We asked Food Safety experts the following question regarding the challenges of organic and ready-to-eat products, and they were kind enough to share their insights with us:
As the consumer demand is changing, what are the most pressing food safety challenges from organic and ready-to-eat products?
University of Guelph
Dr. Robert Hanner
Food safety challenges are many and varied. Available data suggests risks are commodity specific. The geographic region of the supplier and processor is also relevant. Mitigating these risks requires transparent supply chain traceability systems coupled with appropriate verification testing at multiple points in the supply chain.
RTE products include a wide variety of emerging products / trends. As one example, let’s look at the increase in restaurants or cafeterias offering pre-packaged ‘on the go’ type sandwiches or salads. Applying a typical restaurant approach to the production of these products is problematic as they will not be consumed immediately. Because restaurants are fully equipped to maintain cold temperatures during assembly, these packaged products are often put out into display coolers at warm temperatures. There’s no way a typical display cooler will get the temperatures below 4C – and combined with the anticipated temperature abuse by the consumer who buys the product, we face a significant microbial risk.
- Training of employees in regards to segregation and separation incompatible products.
- Inconsistent enforcement of the regulations at the consignee level.
Food & Consumer Products of Canada
I will confess that this question is a bit confusing because organic products are also often ready-to-eat – but regarding organic and conventional foods, managing allergens successfully so that food allergic consumers have access to a wide variety of foods that they can enjoy with confidence – is an extremely pressing issue. This includes appropriate purchasing and ingredients controls from a supply chain perspective, written, reviewed, and effective sanitation programs in a facility, and careful label review to ensure there are no unexpected sources of an allergen in a food, such as mustard in spice blends.
Other really big challenges include anticipating and managing consumer expectations – including animal welfare, antibiotic use in animal feed, recycling, and waste reduction – and how to convey to consumers our responsible actions in these areas.
As the consumer demand is changing, the most pressing food safety challenges from organic and ready-to-eat products is that more and more companies are leveraging the global supplier network as a means to cut costs and maximize profits while ensuring the delivery of high quality products. However, this new trend also comes with numerous risks relating to food safety compliance and product safety as majority of these companies within the global supplier network vary in levels of food safety standards.
Strawberry Hill Farm
I think the most pressing food safety challenges specific to organic and ready to eat products relate to mass production and prolonged storage related to the management of long supply chains. The use of manures and composts as a primary source of nutrients does create a food safety risk that can be elevated in organic cropping systems and must be carefully managed. Mass production systems and long supply chains increase the chances of pathogens spreading and developing before products are consumed.
Organic regulations when properly followed do mitigate these increased risks but it is important that all producers be vigilant. While food safety issues are not necessarily any higher in organic foods as compared to their non-organic counterparts, any issue makes headlines quickly and can easily tarnish the organic brand.
Costco Wholesale Canada
Organic – insufficient supply of organic ingredients due to demand exceeding supply. Sourcing from many countries that do not have strong food safety systems in place. Also, fraudulent organic claims due to insufficient supply of organic ingredients and economic factors. There is not sufficient scrutiny and testing of organic products.
RTE – Pathogens in RTE product and/or in the processing facility. New sophisticated pathogen detection methods are now detecting parts per billion and increases the likelihood of not meeting the requirement of “not detected”. This can result in recalls for product that does not likely pose a risk to human health. HC has only a limited number of approved antimicrobials and of approved testing methods. There is a need for government to keep up with new science and technology.
Canadian Organic Trade Association
It is a challenge to grow food that adheres to organic principals which prohibits the use of certain substances in the same environment as conventional products which do not prohibit certain substances. Residues of prohibited pesticides are a large food safety threat to organic products.
Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI)
With the onset of e-commerce and the ability to have anything delivered at anytime I feel supply chain transportation and traceability can provide challenging food safety opportunities in this market. Making sure packaging solutions meet the most stringent requirements for regulatory safety and compliance, as well as taste, shelf life, and freshness.