The food industry has one specific mandate from government; it must produce safe food. This mandate has been further emphasized with FSMA and the regulations passed to make sure it is properly enforced. To help ensure that safe foods are manufactured and the occasional slips are properly contained, the FDA implemented programs to (hopefully) contain outbreaks and/or prevent them from expanding and affecting more people. An example of this program is the Reportable Food Registry, which mandates that processors of foods and ingredients must notify their customers within 24 hours if they have issues. The FDA’s guidance states, “…to report when there is a reasonable probability that the use of, or exposure to, an article of food will cause serious adverse health consequences or death to humans or animals.”
FDA also created a mechanism to investigate outbreaks and help contain them. This group is called CORE, or the Coordinated Outbreak Response and Evaluation Network. Three teams make up this operation: Signals and Surveillance Team, three Response Teams, and a Post Response Team. It’s the responsibility of the Response Teams to stop the outbreak.
But what about quality? Quality is what sells products. It is why people continue to purchase one brand or one item. Processors must not only ensure safety but their quality and safety programs must continue to maintain the quality parameters that make consumers happy. Many years ago, one of my professors told the story of “Creeping Meatballism.” The allegorical story described how someone brought meatballs to a company potluck. They were so good that the company decided to make and market the product. Sales went through the roof, but then R&D and marketing decided even though the product was successful, it was a bit expensive to make. So, they embarked on a cost reduction program. Over the years, the product was cost reduced by comparing the new version to the previous iteration of the product. Within a few years, the newest version had no relationship to the original gold standard, but there was no statistical difference between the evolving versions. Bottom line is, the product died.
As an industry we must produce safe foods. Failure to so can damage the business (Chipotle and Peter Pan Peanut Butter) or shut down a business (Peanut Corp. of America, Sunland Inc., and Bon Vivant). But we must ensure food quality remains high and meets consumer expectation. We are an industry that relies on repeat sales so we have to retain customers by meeting their needs.