Global expert discusses the biggest threats to food safety

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 29th July 2016

Food fraud and large scale product recalls, continue to make headlines around the world affecting food businesses of all sizes. Today, more than ever before food businesses need to be on the front foot to deal with the numerous challenges presented by the complexities of a global supply chain.

Dawn Welham, Global Technical Director – Retail, Agribusiness & Food, SAI Global and speaker at the upcoming Australian HACCP Conference answers some key questions about the challenges facing the food industry.

 What are the biggest issues currently facing food safety professionals?

Given the ever increasing complexity of contemporary supply chains knowing who your ultimate suppliers are is becoming difficult. Here in the UK and across Europe we’re highly aware of the threat of food fraud orchestrated by sophisticated organised crime syndicates. Frustratingly, the penalties for food fraud, despite their serious consequences, are incredibly low and the chances of getting caught and prosecuted are virtually nil.

From a legal perspective, requirements for traceability require a one step back approach and with B2B one step forward. However, when we consider that the supply chain for a pre-prepared beef lasagne for instance, might have in excess of 40 steps back across a range of suppliers in different jurisdictions, it becomes extremely difficult to control the entire chain. Current detection methods make positive release impractical and unachievable. Cost, availability and reliability mean new technologies need to be developed and deployed to remain at least one step ahead of the fraudsters.

Given the rising instance of global food fraud, how do you think food businesses can protect themselves and their supply chain from the consequences of food fraud?

As is the case for many business challenges, an unbalanced or ‘tick-in-the-box’ approach will not yield the necessary results to deal with a problem as complex and consequential as food fraud.

A comprehensive approach would involve working closely with suppliers to:

  • Complete supply chain mapping, tracing the final product back to the farm. This level of visibility will help food businesses pre-empt issues and take a pro-active approach to managing food fraud risk.
  • Set clear expectations, keep policies and specifications simple and easy to understand. Hold your suppliers feet to the fire, using testing as assurance, not as a control.
  • Understand the true cost of goods that make up your final product. Don’t necessarily switch for the sake of a penny – food businesses should factor approval costs into the equation.
  • True partnerships help people to be compliant. Assess ‘intent’ as well as competence.
  • Put systems in place to know and act when things have gone wrong, then take timely action with adequate recall and withdrawal systems in place.
  • Learn from your mistakes and other peoples’. When addressing issues fix things for good, ensuring that the root cause of the problem is fixed. Food businesses are only as strong as their weakest supply chain link.

“The future looks quite different,” Dawn says, and it’s unlikely that food producers will manage these processes in-house, for reasons of cost and security. “Companies don’t always know what to look for – food safety testing is well understood but food fraud testing isn’t.

“It’s more than a traceability issue and the goal is simple, as an industry, we have to make it easy for customers to be confident.”

About Dawn Welham

Dawn is a seasoned industry professional, driving technical leadership for businesses, including UK supermarket giant ASDA Walmart, the largest retailer in the world. During her time at ASDA Walmart she was Head of Trading Law and Technical Director, where she was responsible for guaranteeing the safety of the entire product range including fresh food, grocery, and non-food including white goods amongst many others. Dawn was recently awarded the CIEH 2016 Professional of the Year Award, in recognition of her outstanding work in improving business performance and people’s health and wellbeing.

Dawn will speak on the topic of ‘Horizon Scanning’ at the 23rd Australian HACCP in Sydney, 5-6 October, 2016.