The Business of Food Safety
Today's food systems are increasingly more global. They are diverse and complex, involving everything from subsistence farming to multinational food companies. Everyone eats; therefore, everyone relies on food systems, local and global. The movement of food and food ingredients in the food system includes animals and animal products, plants and plant products, minerals, and vitamins as well as recycling and disposal of waste products. A safe food supply is a vital component of food security. Foodborne illnesses pose a threat to national and international public health safety and human and economic development. With the increasing globalization of markets and the amount of trade, travel, and immigration, the rate at which dangerous contaminants and pathogens pass between communities and through borders has risen.
Every year, approximately 2.2 million people, a majority of whom are children living in developing countries, die as a result of food and water contamination. Food Enterprise Solutions’ (FES) is spearheading a private-sector approach to improve food safety outcomes within USAID’s Feed the Future Program. “Business Drivers for Food Safety” (BD4FS) complements other Feed the Future activities by focusing on the role of small, and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) play in connecting producers with local consumers to provide affordable, accessible, nutritious and safe food. Through this R&D activity, BD4FS analyses, develops, implements and compares capacity-building interventions that help businesses accelerate their uptake of food safety practices and technologies. Our aim is to help businesses improve the “business of food safety” and contribute to building the global “food safety culture”.
The role of the private sector is paramount in food & nutrition security and reducing hunger as they play a crucial role in the food system. It is important to understand their challenges, identify their constraints, and find effective approaches they can use to build the “business of food safety”. In developed economies, these food systems actors place emphasis on their “food management systems” which relies on the interplay of several fundamental elements like good manufacturing practices (GMP), good hygiene practices (GHP) and the hazard analysis critical control point (HACCP) system. They also have a web of supportive actors including regulatory agencies, research institutions, consumer advocacy groups, financial institutions, etc.
It can be a starkly different story in emerging economies where access to functioning and supportive policy, inputs, training, financial services, and improved infrastructure are scarce or nonexistent. Promoting the business of food safety at the SME level, on the surface, may seem impossible and expensive. However, there are transferable and adaptable strategies that can have impact. In Kenya, the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) implemented a program to improve milk handling with the informal and formal dairy sectors jointly as 86 percent of milk in Kenya is produced by small to medium size farms and processed by medium to large processing plants. After an initial situational analysis, the project focused on many key interventions like customized training manuals endorsed by government authorities, recruitment and accreditation of private sector trainers and certifiers, business development services and customized processes to scale up businesses. Some of the major outcomes reported were improved business skills of market actors, improved milk quality among trained traders, reduced milk spoilage and losses and behavior change of key stakeholders.
Whether it is an informal food kiosk in a wet market or a large multi-site franchise company, the level of food safety management should be tailored to the business, not a pre-prepared, one size fits all solution. For this reason, BD4FS takes a “diagnostics” approach and works side by side with companies to review their “symptoms” and issues to analyze and support them in designing steps to instigate their internal “business of food safety”. A diagnostic is made up of “symptom checks” which are many, depending on the country and the type of business and can include a review of good agricultural practices (GAP), review distribution practices (GDP), review management practices (GMP) review the food safety management system processes throughout an organization — from management and business planning aspects to day-to-day communication and operations, review of their supply chain relationships, their clients (consumers) and policymakers, etc.
Many key, and sometimes surprising issues, come out of diagnostics, but the most important outcome is improved understanding by the business owners and their staff of what will occur when a business improves their food safety management and how it will impact client/consumer preference and bottom line. The following is a “snapshot” of the holistic strategies that BD4FS promotes to elevate the business of safe food:
- Business Enabling Environment: Private sector needs to convene with policymakers to push for more business enabling policies IN SUPPORT of businesses; honest dialog must take place.
- Business development services (BDS) that are accessible to small and medium businesses. Providing BDS in a large urban center is not easy for businesses in rural or smaller cities to access.
- TRAINING, TRAINING and more TRAINING is needed and should be part of the business plan, in all areas: management training, logistical management, back office systems training, customer relationship, energy management, supply/cold chain management, etc.
- Particular attention to the importance of “temperature and humidity control” of perishables; the cold chain is synonymous with food safety.
- Access to Information by all actors: market prices, truck schedules, packhouse schedules, warehouse capacity, regulation information for kiosk owners, etc.
- Financial Services: educate lenders on the pipeline potential and create financial services targeting food businesses. A company that has a strong “business of food safety” ethic can prove that they are “investment ready” and be appealing to investors looking to stoke their investment pipelines.
“The business of food safety” starts on farm and continues through the food system EVERY STEP OF THE WAY. It’s unfortunate that a great majority of the most nutritious foods, like animal sourced proteins and micronutrient packed fresh fruits and vegetables, are some of the most perishable and can spoil and decay rapidly without suitable technologies to conserve, store, transport and process. Postharvest loss equals nutrient loss and reduces the access to nutritious diets. The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) estimates that reducing loss/waste in developing countries by 10 percent could reduce fruit and vegetable prices by 14%, population at risk of hunger by 11 percent, and child undernutrition by 4 percent by 2050. There are no “silver bullets” in ending hunger and improving food safety overnight. It takes a multidisciplinary approach with positive and steady support. Knowledge enhancing empowers businesses to innovate and drive the “business of food safety” across supply chains to support the larger objective of promoting a culture of food safety to provide safer, healthier and more sustainable diets.