The Importance of Public-Private Partnerships to Advance Food Safety

Departments - From the Advisory Board

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June 4, 2019

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NEIL MARSHALL, Global Director of Quality and Food Safety, The Coca-Cola Company

QUINCY LISSAUR, Executive Director of SSAFE

Advancing food safety is paramount to ensure consumers are safe. There is an expectation from all consumers that they will not become ill when they eat food or drink a beverage. Due to the complexities of the food sector, the extent of supply chains, and the sheer number of organizations involved, cooperation and collaboration between key stakeholders is imperative to ensure food is safe to consume.

From harvesting raw materials at farms, to transporting and processing them for consumption, to selling them in a store or serving them in restaurants, all steps along the food supply chain must ensure the safety of food products. The moment there is a breakdown anywhere along the chain and consumers fall ill, the trust in our food supply erodes which leads to serious consequences. So all stakeholders in the process need to work together to achieve this.

One way is that of Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs), bringing together (inter)governmental organizations, regulators, academia, NGOs, and the private sector to work collaboratively to address the issues that most affect the safe supply and trade of food. And one such organization is SSAFE. Formed out of the avian influence crisis in 2004, this non-profit membership-driven organization aims to quickly and effectively address emerging issues affecting the safe supply and trade of food around the world by working in close partnership with intergovernmental organizations and academia.

Following are three examples of how collaboration, through SSAFE, has helped resolve (in part) some key challenges in the food sector.

  1. Food fraud has been a challenge for centuries. From chalk added to wine in the middle ages to the melamine milk crisis in 2008 and the horsemeat scandal in Europe a few years ago, food fraud has been around for a long time and will continue to be a challenge for the food sector for years to come. Nevertheless, many recent initiatives have been introduced to reduce the occurrence of food fraud. One example is the Global Food Safety Initiative’s (GFSI) requirement for food businesses to conduct a food fraud vulnerability assessment and prepare mitigation plans. To help companies meet this requirement, SSAFE worked with industry experts and leading academia from Wageningen RIKILT and VU Amsterdam and sought input from regulators and crime-fighting organizations from around the world to develop a free tool that is publicly available in 10 languages. Taking the user through a series of 50 questions, the tool helps companies identify where they may be vulnerable to fraudulent activity within their company and their supply chain, enabling them to prepare targeted mitigation plans to address identified vulnerabilities. By taking a collaborative approach with global input from a wide spectrum of experts, SSAFE developed a tool that is free for the food industry, with the aim of ultimately reducing our vulnerability to fraudulent activity across the food supply chain.
  2. The number of mergers and acquisitions (M&A) in the food sector have been increasing year on year since 2012, however, for some acquiring companies, the acquisition hasn’t gone as well as expected. Failure to anticipate food safety risks that can arise, especially when buying less mature companies, has led to production stoppages, product downgrades, dramatically higher infrastructure and other costs, and severe reputational damage. Accenture’s experience suggests that most companies devote less than 2% of their due-diligence efforts to food safety issues. Companies don’t dedicate enough expert senior resources, rarely inspect the potential acquisition’s facilities, and often lack a comprehensive and consistent check list of food-safety Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). To address this challenge, SSAFE brought together six food safety experts from within its membership and worked with Accenture to develop a robust approach to managing food safety in due diligence and post-merger integration activities. The free guide, available from www.ssafe-food.org, intends to help the food industry as a whole improve how it conducts due diligence and post-merger integration activities.
  3. Animal Welfare (AW) continues to be an important and growing issue for consumers around the world. The World Organization for Animal Health’s (OIE) has set AW standards based on the universally recognized “Five Freedoms” that describe the right to welfare of animals under human control. The OIE standards, recognized by the World Trade Organization (WTO), underpin national legislation around the world. Harmonization of these standards is important to strengthen and improve animal welfare practices everywhere, while avoiding trade wars as a result of varying animal welfare practices. To drive harmonization and assist with the implementation of the OIE AW standards across the private sector, SSAFE supported the development of an ISO specification (ISO TS 34700) which provides requirements and guidance for the implementation of the animal welfare principles as described in the introduction of the OIE Terrestrial Animal Health Code. This approach is another example of public-private partnerships since the future of AW is best supported through the development and implementation of harmonized,  scientific, outcome-based requirements and standards that can be adopted by the public and private sectors alike.

Not all topics addressed through these projects have a direct impact on the day-to-day activities of food quality and safety professionals. Nonetheless, it is important to participate in organizations like SSAFE because:

  1. Collaboration between leading thinkers in the food industry will better address and resolve the issues faced today. Food safety professionals have a fundamental duty to address the challenges that the industry and customers face, and doing so through collaboration rather than individually is more effective and efficient.
  2. A problem for one is a problem for all. Through better coordination and collaboration, the food industry will be better placed to avoid problems and/or address them more quickly when they do occur.
  3. Things are always changing. And the food industry is changing rapidly as well. An issue may not have an impact on a food business today, but tomorrow it very well might. The broader and deeper food professionals’ understanding is of all issues impacting our industry today, the easier it will be to solve them collaboratively tomorrow.