How to Maximize Food Safety for Consumers

Consumers have a right to expect that the foods they purchase and consume will be safe and of high quality. They have a right to voice their opinions about the food control procedures, standards and activities that governments and industry use to ascertain that the food supply has these characteristics.

While consumers, governments and others play an important part in ensuring food safety and quality, in free-market societies the ultimate responsibility for investing the physical and managerial resources that are necessary for implementing appropriate controls lies with the food industry – the industry that continuously oversees the manufacture and processing of foods, from raw ingredients to finished product, day in and day out. While this is true, private enterprise recognizes that its success – measured in terms of profitability – is completely dependent on consumer satisfaction. A reflection of consumers’ satisfaction is their continuing purchase of the same products.

Food manufacturers and marketers thus have an investment in their product identities (brand names) that they naturally wish to protect. It is in their interest, therefore, to establish and administer the controls that ensure that their products do indeed meet consumer expectations of safety and quality.

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Food industry’s view of food control

The food industry takes a broad view of the term food control, which includes a large number of factors such as:

  • Safety: setting standards for toxicological and microbiological hazards, and instituting procedures and practices to ensure that the standards are achieved;
  • Nutrition: maintaining nutrient levels in food ingredients and formulating foods with nutritional profiles that contribute to consumer interest in healthful diets;
  • Quality: providing sensory characteristics such as taste, aroma, palatability and appearance;
  • Value: providing characteristics of consumer utility and economic advantage, involving attributes such as convenience, packaging and shelf-life. Some of these factors, such as value, are exclusively in the domain of industry and consumers; while others, such as safety, are shared interests of government, industry and consumers.

Setting and implementing food standards

At the heart of all food control activities is the establishment of safety, quality and labelling standards. These should be established on the broadest possible scale, in the recognition that food production and marketing is truly a global industry. Governments and intergovernmental organizations have the principal role in establishing certain food control standards. It is the role of national governments to establish uniform safety standards so that

  • All consumers receive equal levels of protection;
  • All food producers, whether domestic or foreign, are equitably treated through application of the same levels of safety;
  • Consumers are informed about the standards of protection that are being applied.

In establishing safety standards, it is important that governments allow industry, the scientific community and the public to contribute information and ideas. Standards and guidelines should be sufficiently flexible to meet the needs of changing technology. At the same time, governments should apply those controls that will assure real and meaningful safety benefits rather than merely perceived benefits. Moreover, food manufacturers and ingredient distributor should work closer to make sure end-users get safe and hygienic food.