BY NICHOLAS BLOCH
Executive vice president, group communications, Sidel
Food and beverage safety is a fundamental requirement in the processing equation, a non-negotiable in which compromise is not an option. Scandals involving product safety still have the capacity to shock the food and beverage industry and badly affect consumer confidence all over the world.
Consumer confidence is a crucial element in the value of a brand. One of the quickest ways to affect that confidence and therefore devalue the brand, sometimes irrevocably, is to be involved in a product safety scandal.
Product safety scandals
In Japan in 2000, more than 14,000 people were taken ill after consuming milk contaminated with the staphylococcus aureus bacteria. The problem was traced to bacteria on the production line of an Osaka factory that processed low-fat milk. A criminal investigation into the Snow Brand Milk Products company led to senior managers being charged with professional negligence. Sales fell sharply – market share from 45% to less than 10% – and subsequently eight factories were closed.
More recently, 2008 saw a tainted milk scandal in China. The contamination of milk and milk products with melamine saw six babies dead and hundreds of thousands made ill. Parties throughout the supply chain were implicated in the resulting investigation and subsequent scandals have shaken confidence in domestic supply.
Even more recently in Europe, throughout 2013, there was the international scandal in which horsemeat was re-labelled as beef and lamb. The problem naturally caused great concern amongst consumers but also throughout the industry as a whole.
The loss of consumer trust is one of the most damaging scenarios for any manufacturer. Throughout this mis-labelling scandal, the supply chain of companies was so complex that identifying the point at which the crime of mislabelling took place proved difficult.
However, it has resulted in a significantly increased focus, particularly in Europe but also spreading worldwide, on traceability.
Traceability practices are crucial in the beverage industry. Drinks companies must be able to understand everything that occurs on their production lines. Given this ever increasing focus, there are tracking solutions readily available that can be implemented on any beverage production line.
Consumers are increasingly ready to communicate
With the advent and growth of social media and the speed with which we now communicate globally, consumers are more aware than ever of food safety issues and the potential for food production to go wrong. If information is not immediately forthcoming from the company in question, the vacuum could be filled with social media-fuelled rumour, even if it is subsequently proven to be false.
The consumer can now drive major change within the food industry, insist on transparency in the supply chain and even cause manufacturers to go out of business.
Responsibility of the whole supply chain
Most manufacturers now work more closely than ever with all stakeholders in their own particular supply chains to ensure quality, traceability and the achievement of the appropriate standards. This collaboration generally covers every aspect, from the sourcing of raw materials, through the whole manufacturing process, to the filling and packaging of products and the eventual distribution of the product. All stakeholders at every level have a shared responsibility to ensure complete food safety.
© FoodBev Media Ltd 2020