There’s no Alternative to Food Safety

Columns - Consumer Perspectives

We've been dealing with a lot of alternatives recently, but there can be no alternative to food safety.

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December 13, 2021

In the face of unprecedented times, it seems like everyone’s looking for alternatives. New energy sources, different ways to connect and even new career paths.

As consumers, we are pulled in two directions. Sometimes what appeals to us are the old reliable choices, such as our favorite brands or the food choices from our childhood. At other times, we also enjoy new options in the market — whether it’s a new flavor or an alternative to the usual. We may look for traditional items at our regular restaurants then seek out the latest trend at the grocery store.

Decades ago, alternatives in the grocery store promoted the same look and taste of traditional foods, but in canned, frozen or some other form, leveraging new technologies as they became available.

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Current disruptors in the market come in many forms, from ingredients to packaging, from customer service to experiential shopping, and from raw ingredients to high tech. The pandemic showed how likely Americans are willing to shift from going to a restaurant or grocery store to using apps or services to have a third-party shop and deliver food to us. Predictions for the future of food include robots in food production, artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, blockchain and even delivery drones.

Maybe other types of alternatives have changed your business recently. The labor shortage might be making you consider temporary (or alternative) workers. You could be using alternative forms of training, utilizing technology and storytelling techniques as educational tools. Maybe you’re using whole genome sequencing to test your food, or you’ve had to find new supply chain partners.

In a market filled with healthy alternatives (low fat, low calories), alternative proteins, food substitutions and even alternatives to shopping in person, one characteristic of food should never be accepted in some form other than authentic and traditional: food safety.

The foundational ingredient through all these innovations and disruptors in the market must always be food safety. This is not negotiable. We see this expectation for safety with innovations in the auto industry and even with new rides at an amusement park. We want to be able to make the same assumptions about not becoming harmed or harming our family regardless of the kinds of novelty changes in products or of the size and reputation of the company behind the label.

Before a food brand invests too much in marketing new products or their commitment to non-food related issues, how much they prioritize and invest in food safety will always be paramount in building and maintaining consumer trust. Even years after their outbreaks made national news headlines — and after they have taken huge steps to improve their training and protocols — many companies struggle to break free from the lingering doubt and loss of customers. Some company names will be forever associated with their food safety failures.

Throughout history, audiences would not accept William Shakespeare’s work without his use of iambic pentameter: He created new worlds with this structure. Similarly, we look to food companies as not being restricted due to food safety regulatory compliance, but to flourish in food safety excellence and include this as an ingredient in their next new product. While many examples of companies like this can be found, such leadership should become the norm and no longer be heralded as exceptions.

Food safety can never be seen as an alternative, but as a primary building block in food.