What Should People REALLY Be Worried About in the Food Supply?
One thing that is not apparent to the public and the retail markets, is that the food industry is not vertically integrated. Most of us in the food industry don’t have the ability to farm, process, manufacture, and package under the same roof. Which is why we use approved vendors and suppliers. In an ideal world, vendors and suppliers are forthcoming, transparent, and willing to share all of their information. However, what happens when the food supply goes off course can be a rude awakening for everyone.
The Supplier Itself
If I could pick my biggest concern regarding the food supply, it would be the actual supplier, Want examples? Lack of a properly developed HACCP plan, ongoing GMP issues regarding foreign object control, improper allergen segregation, and poorly trained personnel are just the tip of the iceberg. Here is an example of issues you may find in just one supermarket. Getting someone’s food safety questionnaire will only get you so far. This may sound like a pain the ass, but nothing beats a good-old-fashioned facility audit. Yes, I may be biased because I used to be an external supplier auditor, but to truly get a feeling for the facility and their performance, you have to walk the floor, talk to the employees, and see their food safety records. Transparency and oversight is paramount. You may be pleasantly surprised, or in some cases you’re in for a shock of a life time.
Lack of Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP’s)
It all starts here. GMP’s are the foundation of any solid Food Safety Plan. Please note: I’m not going to sit here and tell you that auditing a facility for 1 to 2 days is going to give you an overall representation of the facility's work ethic. Of course not, however, as an auditor I loved spending time on the production room floor, because there I could see and learn how people truly behave. This may sound pessimistic, but I always secretly hoped that some minor issue would arise during my production room audits. Not to wish evil on anyone, but this is the best test for any food facility. In cases of small issues, like, mechanical failures that disrupt production, or foreign object findings in product (e.g. Metal Detection), I want to see how the team reacts, and how they communicate the issue at hand. Ultimately, I hoped to see and compare their SOP’s (Standard Operating Procedures) to what actually took place to resolve that issue. This is a true test of the facilities GMP’s and Food Safety practices.
I kid you not when I say that I read about products being recalled for undeclared allergens on a daily basis. Issues like undeclared Milk, Almonds, or Soy are the biggest culprits. What is even more astonishing is how easily prevented these issues can be. Sometimes some of the smaller food companies are just not aware of their product hazards. Couple that with the fact that the USDA reviews food product labels and the FDA doesn’t, it’s no surprise that issues aren’t caught before they reach the public.
I find it ironic, and I am saddened by the fact that we as a consumer society worry more about the daily folderol of GMO’s (watch for our future blog series coming soon), cross-pollination of crops, and how much electrolytes we get from our drinks, than actual FOOD SAFETY itself. Food safety might not be a sexy topic, you can’t stick a celebrity chef behind it, and it is quickly forgotten by our society until a major food issue erupts. So let's change the conversation: Food issues must be controlled at the “farm” first, and at our kitchen table second.