority of biscuit producers are confident in the capabilities of their management. Why? Because there is a growing concern amongst the general population of their favourite snacks becoming contaminated.

But contaminated with what exactly? Well, if you check out our article on the free-from products you will notice that a large part of these free-from products are free of gluten. Gluten is a hot topic in the modern industry, and many in the consumer base seek to avoid it as much as possible, as it is an allergen that can cause allergic reactions.

The general populace is mostly concerned with these, the allergens. This particular statement of the survey ties in with another statement further down below, but we will get to that soon enough. Although gluten is the most prominent allergen that is being talked about, there are other, far more dangerous ones.

We do not mean to scare you, but sadly, there have been reports of death in some extreme cases. But these are very rare and probably represent about 0.00001% of all the food contamination cases. These poor people who died due to cross contamination were people with severe allergies.

But, in all fairness, this chart represents that the majority of companies take food safety issues very seriously. There are entire governmental and non-governmental organisations that oversee the food industry and the production of different biscuits and snacks. There are legislations that enforce high safety standards that the different companies have to follow.

And even without these legislations to enforce these rules, the big corporations have to prioritise the safety of their consumers. Even if it means losing some profit. Those companies and conglomerates that fail to adhere to the strict safety rules are “burned at the stake” and their popularity drastically falls-off. This can lead to company’s demise.

Our business’ move to reduce packaging or make it more eco-friendly has been made without an adequate assessment of the associated risks to food safety.

Table 4:  reduce packaging

Table 4. Source: Food Manufacture, "Food Safety Briefing 2020 Survey"

We have written an entire article on the importance of biscuits packaging and how it can make-or-break a brand. You can check out the article here, but what we have not covered is how eco-friendly packaging can affect food safety.

In the modern world, we are faced with a plethora of ecological issues. More and more people are joining environmental movements across the globe, especially the younger generations. In our article about the millennial generation and their consumer culture, we have argued that the millennials represent the majority in the consumer base and therefore set the modern market trends.

These younger generations, who are influenced by the climate change, will one day become the majority in the consumer base. As such, they will set their own marketing trends, which are more than likely to be focused on environmental issues.

Hence the reason why so many companies across the world are starting to implement eco-friendly packaging. But has this process been rushed? Is eco-friendly packaging completely safe for storing the different biscuits and snacks that we consume?

Well, according to the Food Manufacture survey, opinions are split but still in favour of those who think that they are safe. Around fifty-six percent of food producers have agreed that their businesses have made adequate tests to ensure the safety of eco-friendly packaging.

Around thirty-five percent have admitted that they have not made the proper tests, but that does not mean that their packaging is not safe. What is good for the environment is more than likely to be good for humans as well.

The biggest food safety concern for my business is…

Table 5: safety concern for business

Table 5. Source: Food Manufacture, "Food Safety Briefing 2020 Survey"

Here we have the final entry in our article on the Food Manufacture survey. This entry ties in nicely with the previous statement about cross-contamination. While the majority of the companies that produce biscuits and other food types are confident that they can monitor cross-contamination risks, many are still concerned about it, and for good reason.

There have been reports of people dying from consuming allergen contaminated foods. This is why there are organisations and legislations in place that monitor foods for cross-contamination. It is an on-going fight that requires constant monitoring, innovation and advancement in technology.

We have come very far when it comes to food safety, but there are still more challenges to face. The food industry has to remain vigilant so that no more lives are put in danger.

Food Safety Briefing 2020: A concluding word

We have barely even scratched the surface of the Food Manufacture webinar. There are many more topics connected to the issue of food safety to cover in the near future. But as always, we hope this article has been informative and that you were able to discern how the different people in the food industry view the current food safety situation.

There are certainly more food safety challenges to face, but we have come a long way, and the situation is far better than it has been in the previous decades. There are more laws in place which enforce high safety standards, and the different companies are vigilant in carrying them out.

This is it for today. We hope you enjoyed the article, and if so, expect more to come in the near future. Goodbye for now!


Leading image: wavebreakmediarendered/Shutterstock.com

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