Importaco were proud to host a webinar focussed on the critical issue of how consumer health can be protected through health and safety best practice and to highlight that trust is an essential ingredient to create long-term relationships with stakeholders. The webinar was led by Teresa Cercós, General Director of food safety, innovation and environment at Importaco and included guest speakers Mónica Molero, Quality Director at Importaco; Bertrand Emond, Professional Development & Culture Excellence Lead at Campden BRI Group, and Rebeca Fernández, Director Food Policy, Science and R&D at FoodDrinkEurope.
According to the panellists, trust is based on three main pillars:
Food safety culture
According to Mr. Emond, it is critical for companies to demonstrate that they are competent, in control of their operations and can sustain positive food safety behaviour. He highlighted that it is helpful that food safety culture is now included in various regulations such as Codex General Principles of Food Hygiene or the EC Hygiene regulation 852. As a result of these regulations, companies must assess their food safety measures and have an action plan to continuously improve on them. For companies, the benefit of having a strong food culture translates to preparedness for an audit at any time. Ms. Cercós pointed out that it is important for companies and employees to ensure the best quality food safety procedures at all times, otherwise defective products will be delivered to consumers.
Upstream and downstream effects
Not only is the food company important but as Mr. Emond further stated, it is vital to ensure that all parts of the relevant supply chain, both upstream and downstream, drive the right behaviour. Ms. Cercós and Ms. Fernández underscored the importance of food companies’ behaviour to ensure food safety for consumers, as every employee that comes into contact with food must perform their duties in a correct way. Companies have to ensure they establish a correct way of training and may choose to incentivise good behaviour. Ms. Cercós and Mr. Emond both pointed out that different companies often have struggles due to regulatory and cultural differences between different regions and the lack of standard harmonisation.
The Role of Scientists and Policy Makers
In addition, together with suppliers and companies, policymakers and scientists are also a crucial part in the cycle of creating trust. As the trust in scientists has increased during COVID-19, Ms. Cercós considered the potential impact of science and scientists with food companies in order to help build consumer trust in food safety.
The panellists also pointed out the importance of innovation in order to find new solutions to issues in food safety. According to Mr. Emond, companies can be faster in spotting disruptions in supply chains as a result of using Artificial Intelligence (AI) and sensor technologies. It is also key for companies to embrace innovation and for employees to be aware of innovative developments. Ms. Molero pointed out that there can be risks to food safety everywhere and so companies need to ensure the quality of the product by conducting risk rankings and quality checks. In order to integrate all quality parameters, Importaco works on data and the analysis of food safety topics such as: allergen management, new toxins, metals and food contact materials. Additionally, Mr. Emond and Ms. Cercós added that root cause analysis is pivotal in upholding quality excellence.
Information and understanding of consumers
To help understand the customer’s needs and expectations, Importaco has designed a 360-quality model called the ‘Customer Centric Experience’, which places consumers in the middle of decision making. Ms. Molero highlighted that this program helps to understand emotional curves, behaviour and the customer journey. Not only do companies seek better information about consumers, but consumers also seek to be informed about the food that they consume. Therefore, there is an increasing demand for information about where food comes from. In order to create trust with consumers, companies need to ensure that consumers receive truthful information. The need to correct disinformation, especially on social media platforms, is crucial for transparency in food companies, and as Ms. Fernández mentioned, in communicating against disinformation to help customers and meet their expectations with regards to nutrition content, such as texture and taste.
Cybersecurity and food fraud
Furthermore, the food safety industry possesses certain risks in relation to cybersecurity. Mr. Emond highlighted risks such as allergen management and food fraud. It is important for EU regulators to protect the authenticity of food, which also helps to increase the trust of consumers in food safety controls. During the pandemic, there were certain disruptions in supply chains by criminal organisations, which cast consumer doubt on the authenticity of food products. On the other hand, companies also set new targets in sustainability. Reducing packaging and waste has become an important driver of the food industry. While sustainability is one of the keys facets to consumer trust, Mr. Emond mentioned that it is important to make sure that food safety is not affected by relocating the focus entirely on sustainability.
In conclusion, the panellists agreed that it is important for companies and employees involved in the process to know how each plays a part in food safety, and it important that companies communicate honestly with customers, while understanding their needs and expectations.
Link to Webinar: https://youtu.be/ljppDSro8b0