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Consumer confidence critical in food safety battle, says FDA representative

By Joe Whitworth , 12-Nov-2012

Consumer confidence in food safety is an important goal, said an FDA representative, who outlined five themes during a speech at a conference in China.

Speaking at the China International Food Safety and Quality Conference and Expo last week, Michael R. Taylor, deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine at the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), said food safety and consumer confidence are the product of a common effort.

Consumers expect everyone involved in producing, processing, transporting and marketing food is doing everything they reasonably can to prevent problems and make food safe, he said.

Taylor said no food safety system is perfect and breakdowns of preventive controls are inevitable.

The companies that can recover rapidly and maintain public confidence are the ones whose food safety system detects the problem early, minimizes its scope, and acts swiftly to protect consumers.

“…not all companies make the commitment that is needed to meet public expectations for food safety, and when one company fails, many companies can be affected by market disruptions and loss of sales.”

Entire chain

Taylor said it was important to look at the entire supply chain from farm to table and not just within the walls of a single firm.

“What matters to consumers, of course, is that food is safe when it reaches them, but we know that a breakdown at any point on the farm-to-table chain can introduce a hazard, allow a pathogen to grow, or miss an opportunity to eliminate or reduce the hazard.”

He stressed the need for collaboration and partnership on food safety with government and industry having distinct roles to play.

“Government sets standards, but it cannot get the standards right without input from industry, academia and other private sector experts.

We don’t want to blur the proper line between government and industry roles, but we want to build on the complementary aspects of those roles to mutual advantage.”

Work needed

Taylor said a positive development had been the candid and open recognition of governments that work is needed to modernize food safety systems for the 21st century.

“We know we can do more to prevent food safety problems, and transparency about this fact is the starting point for real progress – and for gaining consumer trust that we understand and are tackling today’s challenges.”  

He said it was essential to the credibility and effectiveness of governments and expectation consumers’ increasingly have of the food industry.

Transparency contributes to food safety and consumer confidence by demonstrating through word and deed that each of us is doing everything we reasonably can to prevent problems and protect consumers.”