“Food safety is a shared responsibility,” says Mike Robach, chairman of the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI)’s board of directors. “We have to work with farmers and suppliers along with manufacturing operations; and then with distributors, retailers and service providers to make sure they’re all doing the appropriate things to assure food safety along the supply chain.”

The global focus of food safety

Because the food supply chain spans the globe — with Americans eating apples grown in New Zealand, beef produced in Argentina, and oils sourced in Asia and South America, not to mention the vast amount of food produced in the United States and exported around the world — ensuring the safety of everything we eat is an incredibly complicated undertaking.

If a food processing plant has an outbreak of salmonella or e-coli, consumers around the world could become sick. The contaminated plant, as well as the other companies connected to it along the global supply chain, could also suffer the consequences of lost consumer trust, product recalls or government audits.

“Consumers assume that there’s consistency in food safety regulations around the world, but that’s simply not the case,” Robach says. International standards for food safety and production do exist, including the Codex Alimentarius, which is recognized by United Nations, World Health Organization and World Trade Organization. But individual governments don’t always incorporate these standards into their food safety laws.

“Consumers also need to be educated about their role in food safety.”

Industry Steps Up

Many global food producers are voluntarily adopting food safety benchmarking requirements and auditing schemes developed by GFSI. Instead of individual companies developing their own food safety systems (which can be challenging for small producers, especially in developing countries) or responding to government regulations that differ from country to country, they can all rely on methods that were developed with international standards and efficient operations in mind.

“We have taken the principles of Codex Alimentarius and put these into a framework that can be operationalized by companies,” Robach says. “It’s a roadmap for companies to go down through hazard analysis, risk assessment, identifying appropriate controls and monitoring.” To date, 77,000 factories and 150,000 farms have voluntarily participated in these auditing systems.

Education is key

Robach also emphasizes the role of education in food safety, especially “delivering training to small and less sophisticated enterprises, so they have the tools to assess hazards and identify risks.” This is becoming more important as small farmers and food producers in the developing world join the global supply chain.

Consumers also need to be educated about their role in food safety. “The idea of ‘clean, separate, cook and chill’ is a message we hope resonates with consumers, so we’re all doing our part.” Because food safety, as Robach says, “is everybody’s job.”