“The safety and quality system within the food industry remains vulnerable.” This is part of the concluding statement that was released last month after the Dutch Safety Board published the findings of their investigation into the emerging food safety risks. The study was launched after the discovery of contaminated fipronil eggs in the summer of 2017, which affected eggs in 15 EU countries and even spread to Asia. The aim was to investigate how emerging risks to food safety are detected and assessed in the Netherlands.
Floor Sloots, Quality consultant at Schouw Informatisering, emphasized the importance of transparency across the entire food chain. Multiple organizations are involved in bringing the product to the end consumer, each with their own processes and potential risks involved. " If you want to reduce risks, transparency of information is key. Product information such as nutritional values, allergens, country of origin, and product specific standards is gathered in the product specifications. A good track&trace system is important to link raw materials and suppliers to the end products and customers. The challenge is to communicate all this information with your suppliers and customers within your food chain and keep a ‘one version of the truth’ set of information.”
Modern technologies can have a great impact on managing food safety risks. One innovative technology that holds a lot of potential is blockchain. Besides providing transparency to the consumer about where their products have been, from creation to consumption, the technology can also facilitate the communication between different companies within the food production process. As a trusted partner to deliver IT solutions, we at Schouw are always exploring innovations to benefit our customers. With the importance of guaranteeing food quality, blockchain technology can help to work towards the highest possible manner of tracking & tracing, ensuring optimal transparency, and securing food safety. This is why we are partnering with Wageningen University and Research (WUR), the Dutch Organisation for Applied Natural Sciences (TNO) and partners to explore the possibilities of blockchain technology. We believe this could become a valuable addition to our Foodware 365 software to continuously offer our customers the most innovative solutions.
Currently, emerging food safety risks are still prone to uncertainty, lack a clear overview of assigned responsibilities, and immediate action is, therefore often delayed. Besides proving the vulnerability of the safety and quality system, the research also showed the lack of effective management to tackle identified food safety risks. In addition to the confusion on who is responsible within the organization, food safety risks may also not be handled automatically due to insufficient legal base. Involved costs vs. benefits to start legal procedures may be unclear, together with potentially required precautionary measures. To improve the quality and safety assurance for the food industry, it is important to have a clear structure on the assigned responsibilities for detecting, assessing, and managing risks within a company.
The research council recommended that a stronger food safety system will be necessary to detect future risks in a timely manner and respond accordingly. A robust food safety system depends on the timely and comprehensive identification of possible risks. It will also be important to detect actual dangers and be able to intervene immediately, to restrict the damage to the product, the company, and public health.