Food Companies Mean Business When it Comes to Foodborne Illness
Author: Linda Brown and Deanna Fernandez
According to the World Health Organization, over 200 illnesses and diseases – ranging from diarrhea to cancer – are associated with harmful bacteria, viruses, parasites or chemical contaminants in food, and hundreds of millions of people worldwide are affected each year. Here in the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, GA estimates that 48 million people become ill annually from foodborne contaminants. Over 120,000 of these illnesses are serious enough to require hospitalization, and as many as 3,000 people die.
It’s no wonder, then, that food producers, handlers, restaurants and retailers are deadly serious about food safety. This month alone, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’
Foodsafety.gov website reported 6 separate recalls involving a variety of poultry, pork and beef products. Ice cream, cheese, eggs, cookie dough, frozen vegetables, fruits, nuts, and spices have also been subjects of recalls this year. And as we have repeatedly seen in recent years, a single food safety incident can cost a company, and sometimes an entire industry, serious reputational harm and business disruption.
As a result, food companies are increasingly investing in measures to strengthen their food safety programs, combining management-level commitment with a recognition that a food safety culture must permeate the entire organization, with each employee taking personal responsibility. And in the U.S., the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) now mandates that the majority of food operations producing or selling food in the United States have a comprehensive food safety plan in place.
Fortunately, food companies can now avail themselves of a wide range of excellent, on-line and in-person food safety training courses and resources, offered through public agencies and private sector experts such as SCS. Additionally, companies are undergoing third-party audits and certifications to demonstrate conformance with food safety standards, such as Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) recognized schemes (SQF, GLOBALG.A.P, BRC, and PrimusGFS), Harmonized Good Agricultural Practice (GAP) and Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) standards, and exclusive retail food safety codes such as TESCO Nurture.
Since the mid 1980s, we have had the good fortune over the years to work with companies large and small, up and down the entire food chain, including leading brands, to support their efforts to establish sound food safety programs and stay well ahead of the curve. It’s particularly heartening to see how enthusiastic company employees become when they realize how important their own contributions are.
A case in point is Five Crowns Marketing. An industry leader known for its Majesty brand, the southern California based company grows and markets sweet corn, melons, citrus, asparagus, head lettuce and romaine. Five Crowns Marketing recently earned certification under the PrimusGFS program, a GFSI-benchmarked scheme incorporating Food Safety Management Systems and Good Agricultural Practices.
The company describes its food safety philosophy in simple terms –“We put Food Safety first” –and attributes its success to the dedication and hard work of its management and staff up and down the line. According to the company, food safety is integral to its entire operation, involving production, warehouse and shipping operations as well as non-production aspect such as employee training.
Five Crowns recognizes that food safety is a moving target. “Each and every meeting discusses Food Safety and each and every Management action ensures Food Safety not only fits comfortably into the overall objective of Five Crowns Marketing, but that it is also understood and easily executed by each and every employee.” Its Hazard Control Program helps the company anticipate potential product hazards and control these hazards “from product reception through distribution.”
Most importantly, Five Crowns Marketing recognizes that food safety is a key component of its stated mission “to work ethically and diligently to grow, pack and ship quality product.” In the end, it’s about building trusting relationships – within the organization, with business customers, and with the consuming public.