Food Ingredient Safety Understanding and Preparedness: A Shared Objective

Maintaining a safe supply of consistently performing food ingredients with properties which jointly meet end user expectations and deliver consumer satisfaction is a shared responsibility. It doesn’t just happen, despite the best of intentions and desire, and it isn’t likely to happen without understanding, interest, oversight and cooperation. Customers must develop an open forum of communication with their suppliers in regard to ingredient end use. Suppliers must be willing to provide transparent disclosure in support of client safety and quality initiatives. If one of the two falters, the partnership, as well as food safety and quality, is subjected to unnecessary risk.

Supplier/customer Cooperation, Control and Best Practices Yield Safe, Conforming Ingredient Supply Chains

Typically, suppliers either manufacture or source ingredient categories. Those ingredients may be minimally processed or may represent complex, multi-component systems. Regardless of the complexity of the ingredient, the vendor cannot hide behind a facade of “I don’t know how my customers are going to use this ingredient, therefore it is what it is and I take no responsibility for its performance”. Neither can the end user cry foul and reject blame when non-disclosure and secrecy of ingredient application leads to supplier/customer misunderstandings and in-market non-conformances.

The key to reducing the risk of ingredient non-conformances and end use or in-market food safety or quality calamities is though joint development, discussion and disclosure of sourcing, handling, processing and testing from end-to-end between both supplier and customer. Certainly both entities can and will claim that intellectual property and competitive advantages are at risk following disclosure, however those claims are usually overstated and may signal a indication of food safety or quality risks to come.

Joint controls begin with honest disclosure from the customer regarding end use or application, description of processes, expected attributes or effects of or from the ingredient and end product expectations, from both a manufacturer and a consumer standpoint. Once the supplier or vendor has that information in hand, it can respond with specific item recommendations factored by risks and benefits. Limited, yet targeted information disclosure will likely assist the customer and supplier to narrow the choices.

Once the choices are narrowed and in advance of extended timing and potentially costly trials, the customer is advised to provide the supplier with a comprehensive materials disclosure form composed of a lengthy list of questions and document requests. The theory is that once the supplier discloses all fo the requested information to the customer, the customer can review it, determine where food safety, quality and suitability risks lie and go from there.

The process often bogs down at this point. Suppliers may not understand the questions and, thus, may answer them incorrectly, incompletely or omit them entirely. In that case, the customer patiently responds to the supplier with further instructions, examples and related guidance, along with an explanation of why the information is important and required.

If the two partners cannot align with the transfer of information or the process for handling same, it should become clear that the gap equates to risk. If the risk cannot be mitigated through jointly developed, reviewed and accepted specifications with related supplementary documents, post-processing or in-market non-conformances may lead to a compromise in consumer safety, acrimony between the supply chain partners and litigation, benefitting no one. EHA scientists and ingredient specialists are keenly aware of the delicate balance between a suppliers desire to control information and a customers need to confirm and validate the suppliers ability to source, produce and distribute safe, suitable, regulatory-approved and consistent ingredients. EHA interacts with both parties until effective, suitable disclosure and safety processes are in place. EHA professionals can assist in the creation and review of specifications and related documents, ensuring that all of the properties, instructions, limits, caveats and safe handing protocols are in place, understood and agreed-upon by both parties. EHA will provide guidance to both entities on auditing, quality review, inspection, testing and other controls, depending upon ingredient sensitive, characteristics and risk types, whether categorized as physical, chemical, microbiological, source-related or other.