Horse meat scandal: what is the impact on your food business?

The on-going Food Adulteration Scandal (aka the horse meat scandal) in Europe has already tarnished the image of quite a few big supermarkets;

from Tesco to Iceland and from ASDA to Ikea, everybody seems to have found their reputations tarnished. At a time when it is being argued how measures could have been implemented to prevent it from happening; the issue seems to be driven mostly by public ire.

Under UK law food which is ‘not of the nature or substance or quality demanded’ by consumers is unlawful to sell. In this case items such as ready meals labelled as “beef” but which contained horse meat do indeed seem to run foul of the law. However these breaches of the law involve protecting consumers from being mislead or duped into buying something sub-standard rather than protecting them from physical harm.

In terms of food safety standards the likely impact of the scandal in terms of public safety appears to be minimal. This is because the risk of ill health, for example food poisoning, posed by consuming cooked horse meat is similar to that of other cooked meats such as beef. So as long as those who cooked or prepared the food acted correctly in terms of avoiding cross contamination or undercooked meat, then the probability of harm remains low. Anybody who has attended a food safety course will be aware of the steps to take. Indeed the scandal has not resulted in any reported cases of illness.

If you run a food business, keeping your customers safe is of course important and you’ll also want to make sure you comply with the Food Safety Act 1990 as well as other related food laws.

However you’ll know that keeping people safe is only part of running a business. You also have to consider the reputation of your business. The food adulteration scandal has caused serious offence and harmed the reputations of multi-national businesses with the following:

– Burgers and lasagne sold in Britain as “beef” in fact contained horse meat, an item not normally eaten in this country.
– Pies and sausages labelled as “halal” contained pork, which is expressly forbidden in halal food.
– Meatballs labelled as beef contained pork, regarded as a cheaper and lower quality product.

Food Standards Agency (FSA) had demanded from all food businesses to conduct authenticity tests for a ‘significant’ presence of horse meat in all beef products.

If you are afraid that you might be dragged in this controversy too, you should consider the following:

– Keep track of all your supply contracts and specifics of all products supplied to you. Also contact your suppliers about the measures they have implemented.
– Keep a detailed record of all the measures you have implemented to look after the situation and the costs incurred. Ensure that you have proper documentation of any products that have been disposed of, don’t just put them in the bin and forget about it.
– Check your insurance policy to see if it covers such a mishap. You will need the documentation to file a claim.
– Take stock of your business’ reputation as a result of the crisis and don’t shy away from hiring a professional PR agency if needed.
– Ensure a proper system is in place to monitor the situation and there is a named liaison person for conducting the affairs and dealing with possible media enquiries.
– Keep up to date on changes in food safety legislation, although current laws appear to have been broken, expect new laws and stricter enforcement soon.
– Ensure all your staff are trained and have at least basic food safety certification.

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