There’s never been a more exciting time to work in the food industry. With changing demographics, technology, operating environments, regulations, commerce and routes to market – it’s a perfect storm of innovation.
As food professionals, we have to keep pace with these changes. Food safety is a key aspect of this and must be at the forefront of our field.
Food consumers love new trends and developments, and these evolving trends are driving consumer spending as people continue their search for the next big thing. Locally-sourced, home-grown and foods that we would typically have seen in farmers markets are becoming mainstream, and are posing new challenges for the food industry.
Consumers want more information about their food than ever before. They want to know not only what’s in their food, but what’s not in their food. As well as detailed product information, consumers are increasingly making purchasing decisions based on a company’s reputation and ‘personality’. They’re more likely to spend when they feel that a company shares their values.
Big Food, however, is not that agile. Many brands find it hard to keep up. Many consumers are turning to independent producers amid a growing mistrust of bigger corporations. Customers are more informed about the impact and influence of the food system, and this is changing how we shop. Big Food producers must find ways to respond to consumer concerns – or risk losing out.
In many ways, technology is itself shaping consumer behavior. With fast-changing habits and attitudes, food companies need to leverage innovative technology to keep up with consumer demands.
I moved to the United States 15 years ago, and I have definitely witnessed positive change since then. I see more sharing and collaboration. Companies of all sizes are putting aside their differences and coming together to advance food safety. And organizations like the Global Food Safety Initiative are playing a key role in keeping food safe for consumers, everywhere.
The food industry is full of contradictions and challenges. As an industry, we need to embrace change.
On one hand, consumers are leaning towards small batch, locally-produced foods. The majority of these are produced by small startups and entrepreneurs. By contrast, we still need mass-produced food if we’re going to feed 9 billion people by 2050. This will require a balance between different size production systems.
Looking at it from a food safety point of view, small scale production may not always be the safest. Take salmonella in chickens, for example. Salmonella is probably more likely to occur in chickens that are raised free range where they come into contact with pests and vermin. A dedicated facility run by experienced managers can put in tighter controls to prevent this.
Another challenge comes from the concerns around nutrition versus food safety e.g, salt. Consumers want lower salt products due to health concerns. Yet salt is a preservative that is used to make food safer, so with lower levels there is higher risk.
These are just some of the complex challenges to be overcome.
As the Challenges Change, So Must the Solutions
With the food safety issues of today, solutions include transparency, education, and building consumer trust all the way along the supply chain. By sharing information, ideas and stories, we can break down barriers between organizations, encouraging them to work collectively to advance understanding and industry best practices.
I moved to the United States 15 years ago, and I have definitely witnessed positive change since then. I see more sharing and collaboration. Companies of all sizes are putting aside their differences and coming together to advance food safety. They are explaining to consumers in more detail where ingredients are sourced from and how their food is made. Many food producers are working to address some of the confusion around what’s safe and what’s not. And trade associations and organizations like the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) are playing a key role in keeping food safe for consumers, everywhere.
There is no silver bullet. A combination of transparency and technology will pave the way for the future. Technology will bring many benefits but will also raise new challenges. These challenges and solutions will be a core focus at GFSI’s Global Food Safety Conference taking place in Tokyo in March 2018.
I am on the GFSC conference program committee and I am excited for the topics that will be on the agenda this year. We’ve had great discussions as an organizing committee around these important issues – particularly about this changing nature of the food industry, on a global scale.
And, this year’s conference brings an interesting twist. Hosted in Tokyo, we have a rare opportunity to look at these issues through an Asian lens. For many years we’ve looked to Japan for innovative technology and innovative food stuffs, and there’s some great learning to be had by attending the GFSC 2018 in Tokyo.
It’s a long way to travel, but we feel it’s a unique opportunity to meet new people, hear new ideas and to immerse yourself in some of that culture.
This post was written and contributed by:
Vice President Product Safety, Quality and Regulatory,
Land O’Lakes, USA
Global Food Safety Conference Committee Member