Social Responsibility’s Influence over Food Safety and Quality
By Wendy White, M.Sc.
The concept of social responsibility has saturated social media over the last few years and crept into the organizational pillars of many corporations. In its infancy, green/responsibility initiatives were often placed with the quality leaders, although today, many large companies have separate corporate social responsibility (CSR) departments. CSR encompass a variety of facets: environmental conservation, community outreach/volunteerism, sustainable sourcing/animal welfare, good labor practices, etc.
There are several examples of common social pursuits directly influencing food safety and quality objectives.
Food Insecurity vs. Expiration Dates
One of the most pressing problems facing our country continues to be hunger. Golden State Foods’ Director of Corporate Social Responsibility Anna Lisa Lukes shed some light on the true extent of this problem: “Hunger is a rampant and real problem for so many Americans that finding a solution to avoid food waste while at the same time feed children and families who would otherwise turn to food banks should be an (ambitious) aspiration for those who are in a position to make a difference.” Forty-six million people are food insecure in the United States, and nearly a fourth of those are children.
Feeding America, a nonprofit focused on aiding this crisis, is actively partnering with major food companies, such as Walmart, Cargill, Starbucks and many more, to provide aid. How can there be such a devastating problem in a country with so many agricultural resources? A large contributor is the enormous amount of edible food that is discarded every day. This amount has increased in recent decades, and by the year 2000, 40 percent of this nation’s food found its way into a landfill.
A major culprit is expiration dates. These ubiquitous dates come in a variety of flavors: Expiration, Use Through, Sell By, Use By, etc. The public has been trained to faithfully abide by these dates, regularly culling their pantries and fridges of out-of-date products.
Two proposed pieces of legislation, The Food Recovery Act and The Food Date Labeling Act, are offering possible solutions by reducing consumer confusion, simplifying regulatory compliance for companies, and cutting supply-chain and consumer waste. Now that the problem has gained strong attention, the industry can start making changes to stem the flow of edible product in this country’s landfills.
Animal Welfare’s Contribution to Quality
Animal Welfare programs became widely adopted after the Humane Slaughter Act of August 27, 1958 was passed into law. This set the stage for appropriate treatment of agricultural animals in the United States. As these practices have evolved over the decades, researchers have drawn conclusive links between good Animal Welfare practices and a decrease in many negative quality defects in meat.
Common meat defects such as: pale, soft, exudative (PSE), dark firm dry (DFD) and dark cutters are caused by either depleted glycogen levels or increased lactic acid in muscular tissues. Other defects are bruises, blood clots and blood splash, which are primarily cause by injury prior to processing. Studies have shown a marked decrease in all of these negative meat attributes in animals handled with humane practices.
Water Conservation Decreasing Facility Microflora
Facilities that begin a sustainability program often start with water conservation. It’s amazing how many little drips and leaks are collectively found around a large manufacturing plant, especially one that utilizes water in their process. A huge focus of most water conservation efforts is reducing water usage during traditional clean-up operations.
Using less water is good for the environment and translates to a real cost savings over time—a real “win-win” situation. There’s actually a third “win” in this scenario. Sanitation expert Jeffrey Kornacki, Ph.D., has long maintained that utilizing less water during sanitation can actually improve the microflora of an establishment by eliminating wet niches that are ideal for biofilm development. Nothing strikes fear in the heart of a quality assurance manager quicker than those two little letters “LM.” Listeria monocytogenes biofilms are often found in manufacturing environments that host wet conditions. At a recent industry meeting, Dr. Kornacki outlined alternate methods such as: vacuum backpacks, dry steam cleaning, soda blasting and utilizing dry ice as an alternative or in conjunction with traditional wet sanitation. All these methods contribute to water conservation efforts, reduce moisture in the plan, and can aid in reduction of biofilm development.
Corporate social responsibility initiatives are by no means solely found in the food industry, but they seem to have a direct influence over many facets of food safety and quality. Many of these coincide in a collaborative effort yielding positive results, but there are potential conflicts and pitfalls to be considered in others.
Wendy White, M.Sc., is the director of corporate food safety and quality at Golden State Foods, a premier foodservice manufacturing and distribution company. The company’s business units include liquid products (sauces/dressings), dairy, beef and produce facilities across the globe. Her role encompasses food safety, regulatory compliance, risk mitigation, customer relationships, brand protection and supply chain management. She can be reached at email@example.com.
2. Hall, KD, J Guo, M Dore, CC Chow. 2009. “The Progressive Increase of Food Waste in America and Its Environmental Impact.,” PLoS ONE 4(11):e7940.