The OFPA Board of Directors met on the 15th Dec for the final meeting of 2015. The board has undergone a roller coaster ride in 2015 but has come through stronger for the experience. From left to right; Greg Vallee (outgoing), Keith Warriner (outgoing), Tatiana Koutchma (Website and social media), Shirley Chalouh (Membership), Martha Palomar (Awards), Lynne Fruhner (ougoing), Azadeh Namvar (Executive), Angela Bernoski (scholarship), Katherine Di Tommaso (Vice-President), Andrew Sweet (Membership) and Moustapha Oke (President). Wishing all out members a Happy Holiday and look forward to a productive 2016.
Dr Keith Warriner of the University of Guelph conducted 16 interviews with 16 regional CBC radio stations across Canada on Monday 31st Aug. He was asked to comment on recent research from UCDavis highlighting the low efficacy of post-harvest washing to reduce contamination on spinach Washing Spinach
Although the findings of the research simply what has been known for 20 years the news story provided an oppertunity to inform consumers what steps are being taken at primary production to ensure food safety of leafy greens and also what they can do in the home to avoid foodborne illness.
Food Fraud and Organics | I received a call from a CBC producer on Thursday afternoon to see if I was willing/interested in being interviewed on a story relating to of a whistleblower spilling the beans on a company passing conventional chicken being passed as organic. The interviews were going to be on syndicate radio that essentially means speaking on local radio stations across Canada (truly from PEI to Regina). I was thinking how to approach the story as it could be sour grapes from the whistleblower who afterall had been dismissed from her position 2-3 months after the attempted organic fraud. One could argue that if she was outraged by the mislabeling she would have gone directly to the resident CFIA inspector. However, it was more likely that she knew going against the management would not prove a good career choice. Still the act of blocking the shipment of the conventional/organic combo reportedly the reason the management did dismiss her a few months later. Ironically the dismissed worker probably saved the company given that if the mislabeled product had been distributed the owner would have been faced with a $5m fine along with possible criminal prosecution (if the Safe Foods for Canadian Act was followed). In any event, one can predict the company will compensate the ex-employee and the truth will remain with the worker and company.
Aside from the issue if whistleblower protection, the story did bring up the issue relating to how easy it can be to pass conventional foods off for organic. The financial benefits are obvious given the premium price paid for organic foods. After a little research there were some alarming stories of conventional eggs being passed for organic and the story of a BC bakery using normal flour to bake organic bread. The incidence were not small and involved millions of dollars. So one would suspect that fraud on this scale would have been passed as criminal fraud and prosecution. In the end those involved had their organic certification suspended but then reinstated. A similar case in the US resulted in the owner being fined $500, 000 with two years behind bars. So we can take this as a case that food fraud in Canada is a relatively low risk activity. Yet, it would be wrong to suggest that organic farmers within Canada are out to dupe the public. I would say 99.9% of organic farmers are totally dedicated to delivering on their promise to follow the regulations to the letter. However, one would question how much fraud goes on at the processing level and even at retail it is so easy to put conventional produce in the organic section – A tomato is a tomato after all. The extent, or even if this occurs is open to speculation but opens up the further question of food fraud. We do know that food fraud is rampant in the seafood sector with over 30% being mislabeled. Does this matter given that if the consumer dosent notice then no harm done. Similar to organic, if the consumer thinks its organic then all is well given there is no added food safety risk or difference in nutrition content compared to conventional. The obvious answer is yes that it does matter given that the consumer pays the premium for organic foods. My comment in the interview was more along the lines let people enjoy organics if it makes them happy. I still standby this view given the lack of actual nutritional benefits derived from organics. In terms of the economics, we can look at a diverse range of commodities with outrageous markups- water and cheese being two.
After one interview the radio presenter mentioned that the comments made would stirrup a hornet’s nest of trouble. Interestingly, the comments returned did not focus on the nutrition or safety of organics over conventional but aspects of environmental sustainability and animal welfare. However, even here organic production comes under the spotlight. Pesticides (non-synthetic) can be used in organic production and typically require a higher concentration with more applications. One comment suggested that the natural pesticides have no side effects and are selective for the bad bugs – how wrong could they be. In animal welfare, I read that an organic chicken farm in the US provides a small skylight on the side of the housing so a few rays of sunlight can enter. This is all what is needed to constitute access to the outside under the organic standards. I could go on about how open to infection animals are in the absence of antibiotics but that is another story. In the end the interviews were complete and sure the story will sail into the background. Still the big issues of whistleblower protection and food fraud will need to be addressed sooner than later.
In this edition of Spotlight, we spoke to Tina Brillinger, President & CEO of Global Food Safety Resource.
What type of service or supplies does your company provide to the food industry? Tina replied that Global Food Safety Resource provides an online information hub of trusted solutions and expertise in order to meet the needs of todays busy food professionals who increasing are looking for resources and solutions to meet the new requirements compliance that’s being demanded by governments and private businesses alike.
How long has GFSR been a member of the OFPA? Tina told us that the company had been a member since 2011. Tina responded to the question about the benefits of being a Sustaining Corporate Member (personally and for the company) by saying that being a member of the OFPA helps them stay informed on important changes taking place in the industry while providing the company with an opportunity to grow awareness of their resources to food businesses operating in Ontario who could benefit. She further mentioned that the Annual Meetings provided a great opportunity for her to network with others who have a similar interest and with vendors who provide solutions about their latest products and services.
Can you give us any insight into the future direction of the food industry? She responded by saying that, with the new requirements for compliance and certification standards by governments and private business, it was critical that food businesses become proactive to ensure the safety of their supply chains and consumers. Taking a proactive approach to food safety can ensure all suppliers have systems and protocols in place to mitigate any risk of food contamination that could be cause for a recall event to ensure their product label and brands are protected assets. Tina further stated that food businesses can no longer afford to operate in a way that was acceptable for the 20th century and be caught off guard by a supplier whose systems have fallen through the cracks. Businesses who wish to grow and prosper in the 21st century must consider automating their processes to better manage their documents for easy retrieval in the event of an unexpected inspection or recall event. No one business can assume all their suppliers are meeting the certain minimum requirements for compliance, it was their responsibility to ensure that the standards and systems of all their suppliers are actively monitored for compliance.
Is there anything else you would like the readership of the OFPA to know about your company, your commitment to food safety, or as a sustaining corporate member? Tina stated that since it’s launched in 2010, Global Food Safety Resource (GFSR) had enabled food professionals and business owners to tap into valuable resources on everything from traceability and supply chain management to certification standards, food science and software technology to automate processes for compliance. She said that working with a team of writers and subject matter experts in the area of food safety, GFSR publishes easy-to-read articles with an editorial format that is both pragmatic and digestible to ensure food safety professionals can gain a greater sense of clarity and practical insight on issues and topics that are of interest to them. To meet the growing needs of stakeholders operating in global markets, GFSR has recently made its content available for translation in 60 languages with content supported through a mobile platform for easy access by smartphone and tablets. With it’s recent restructuring site visitors can navigate the site much easier to find relevant resources with its new category groupings like industry standards and regulatory compliance or simply the section titled ‘resources’ where they can access everything from food safety news updates to whitepapers and blogs or Webinars and Video to stay current and up-to-date with what’s happening in the industry.
She finished by saying that in the past year, GFSR has quadrupled the number of visits to its site which offers a Complimentary Free Membership where Members can choose the kinds of information they wish to receive that can help them stay informed and increase their knowledge, including their popular eNewsletter, eye on Food SafetyTM, featuring articles, whitepapers and a Calendar of Events. Her final thought was that many food professionals like social media so they can stay attuned to what’s happening in the industry in ‘real time’.
Food professionals can join GFSR’s active discussions through its LinkedIn group or Twitter Feed @GFSRCentre. To access the wide range of resources that’s available online visit them at www.globalfoodsafetyresource.com