02 November 2015
American consumers demand a lot out of the foods and beverages they purchase. About 93% of shoppers surveyed by Cone Communications are mindful of product safety, while 77% cite sustainability as a top-of-mind concern. Recognizing the close relationship between food safety and sustainability is key to business success, note various industry leaders.

Safety and sustainability share an important trait: Producers can’t ignore either aspect without negative impact to their businesses. Food and beverage safety missteps can lead to recalls, which cost an estimated $20 billion each year in the U.S. alone. Additionally, recalls cause immeasurable losses due to damaged reputation and decreased consumer trust. Neglecting sustainability also could cost companies, because it is a value on which food and beverage consumers place a great deal of importance—about 55% of consumers say they’ll pay more for sustainable products when such choices are available on retail shelves.

But how might safety and sustainability be linked, and does one impact the other?

Potential Impact

At the recent International Association for Food Protection annual meeting, food and beverage experts examined how sustainability and safety are related at a roundtable on Current Perspectives in Food Safety. Moderated by executives from Cargill and General Mills, the debate tackled a number of weighty matters, including the question, “Is sustainability treading on food safety?” reported Food Safety News.

A senior advisor from the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition addressed the “pro” side of the issue, while a toxicology manager for General Mills took the counterpoint. However, the two were in agreement that food safety and sustainability are closely intertwined. The FDA representative stated it is theoretically possible for a company’s efforts to compost materials and reduce waste to inadvertently lead to safety risks, but co-management opportunities throughout the supply chain could combine food safety and sustainability programs to close loops and minimize exposure. The General Mills leader added that if a food or beverage product is unsafe, it is no longer sustainable because the product cannot be sold and consumed, which leads to wasted food and materials.

Close Ties

Many industry groups also recognize the close relationship between food safety and sustainability. The Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association recently appointed a manager of food safety and sustainability to help its member companies generate and implement programs that promote both of these matters, according to The Packer. Additionally, Food Safety News reports that Ceres, a nonprofit group with the mission of improving corporate sustainability, encourages companies to work across teams and collaborate on food safety and sustainability, recognizing the two are interrelated, core corporate values.

Company leaders can improve food safety and sustainability efforts by leading the charge and encouraging cooperation. Additionally, managers can advance both causes by seeking to implement comprehensive practices and technologies. Working with equipment and technology suppliers on implementing systems that incorporate hygienic design, efficient operation, ease of maintenance and other principles also can help ensure safety and sustainability across the value chain.

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