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Key insights into avoiding food safety risks [Interview]

In this article, Rob Kooijmans, co-founder and co-owner of FoodRecall, provides advice in ensuring food safety standards are met and recall is prevented.

Food safety and quality control is becoming increasingly stricter. Yet quality control and operations managers often still find it hard to get the investment they require to ensure standards are met. Rob Kooijmans, co-founder and co-owner of FoodRecall, provides advice in ensuring food safety standards are met and recall is prevented. We interviewed him to find out more about increasing standards for food safety and quality. 

How has food safety and quality management evolved over the last couple of years?

‘Over the last few years we have seen increased pressure in terms of (certification) compliance, all GFSI schemes are increasing the requirements and run a number of unannounced audits to further enhance day-to-day compliance.’

‘Next to this, big changes in international legislation have taken place in two major economies: the USA and China. The FDA from the USA is now reaching firmly outside the USA borders to safeguard food safety supply of foodstuff coming to the USA.’

‘Finally, we see a stricter enforcement by authorities, driven by a wide range of food safety related scares and issues (e.g., the constant number of issues in the market regarding pathogens, and issues like fipronil and chloramphenicol). All in all, an increasingly complex environment where companies have to be aware, not only of internal risks but also of risks from the outside (suppliers and the wider food supply chain).’

What are the main challenges facing quality and operations managers?

‘Main challenges faced by quality and operations managers are often to get owners and management behind a thorough food safety and quality approach in the organization. Too often investment levels remain too low, and priority is given to cost cutting and increasing the top - line sales of the company. Of course these are important, but the impact of food safety issues these days is ever increasing compared to a few years ago. This is driven by social media reach and stricter behaviour of the authorities. Despite all of this, there are still company owners and directors who refuse to take the necessary steps to build a strong company culture that supports food safety and quality, let alone spend enough money on prevention – for example for the control of incoming goods.’

What new regulations does the industry have to take into consideration? How will this impact food safety & quality control?

‘The two of the most recent and biggest changes are the Food Safety Modernization Act in the USA and the new Food Safety Law in China. Both pieces of legislation empower the authorities to take stronger civil action against company owners and board members about food safety issues.’

‘The same trend is visible in Europe where the national food safety authorities are more often taking a firmer stand and civil action against company owners who are involved in food safety issues – for example in the case of a German egg farmer was imprisoned in the UK in 2016 and two board members of a Dutch cleaning provider in the egg business in 2017.’

Which new approaches or techniques for quality control are you developing?

‘We advocate more incoming checks on raw materials. Fast tests are becoming increasingly available for a lot of divisions like microbiology (and pathogens especially), allergens, toxins, mycotoxins, anti-biotics and many other chemical substances.’

‘Food producers are increasingly in a position to verify the performance of their suppliers, meaning they do not solely have to rely on a risk analysis combined with supplier auditing, to ensure a proper quality level and the trustworthy food safety performance of their incoming goods. This trend will potentially address 50% of the amount of food recalls taking place, as these are caused by poorly managed streams of incoming goods.’

‘As a service provider we have developed a company scan to identify risks and weak spots in a company relating to potential food safety risks and leverage factors which might increase the financial impact – for example holding structure, insurance and use of proper terms & conditions.’

As consumers become more aware of food safety risks, how will this impact the F&B industry and your sector in particular?

‘Consumers will adapt to brands they feel they can trust. Brands and companies involved in food safety issues will find them selves in a situation where turnover and profit will rapidly decline, potentially leading to bankruptcy of the ill-performers.’

‘With social media the power of the consumer is not to be ignored. More and more food safety issues tend to end up in the media. A higher number of company owners and directors will start recognising the importance of managing food safety, and will increase the priority for this in their organization. The front runners and industry leaders are already doing so at the moment.’

From a food safety and quality perspective, what are your predictions for the next 3-5 years?

‘In the next 3 to 5 years, a differentiation will appear between companies that really place food safety and quality first versus those that don’t. The differentiation will not only be in market share, but also in profit levels. The factors driving this change are unannounced audits by certification scheme owners and customers, stricter and more powerful action from the authorities , and last but not least the (financial) impact of not having enough understanding of the entire food supply chain and managing risks accordingly. When food producers are insufficiently aware of potential risks in the food supply chain, the question is no longer if a recall will occur, but when.’

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