Swift changes to raw material sourcing could cause latest food safety crisis

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Leading global assurance partner, LRQA, is urging manufacturers to ensure heightened focus on change management to ensure supplier approval processes remain effective, following reports that one in three vegan products in the UK contain egg or milk.

The story, which led to the Chartered Trading Standards Institute warning of the potentially tragic consequences caused by an allergic reaction, is the latest indicator of heightened risks arising from a long line of challenges facing the food manufacturing sector. Climate change, severe weather events, ongoing geopolitical issues and the cost-of-living crisis are all having an impact on the availability of raw ingredients, forcing many manufacturers to seek new suppliers.

According to LRQA, the likelihood that manufacturers will be experiencing change is not going to decrease anytime soon, meaning more due diligence is required when seeking new suppliers. However, with multiple stakeholders involved in the supplier process, including quality, food safety, procurement and research and development teams, this could further complicate the process of appropriately vetting new suppliers to meet short production timelines.

Kimberly Coffin, Global Technical Director for Supply Chain Assurance at LRQA, said: “Food manufacturers understand their roles and responsibilities when it comes to food safety, particularly when considering allergens. If they do not, then they simply should not be in the business of making food. However, over the last 18 months, achieving a steady supply chain has become very complicated for manufacturers, meaning we are seeing the potential for more instances of food safety issues.

As well as facing the need to replace ingredients due to the supply shortages, more manufacturers are beginning to adopt near sourcing – moving away from a single global supply to multiple suppliers at a regional level. This move further complicates supply chain assurance, Kimberly Coffin explains: “When changing ingredients, it’s highly unlikely that the material will be a like-for-like substitution, meaning some level of recipe redevelopment, process revalidation and verification of existing labelling compliance will be required.  Any change to supply source opens a whole host of food safety threats, and to proceed without effective change management controls can have unintended adverse impact on consumers.”

“Unfortunately, there are so many drivers for change and there is added pressure to ensure margins are optimised. Making sure every box is ticked is therefore hugely challenging, especially if resources are stretched. As such, the role of food safety specialists has never been more important.”

LRQA supports global food manufacturers by providing a variety of supply chain verification services. From supplier approval program management to supplier qualification and maintenance via independent audits using a brand’s own standard or third party certification schemes, its services cover the entire food and beverage supply chain.

Kimberly adds: “As food safety specialists, we cannot stress how important it is to manage change properly. Are the controls and checks you have in place still relevant in today’s operating environment? Times have changed, so manufacturers now more than ever need to ensure their supplier management programmes leave no room for error. The consequences of not having a good change management system in place cannot be understated. If suppliers are not appropriately vetted, then we will likely see more product recalls and industry warnings, which ultimately damage reputations.”

For more information, visit www.lrqa.com