Toronto’s August 2013 food-borne illness outbreak attributed to the “Cronut Burger” is now a distant memory for most of us. But perhaps not, for those unlucky souls who were sick and hospitalized. One consolation is that more people weren’t affected and no one died.
This event is a learning opportunity for packaged food brands and food service businesses, at someone else’s expense.
As we have seen from recalls and other food-borne illness outbreaks (2011 Jensen Farms cantaloupes, 2012 XL Foods, and so on), consequences include financial penalties, bankruptcy, legal action, criminal charges and economic impact that can spread far beyond the company at the source, with a ripple effect through an entire industry.
The more I learn about food safety, the more I realize how much more there is to learn. That’s why I attended the 10th Annual North American Summit on Food Safety. Here are some key learnings from a presentation about the “Cronut Burger” investigation by Toronto Public Health Inspector Jim Chan, (now retired) who had a major role in managing the outbreak.
- Food safety is everyone’s responsibility, from upper management to the most junior employees. Developing a culture of food safety throughout the company can be a source of pride for employees and will build customer trust in your brand. What a great competitive advantage!
- Resist the temptation to put financial considerations before food safety. It can kill your customers and your business. Consider the costs of a recall and PR nightmare.
- Education and training is needed, from top to bottom, to raise awareness of the hazards and how to control them.
- Ensure food safety is part of the product development process.
- A Quality Assurance or Food Safety Manager who does their job well, is the “hero” helping you make a better product, not the “bad guy” costing your business money.
- Having and strictly following a HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points) plan is a must. You owe it to your customers. Certification under GFSI (Global Food Safety Initiative) schemes such as BRC, SQF, etc. is even better. Most major food retailers require their suppliers to be GFSI certified.
- When sourcing ingredients, don’t automatically trust your suppliers. Due diligence is required. Inspect their facility, if possible, and insist on proof of quality and food safety (certificates of analysis, product and ingredient specifications, audit reports, etc.).
- Your accountability doesn’t stop when your product goes out the door. Following a traceability program will be required under Health Canada’s Safe Food For Canadian’s Act (SFCA) and the American Food & Drug Administration’s Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).
When it comes to food safety, validating your assumptions can be an eye-opener. Even an expert doesn’t know everything.
One final thought… Celebrate food safety. It’s part of a strong and competitive brand.
Posted by Birgit Blain, President of Birgit Blain & Associates Inc., packaged food specialists providing pain relief for food brands. www.BBandAssoc.com