To judge by some of the negative media coverage that the food industry routinely attracts, one could be forgiven for thinking that all food manufacturers are motivated only by bigger profits at the expense of their customer’s health. The industry is so often portrayed as unprincipled purveyors of unhealthy and unsafe foods to an unsuspecting public that it has become something of a cliché. Of course it would be naive to think that any commercial operation isn’t concerned about profitability – the survival of any business depends upon it – and sadly every barrel contains a few bad apples, but to suggest that the food industry doesn’t care about its end users is a ridiculous generalisation.
In fact the overwhelming majority of food manufacturers are highly responsible organisations with a very strong appreciation of the importance of food safety. This is illustrated very clearly by a report presented to the Board of the UK Food Standards Agency this week. One of the Agency’s key targets is to reduce the incidence of campylobacteriosis in British consumers. Campylobacter has recently become the most frequent cause of foodborne disease, not only in the UK, but in Europe and North America too. The main reservoir for Campylobacter in the food supply chain is reckoned to be raw chicken, with repeated surveys showing that two thirds or more of carcasses on retail sale are contaminated. Accordingly the Agency has developed a strategy to do something about this situation and this week’s report described the progress made so far. What stands out is the contribution being made by the poultry processing industry. A new Rapid Surface Chilling process developed by Bernard Matthews and BOC Linde with the help of the Faccenda Group chicken processing operation is singled out in the report as a “key technical development.” This chilling process manages to reduce contamination levels on raw chicken by more than 90%, which is quite a significant improvement. Following a successful commercial trial, the new process looks likely to be taken up by the poultry industry in the near future.
What we have here is an example of industry reacting positively to regulatory policy and working to develop a practical solution to a persistent food safety problem. It shows that cooperation between regulators and manufacturers is an effective way to tackle these issues and is in the best interests of all concerned. The consumer benefits from lower risk products, the regulators get progress towards their objectives without resorting to a heavy-handed enforcement approach, and the food industry can put safer products on the market. Contrary to what some commentators would have you believe, food manufacturers have no desire to harm their customers. That would be wrong not only from a moral and legal perspective, but from a business one too. Any sensible concern supplying food to the public wants a sound customer base of happy, healthy people who are keen to buy its products on a regular basis. You don’t get that by making them sick.