Food safety is only possible through good collaboration based on preparation, communication, knowledge of who you are dealing with, and sharing common goals. Companies often wait until it’s too late in the process to get these critical pieces sorted, resulting in a delayed response time to food safety issues. When a contaminant such as Listeria or E. coli is detected, the amount of time it takes to identify the cause and notify those affected could mean the difference between a mild scare and the potential loss of millions of dollars, and most severely, lost lives.
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Today’s marketplace is a high stakes environment where food recalls are inevitable. When a recall happens, you must be able to handle it quickly, seamlessly, and professionally. Collaborating with your partners makes it easier to handle a recall quickly and effectively. Collaboration also strengthens the relationship between supplier and retailer, resulting in happy suppliers who are likely to be proactive and preventive, two key characteristics in food safety.
Crisis Prevention Via Collaboration
Effective collaboration throughout the supply chain is critical to preventing and managing food contaminant outbreaks. Last year’s recall of Starbucks breakfast sandwiches is a good example of how effective collaboration prevented what could have turned into a national crisis. When traces of Listeria were found in a Starbucks production facility, the company was able to pinpoint the affected products and issue a recall quickly. As a result, no illnesses have been reported to date.
Spiraling Out of Control Without Collaboration
Unfortunately, there are also instances where identifying the source of contamination becomes a lengthy process, and as a result, the outbreak becomes more severe. In September 2015, a Dole Listeria outbreak occurred, but the source of Listeria was not linked to Dole until late January 2016. The outbreak resulted in 15 hospitalizations across six states and one death. In other cases, such as the Chipotle E. coli outbreak in 2015 when 55 people became ill, the source of the outbreak was never discovered and consumer trust remains damaged.
A lack of collaboration slows down the process of handling a food safety crisis. Inefficiency often breeds frustration, which leads to bad relationships between retailers and suppliers. If a supplier or retailer can’t share (or chooses not to share) valuable information with their partner, then the relationship erodes further. When necessary information isn’t shared, then poor decisions are made. Eventually, the partners don’t want to work with each other and they part ways in hopes to find a better partner. However, until they understand the value of good collaboration, they won’t find a “better” partner.
Suggestions for Consistent Collaboration
Good collaboration is developed over time and must be maintained regularly to ensure its effectiveness. The following best practices will help you develop good collaboration with your suppliers.
Start conversations early. Engaging the food safety team early can help reduce food safety risk. Opening up lines of discussion before a product is approved allows time for the completion of appropriate testing to ensure product safety. Involving the food safety team early in the process can also help prevent the selection of a vendor with a history of poor facility audit results.
Align internal policies. Failure to communicate standard policies to external partners frequently causes collaboration breakdown. Suppliers often complain they are not given a clear understanding of requirements from retailers. This not only happens between retailers and suppliers, but also between suppliers and labs, suppliers and suppliers, or suppliers and internal departments. Taking the time to gain alignment internally will save time in the long run on internal operations. Including everything in a policy and communicating it will help improve collaboration.