Friday, June 14, 2024

New standard launched for avoiding food contamination

A food safety culture that prioritizes people and supports collaboration in manufacturing facilities, food service businesses, restaurants or retail stores can help improve quality, minimizing the risks of contamination or recalls, while also benefiting productivity and talent retention.

New global guidance from BSI, developed through consensus with industry giants including Walmart, McDonald’s, PepsiCo, HelloFresh, Kerry Foods and 3M, and published this week, identifies that the common factor in food safety incidents, quality failures and recalls is people rather than failures of machinery or technology. Equally, when issues occur, people are the key to avoiding recurrence.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), consuming contaminated food results in an estimated 600m people falling ill every year, leading to 420,000 deaths. A desire to tackle this led to a round-table discussion at the 2019 International Association for Food Protection (IAFP) Annual Meeting, then ultimately the creation of an industry steering group. The resulting document, Developing and sustaining a mature food safety culture (PAS 320), is designed to guide organizations of all sizes across food, beverage and retail to create a culture where people are prioritized, all employees embrace food safety, take responsibility for reporting issues, and are empowered to initiate change.

Relevant to anyone from manufacturers and factory workers to restauranteurs and baristas, the guidance has been published by BSI following extensive sector discussion on food safety culture, including what it is, how to measure it and how to ensure continuous improvements. The document defines food safety culture as the ‘shared values, beliefs and norms that affect mindset and behaviour toward food safety in, across and throughout an organization’.

It notes that creating and maintaining a strong culture that preserves quality and reduces risk requires management commitment and a mindset that safety is the responsibility of everyone at every stage of the food supply chain. Culture is also highlighted as key for employee retention, improving quality and decreasing contamination risk by decreasing turnover rate.

PAS 320 includes steps on identifying gaps and then implementing a plan for change. It makes recommendations related to leadership; the organization’s vision, mission, values and policy; organizational structure; responsibilities, accountabilities and authorities; guiding coalition team; interested parties; change champions; influencers; and food safety documentation. The guidance also includes advice on how prioritizing people in the sector not only supports improved food safety, but also brings other benefits including investment return, business performance improvement, reduction of the costs associated with poor quality, and enhanced efficiency.

In the UK, this comes in the wake of the passing of ‘Natasha’s Law’, which requires organizations providing food to include full ingredients labelling on pre-packed for direct sale foods in order to protect allergy sufferers and give them confidence in the food they buy. It follows the UK’s departure from the European Union, which means that packaging and labelling is now led in the UK by the Food Standards Agency.

Neil Coole, director, Food and Retail Supply Chains, at BSI, said: “A positive food safety culture that prioritizes people and gives everyone a stake in driving quality can have a transformative effect and help reduce the risk that comes from unsafe food. This starts with leadership taking steps to turn ambition into action in order to build and sustain continuous improvements across their organization and the wider supply chain.

“Ultimately, moving from seeing food safety culture as a compliance issue to an investment in people can offer huge benefits for individuals, organizations and society as a whole.”

Scott Steedman, director general, Standards, BSI, said: “It is tragic that so many lives are lost globally every year to contaminated food. This is something nobody in the industry can ignore and urgent steps to change this are required. We understand that the common factor in food safety related risks is people, and it is an organisation’s culture towards food safety that presents the opportunity for continuous improvement. PAS 320 provides the guidance to empower people to make a positive impact on the future of the food industry.

“Enabling a robust food safety culture is vital for enhancing quality and safety across the food sector. Strengthening understanding of what best practice looks like and how everyone in the food sector can play a role, by enhancing global consistency and offering clarity, can help food sector organizations accelerate change and support the realization of quality and food safety ambitions. This new standard on food safety culture can build confidence in the global food industry and offer long-term benefit for everyone.”

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