British food safety standards have been in the news again recently with several UK supermarket chains suspending contracts with the food manufacturer ‘2 Sisters Food Group’ as the Food Standards Agency (FSA) launches an investigation into the alleged chicken date changing scandal. The inquiry follows growing European concern about the state of food processing practices emanating from incidents like the Dutch egg insecticide contamination fiasco and resent FSA testing which highlighted that the most common food poisoning bug campylobacter is present within 50% of all UK supermarket chicken products.
This recent incident seems to challenge the FSA’s July 2017 report titled ‘Regulating Our Future’ which recommended reducing the frequency of inspections for major supermarkets and focusing on smaller firms as it was believed that the large retailers had established high safety standards. So why does it appear that food standards are at an all-time low. Could it be due to the government austerity measures imposed since 2008 which saw a 70% decline in Local Authority Environmental Health Officer business visits since 2010. Could it be that retailers have learnt nothing from the horse meat scandal of 2014. Or could it be that the public are to blame, with customers forcing retailers to source ever cheaper products. I suggest the problem in reality, rests with all three. Legislation alone, even backed up by harsh penalties or prosecution has never stopped criminal opportunity to increase profit margins. Inspections do work but the UK will never go back to the excessive civil servant levels of the pre-financial collapse era. Human nature will always make customers try and find the cheapest options available even though they know the saying ‘you get what you pay for’ is true.
The only realistic solution is for all food retailers to fully embrace their responsibility to keep customers safe by robust supply chain scrutiny. This could be achieved by, developing contracts which enable mandatory regular unplanned inspections, random sample testing, staff interviews at all levels, examination of CCTV footage in line with the new Government slaughterhouse proposals and examining producer’s certificates and documents properly. By doing this retailers might regain customer confidence.