Customers and Retailers Are Concerned
For many shoppers, the first item penciled onto the weekly shopping list could well now be food safety. Almost one-half (46 percent) of U.S. consumers report that their concern about the safety of food has increased in recent years, according to the Packaged Facts’ November-December 2015 National Consumer Survey - a study undertaken during the height of last year’s Chipotle E. coli outbreak.
Customers are also taking interest in a widening array of safety considerations, according to the 2015 Food Value Equation Survey. While 62 percent of respondents expect food to be free from harmful elements, other leading consumer concerns include:
- Clear and accurate labeling (51 percent of respondents)
- Clear information about product ingredients and sourcing (47 percent)
- Fewer ingredients, elimination of “artificial” ingredients and less processing (42 percent)
- Information about the nutritional value of foods (41 percent)
As for the product categories of greatest concern, research by Hahn (2015) discovered that 45.5 percent of respondents are worried about the safety of seafood, while meat (42.1 percent) and prepared foods/takeout (34.1 percent) round out the top three. Fresh produce and dairy products followed at 24.3 percent while canned goods (13.4 percent) were perceived to be the safest category.
It should come as no surprise that when grocery retailers were polled on their top fear, food safety won out, identified by 50 percent of retailers.
Food Safety Is Serious Business
In spite of the fact that the U.S. has one of the world’s safest food supplies, customers are correct in believing that food safety is serious business, and they need to hear that you take it seriously as well. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, around one in six Americans (roughly 48 million people) experience foodborne illness every year. In response, the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) was signed into law by President Obama on January 4, 2011. It marks the most dramatic reform of U.S. food safety laws in over 70 years.
FSMA Puts Emphasis on Prevention First
While the existing approach has been to identify the contaminated products and issue a recall, FMSA marks a change in emphasis from responding to contamination to one of preventing it.
FSMA Gives More Power to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
With FSMA FDA is granted more authority to inspect and ensure compliance by mandating inspections with frequencies based on risk. Additionally, FSMA gives the FDA mandatory recall authority, equipping it to respond more quickly to food safety risks as they emerge. While the emphasis is on prevention, FSMA intends to enact recalls faster and more efficiently. A quick response can minimize exposure to the risk while also helping to reduce the cost of a recall and the ensuing damage to consumer confidence.
Food Producers Must Meet RequirementsUnder FSMA, food producers (including food manufacturers and processors, fresh produce packers, distributors/distribution centers, and retail outlets that prepare food products) must comply with general FSMA requirements. (USDA-regulated meat, poultry, and processed egg producers are exempt.) They must register with FDA every two years, establish a food safety plan, create a food defense plan, and promptly report any foods that may cause adverse health effects to the Reportable Food Registry.
Imported Foods Require The Same Safety StandardsThe Foreign Supplier Verification Programs (FSVP) rule establishes requirements for importers to ensure that imported food meets the same safety standards as domestic production. The rule requires importers to conduct a hazard analysis, evaluate and approve foreign vendors based on the hazard analysis, verify suppliers, take corrective actions when necessary, and maintain records of FSVP activities.
Concern about food safety is at the top of customer shopping lists. When asked about it, make sure you have appropriate responses in stock.