Advanta: Traceability matters
17 July 2018
Supermarket food recalls have increased by 44 per cent in the last three years, that’s according to reports from January 2018. Here, Miguel Campos, export sales manager at food packaging supplier, Advanta, investigates.
We all remember the headlines of 2013. Traces of horsemeat were discovered in frozen burgers and ready meals on the shelves in several of the UK’s leading supermarkets. Until this point, the public was almost clueless to the concept of food crime or the importance of traceability.
Professor Chris Elliott, a long-time food safety specialist, headed the initial investigation into the scandal at the time. When The Guardian looked back at how the industry had changed as a result, Elliot explained that the big problem when the scandal broke was that no one was quite sure who was responsible.
“It was a battle between different police forces and government departments and it took two to three months for the responsibility to get assigned, and if you give criminals two to three months to get away, you’re not going to catch too many of them.”
Today, the responsibility has been put firmly into the hands of the Food Standards Agency and its Food Crime Unit. This unit works with police forces across of the country, Europol, and the Food Fraud Network, which links food safety authorities across Europe.
Following the horsemeat investigation, Elliot explained that major supermarkets are now mapping out their supply chains to assess the risk, but managing this process it is an enormous project. For smaller supermarkets and independent food and retail outlets in particular, the resources required are huge, so, for them, warns Elliott, the risk has not necessarily been diminished.
As a potential solution, Elliott suggests that larger companies support smaller supermarkets and that trade groups should collect and distribute information on fraud to others in the food industry.
Since the horsemeat scandal, food fraud has remained a hot topic. In fact, New Food magazine launched the Food Fraud conference in 2017. The second edition of the conference, held on March 01, 2018 in London, brought together leaders in the food industry to discuss how to identify food fraud, what is being done to prevent future incidents across the supply chain and to examine enforcement of regulations.
Accidently on purpose
The horsemeat scandal may have caused public outage, but most food recalls are connected to accidental contamination, rather than food crime. While this is much less sinister, it can be just as dangerous to consumers.
According the Food Safety Magazine, there were 42 large scale recalls in the US alone for contamination with extraneous materials in 2017. McCain Foods USA recalled some of its Roundy’s brand and Harris Teeter brand frozen hash browns due to reports of “extraneous golf ball materials” — yes, you read that correctly.
McCain believes the contamination occurred during the potato harvesting period, where golf balls must have inadvertently made it to the farm.
Topping the reasons for recalls in 2017, however, was not appropriately declaring allergens on food labels. Tyson Foods, Inc. recalled 2.4 million pounds of ready-to-eat breaded chicken products as they may have contained milk, but this was not declared on the label.
However, this mistake did not originate with the poultry company, but an ingredient a supplier had provided, which included breadcrumbs that contained milk. Including the other food companies that were affected by this mistake, 3.7 million pounds of food was recalled.
Recalls like this erode the confidence of consumers, so the financial hit that food manufacturers take is much deeper than the physical cost of the recall and wasted product. Brand loyalty is a delicate thing, and it is easily won or lost on press coverage of product success or failure.
Manufacturers must select suppliers they know will reliably adhere to any traceability requirements, not matter how small a contribution they appear to be making to bringing a product to market.
For example, the Food Standards Agency has General Food Law Regulations that cover every aspect of the food manufacturing pipeline, from ingredient production to packaging. When selecting suppliers, manufacturers must make sure you can trust that they adhere to every article of these regulations.
The spike in recalls in recent years could be interpreted as a positive, demonstrating that the industry is paying closer attention and protecting the public from harm. However, if we don’t come together and reduce the number of necessary recalls we risk alienating the public completely. Make traceability a priority now.
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