I recently had the pleasure of attending the 2016 Winter Fancy Food Show in beautiful San Francisco. I was amazed by the passion of the artesian craftsmen peddling all sorts of delectable goodness! It was like being in a Willy Wonka movie with over 100 chocolate companies - all offering samples. But there was so much more than chocolate at this show! There were endless aisles of cheese, olives, deli meats, candy, pastas, beverages, dips, oils and every snack food imaginable.
I attended the show to better understand industry perspectives on food safety, and how these typically smaller craftsman food companies ensure their products and manufacturing environments are safe. Most companies I spoke with expressed full confidence in the Certificates of Analysis (CoA) that they obtain from their raw ingredient suppliers. Many quoted their ISO certifications and reiterated how delicious and healthy their organic food was. There was a lot of pride in how sustainable, organic, natural, non-GMO, gluten-free and how the food was sourced directly from farmers across the world.
Growing Supply Chain Dynamic
Since many of the ingredients in today’s diverse foods are globally sourced, it is becoming increasingly challenging to ensure the finished product is safe. The owners of these companies are committed to protecting their brands, but they often need more information as to how. Some examples include a chocolate company who sources cacao beans from the rain forests in Ecuador and had worked 5 years achieving the highest level of organic certification available. They used a system called “biodynamic harvesting” to ensure an auto-regenerative “ecological balance between animals, soil, plants and humans.” Another example, is the highly coveted saffron spice from Afghanistan, where it is still hand harvested with tweezers by Afghan farmers. Saffron is extremely expensive because it takes nearly 150,000 blossoms to obtain 1 kg of saffron. Each blossom produces only 3 stigmas (part of the female reproductive organs of a flower) which become the saffron spice. This spice company reinvests profits from global distribution of rare saffron “to build agricultural and manufacturing infrastructure necessary to lay a foundation for peace and prosperity.” Nearly every company I spoke with shared a compelling story about their origins or how they make good food, while doing “good.”
Certificates of Analysis
Many of the companies I spoke with at the Winter Fancy Foods Show felt confident that their foods were safe because they were produced using organic methods and they had obtained CoAs from their raw material suppliers. But, being certified organic may not necessarily indicate anything about the presence or absence of pathogens. While all companies discussed their products and their manufacturing processes passionately, some were unfamiliar with the methods or procedures that led to their CoA’s. This is a potential risk, especially when using ingredients like spices, whey powders and chocolate which are difficult commodities to test for pathogens with many of the older pathogen detection methods. The incorporation of innovative molecular technologies in food laboratories is rapidly improving the ability to detect low levels of pathogens with accuracy. Food manufacturers need to know that they can specify to their suppliers which testing method to use.
It was very encouraging to hear that many companies were truly committed to protecting their customers and brand. Hungry health conscious consumers are buying record amounts of organic foods, and while it may be hard to keep up with demand, we must not forget to ensure the food is safe. With a more complex global supply chain and more diverse products than ever before, there is simply a need for better methods and education so that consumers and manufacturers alike understand how to better ensure safety of their products.
A webinar entitled “Behind the COA” by Maureen Harte is available on demand through this link. This 30 min webinar explores what these differences in methods are and if there is risk currently hiding in your Certificate of Analysis.
Click here below to download our presentation today