Food Safety: The post-COVID-19 consumer’s greatest concern

16 November 2020

There is a lot of uncertainty about what a “post-Covid-19” world will look like. Companies in the global food supply chain have highly educated and sensitive consumers demanding better food traceability. Also, there is the challenge of a decline in food safety efforts and culture. Thus, the likely result is significant losses to the food industry in a post-pandemic world. Food safety incidents and product contamination events are more likely in this sort of environment, and the losses will include a “denser” and longer-lasting loss of consumer loyalty.

Consumer needs

The most important factor is the consumer, who in a pre-Covid-19 world was already focused on food safety concerns prior to the pandemic. The need for enhanced food guarantees and tracing is driven by increased consumer demand, changing regulatory requirements, and the increasing complexity and globalisation of food supply chains and production.
While there is no evidence that Covid-19 is transmittable via food or food packaging within the food supply chain to date, consumers will nonetheless need to expressly hear and be convinced that the foods they eat on their plate arrived there only after the most rigorous food safety measures have been applied.

Food Safety Management post-COVID-19

Another major factor is the inevitable decline in food safety management, efforts and culture throughout our food supply system. Due to lockdowns and restrictions put in place as a result of Covid-19, regulators have been impacted by travel limitations. Such limitations restrict the ability of regulators to carry out food safety inspections and audits, with delayed on-site audits. Customer audits have also been delayed. Even in a “reopened” world, these food safety inspections and audits will be less frequent and less omniscient – and therefore less effective – due to travel restrictions, diverted appropriations, and tightened visitor policies.

In addition to non-existent or less effective food safety audits, we should also expect to experience negative impacts from food safety management either displaced, or working remotely. There may be less direct supervision on the production floor, and fewer facility visits by food safety management. Couple that with the potential gaps in the workforce due directly to Covid-19 (either in worker infection or quarantine), or in “displaced focus,” with workers concerned about the consequences of exposure to them and their loved ones.

Lasting effects on the food industry

The pandemic has affected many aspects of business operation. For many food-handling enterprises, reopening once restrictions have been lifted has resulted in a new set of challenges. Businesses which serve the public are now required to ensure adequate measures are in place to limit the spread of the virus. This extends not only to seating areas and restrooms, but also to how food is prepared and presented. The combined effect of reduced inspections and new hygiene requirements is that some businesses may not have all the information needed, to ensure their company is 100% compliant with current regulations.

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