How does the supply crisis and rising costs affect food safety?
Food safety remains the top priority
Energy, raw materials, transport, consumption, prices… Everything has soared in recent months almost by surprise. Global markets are in the midst of a deep supply crisis, which has led to a sharp rise in the cost of raw materials and energy. An atypical situation that comes after two years of a pandemic that changed the rules of the game.
While enduring a phase of market restructuring, for the past two months we have been faced with another factor that, once again, has shaken the world chessboard: the invasion of Ukraine and the isolation of Russia on the energy and raw materials supply markets. All of this is fuelling a scenario of market instability. A situation that increases the general industry focus on reducing costs as a priority. A premise that is possible without compromising food safety with technical advice, thus avoiding other more serious problems related to health, safety and reputation, among others.
The food industry is in a difficult context, as it needs to find a way to cope with all these increases while maintaining profit margins and without reducing product safety. It is almost a chimera that cannot be a challenge for the global market.
Recent cases of food poisoning outbreaks have put the whole sector on alert. Simply cutting costs in the cleaning and disinfection of facilities is not a good option, quite the opposite. Not complying with the established sanitisation protocols, and replacing certain products with others of lesser quality, has a direct consequence… that of reducing food safety.
The chemical industry has also been affected by this new situation. The increase in all costs is also affecting them. This does not mean that it has to give up on its efforts to produce quality, effective and efficient products supporting the food industry to produce safe food.
A few days ago, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) announced an international outbreak of Salmonella typhimurium ST34 infections linked to chocolate products. Up to the beginning of April, 150 cases had been reported, mainly in children under ten years of age, victims of food poisoning.
But April has also brought other news about contaminated products harmful to human health. For example, an outbreak of Listeria monocytogenes in pigs’ heads, Escherichia coli in France due to the consumption of frozen dough, or sibutramine in a food supplement. These are just a few examples of what could proliferate in the coming months if hygiene in production sites is not taken seriously.
According to the World Health Organisation, 4,700 people die each year in Europe from contaminated food, 420,000 worldwide, and 23 million Europeans fall ill as a result.
Reducing cleaning and disinfection is incompatible with ensuring food safety. Optimising is not cutting back, rather, it is about finding new, more efficient and sustainable tools and products that can lead to savings in time, water and energy consumption, which are the main factors contributing to the cost of hygiene operations. Replacing detergents and disinfectants with others of inferior quality is not the solution. Reducing the frequency of cleaning and disinfection is not the solution either. Therefore, keeping hygiene processes within limits that ensure food safety is essential today. The same applies to the right advice and the right technical services for hygiene processes in the industry.
This is precisely where a hygiene partner plays a key role. An advisory function in which the established characteristics and commitments to be met are defined to ensure the suitability, quality and effectiveness of the services provided. The implementation of monitoring and control tools will contribute to improving the efficiency of the sanitisation processes, which, in turn, will help the industry to place safe foodstuffs on the market. Thus, it will be possible to offer customised sustainable hygiene solutions and achieve more efficient sanitisation processes at lower costs.
We are therefore talking about a comprehensive hygiene service that covers all areas and factors involved in the sanitisation of food production and handling facilities: from the recommendation and supply of products and the equipment necessary for application, to the validation of the hygiene results. Not forgetting aspects such as the training and supervision of personnel involved in hygiene tasks, as well as the design of cleaning and disinfection protocols.
Automating processes can be a good example to reduce consumption, For example, automatic belt cleaning systems or even ultrasonic cleaning. Moreover, nowadays, consumption monitoring systems are available on the market for both open space cleaning systems and CIP systems.
The use of quality equipment, as well as the implementation of a preventive maintenance service, and controlling dosage, are other good practices that can be implemented.
Products also play an important role. Opting for equally effective alternatives, such as those served in concentrated formats, with the savings in transport that this entails, as well as other types of products that are easy to rinse or that work at low temperatures, with the corresponding savings in water and energy, are other options to take into account.
In this price crisis, with the relentless struggle for cost savings, the various links in the food industry value chain must not forget their primary role: to produce safe food; to ensure that the products leaving the plants are safe. This threat should be turned into an opportunity to look more closely at cleaning and disinfection processes. Admittedly, this may take some time and effort, but it will lead to a better monitoring and control of all these processes in the long run. Undoubtedly, this is the only valid method to define potential savings while maintaining a safe food production environment.
This is the only way to tackle this new threat that has already started to show its first symptoms. Whether it will go further or not, will depend on the degree of involvement of the value chain itself. A reputational crisis can cause irreversible damage to a brand, not to mention the damage previously caused to consumers. Be that as it may, under no circumstances should we let our guard down on food safety; it is simply vital. Today, more than ever, the high level of professionalism of the food industry workers and suppliers must be paramount in the interests of food safety.