Food Safety, meaningful two words: misinterpreted, misunderstood, and misconstrued. This term is feared by many but not properly addressed and managed in many instances. Food handling and processing businesses must set directions to manage food safety and then plan, develop, execute, evaluate and revise the progam to keep it effective.
The best technological breakthrough, the best marketing tools, and the best business planning in the food industry will fail if Food Safety is not part of the strategy, as priority #1.
Quality, another misunderstood word, considered as universal and not selective. Also, a necessary program for business success. A program that can be negotiable and adjusted.
Let’s talk about quality and food safety.
QUALITY VS. FOOD SAFETY
It is surprising the small percentage of people who can define quality or food safety. Instead of defining them at this point, I want to talk about an anecdote from one of my trips to Latin America. A story that would aid in undrestanding the meaning of food safety and quality.
A number of years ago I was invited to make a presentation at a Food Industry Convention in Guadalajara, Mexico. One night while having dinner with my host, he asked me to try the “tortas ahogadas.” I could tell by the name it was a very hot/spicy food. It is indeed a sandwich immersed in hot sauce.
Over dinner, my host indicated that the “tortas ahogadas” in the fancy place where we were eating, were not of the same high quality as the ones on the other part of town, and that the cost at our restaurant was considerably higher. I asked him to define what made the difference in quality, and as I presumed he indicated that the food was hotter and the sauce thicker in the other place and that it tasted home made.
My next question was about food safety but I did not wait for an answer. I immediately realized that the food at the restaurant where we were eating was more expensive to cover labor cost, utility services: gas, running water, and electricity, to cover sanitation time and supplies, taxes, and others. I learned that the restaurant with the food considered of higher quality, was a modest place with no labor expenses, without running water, wth no electricity and lacking a sanitation plan. The product at this business might be safe to some consumers but in my case, I would likely be sick with pain when taking trips to the bathroom after eating such a hot/spicy food.
In conclusion the perceivable characteristics of the food product in the restaurant my host considered better met his expectations, which is the definition of quality; however, is this product safe by not causing an illness or injury to the consumer? This is the definition of food safety. Quality is not the same for all individuals and even the susceptibility to food safety hazards differ. What is food for one individual might be poison to others.
Education and Commitment to Quality and Food Safety
How can we be committed to doing something we don’t understand? Education is the key to gain commitment that leads to success. Education means understanding why we do things the way we do them and what we want to accomplish. We might have trained and skilled employees to do their jobs but, if food safety education and quality are not part of the on the job training plan, then the company is at risk of facing serious consequences due to lack of engagement in prevention of food safety issues or in meeting or exceeding customers/consumer satisfaction.
The education process starts from the top. Food Safety and quality educated leaders provide the needed support and resources to build and maintain robust programs to protect the consumer, and meet their expectations.