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Food Crime and Safety– Supply Chains Biggest Threat?

In this article, Samir Dani discusses why food crime and food safety are the biggest threats to the food supply chain.

The European horsemeat scandal in 2013 highlighted the complexity within the food supply chain. Although the contamination with the meat chain was not fatal to humans, the issue was about fraud and misleading information. Adulteration of food is not a new phenomenon and is found across the globe in varied levels. The growth of the food retail sector and the food supply chains that serve the sector presents additional challenges as adulteration spreads in large numbers and fast. Among many other challenges, ‘Food Safety’ is perhaps the most important challenge that affects the food industry. Food safety incidents can affect brand value and longevity of a company, as seen in previous cases such as the Salmonella Typhimurium infection in the US due to tainted peanut butter. This also brings forth issues regarding visibility within the food supply chain.

In the wake of the horsemeat scandal, the UK government ordered a review into the integrity and assurance of food supply networks. The report of this review, conducted by Professor Chris Elliott, discussed the impacts of food fraud and food crime and its significance within the food supply chain. This also meant that within the UK, ‘food crime’ is now recognized explicitly, leading to the formation of a Food Crime Unit within the Food Standards Agency. The report also recommended a better regime of food safety audits and the importance of intelligence gathering to combat food fraud and crime, which is conducted intentionally by spurious entities within the supply chain.

Food safety issues, even if non-intentional and caused due to negligence, can be fatal and have a negative impact on the brand and the value of the company. This impact will percolate upstream in the chain, affecting supply chain entities. A recent case in the news is the food safety concerns of the ‘Maggi’ brand of noodles in India, which has affected the share price of the company in India and has caused a massive pull out of the inventory across retail environments. Even a small incident over a limited time can have a ripple effect upstream through the chain.

Legislation plays an important role in enforcing food safety. Each country has its own food safety legislation. In the UK, the Food Safety Act 1990 and the later amendments form the base for food safety. However, being a part of the EU, the food sector needs to follow EU food law and the various regulations concerning different aspects of the food chain. Labelling is also covered as an important part of these regulations and was one of the focal points within the horsemeat issue. Since December 2014 there has been a change in the labelling regulation - it is important for food manufacturers to label their pre-packaged products with a clear indication of the 14 allergens (if any) that feature in the EU regulatory list. Along with these mandatory regulations there are a number of compatibility standards set either by retailers (BRC) or recognized by the sector (HACCP). Recently, with the threat of intentional contamination, a new guide (PAS96:2014) has been introduced to protect and defend food and drink from a deliberate attack. PAS 96 has a focus on identifying threats and describes the Threat Assessment Critical Control Points (TACCP), a risk management methodology, which aligns with HACCP.

It is important for food and drink supply chains to manage risks and threats and keep updated with the changes in regulation. New information and communications technologies to increase supply chain visibility, traceability, intelligence gathering and a proactive method of risk management will position food sector companies to manage food safety and food fraud issues effectively and efficiently.

Samir Dani is author of Food Supply Chain Management and Logistics, an essential guide that considers the food supply chain from 'farm' to 'fork'.