New Zealand Food Safety has published a food safety guide for directors, executives and business owners.

The guide contains information on the importance of food governance, responsibilities and roles in assuring food safety performance, and tools to monitor and verify system operations. It says effective food safety practices can lead to a competitive advantage.

“Food safety failures can be costly in terms of direct costs, such as lost production time and product recalls, but other costs such as loss of business focus, reputation and consumer trust can weigh more heavily. Collectively, they can lead to company failure,” according to the guide.

Penalties under the country’s Animal Products Act and Food Act can be up to NZ$500,000 ($333,000 U.S.) for a company and NZ$100,000 ($66,700 U.S.) and five years of imprisonment for individuals.

Evolving international market requirements, improving analytical technology and testing sensitivities, and recognition of new hazards are affecting food safety risk profiles. As are new production technologies, lengthening supply chains, multiplicity of ingredients and suppliers, growing potential for malicious behavior, and incidents attracting international attention via social media.

Paul Dansted, New Zealand Food Safety’s director of food regulation, said the guide is designed to assist people to understand food safety responsibilities and improve food safety culture in their businesses.

“Having a strong food safety culture is vital. Most food business owners, managers, and staff have an inherent sense of pride in what they are doing and are motivated to build and maintain a good reputation for their business,” he said.

“However, more businesses need to adopt specific food safety goals, key performance indicators, and formal rewards systems for staff who identify food safety problems. We also recommend that businesses develop a more inclusive and shared sense of responsibility for food safety across the whole organization supply chain.”

A report on food safety in New Zealand’s dairy industry from December 2015 identified two areas of focus – developing food safety capability and capacity and building food safety culture.

“Having the right culture and training means that directors and management can have confidence that the right decisions will be made at all times, in all aspects of company operations, essential in a 24/7 operational environment,” according to the guide.

Risk assessment, mitigation and management including validation and verification are needed for risk-based plans. In 2016 there were 25 food recalls in New Zealand, with undeclared allergens and microbiological contamination being the leading causes, according to the guide.

Biological hazards cited include microbiological contamination from pathogenic bacteria such as Salmonella, fungi or naturally occurring toxins like marine biotoxins and parasites. Chemical hazards include food allergens, chemical contaminants, and undeclared food additives or introduced contaminants such as agricultural residues. Physical hazards are foreign matter such as glass or metal.

The guide was developed with the Institute of Directors, which helps directors and boards to understand their role in food safety governance. It can be found here. President of the group, Liz Coutts, said a thriving food industry underpins New Zealand’s economy.

“Food safety is critical to trust and confidence in our products and services. Boards and directors have a key role in driving excellence in food safety governance to ensure the long term sustainability of their organizations and industries,” she said. “I encourage directors to make sure food safety is on the board agenda and to use this guide to help ensure we raise food safety standards in New Zealand.”

(To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)