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Copyright © 2004, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
The editorial staff of Benchmarking: An International Journal (BIJ) is committed to helping those working at a senior level in industry, the public sector, consultancy, or academic institutions, to stay current on developments in the areas of quality, technology and benchmarking. The focus of the journal is on “topics that have substantial management content, rather than being primarily technical in nature.” The Internet editorials will center on sites with a similar focus. I examine sites that I feel will be of interest to BIJ readers and report my findings. I attempt to be fair and objective in the presentation of my findings.
This editorial focuses on food safety. Concerns about food safety have heightened in recent years as a consequence of the threat of terrorism, as well as concern about highly publicized food-borne illnesses. In the US and the UK, much has been made about the possibility of a terrorist attack directed at the food supply. Such an attack might not be detected until many lives are lost, thus the great interest in preventing such an attack. Food-borne illnesses have recently attracted much attention. Perhaps the best known of the dreaded illnesses concerning governments, businesses, and consumers today are the so-called “Mad Cow” disease (bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE), and the disease thereby transmitted to humans called variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD). Both are fatal brain diseases with very long incubation periods caused by an unconventional transmissible agent not easily killed by cooking or commonly used disinfectant products and techniques. The BSE outbreaks in Britain and Canada costs UK businesses and taxpayers billions of dollars and it is feared that the one known case just confirmed in the US will have a similar impact on the US economy. Also causing public health concerns are outbreaks of Escherichia coli O157 (E.coli), Listeria monocytogenes (usually just called Listeria), and other food-borne illnesses like Salmonella which have received much publicity of late in the US, prompting numerous product recalls. A recent outbreak of Hepatitis in the US, attributed to green onions grown in Mexico, caused quite a scare. While we are still learning how we can make our food supply safe from the threat of BSE and vCJD, we know what must be done to reduce the risk of transmission of E.Coli and Listeria through the food supply, yet outbreaks still occur. Consumers are becoming quite concerned about the safety of our food supply, and both public and private sector should be doing everything possible to make the food supply safe. Benchmarking is a powerful tool for bringing about significant improvements in products, processes and activities in organizations. While there is some evidence of benchmarking in the very important area of food safety, it seems clear that more is warranted, and that everything possible should be done to disseminate best practice in food safety. The topic of this Internet editorial is benchmarking and best practice in protecting our food supply. Food safety is important to all of us!
Organizations should benchmark their performance in all areas critical to their future success. I have noted that events and circumstances in recent years have made food safety an important issue/concern for politicians, businesses and consumers. The safety of a nation’s food supply should not be left to chance. Governments and businesses in many countries are taking steps to ensure the safety of the food supply. Consumers do not just expect a safe food supply, they demand it. Businesses and even countries can gain competitive advantage by making food safe and restoring consumer trust. Benchmarking and dissemination of best practice can contribute to efforts of those in food related industries to gain competitive advantage through safe food. This editorial highlights many sites that could be of value to countries, companies and governments concerned with food safety and interested in benchmarking food safety or disseminating best practice in protecting the food supply from the field to the plate.
I used Google as my search engine for this editorial. It continues to be the most popular search engine on the Web and it is my search engine of choice. As with my last editorial on Ethics, I found so many interesting sites with my Google searches that I elected to provide a brief overview of many potentially useful sites, rather than an in-depth coverage of a few sites. Sites devoted exclusively to benchmarking food safety are non-existent, but may emerge in the future as food safety gets more attention. Food safety is threatened in many ways (on the farm, in transit, during processing, as it is prepared and served to the end-customer), so benchmarking performance in the area of food safety will most certainly be multi-faceted. A wide variety of sites are included in this editorial because of the broad scope of food safety and food safety concerns. The key word searches conducted with Google included the following three search phrases: “benchmarking food safety,” “best practice food safety,” and simply “food safety.” Over 62,000 links appeared on the hit list for the search on benchmarking food safety, 1,570,000 items turned up in the search on best practice in food safety, and the search on food safety produced 6,830,000 hits. As one might expect, there was much overlap in the lists, but I found many useful sites and pages with information about food safety generally, as well as information about food safety benchmarking and best practice specifically. As always, some of the featured sites are those of for-profit enterprises. My inclusion of those sites should not be considered an endorsement of the goods or services of those entities.
Benchmarking of and best practice in food safety
This section highlights Web sites or pages that contain information pertaining to food safety, benchmarking food safety, and best practice in food safety. These sites and pages provide information and guidance that can assist businesses and governments in their efforts to employ benchmarking as a tool to help make food safe.
Global Food Safety Initiativehttp://www.globalfoodsafety.com/
Started in May of 2000, the Global Food Safety Initiative was launched to “enhance food safety, ensure consumer protection, strengthen consumer confidence, set requirements for food safety schemes and improve cost efficiency throughout the food supply chain.” The Food Business Forum has promoted the initiative. The basic principle, upon which the GFSI is based, is that “food safety is a non-competitive issue, as any potential problem arising may cause repercussions in the whole sector.” Among the key priorities of GFSI are implementation of a scheme to benchmark food safety standards worldwide and coordination of good retailing practices. Among the more valuable aspects of this site are the guidance documents that address benchmarking and best practice (in PDF format), and the list of GFSI task force members who represent over 50 companies that collectively account for 65 percent of global food retail revenue. Visitors need not expect a lot of links on the site. The value of this site is greatest to those with an interest in the task force, its activities, and standards or guidelines that might emerge from the GFSI.
The FoodSafety.gov site is a gateway to much government food safety-related information. Links appearing on the FSG site access selected sites approved by a steering committee of knowledgeable people with diverse backgrounds. The site is part of the National Food Safety Information Network and is maintained by the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. This site is not much to look at – it is not pretty – but contains a wealth of useful links. It is updated frequently and there is little or no link rot. The links are divided into the following categories: news and safety alerts; consumer advice; kids, teens and educators; report illnesses and product complaints; food-borne pathogens; industry assistance; national food safety programs; federal and state government agencies; and more. A “Search and Site Index” link assesses a page that makes finding information on the FSG site and related government sites quick and easy. Many, many government advisories, recommendations, and such can be found on this site. For practitioners the “Industry Assistance” link might be particularly valuable. Anyone with an interest in food safety must visit this site.
Food Safety Training and Education Alliancehttp://www.fstea.org/
The mission of FSTEA is to “improve food safety training and education at the retail level.” It was borne out of the US President’s Food Safety Initiative of 1997. The Alliance attempts to bring together key players (state, federal and local government agencies, industry, professional/trade associations, and academics) to promote education about food safety. Much educational material is available on the site. As an example, a new publication that appeared on the site at the time of my site visit was entitled “FMI Introduces Retail-Specific Best Practices Guide for Fresh-Cut Produce.” Similar documents can be found on the site by following the “Latest News” link. The latest news page contains links to articles, to many government agencies, and more. One such link accesses a page listing the latest recalls, alerts and advisories. Other links access food safety news from a variety of sources. The “Resources” link is quite helpful as it accesses a page of links to such things as training materials, experiences of others, food safety funding, useful directories and more. The FSTEA site has a search feature that allows one to search the site for materials of interest, making one’s search for information quick and easy. The FSTEA site is well designed, current, and potentially valuable to those with an interest in food safety.
US Food and Drug Administration Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutritionhttp://vm.cfsan.fda.gov/list.html
The Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition site helps the US Food and Drug Administration carry out its mission of assuring the safety of the nation’s domestically produced and imported foods, cosmetics, drugs, biologics, medical devices, and radiological products. More specifically, the CFSAN, in conjunction with the Agency’s field staff, is responsible for promoting and protecting the public’s health by ensuring that the nation’s food supply is safe, sanitary, wholesome, and honestly labeled, and that cosmetic products are safe and properly labeled. The CFSAN site contains links to news items and many national food safety programs. One can find information on the Bioterrorism Act of 2002, new rules to protect the US food supply, disease specific information, and recommended procedures, rules, guidelines, policies and programs intended to reduce the threat of those diseases and more. While not pleasing particularly to the eye, this site is well maintained and is a virtual cornucopia of food safety resources. The CFSAN site is truly a site to be visited by anyone with an interest in food safety generally, or benchmarking and best practice in food safety specifically.
World Health Organization Food Safety Pagehttp://www.who.int/foodsafety/en/
The World Health Organization’s Food Safety Page is part of a much larger WHO site, but since this editorial is on food safety, only the FSO page is featured herein. Recognizing that Food Safety is a major challenge of the 21st century, the WHO has made food safety one of its top priorities. WHO provides scientific advice on food safety to Member States, other organizations, and the public. The WHO attempts to link national food safety systems so that countries and organizations can work together to promote food safety. In short, the WHO Food Safety Page is part of WHO’s effort to promote global cooperation in assuring safe food for all. On the FS page, one will find links to regional WHO sites, other programs related to food safety, food standards, information on food-borne disease, organizations engaged in food contamination monitoring, food-borne disease surveillance, food virology, risk assessment in food safety, and more. The strength of WHO’s FS page is its links. The links alone make the site worth the visit for those interested in food safety, especially from a global perspective.
USDA Food Safety and Inspection Servicehttp://www.fsis.usda.gov/
The US Department of Agriculture is a large and powerful US government agency with many responsibilities, not the least of which is the safety of meat, poultry, and egg products. A current focus of the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service is reduction in the incidence of food-borne illnesses. HACCP is the foundation of this effort. HACCP stands for Hazard Analysis Critical Point Control and is a Quality Assurance system used in the US meat and poultry plants to prevent the spread of food-borne illnesses through meat and poultry products. Protecting meat and poultry products from terrorism, has also come to be part of the USDA’s mission and subsequently, the mission of the FSIS. The FSIS site is loaded with links to useful resources pertaining to food safety. A search feature and “Quick Find” indexes make it easy to find targeted information on this site. A search on benchmarking produced links to documents pertaining to benchmarking food safety. The site contains many potentially useful resources found under the following category links: “News and Information,” “Food Safety Education and Consumer Information,” “Food Security” (pertains to the new US Homeland Security initiative), “Organization and Program Areas,” and more. Each of these category links accesses a page(s) with additional links – many, many links. One can find guidance documents, assistance tailored to SMEs, etc. The news and information page is particularly interesting in that it contains links to “topics of current interest,” and news items. This site is loaded with information about food safety, links to related sites, and the site is current. It is well worth a visit.
European Commission on Food Safetyhttp://www.europa.eu.int/comm/food/index_en.html
The European Commission on Food Safety site is part of the European Commission’s effort to protect and promote the interest of European Union members through legislation, policy, administration, and member cooperation. Recent events in Europe have eroded public confidence in food safety, prompting the European Commission to make food safety a top priority. The “White Paper on Food Safety” link provides access to a good summary that describes the EC’s position on food safety and its efforts to assure food safety within the EU and beyond – be forewarned, that document is 52 pages long. The ECFS site is loaded with links to food safety related organizations in Europe, the US and elsewhere, to articles, reports, surveys, speeches, press releases, program descriptions, and more. A site map, search feature, and site index assist one in finding targeted information on the ECFS site. This site offers much for one with an interest in food safety. Links abound and the site is well organized and well maintained.
Asian Food Information Centerhttp://www.afic.org/
The Asian Food Information Centre is devoted to providing science-based information on nutrition, health and food safety, throughout the Asia Pacific region. Registered in Singapore, the not-for-profit AFIC is funded by the food, beverage and agriculture industries. The site is designed to meet the needs of business and consumers, so many of the links access information resources tailored to the needs of individual consumers, such as dietary recommendations and the likes. In fact, I would have to say that the site is more tailored to the needs of consumers than to the needs of business or government visitors. Nevertheless, site features that might be of interest to business practitioners, researchers, or government officials with an interest in food safety include the many articles, press releases and links found on the site. To illustrate what the site offers practitioners, under “What’s New” I found an article in PDF format entitled “Preventing Food-borne Illness from Farm to Plate.” The full article is 17 pages long and offers guidelines for keeping food safe along the food supply chain, literally “from farm to plate.” Other articles of interest are available on the site. It is also noteworthy that the site can be viewed in English, Thai, or Chinese. The site was well organized and appeared to be updated frequently.
Canadian Food Inspection Agencyhttp://www.inspection.gc.ca/
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s mandate is to protect Canadians from preventable health risks, provide a fair and effective regulatory regime that contributes to the growth of Canada, contribute to sustainable natural resources, and promote the security of Canada’s food supply. CFIA is the Canadian Government’s science-based regulator for food, animals and plants, and is committed to its key role in enhancing the safety of the food supply. The Canadian government recognizes that making Canada’s food safe requires a concerted effort by government, producers, processors, distributors, and consumers. CFIA works with these stakeholders to adopt risk-based control measures and to provide effective, rapid emergency response. CFIA verifies compliance with federal acts, regulations and standards, and works to protect the long-term well-being of Canadians. The site can be viewed in English or French and provides access to much information pertaining to food safety. Particularly noteworthy areas of the site include the food safety page (accessible through the “Food Safety” link), and the acts and regulations page (see link by same name). Each of these pages contains links to useful sites and information. The food safety page has links to food safety enhancement programs, on-farm food safety recognition programs, quality management programs, policies that govern importation of agricultural products, services to support importation of agricultural products, guidelines for agricultural product labeling, guidelines for retailers, and more. The acts and regulations page contains links to many acts and regulations pertaining directly or indirectly to food safety. Another useful area of the site is accessible through the “Corporate Affairs” link. That page contains many reports, advisories, and such that would be of interest to practitioners. This site, like many others, has a search feature. I did a site search on benchmarking and found a number of publications containing materials about benchmarking in food safety or related areas. This site would be a good choice for anyone interested in food safety, particularly food safety in Canada.
The Food Packaging Safety and Business Improvement Portalhttp://www.saferpak.com/
The goal of the Food Packaging Safety and Business Improvement Portal is to be the guiding light for food packaging safety and business improvement. Sponsored by Saferpak, Ltd, a UK-based for-profit organization, the site was developed “primarily to provide packaging industry quality professionals with free, fresh and focused information” about tools and techniques that can help improve packaging safety and overall business performance. Anyone interested in Food Packaging Safety or Business Improvement can find something of value on the site. The site is loaded with links to other relevant sites, articles, news items, magazines and journals, training assistance, quality tools, and quality techniques. Links to HACCP and ISO 22000 standards can also be found on this site. The explanation and documentation of HACCP (the universal methodology for conducting a food safety hazard analysis) is particularly good. While ISO 22000 (proposed Food Safety Management Standard) is not yet complete, the ISO22000 link accesses a page that does provide a good explanation of what can be expected in that new standard. Many good resources pertaining to food safety, and more specifically to the safe packaging of food, can be found on this site. Anyone interested in food safety, particularly if she/he is interested in safe packaging and quality as it pertains to food safety must visit this site.
Institute of Food Science and Technologyhttp://www.ifst.org/
The Institute of Food Science and Technology, a UK-based non-profit corporation, was founded in 1964. IFST has a keen interest in attracting as members, individuals from around the globe, who are involved professionally in food science and technology, food production, or food distribution. The institute is self-governing and independent of government, industry, and lobbying groups and remains so through self-funding. A primary purpose of IFST is “to serve the public interest by furthering the application of science and technology to all aspects of the supply of safe, wholesome, nutritious and attractive food, nationally and internationally.” While not particularly pleasing to the eye, this site is loaded with links to information pertaining to food safety and related topics. There are many links to statements, opinions and articles on various threats to food safety. As an example, there is a link on the IFST Web site’s main page entitled “IFST Statements on Today’s Food Related Hot Topics.” That link accesses a page loaded with links to information on various food-borne diseases, food safety issues and concerns, and more. Each link accesses a statement or position paper describing the disease or problem, and offering guidance on how to handle the disease or problem. Links abound in those documents, providing access to even more information. There is a section on the “Hot Topics” page that is best described as an archive – it contain links to documents that, while they are no longer current, may be of some interest from a historical perspective. The site is loaded with links to information pertaining directly or indirectly to food safety. It is noteworthy that the site is current and appears to be well maintained. Many documents have links to updates of those documents or more current materials related to the subject. The IFST site is a good one for information about food safety.
National Food Processors Associationhttp://www.nfpa-food.org/
The National Food Processors Association (NFPA) is “the voice of the food processing industry on scientific and public policy issues involving food safety, nutrition, technical and regulatory matters and consumer affairs.” The organization offers scientific and technical assistance, crisis management, claims handling, and product liability insurance to its members. Member organizations process and package fruits, vegetables, meat, fish, and specialty food and beverage products using a variety of technologies including canning, freezing, refrigeration, dehydration, and aseptic manufacturing. NFPA also lobbies Congress and other regulatory agencies on behalf of its members. NFPA is the principal scientific and technical trade association for the food industry, taking the lead in matters concerning food safety and the security of the food supply. The site contains a wealth of links and information. Among the links that would likely be of interest to visitors interested in food safety are the “Food Safety” and “Security” links found in the Hot Topics table, as well as the “Food Security”, “Public Policy,” and “Food Science” links found on the site’s main navigation bar. Each of these links accesses a page where visitors will find links to articles, other sites, position papers, regulations and proposed regulations, standards and more, that are directly or indirectly related to food safety. The “News” link is also worth examining as many news items pertain to food safety. Food safety and security of the food supply are hot topics in the news. Some news items pertain to regulations and standards related to food safety. The site is well organized, aesthetically pleasing, well maintained, and worthy of a visit by anyone interested in food safety.
The sites described in this editorial are a sampling of those available on the Web. There are many other sites where one can learn more about food safety, whether it is for purposes of benchmarking, identifying best practice, or exploring what may become a required practice because of government regulation or industry standards. One might consider visiting the European Food Safety Authority (www.efsa.eu.int), the US Food and Drug Administration (www.fda.gov), and the Canadian Federation of Agriculture (www.cfa-fca.ca), in addition to the sites featured herein. These sites and others are easy to find with just about any popular, general-purpose Web search engine by conducting a search on “food safety.”
The focus of BIJ is on “topics that have substantial management content, rather than being primarily technical in nature.” The content of this Internet editorial is consistent with that focus. As noted at the beginning of this editorial, food safety has come to the forefront in recent years because of heightened consumer concerns about food-borne diseases and of course, because of the threat of terrorism. Because food safety is of great concern to consumers, it must be a concern of government and business. A primary responsibility of government is to protect citizens, so government is obligated to act in the public interest to do what it can to protect the food supply from any known threat. Business, because it serves consumers at the pleasure of consumers, must respond to consumer concerns or suffer the consequences in the marketplace. The prosperity, and even the very survival of a “food” business, may depend on how well it responds to consumer concerns about food safety. Here is a threat, but also an opportunity. Benchmarking is a powerful tool for positively affecting products, processes and activities. Proactive approaches to food safety, such as identifying and emulating best practice and benchmarking food safety performance, could help organizations avoid the threat and take advantage of the opportunity presented by heightened consumer concern for food safety.
This editorial includes coverage of 12 sites devoted to food safety. These 12 sites are diverse, but all are potentially valuable to practitioners and researchers with an interest in food safety generally or benchmarking and best practice in food safety specifically. No sites were found to be devoted exclusively to benchmarking food safety or to best practice in this important area. Perhaps an opportunity was identified herein, for someone or some organization to develop a food safety benchmarking and best practice Web site. Such a site might make a valuable contribution to the efforts of business and/or government to make and keep the food supply safe. Feedback on this and any of my editorials is welcome. My goal is to write Internet editorials that will be valuable to BIJ readers. Any assistance you can provide to help me achieve the goal is appreciated. If you have a site or know of a site that you would like to see featured in future editorials, please e-mail me your suggestions. Send your comments and suggestions to Ronald McGaughey at email@example.com.
Ronald E. McGaugheyInternet Editor