Food Safety: The post-COVID-19 consumer’s greatest concern
There is a lot of uncertainty about what a “post-COVID-19” world will look like. For companies in the global food supply chain with highly educated and sensitive consumers demanding better food traceability, along with a decline in food safety efforts and culture, the likely result is significant losses to the food industry in a post-pandemic world. Food safety incidents and product contamination events are more likely in this sort of environment, and the losses will include a “denser” and longer-lasting loss of consumer loyalty.
The most important factor is the consumer, who in a pre-COVID world was already focused on food safety concerns prior to the pandemic. The need for enhanced food guarantees and tracing is driven by increased consumer demand, changing regulatory requirements, and the increasing complexity and globalization of food supply chains and production. While there is no evidence that COVID-19 is transmittable via food or food packaging within the food supply chain to-date, consumers will nonetheless need to expressly hear and be convinced that the foods they eat arrive on their plate only after the most rigorous food safety measures have been applied.
Food Safety Management post-COVID-19
Another major factor is the inevitable decline in food safety management, efforts and culture throughout our food supply system. Due to lockdowns and restrictions put in place as a result of COVID-19, regulators have been impacted by travel limitations to carry out food safety inspections and audits with delayed onsite audits. Customer audits, too, have been delayed. Even in a “re-opened” world, these food safety inspections and audits will be less frequent and less omniscient – and therefore less effective – due to travel restrictions, diverted appropriations, and tightened visitor policies.
In addition to non-existent or less effective food safety audits, we should also expect to experience negative impacts from displaced or remote-working food safety management. There may be less direct supervision on the production floor, and fewer facility visits by food safety management. Couple that with the potential gaps in the workforce due directly to COVID-19 (either in worker infection or quarantine), or in “displaced focus,” with workers concerned about consequences of exposure to them and their loved ones.
Lasting effects on the food industry
The pandemic has affected many aspects of business operation: for many food-handling enterprises, re-opening once restrictions have been lifted has resulted in a new set of challenges. Businesses which serve the public are now required to ensure adequate measures are in place to limit the spread of the virus. This extends not only to seating areas and restrooms but also to how food is prepared and presented. The combined effect of reduced inspections and new hygiene requirements is that some businesses may not have all the information needed to ensure their company is 100% compliant with current regulations.
This is an expensive convergence of forces for the food industry. We want to make sure that food companies are prepared.
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