June 07, 2019

Each year, more than 600 million people become ill from unsafe food, and an estimated 42,000 of those people will die from their illness. This alarming statistic is why the World Health Organization (WHO) and other UN partners have prioritized food safety as a public health issue. How food is managed from farm to fork helps avoid contamination by pesticides and other chemicals, pathogens that can be transmitted by food and water, foreign materials that can work their way into food, intentional adulteration, safe transporting of product (making sure temperature controls and other factors work in favor of safety), proper labeling and packaging, and consumer mishandling.  


Economic Loss in Developing Countries 

Most deaths and a high percentage of illnesses attributed to food safety issues come from developing countries. Often people in these areas lack the resources and education to secure their food. The WHO estimates that close to USD 95 billion is lost to economies each year because of food poisoning. This estimate in lost productivity does not even account for the value of the food itself that may need to be disposed of if deemed unsafe. As our food market continues to expand globally, emerging markets need to receive education on safe farming and manufacturing. Developed countries that import products from developing countries need to enforce established standards ensure that food and ingredients entering their markets. Investment into these countries and their farms would not only reduce the foodborne illness rates in their countries but also stimulate their economies by establishing a conduit to food trade.  


Foodborne Illnesses Cost Companies Billions 

Contaminated food products cost the US economy approximately USD 7 billion per year. Aside from the legal and medical costs to consumers harmed in foodborne outbreaks, there are other costs incurred by companies involved in contaminated products. Removing tainted products from store shelves and restaurants, ensuring the certified destruction of contaminated products, and notifying consumers also add to the losses. Some companies cannot rebound from the financial and reputational loss of a high-profile outbreak.  In recent decades, several outbreaks and recalls in the US have cost producers and manufacturers hundreds of millions of dollars each. Smaller companies, especially, may not have the funds necessary to adequately prepare for an incident and may not have the established brand loyalty needed to retain consumers. The regulatory process governing food and beverages varies from one country to the next, but essential elements are present in most regulatory bodies.  


Product Risk Management in the Food Industry 

Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point programs, written documentation of self-inspections and monitoring, and recall plan management are required for many food industries. Crisis management plans that include step-by-step recall plans, prepared consumer notification statements, and dedicated resources to manage an incident can mitigate the costs of food safety incidents such as intentional adulteration of food, accidental contamination, and suppliers shipping contaminated raw ingredients. 

Supplier management and food traceability are also important factors in promoting food safety. As the global network of suppliers increases, the complexity of food with many ingredients also rises. Prepared foods made with multiple ingredients from global sources can present a challenge if contamination is found to be present. Pinpointing ingredients implicated in an outbreak might require a lengthy and tedious investigation. However, new technologies can hasten investigation, pinpoint the problem, and reduce losses for many organizations. Rapid testing for pathogens is made possible through complex machines designed to identify specific diseases. DNA testing for specific strains of a pathogen is often used to narrow down a product through past comparison or current reports.  


Businesses Must Meet Food Safety Standards 

Border rejections, recalls, and investigations into foodborne illness cost companies USD billions each year. Food production and safety must meet standards at each step of the process. Growers and producers need to ensure that their farming practices comply with the top recommendations for biosecurity. Pickers, packers, and processors must also adhere to rigid standards to reduce the potential for contamination. Labels on food must be specific, especially so that no known allergens enter the market and impact consumers. Finally, consumers must be educated on safe food handling procedures; washing food (produce), cooking thoroughly, avoiding cross-contamination of utensils, cutting boards, and other preparation measures, and storage of foods.  

Although the globalization of the world’s food supply adds numerous challenges and expenses to product recalls, the increased options for ingredients and suppliers outweigh the risks. Organizations involved in food production to anticipate managing potential financial losses that stem from product contamination. Consumers will need to become more cognizant of current recalls and take steps to mitigate their risks. Together, public-private partnerships between regulatory bodies, food producers, and consumers need to raise food safety culture and awareness to reduce the impact of foodborne illnesses globally.  


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