The Importance of Zero Contamination
Foreign body contamination within packaged products can pose a direct risk to the health and wellbeing of consumers. However, even if the foreign body is not deemed harmful to digest, for example small scraps of paper or tiny physical contaminants, as the material in question is not part of the original product, the customer will judge the product as unsafe. Today, consumers expect to purchase products in perfect condition – this means zero contamination. Any deviations from this will expose a breakdown in the brand’s quality assurance processes.
If food safety authorities are notified of a food safety breach i.e. contaminant present within a product, they will issue a product recall. This ensures that all faulty products are withdrawn from circulation, that the public is made aware not to consume them and that the source of the problem is identified and rectified. Alternatively, if a brand discovers a food safety issue (irrespective of size of contaminant) then they may issue a voluntary product recall.
The implications of failing to achieve zero contamination are far wider than the costs associated with logistics, operations and wastage to recall products. In fact, in the US it is estimated that the average cost for a company to recall a food product is $10million.
In a highly competitive food consumer market, which includes securing shelf space and customer brand loyalty, a recall can be the trigger to make or break a brand. A study by Deloitte showed that 64% of consumers surveyed were unlikely to purchase a brand even after 6-12 months of recall. However, 66% would ‘forgive’ the brands that they trusted on food safety. The word ‘forgive’ is, I think, very poignant. Within the last ten years, consumer buying behavior trends have significantly evolved to an era wherein personalization and transparency are essential.
Personalization is a double-edged sword; brands strive and rely on delivering a relevant, engaging experience to each consumer, however if dissatisfaction is achieved then individuals can easily take this personally and instantly voice their grievance on social media channels. The extent of discontent can exemplify depending upon when and how the brand communicates its commitment to rectifying a food safety breach. As trust decreases, doubt increases which can have a knock-on effect to other branded products – including those belonging to competitors. With only 40% of consumers trusting food safety commitments made on advertisements and websites any infringements will cause further skepticism.
Consumers are also demanding greater transparency from ingredient sourcing, accurate labelling, food supply chain to tangible commitments to food safety. As customer’s increase their awareness of food production processes they are starting to desire more detailed information. In the event of a product recall, it is essential that brands are transparent about their efforts to uphold food safety and therefore can be held accountable. In doing so, a brand can limit the reputational damage a product recall may cause.
Achieving Zero Contamination
Technology advancements in product inspection ensure that most types of physical contamination are now detectable. X-ray inspection systems detect a wide range of unwanted materials including metals, dense plastics, glass, calcified bones, stones and rubber. Metal detection technology inspects for ferrous and non-ferrous metals, including stainless steel. Selecting the appropriate technology should be based on your application, product and facility, for more detailed information, please download our Ensuring Food Safety white paper.
Integrating inspection technologies at the correct Critical Control Points, i.e. the areas of weakness on a production process wherein unwanted material can enter the product, can help achieve zero contamination. In addition, all product inspection activities should be monitored and recorded. This information helps to provide the transparency needed to prove a brand’s commitment to achieving zero contamination and, in the event of a product recall, demonstrate due diligence. If a manufacturer commits to upholding food safety, has a robust quality assurance program in place and can provide supporting evidence to substantiate this, then the consumer can be confident that they have made the right choice of brand.
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