Changing food landscape: ‘I need a passport, food doesn’t’

Jonathan Walsh presenting at the summit

The landscape of food safety is changing with shifting consumer diets, enhanced legislation, globalization and increased public awareness, according to 3M.

Jonathan Walsh, technical manager Europe and Middle East at 3M, told FoodQualityNews.com that this puts pressure on industry to adapt and deliver goods to market differently.  

“We are buying food now that we never ate before, I was in Russia last week and at the back of every restaurant menu they have sushi, 10 years ago when I was in Russia you didn’t get that,” he said at the Global Food Safety Summit in Madrid.

“The food landscape is enormously changing, we expect to have fresh strawberries on Christmas Day in the UK, whereas when I was growing up we had strawberries for two months of the summer.

“When I travel the world I need my passport, food doesn’t, microbes don’t, allergens don’t, so we’re bringing some of the problems from around the world into our doorstep and we are exporting some of our problems elsewhere as well.”

FSMS globally

Walsh said there have been attempts to dovetail in food safety management systems that have not been designed to go together.

“So you’ve got some very organized systems in Western Europe and in the US and some of the developing countries have food safety modules that they want to bring in. But on the other hand you’ve also got people that do very little food safety even within the developed world,” he said.

“I’ve heard people say my father was making sausages 20 years ago, my grandfather before him why do I need to have a food safety HACCP system, it was not needed when my grandfather started a business. So you’ve got to put all this together and an awful lot is driven by the retailers at the moment.”

Walsh said it is important to keep the customer in mind all the time and how that fits in with retailers and legislation but consumers will be key to drive business. 

3M Food Safety offers testing for indicator organisms, pathogens and toxins and sample handling, media and lab supplies for industries such as dairy, meat, produce, beverage and prepared and processed food.  

Law of unintended consequences

Walsh, who chaired the second day of the summit, said the food industry faces challenges if changing their product.

“It’s part of the law of unintended consequences, with all good reason people say we want to reduce sugar in soft drinks, so we take the sugar out of soft drinks but then we’ve got to change the acidity regulators, we’ve got to add more flavourings, it has a different mouth feel,” he said.

“So taking one product out, fat, or salt or sugar, it was in there for a good reason and I think if we take them out, and there is health reasons were we should do that, it can have other consequences.

“One of the classic stories used to be about Listeria monocytogenes in traditional mayonnaise which is a very good antimicrobial agent because the egg and the oil stops the organism growing. When you reduce that oil you increase the risk of Listeria surviving the process.”

Industry trends

Walsh said one of the key things the industry is always looking for is faster results.

“Microbiology is not a quick process, it’s not like chemistry where you can put it in a gas chromatograph and get your results," he said.  

“In food safety we wait for the organisms to grow or look for their residual components. We’ve launched a yeast and mold test that takes two, two and a half days from the traditional five days.”

He said people are also looking for more accurate results and the firm will be launching an allergen test that is fast and easier to manage in the laboratory.

Automation is growing as people are looking to make laboratory life easier, said Walsh.

“It used to be that if you were down in the lab you just threw staff at something if you needed more people in to boil more agar or to make more samples,” he said.

“Now we looking at things in the food industry as in Six Sigma and Lean and these management approaches to say where are my bottlenecks in the lab and is there anything I can do? Automation will help, it is not the only tool but it is definitely a help to the system.”

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