Big bad business is taking the heat for food safety outbreaks. The “food with a face” movement is going strong – with many consumers thinking that if they know who produced the food, it will be safer. Ain’t necessarily so. Lapses in safe practice can happen anywhere. Agri-business companies have multiple levels of controls and safeguards are in place.
So, why have glitches occurred? Maybe shortcuts have been taken in the name of increased productivity (read lower cost to pay someone to do something) or efficiency (workers want to clock out and won’t thoroughly clean and sanitize something). Shame on them! Everyone working around food needs to get the importance of why procedures are there. Companies (small or large) that encourage short cuts usually have a short term, bottom- line only mentality.
The human piece is common in almost all outbreaks. So, maybe there needs to be greater identification on the return in investing in human resources. Like morality, a SafeFood© culture can’t be legislated. It takes people – consumers of products, regulators, educators – being willing and motivated to be SafeFood© Advocates. We recently completed some tools to help instill a food safety oriented culture – see the “SafeFood© Motivators” under Hot Topics on the Food Safety Project website.
Another multi-state outbreak – this time of the bacteria salmonella with the suspected food item being pepper in one brand of salami. No question, many consumers do NOT trust the modern food system, in particular the large multi-national agri-business companies. Each country has its own standards and regulations for food safety; and it is impossible for all imported foods to be inspected. Increases in organic food sales, number of farmers markets, interest in buying local foods and best seller books about living off the land provide evidence that there is lack of trust.
How important is trust? A recent research study conducted at Iowa State University (ISU) shows that for consumers to trust farmers, confidence is four to five times more important that competence. This study appeared in the recent issue of Journal of the Rural Sociological Society. Lead researcher Stephen Sapp says “The things Americans care about the most are honesty and integrity.” Sadly, many Americans don’t know much about where their food comes from and who is producing it. If they are lucky enough to know farmers and livestock producers, then I think they would agree our food producers are honest people with a great deal of integrity. Could be why the “food with a face” concept is so appealing. But there is no evidence that the food is actually safer.
But why isn’t there trust in the safety of our food supply? There are certainly enough regulations. Does the sensationalism from media attention cause lack of confidence? Are consumer expectations too high – come on, is it possible to produce food with zero risk? What is the source of information? Just like your parents used to pin you down on the latest rumor and where it originated – ask “who says”? A person with a doctorate in History is an expert on say, the Great Depression, but not an expert in food safety.