The financial risks and costs associated with food safety are increasing, and food suppliers will face continued increases in food safety costs over the coming years. The advanced technology that enables faster identification of food safety issues is also increasing the likelihood of more broad-based food advisories being issued. 

That’s why the stakes are rising for food suppliers in a landscape of continuously evolving food safety challenges, technologies and regulations, according to a new from CoBank’s Knowledge Exchange Division, Denver, Colo.

“Contrary to media reports and trending social media, there has not been an increase in food-related outbreaks in recent years. This is particularly noteworthy given technology developments, which allow us to better detect food safety issues,” says Crystal Carpenter, senior economist of specialty crops.

While the industry’s ability to detect food-related outbreaks has increased, until traceability improves, this improved detection increases the risk of future advisories, such as the romaine lettuce advisories in 2018.  

An advisory is issued when consumers are cautioned not to consume a particular type of product due to a food safety concern, but a specific company or brand is not identified as it would be in a product recall. The unfortunate aspect of an advisory is that it casts a shadow of doubt on all suppliers of a product.

“The total impact of an advisory is much greater than a recall and reaches far beyond the company at the source of the contamination,” says Carpenter. “The entire industry can be negatively affected by an advisory.”

An increasingly complex food chain with many touch points and value-added products has also increased the potential points of contact and opportunities for contamination and increased the complexity of traceability. Within the produce supply chain specifically, the greatest challenge in traceability is often in the last mile as product gets closer to the consumer.

“Understanding the risks of food safety incidents, the costs associated with them and risk mitigation strategies is becoming increasingly critical for profitability and long-term economic sustainability,” says Carpenter. “The financial and reputational implications of a food safety incident can be enormous, and the risk is rising.”