If food safety is so important, why isn’t it being referenced more?
31 Oct 2018
Legislators and consumers are placing increasing emphasis on product safety, says Brian Attwood, but a recent report suggests food companies may not have it as high on their agenda as they suppose.
Earlier this year, Process Engineering’s publisher, Synthesis Media, was asked to help with the launch of a report by the leading food industry software company Qadex which surveyed attitudes to food safety.
Managing director Stephen Whyte was aware, like many of us, of the number of high-profile incidents involving food safety issues, among them the well-publicised cases involving both the 2 Sisters Food Group and Russell Hume. And, if they impact now, the chances are that they will be more important still when the UK has to go it alone and compete in the international marketplace without the European umbrella.
Of course, everyone cares about safety – it’s a commonsense business approach to do so. Then again, Food Standards Agency statistics reported in The Guardian in February stated an average of 16 major plant safety infractions at UK meat plants each week from 2014-17; with 540 out of 890 audited meat cutting plants in England, Wales and Northern Ireland guilty of at least one non-compliance with food or safety rules.
Qadex produced a table of 150 firms segmented equally into three tiers, with turnover ranging from £20-£250 million-plus. This revealed that, of the 29 risk factors noted, product safety barely scraped into the top 10
Whyte’s concern was that perhaps too many firms might be failing to look at the problem effectively. Given his firm’s software solutions are employed by an estimated 16,000 manufacturing sites, with 25,000 daily users and Qadex processes more than 20,000 specifications and audits every month, he was well placed to sense the state of things.
What he lacked was empirical evidence one way or the other. Hardly surprising perhaps when companies are reluctant to advertise their shortcomings, even those subsequently corrected. So his solution was to focus on information clearly in the public domain. Given that all UK businesses must publish a ‘principal risks and uncertainties’ statement with their annual accounts lodged at Companies House, there was an opportunity to quantify the situation.
From this, Qadex produced a table of 150 firms segmented equally into three tiers, with turnover ranging from £20-£250 million-plus.
This revealed that, of the 29 risk factors noted, product safety barely scraped into the top 10. Perhaps not surprisingly, the largest, most high-profile brands scored higher on the issue: one in four included food safety in their statement but among the bottom tier the proportion dipped to one in 10. And reputational and regulatory risk scored far lower.
All top five risks cited were financial, while concerns about competitor and customer behaviours also marked higher than food safety. One might counter that actions speak louder than words but, in a well-structured business, the former often flows from the latter. That ought to be why firms have mission, vision and risk statements – informing actions, rather than substituting for them.
Granted, Qadex’s ‘Three Rs’ for food safety (review your risks statement, request action, report to staff and supply chain) is no automatic guarantor of success. But it would ensure food business checked more thoroughly what’s on their radar. And, indeed, what is not.