The World of Food Safety Conference was held in Bangkok in conjunction with THAIFEX in early June 2017. Delegates represented large and medium sized food businesses in South East Asia as well as government and trade organisations. Thai, Singaporean, Malaysian and Myanmar delegates dominated the group. The attendees were hungry for knowledge about food fraud and food fraud prevention; almost 50% of the topics across the two-day conference were related to food fraud, traceability, supply chain management and crisis management.
As well as speaking about recent trends and developments in food fraud, I enjoyed learning from the other speakers, sampling the wonders of THAIFEX and enjoying Thai food which was truly excellent.
Background checks as an aid to fraud mitigation
I was lucky to gain some fantastic insights into the intricacies and challenges of performing background checks on business people in Asia from Jingyi Li Blank, Mintz Group. Background checks on business owners are a great way to understand vulnerabilities to food fraud when seeking new suppliers or investigating sources of new raw materials. South East Asia and China present some challenges for companies performing background checks, including the way that people in the area often have multiple spellings and versions of their names, as well as issues related to cross-border jurisdictions.
Prevalence of food fraud prevention systems
Julia Leong from PricewaterhouseCoopers shared some statistics on current levels of compliance among food companies who have interracted with the PwC SSAFE tool: 41% of companies have no systems to detect or monitor fraud, 36% have no whistle-blowing systems and 38% do not perform background checks on employees. Food businesses that neglect these areas are exposing themselves to serious financial risks from food fraud.
Support for food businesses in developing countries from GFSI
It was heartening to hear about the new program being launched by the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) in developing countries. The Global Markets Program is designed to bridge the gap between food operations with no formal food safety systems and those who have GFSI-endorsed certification by helping companies to develop food safety management systems through a process of continuous improvement. Within the program, manufacturing support systems related to hygiene and other basic principles of food safety are implemented progressively over a defined time period as the companies work to attain either a basic or intermediate level of compliance. The results are not accredited but become the foundation for further improvements so that the business can work towards implementing a complete food safety program.
Sustainability in the food supply chain; palm oil and coconut oil
Matthew Kovac of Food Industry Asia presented on behalf of Cargill, providing a fascinating introduction to the sustainability programs Cargill has introduced in their palm oil and coconut oil supply chains. Cargill is a major grower, purchaser and refiner of palm oil and are aiming for a 100% sustainable target by 2020. For Cargill, sustainability in palm oil means:
- No deforestation of high value areas
- No development on peat (burning beat causes air pollution and contributes to climate change)
- No exploitation of indigenous peoples
- Inclusion of small land holders
Coconut oil sustainability is being improved in conjunction with The Rainforest Alliance, by providing training and support for Filipino growers so that they can increase their yields, as well as providing them with access to wood fired dryers that allow the growers to produce copra that has better colour, less aflatoxins, less environmental contaminants and lower free fatty acids than traditionally sun-dried copra.
The many and varied hazards in HACCP for fish
It was both fascinating and scary to be reminded of the hazards to food safety from fresh fin fish by Preeya Ponbamrung, from Handy International: pathogenic bacteria, viruses, biotoxins such as ciguatera, biogenic amines (histamine being the most common), parasites and chemicals such as water pollutants and antibiotics used in aquaculture. That’s quite a hazard list; it was heartening to hear Ms Ponbamrung describe the control methods employed by the fish processing industry to keep those hazards out of our food supply.
Crisis communications; winners and losers
We learnt about successful methods – and not-so-successful-methods – that food companies use to communicate food safety and food fraud risks to consumers. Nestle was applauded for its fast, clear and practical response to reports of counterfeit versions of its popular MILO chocolate drink powder in Malaysia. The brand owner promptly published instructions for consumers on social media and in the local press explaining how to tell the difference between the fake and the real product.
Some other companies do not do so well with crisis communications. Cesare Varallo of Inscatech, showed us that the public communications of Chipotle in the USA about its food safety problems were less than ideal. The brand has suffered serious losses and it has been reported that 13% of its former customers say they will never return. Time is of the essence in a food safety or food fraud crisis. Does your company have a crisis plan?
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