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Anuga FoodTec India 2022

When sustainability meets food safety!

Photo - gpointstudio on Freepik


Author - Insha Naureen

The world is witnessing a surge in consumers being concerned about the safety of the food they eat. A significant chunk of this population also wants to ensure that food is sustainably sourced and cares about animal welfare and environmental issues. Food recalls, and outbreaks stemming from food safety issues lead to products being removed from the market and ending up in landfills. This has introduced a new area for food manufacturers to explore safe food that fits the sustainability concern worldwide.

Emphasis on "how" food is produced

In 2016, the United States introduced the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) Preventative Controls Rule for Human Food that lays the focus on "preventing" food safety incidents rather than "reacting" to them. A growing trend in food safety that prioritizes how food is produced helps prevent food safety issues. The rise in the number of fertilizers being used in cereal production in Asian countries and cocoa production in Africa that exposes children and global consumers to chemicals and pesticides are some of the instances that exemplify this trend.

In Asia, some cereal exporters face difficulties managing high production costs due to the overuse of fertilizers. To overcome this and get a brand advantage, they must try to reduce their usage of fertilizers to reduce chemical pollution due to farming practices. This will enhance food safety sustainably.

In Africa, children as young as five are working in cocoa plantations, and 50% of those below five years are injured while using insecticides, cutting tools, and chemicals. Focus on sustainability can be implemented by improving the working conditions of children and reducing the sector's dependence on chemicals and pesticides.

Food safety - Connecting social and environmental issues

Food production is an intricate process that impacts each country's social life, economy, and environment. From a sustainability viewpoint, food safety can be considered a link that connects social and environmental issues and provides a platform for positively impacting each area. Food safety impacts the environment by reducing the usage of pesticides, herbicides, and greenhouse emissions. Societal influence can be made through women's empowerment, eradicating child labor, and ensuring worker health and safety.

There are some ways by which food safety can be promoted with minimal impact on the environment, which are discussed below.

Use of reusable containers

With the ban on single-use plastics in many areas, reusable containers can be an environmentally friendly way to store foods in retail stores. However, they must follow the FDA Food Code to ensure they do not cause food safety issues. The establishment should approve the container and wash, rinse, sanitize, and inspect it within the premises.

Food waste

Throughout the supply chain, food waste needs to be minimized by food donations, alternative outlets for surplus food, and reducing the quantity dumped in landfills. Terminology like "best before by date" and "use by date" helps ensure food safety. During recalls and withdrawals for unsafe food, food waste becomes important to safeguarding public health and safety. Unsafe products can be used for composting or energy production and should not be used once declared unsafe.

Separation of products

Separation of products aids in reducing cross-contamination and protecting consumers. According to research, bagging meat and poultry items in stores during selection effectively reduces contamination levels and offers consumer protection. Thus, the plastic ban impacts food safety by removing an effective product separation tool at the consumer level. This creates a need to make exceptions for using plastic bags in meat, poultry, seafood, delis, and produce divisions while using plastic alternatives in others.

Significance of food safety in sustainability

The food safety drives and global campaigns by consumers and NGOs are pushing governments and companies to introduce stringent food safety regulations in the supply chain. This has led to governments spending huge amounts on process control systems and food safety standards to reduce the impact of hormones, chemicals, carcinogens, and antibiotics. However, concern looms over developing nations, where governments are not always attentive to these demands. This can lead to health problems like compromised immunity and chronic disease among the population owing to food contaminations like parasites, pesticide residues, and microbial pathogens.

When food is imported from other countries, it has often been observed that a significant portion contains harmful pesticide residues. This sheds light on the situation of the government that needs to tighten the import regulations further to support food safety and sustainability together.

Sustainability focuses on environmental protection and human health. Challenges in sustainability need continuous work but should recognize human and social factors like food safety and the economy. Taking care of all these factors will prevent unintended harm while the food industry continues to advance. In the future, food safety needs to co-exist with sustainability to ensure a wholesome life for consumers.

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