Optimising food safety programmes is “simply good business practice,” the global professional service firm told FoodQualityNews.com.
The comments come just days after US-based Dole Fresh Vegetables initiated a recall of 756 cases of packaged salad over fears the product is contaminated with potentially lethal Salmonella.
No illnesses have yet been linked to the recall, which was initiated after a random sample of the product tested positive for the pathogen.
Produce food safety is “not optional” and specific preventative controls are required from the farm to the fork, said PwC advisory manager Melanie J. Neumann, who specializes in food safety issues .
Strategic food safety
“Salmonella contamination of packaged produce such as lettuce could enter the stream of commerce through many entry points, including harvesting, processing and packaging and distribution,” said Neumann.
“PwC is encouraging the food industry to focus on strategic food safety. ‘Strategic’ in the sense that a company’s food safety program should be integrated into its enterprise-wide risk management program and strategically leveraged and viewed as part of a company’s mission of brand and reputation protection.”
“Food safety is the job of every employee in any company that produces or otherwise traffics in food or beverage in any capacity. This will greatly increase the likelihood of not only enhancing food safety, but also ensuring organisational resilience and brand protection.”
Current produce industry practices are being reassessed in light of new regulatory requirements under the Food Safety Modernisation Act (FSMA).
These practices include finished product testing – a control Neumann believes there is an over-reliance in.
“Further measures taken by the industry include increased testing when receiving finished products.”
“However, some caution must be used in relying too heavily on Salmonella testing, as this pathogen is ‘spotty’ – it may be present on one leaf of lettuce but not in another. As such, negative Salmonella findings do not mean the pathogen isn’t there – it just means it was not on that particular lot tested,” she said.
“Simply good business”
“As a result, the lettuce/salad industry and the produce industry as a whole can, and should, be looking at these practices now even before final regulations under FSMA are issued.”
“Food safety is not optional. And regulations such as FSMA are not the only reason for taking proactive, focused, and immediate steps to enhancing food safety programs,” said Neumann.
Taking these steps to improve food safety programmes is “simply good business practice” and essential to protect a company’s brand, the PwC advisor added.
“A robust food safety program can be the difference between brand survival and catastrophic brand damage that could result in the death of that brand should a major food borne illness incident occur.”