In industrialised nations, about 10 percent of the population is affected by one or the other food-borne disease annually. Moreover, a large quantity of food products are getting recalled/rejected in the EU countries due to presence of banned veterinary drugs/antibiotics, pesticides, etc. In order to prevent or reduce the risk of food-borne illnesses, it is necessary to introduce pertinent control measures at all stages of the global food chain, including the farm or primary production stage.
As hazards can occur at any stage of the food production process, adequate control throughout the food chain is essential. Communication is necessary to ensure that all food safety hazards are identified and adequately controlled. This implies communication between organisations both upstream and downstream in the food chain. Communication with customers and suppliers about identified hazards and control measures will assist in clarifying customer and supplier requirements. Recognition of the organisation’s role and position within the food chain is pivotal to ensure effective interactive communication throughout the chain for delivering safe food products to the final consumer.
Analytical study on food SMEs
In a study conducted by Intertek to draw insights on the emerging small and medium enterprises (SMEs) segment in India, it was found that the food processing sector is the third-largest, after auto components and textiles. As a part of the study of the food processing sector, an initial database of over 5,000 companies was prepared. The companies were further shortlisted based on certain criteria, such as manufacturing companies having less than Rs. 1,000 million turnover; companies that are not a subsidiary of any MNC or large business group, non-BIFR (Board for Industrial & Financial Reconstruction) cases, etc. The study aimed to draw a profile of how small and medium companies in the food processing space function. It attempted to chart their operational structure, business practices, preferences, marketing and efficiency parameters, among others. For this quantitative exercise, a sample of 245 companies was selected and some of the key characteristics of these organisations included:
- Ownership pattern of companies included proprietary firms 13.5 percent; partnership firms 16.5 percent; private limited companies 43 percent; and public limited companies 27 percent;
- The sample comprised over 98 percent of the food processing clusters, except a few in Himachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir;
- The geographical spread of the sample companies mirrors the concentration of food processing companies in the country. The West and South have maximum representation. Around 33.5 percent companies are located in the West; 31 percent in the South; 27.5 percent in the North; and 8 percent in the East;
- Reflecting the low capital-intensive nature of the industry, around 77 percent of the companies in the sample are small-scale enterprises on the basis of investments in plant and machinery. The rest are medium-sized enterprises. The representation from the various sub-segments of the industry was as follows: 34 percent into grain processing and spices segment; 14 percent into packaged/convenience food; 8 percent into non-alcoholic beverages, which include soft drinks, tea, coffee, fruit juices, water, etc; 7 percent each into milk and milk products, and fruits and vegetable processing; 6 percent into bakery; 5 percent into sugar and confectionery; 4 percent into meat and poultry; 3 percent each into alcoholic beverages and marine products; and 9 percent in to the others segment. The others category included manufacturers of food colours, flavours, additives, seeds, guar gum, etc;
- Around 65 percent of the companies are solely in to manufacturing, while 35 percent are engaged in manufacturing as well as trading;
- Around 78.5 percent of the companies in the sample began operations between 1980 and 2000; only 4 percent were present prior to 1980s. The rest are relatively new having begun operations post-2000;
- About 71 percent of companies have a single manufacturing facility while 27 percent operate with two or more plants;
- In terms of web presence, 42 percent of the companies have a website.
Food safety specifies requirements for a properly managed system where an organisation in the food chain needs to demonstrate its ability to control food safety hazards in order to ensure that food is safe at the time of human consumption. It is applicable to all organisations (regardless of size) involved in any aspect of the food chain that plan to implement systems for ensuring safe products. The means of meeting any requirements of food safety can be accomplished through the use of internal and/or external resources.
Food safety specifies requirements for enabling an organisation to:
- Plan, implement, operate, maintain and update a food safety management system aimed at providing products that, according to their intended use, are safe for the consumer;
- Demonstrate compliance with applicable statutory and regulatory food safety requirements;
- Evaluate and assess customer requirements and demonstrate conformity to those mutually agreed customer requirements that relate to food safety, in order to enhance customer satisfaction;
- Effectively communicate food safety issues to their suppliers, customers and relevant interested parties in the food chain;
- Ensure that the organisation conforms to food safety policy;
- Demonstrate such conformity to relevant interested parties;
- Seek certification or registration of its food safety management system by an external organisation, or make a self-assessment or self-declaration of conformity to Food Safety Management Systems (FSMS) requirements.
Towards a safe approach
Improvement of the safety management system does not incur cost. On the contrary, increased awareness about the regulatory, statutory and customer needs and implementation throughout the food chain can minimise the associated risks by increased due diligence. It can enable systematic management of pre-requisite programmes, better planning and less post-process verification, efficient and dynamic food safety hazard control, as well as reduce liability and risk.
Moreover, the focus on end-result brings a lot of benefits such as systematic approach, compliance with customers, statutory and regulatory requirements, organised and targeted communication among the trade partners, and facilitates better business processes.
Rajesh Saigal is managing director of Intertek India. He has experience of over 20 years in the areas of sales, marketing, finance, manufacturing, operations, and general management functions.