Managing Food Safety in the Supply Chain

The shortest food supply chain occurs when you pick fruit or vegetables from a tree or plant in your own back yard. For millions of people, the supply chain is much longer than that. Many eat food daily that started life halfway around the world.

Globalization feeds our exotic dietary preferences but we have food safety standards and practices to thank for keeping us healthy. We’re going to examine some aspects of food safety and how they relate to the supply chain.

Food Safety Standards

With any supply chain, it’s hard to know where to begin. Do you begin with the type of seeds planted in the field? Or does the supply chain start at harvest time at the site of a primary producer?

Even seeds have to meet phytosanitary standards. There’s a host of other standards on the long journey from the farm to the food on your plate.

The Global Food Safety Resource provides information on best practices for compliance with food safety standards. The standards are either product-specific (the food) or line-specific (the processes, including logistics).

The standards that apply to food products will differ from product to product. The baseline standards for all products are hygiene and preventing food contamination.

Food of all types is perishable to one degree or another. So, standards on transport and storage temperature, as well as humidity in the case of dry goods, will apply. Choosing a food safety standard (and very often, more than one) also depends on the markets you serve.

The Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) addresses the issue of differences in standards from one country and one region to another. This helps manufacturers get their products market-ready. It also introduces efficiencies to the audit process necessary for certification or certification renewal.

Many companies benchmark the standards they use against the GFSI guidance document. This document identifies which standards are widely accepted to meet global trade requirements.

Maintaining your international standards compliance even in times of reduced export activity will stand your company in good stead when normal trade resumes. Adopting a “for the time being” approach is a good management strategy here.

Logistics means getting the food to the market in good condition. Managing your supply chain means managing your suppliers and the people you distribute to. In the case of food, speed, and documented quality controls, is of the essence.

Identifying markets closer to home could shorten your supply chain. It’s one strategy to consider in response to tough economic times. Responding to the changed demographic of demand for your products could streamline your process in a positive way.

Smarter Food Safety

Technology has a part to play in food safety. And that goes beyond better refrigeration and temperature control. Traceability has become an important part of food logistics. Some of you might recall the horsemeat in the lasagna story that emerged from the UK in 2013.

The meat had come from France. The objection was not about the horsemeat. It was a question of whether the meat contained the veterinary drug phenylbutazone which is harmful to humans. A French company had made the lasagne for a UK food label, and the case exposed a lack of control in that part of the supply chain.

Talking of food labels, the one on the ready-to-microwave lasagne said it contained 100% beef. Testing proved that this was not the case. Part of the recalled product contained between 60% and 100% horsemeat.

If food is contaminated—harmful to humans—it has to be withdrawn from the market. This is true not only in cases of criminal activity, such as the horsemeat case but also when unintentional errors or contamination. This is where traceability becomes crucial.

Traceability and accountability along the entire length of the supply chain have received increased scrutiny since March 2020 when it became clear that the world was in the throes of the COVID-19 pandemic. A leading firm of accountants suggests that companies that adopt contingency plans are likely to fare better.

Assessing Supply Chain Risks

In mitigating the long-term impact on food and beverage companies, Deloitte has a few suggestions. They say that company executives should be examining ways to safeguard their human capital. This makes sense since you will have invested in training your employees in every aspect of food safety that affects your business, and you need to hang on to those skilled workers.

The analysts go on to say that the best way to manage working capital is tied up with another strategy. That of assessing the weak points in your supply chain and taking action to correct these with speed. This is not only smart, but it might also be a question of survival in the current operating conditions.

One way to mitigate supply chain disruption is to establish alternative routes to market. Add to that concerted action in working with key customers and suppliers to ensure you meet basic demand and you maintain those relationships.

Finding workable alternatives when the market is under stress means ensuring any new partner is a good fit with your existing food safety systems and standards compliance so that change is minimal, yet you maintain a steady supply.


The food and beverage industry, like any other, needs insurance specific to their area of activity. The handling of food, whether in transport and warehousing—or, closer to home, in restaurants and takeaway outlets—gives rise to countless worker compensation claims each year. The wise thing to do is to take out adequate insurance cover for these eventualities.

This is especially true in an environment where disruptions in your supply chain are more likely than ever. Consider raw material suppliers in COVID-19 lockdown, manufacturing shutdowns, transport restrictions, and lower demand with the closure of restaurants and food outlets.

Big Business

Food is big business, as Amazon’s backing of Deliveroo’s IPO in 2019 proves. It is no surprise that Deliveroo has a page on their site dedicated to their food hygiene rating policy.

What is surprising is their trajectory of buoyant expansion, with another IPO planned for 2021. It makes their model a good case study.

Wherever you are in the food safety supply chain, the key to success is thoroughness and compliance. You also need to ensure that your audit system for your food safety standards is efficient and transparent. Consumers—the people that eat your food—want to see those certificates and seals of approval.

Check out other articles on our site dealing with business issues here and around the world.