The origins of food safety awareness date back to shortly after the industrial revolution. In the early 1900s, the food industry was almost entirely unregulated.
With the publication of "The Jungle", a novel by Upton Sinclair, the curtain was pulled back on some of the shocking practices that were commonplace in the meat industry. Other industrialised sectors of the food industry were not much different.
Since then, food safety has seen massive changes. In the 1960s, NASA’s space food program introduced Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) into food production for the first time. HACCP is a food science-based, quantitative approach to food safety. It has since become the basic building block behind most established food safety certification systems.
The continued evolution of food safety is happening on many fronts. New and emerging risks including allergens, gluten sensitivities and intolerance, food fraud, pathogenic organisms, antibiotics and pesticide residues must be well understood and managed.
Globalisation: A new challenge for food safety
The globalisation of the food industry has added another layer of challenges. Differences in regulations and oversight between countries can result in supply chain uncertainty and hamper the food industry’s ability to control risk. Legislation is being updated rapidly to take into account traceability, science-based requirements, labeling and recall processes.
The need for food companies to be certified to a recognized food safety standard (sometimes referred to as a food safety scheme) is becoming a mandatory requirement of doing business. Becoming certified is a multi-step, ongoing process. Companies are regularly audited by a 3rd party to ensure they are maintaining compliance with requirements. These requirements include things like sanitation and hygiene, laboratory testing, traceability and supply chain management, and record keeping. All of the large players in the food industry require their suppliers to be certified.
Global Food Safety Initiative
The Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) is one of the major organizations benchmarking standards. Benchmarking standards ensures they are comprehensive enough to translate across borders. This allows companies to do business internationally without having to submit to a series of different business requirements. Many companies choose to become certified to a GFSI-benchmarked standard to increase their desirability to trading partners and reduce duplication in their auditing and certification processes.
Public awareness of food safety
Today’s widespread use of social media and a 24-hour news cycle also mean consumer knowledge and expectations are changing. Product and ingredient information, consumer reviews and food recalls can now be communicated within seconds. This awareness raises the bar for industry to be transparent and accountable for food safety.
Overall, the journey of food safety over the past several decades has seen a shift from a reactive, end-product focus to a more proactive, holistic supply chain approach. Collaboration along the supply chain and between industry and governments is a major focus for modern food safety.
Food safety is a very important topic, and many challenges remain. Protecting people from foodborne illness, quality control issues and fraud is an ongoing journey and critical to the health and wellbeing of all of us.