Why is food safety important?
Foods in supermarkets are more abundant than ever. Shelves are jam-packed with products from around the world, of many brands and prices. There is choice between vegan, gluten-free, light and halal. Specialty stores and online shops each have their specific offerings. Choices are endless, and yet we expect all of these products to be safe for our health.
- Each year, 600 million people get sick and 420,000 people die from unsafe food.
- In the U.S. alone, 48 million people a year, or 1 in 6 Americans, get infected through food.
- Well-known brands, such as Big Olaf ice cream, Pacific Oysters and Ferrero chocolates, recently had to recall products or even shut down factories because of an outbreak of foodborne disease.
- To prevent foodborne disease, the FDA imposes strict regulations which are aggregated in the Food Safety Modernization Act.
- There are several simple actions food companies can apply to improve safety. We provide you with some tips at the end of this article.
Every consumer, you and me included, expect all parties involved in the food industry - farmer to seller - to do everything that lies in their power to bring safe, quality products to market. And rightly so. However, recent outbreaks of foodborne disease prove that this remains a challenge.
According to World Health Organization (WHO) figures, 600 million people worldwide get sick each year by unsafe food. 420,000 people a year die of foodborne disease. 30 percent of those deaths occur in children under the age of 5.
In the United States alone, 48 million people - nearly 1 in 6 - get sick from food each year, according to the most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Each year, 128,000 Americans are hospitalized and 3,000 die after eating contaminated food.
Recent outbreaks where food safety is compromised.
In the U.S. alone, 15 outbreaks of foodborne disease have been registered so far this year. Some of the most notable cases were these:
- In February, 2 babies died from cronobacter. A total of 4 babies in 3 states became ill after consuming Abbott Nutrition formula produced in Michigan.
- An outbreak of listeria was identified in April. 23 cases in 10 states have been reported to date. The outbreak led to 1 death, 1 fetal loss and 22 hospitalizations, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reports. The outbreak was ultimately linked to ice cream from Big Olaf Creamery in Florida, and all products from the brand were recalled in July.
- Since April, the FDA received 558 reports of stomach complaints after consumption of Lucky Charms breakfast cereal. The website iwaspoisoned.com, which publishes alerts from consumers who believe they got ill from eating a product, received even more than 7,300 reports. It is still unclear whether there is actually a link between the complaints and consumption of Lucky Charms; so far no problems were identified during investigation.
- A salmonella outbreak in May was traced to Jif peanut butter produced by J.M. Smucker Company in Kentucky. So far, 16 cases across 12 states have been confirmed, two of which required hospitalization. The peanut butter, and all kinds of products that contained it, have been taken off the shelves.
- In June, 18 people in 3 states contracted hepatitis A after eating fresh organic strawberries imported from Mexico. 13 people had to be hospitalized.
- Also in June, people became ill from frozen French Lentil & Leek Crumbles from Daily Harvest. The FDA received 277 complaints, the company itself 470. According to the company, the culprit is the tara flour that was processed in the product. This is an additive made from seeds of the tara tree from Peru.
Meanwhile, other countries had their own outbreaks to deal with, some with major implications:
- In 2021 and early 2022, about 300 people in six European countries were infected with salmonella after eating eggs. Two people died. France was hit hardest, but infections were also registered in Spain, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Norway and Denmark.
- Raw oysters by the Pacific Oysters brand produced by the Canadian company Union Bay Seafood Ltd. caused a major norovirus outbreak in early 2022 that reached as far as the United States. 328 Canadians and 192 Americans became ill.
- In France, 56 cases of E. coli poisoning have been counted since February, linked to frozen pizzas from Buitoni (Nestlé). Among the patients were 55 children, 2 of whom died. The pizzas, which were also sold in many other countries, were recalled and production was temporarily shut down. Whether fresh or frozen, ever since the outbreak supermarket sold pizzas are no longer in high demand in France.
- Just before Easter, there was a global salmonella outbreak from Kinder brand chocolate products, produced at a Ferrero factory in Belgium. In 17 countries, 455 people got sick - mostly children - many of whom had to be hospitalized. Most infections were counted in the UK and France, but cases were registered all over Europe, the US and Canada. More than 3,000 tons of Kinder products were taken off the shelves, and the factory in Belgium remained closed for months.
- In June, a new salmonella outbreak was prevented. A contaminated batch of chocolate was discovered in the premises of Barry Callebaut in Belgium. The factory was shut down, and no contaminated products made it to the stores.
- A brewery in Brazil was fined 5 million Real (nearly 1 million U.S. dollars) in May for selling infected beer in 2020. 10 people died that year after drinking the beer, which contained traces of di-ethylene glycol. Dozens more developed severe symptoms, including blindness and facial paralysis. Nearly 80,000 liters of beer and 56,000 bottles of different brands had to be destroyed.
At Vizito, we take safety seriously. Here you can read how digital visitor management can improve safety in your company.
Food Safety Modernization Act enforces safety standards
To prevent such contaminations, governments impose strict regulations on the production and processing of food. To this effect, the FDA’s Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) was put in place. In 2015 7 major rules were finalized for all companies who grow, process, transport or store food.
1. Safe standards for fruits and vegetables
The produce safety rule establishes science-based minimum standards for the growing, harvesting, packing and storing of produce for human consumption. It covers fruits, vegetables and tree nuts that are likely to be consumed raw.
2. Preventative controls for human food
This rule states that food facilities registered with the FDA must have a food safety plan implemented that identifies hazards and outlines appropriate preventative controls.
3. Preventative controls for animal food
The requirements of the previous rule also apply to animal food facilities.
4. Sanitary transportation
This rule lists the requirements for companies that transport food, including shippers, receivers, loaders and carriers by motor or rail vehicle. Its goal is to keep food safe from contamination during transportation.
5. Mitigation strategies against intentional adulteration
This rule is concerned with preventing intentional adulteration “from acts intended to cause wide-scale harm to public health, including acts of terrorism targeting the food supply”.
All food facilities registered with the FDA must develop a plan that assesses contamination vulnerabilities and document a mitigation strategy for each vulnerability.
6. Accredited third-party certifications
This rule establishes procedures and requirements for accreditation bodies seeking recognition by the FDA, as well as third party certification bodies seeking accreditation. These bodies will be able to conduct food safety audits and certify that foreign food facilities follow FDA food safety guidelines.
7. Foreign Supplier Verification Program
The Foreign Supplier Verification Program applies to all importers of human and animal food into the United States. It requires importers to verify that their global suppliers comply with FDA regulations.
Other countries have adapted similar rules, like the General Food Law Regulation in Europe.
The best way to prevent poor food safety in your food company?
The many outbreaks show that despite these rules, contamination can still occur. We give you 7 tips to observe food safety in your food company, and thus reduce the risks to a minimum.
- Wash your hands with soap and water when handling food or related products.
- Wear gloves when necessary, for instance when handling raw food.
- Pay attention to the temperature to prevent the spread of bacteria.
- Clean all surfaces in your facility several times a day with water and soap.
- Perform regular stock checks to prevent expiration of products.
- Make sure everyone in your company is aware of all rules and procedures.
- Use a visitor management system to comply with legal obligations and improve safety within your premises.
How can visitor registration help improve security?
In most offices, digital visitor registration is already fully integrated. But the benefits of a modern visitor management solution on food safety are rarely mentioned. Here are 5 ways a visitor management system can improve food safety in your business:
1. Access control for staff and visitors
Dozens, if not hundreds of people enter your food company every day. Every person who has access to your buildings is a potential source of contamination. Access control is an important pillar to reduce the risks.
A digital visitor management system helps you prevent unauthorized people from entering your food facility. It also ensures that visitors are only granted access to certain areas of your building. And with the help of easy-to-print badges, visitors can be identified in an instant.
Access control doesn’t just apply to visitors. Not all employees should be given access to all departments within your company. The fewer people who have access to the production lines, the lower the risk of contamination.
2. Health screening
You can also screen visitors to determine whether they pose a risk to your business. In a short survey, for example, you can gauge the current health status of your visitor. A person that indicates they feel ill or have allergies can then be checked further by an on-site prevention or safety officer.
Read more on how to get started with digital visitor management in less than 30 minutes here.
3. Signing safety and hygiene protocols
A digital visitor management system enables you to inform your visitors in an easy way and in their own language about the safety and hygiene guidelines that are in place in your company - such as wearing hairnets, masks or protective clothing.
You can load the necessary information into the system and integrate it as a mandatory element in the check-in process. It is also possible to show certain visitors an information or instructional video explaining the guidelines. Finally, you can ask your visitor to sign security protocols, which obligates them to follow your rules.
When expecting a visitor, you can also inform him in advance of the applicable guidelines in your company. This ensures that your visitor is aware of the health and safety regulations before arriving at your facility.
4. (Pre-) approval of visitors
With a visitor management system, you can easily prevent unwanted (and unhealthy) guests from entering your company. It is possible to only grant access to (pre-) approved visitors. Only visitors who have been screened on site or in advance are then given access to certain parts of your company with a QR code.
5. Keeping visitor logs
One of the obligations that governments impose on food companies is to keep visitor logs. This is necessary for hazard analyses, preventative checks, and for investigations when things do go wrong.
An advanced visitor management system is not an obligation. But such a system does help you a step ahead, since all the necessary data is immediately available and can be stored automatically. This avoids the hassle of paper lists, which are often incomplete and can get lost. And when the control authorities decide to conduct an audit of your food production facility, a digital visitor log helps you prove that you are taking due care when it comes to safety in your facility.
To get a feel of how a modern visitor management system can help you comply with legal food safety regulations, try out Vizito during a 14-day trial. Chat with us or book a demo to discuss how Vizito can help you improve your reception.
Got more questions? These are the 7 most common questions about visitor management systems - and our answers.