Safety

Food safety is always a priority. Current needs are centered around the traditional areas of contamination prevention, formulation, shelf-life and processing. New requirements now encompass more virology, as well as the impact of changing consumer preference and the drive to produce a more sustainable product.

Fundamental needs

  • Predicting and mitigating the risk of contamination at any point in the food supply chain. Tools such as HACCP, TACCP and VACCP are useful, however emerging contamination risks need to be addressed. A pervasive food safety culture is also needed throughout the industry. There is also a need for accurate risk assessments of novel technologies and processing methods. Improvements in traceability systems are also required to allow the impact of any lapses in vigilance to be reduced.
  • Allergen testing is becoming more sensitive. There are needs for validation of the test methods used, as well as clear, evidence-based guidance on the acceptable quantified limits for identified allergens. There is also a need for standard allergen labelling to reduce ambiguity of interpretation. How much risk does a 'may contain' statement represent?
  • Antimicrobial resistance is a growing threat to human health. There is a need for guidance for food producers on the strategies that can be used to reduce its emergence and to prevent its spread.
  • Guidance is required in the following safety-related areas: Sampling frequency of ingredients; Procurement strategies; Labelling, and the impact of mis-labelling; The impact of climate change; Interpretation of test results; Safety implications of novel foods and packaging; Consumer engagement to create better food safety culture; Remote auditing.
  • Food production and processing will always demand improvement in hygienic design of equipment and facilities. Improvements to cleaning practices and materials will also be needed.
  • Reductions in fat, salt, sugar and preservatives are being carried out by the industry. The impact of these reductions on safety needs to be clearly defined.
  • Novel ingredients and packaging are being driven by dietary changes (e.g. increased adoption of Vegan diets) and a desire to improve sustainability. These changes to product and package will impact food safety. There is a need to accurately assess the risk.
  • Faster and more accurate detection of contaminants (e.g. pathogens, foreign bodies, chemicals) is always needed. These methods must be properly validated according to international standards, and acceptable limits for contaminants must be agreed on.

Emerging needs

  • Management of allergens in the production environment and labelling of end products is alsways needed. There is need for clarity on allergen labels on products produced for direct sale as well as on vegan products. There is also a need to assess the allergenicity of novel protein sources such as insects.
  • Sars-Cov-2 needs to be managed in food manufacturing. The efficacy of air handling and fogging systems need to be assessed. There is also a need to use cleaning regimes that are known to remove the virus.
  • The effects of Covid 19 have not just been at an operational level. There is a need to assess the impact of Covid control measures (such as increased cleaning) on the wider food landscape. For example, at the start of 2020, reported food poisoning cases dropped dramatically in the UK as the pandemic took hold. There is a need to investigate this effect and the effect on other measurements of microbiological safety and quality.
  • Food safety culture is now embedded in EU law as being a legal requirement. There is a need to be able to objectively prove that a company has that food safety culture in place. There are also concerns that extended lockdowns have negatively harmed food safety culture.
  • Use-by' and 'best before' date marks are widely understood within the food industry, however there is still confusion over the difference between the two in the wider community. There is a need to communicate the difference better, and to engage the public on how these dates are set.
  • Lockdowns have seen a rise in prepared food being delivered to homes, as well as a rise in the 'dark kitchen' sector which prepare food exclusively for delivery. There is a need to assess the safety of these new businesses, as well as the safety of the delivery process itself (e.g. how is temperature control achieved?). There is also a need to clarify where fault lies in the event of a cross-contamination event, e.g. hypothetically, using the same delivery box to transport peanut and non-peanut products.
  • GFSI food safety schemes now have a hygienic design benchmark. There is a need to properly understand the actions needed to ensure a hygienic design meets these requirements.
  • Biofilms are an unwelcome feature of pipework and machinery. There is a need for better techniques to eliminate them.
  • The need for fast, efficient tests for pathogens is always present. The need for a method of enumerating spores in plant based ingredients has been raised as a specific need.
  • Cultured meat is likely to become an increasingly well used ingredient in the food industry. There is a need to understand the food safety profile of this ingredient, and to understand its regulatory status.
  • The 'open life' of foods is difficult to define as once opened it is in the hands of the consumer and will be treated with varying levels of care. There is a need to better define the advice consumers receive on open shelf life.
  • The trend toward more plant-based foods reveals a need for a better understanding of the pathogenic microflora that could survive and grow on these products.
  • Aseptic processing is becoming increasingly complex. There is a need to reduce this complexity to improve safety.
  • Remote auditing has become far more widely used during the pandemic. This has led to a need to assess the advantages, disadvantages and technology used for these audits.
  • The Food Standards Agency has recently updated their advice for vacuum and modified atmosphere packed foods and their safety with regards Clostridium botulinum. There is a need to highlight the changes to industry, and to communicate if any further revisions are planned.

The views expressed here do not necessarily represent the views of Campden BRI but are a summary of industrial feedback obtained from Campden BRI’s Member Interest Groups and interactions with government bodies and wider industry.

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