Food safety in the news again – Purchasing failure or regulatory failure?

strawberry-snail-tape-worm-animal-medium

Two food headlines disappointed me the past two weeks; the first to grab my attention was “The Food and Drug Administration and the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and state and local officials are investigating an outbreak of Hepatitis A illnesses linked to raw scallops from the Philippines.” The second was “an outbreak of Hepatitis A caused by the imported frozen strawberries from Egypt has sickened 55 people in six states, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Wednesday.”

In an interview with FoodQualityNews.com in 2013 and in an article in Food Safety magazine in 2014, I explained that not every container coming in to the US is inspected by the regulatory authorities. This means all food processors need to self-regulate their products. It is essential that the procurement team map and audit the supply chain on a frequent basis. As someone who has purchased seafood, it was necessary to visit the region, inspect the boats and factories. It was not uncommon to see modern stainless steel processing facilities with good manufacturing processes and sanitation protocol. It was also not uncommon to see old, rusty processing facilities with no protocol. It’s the same with the way the fish are handled on the boats. The unfortunate news is that not every buyer visits suppliers and limited audits occur.

In my consulting life, I have worked with many companies to build strategies for buying fruits, including frozen strawberries. The strawberry origins were Mexico and California. My advice was to visit the crop as it was growing and to be on hand when their products are being processed. In many cases the procurement team and their technical support intervened to assure the quality is achieved.

Too often low cost country sourced food materials provide attractive pricing, but they come with a big risk. It is never a good idea to source through third parties without building a map of the supply chain, auditing the supply chain and visiting the suppliers first hand. Many companies, unfortunately, will not fund such programs.

Since many food products are imported without regulatory checks, it’s up to the companies and procurement teams to self-regulate. The risks are many: reputation risk, creating illness and potential criminal charges if the company is known to have endangered lives.

Is it worth the risk?

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