There is not a one size fits all solution when it comes to managing chemical hazards, according to PepsiCo.

Alex Mendes, vice president of global food safety and microbiology at PepsiCo, spoke recently about chemical hazards such as heavy metals, allergens, mycotoxins and pesticides and the impacts from immediate to a chronic threat to public health.

“You need to look for the amount, the severity the hazard may provoke, what type of exposure may happen to the individual and the controls throughout your supply chain. What happens if you mis-manage your hazards? I tend to believe you don’t have a second chance so you better get it right the first time,” he said at the 2021 virtual GFSI Conference.

“Hazard is about the potential to cause harm. Risk has other elements, you start with the hazard but you also consider exposure and the vulnerability and it is about the likelihood something will cause harm. In PepsiCo we moved from hazard management to risk management. When we think about risk management it is beyond your company, it includes partnerships with growers and suppliers.”

Look at suppliers and their programs
Chemical hazards have different risk levels, can be local or widely spread in the supply chain and require different mitigation programs. Factors to consider when prioritizing hazard work are regulatory requirements, consumer interest, social media, public perception and regional conditions.

Risk management needs to be connected with business performance, said Mendes.

“Consequences can include a lack of regulatory compliance, increased product costs, consumer distrust and brand erosion. For allergens, we have a lot of complication in terms of formulation, shared lines and errors will happen. There is more incoming of different ingredients and more labeling to be changed. The controls have to start at the supplier and the same on our own manufacturing. If you miss, you have an immediate health problem,” he said.

“There is not a one size program that will solve all your problems, you are going to have to have your mitigation programs. You need to understand the hazard you are trying to control and the risk management activities. In PepsiCo, we start with what do you want to know and why you want to know it and over the years we’ve learned to expect that things will change. In our case we need to know multiple regulations, where it is made and where it is consumed. Get to know your suppliers and their programs in a greater level of detail.”

Don’t carry a problem through supply chain
Mendes also talked about chemical hazards in the digital world.

“We are in the middle of the journey and there is a lot of discovery. It takes time to get all your data organized, define your metrics and then develop your user interface and reporting. You have to know more than your own data, which is already hard,” he said.

“You have to understand how your growers and suppliers are managing their programs. In some cases it is suppliers of suppliers and you want to follow where the hazards start. In the world of chemical hazards, you see a greater focus on prevention because if you already have contamination it is much harder to clean the substrate or potentially very cost prohibitive.

“What we are doing is (reviewing) how to combine this data and try to predict where hazards will appear. The idea here is you don’t carry a problem throughout your supply chain and avoid it in the first place. You also have to help suppliers avoid the chemical load in whatever you are sourcing.

“When you look into the data you also find the gaps and areas that need attention. For example, weather patterns, can you correlate mycotoxins with weather patterns where you are sourcing your crops?  We have a dedicated data modeling team and they are busier than ever. You have to provide a strong business case of modeling the data for your chemical hazard management program.”

An increasing risk of chemical hazards means firms need to know their supply chain, said Mendes.

“Mapping of your hazards and having formal food safety assessment is pivotal for any program and you will then derive internal and external practices and then prevent and check for effectiveness. If we don’t measure we don’t improve so it’s important you define your metrics and highlight that to the top of your corporation. The field of chemical contamination is where companies need to step up, some are and some are learning. From those I speak with in industry, everyone has added chemical contamination at the same level or more than what is done for microbiology,” he said.

WHO: Safe food is not a luxury
In another presentation, Naoko Yamamoto, assistant director-general at the World Health Organization, said food should not be a cause of disease.

Dr. Naoko Yamamoto from the WHO

Yamamoto said figures published in 2015 of 600 million ill every year after eating contaminated food could be higher because of data accuracy, poor surveillance and reporting systems. These estimates will be updated by 2025 and WHO is also working on a food safety strategy.

“There is no such thing as food safety for rich and food safety for poor. People suffering malnutrition are more susceptible to foodborne diseases and other health risks. To address food safety we need data to develop policies and strategies, measure progress and strengthen partnerships. Food safety is a public health priority and a basic human right. Safe food is not a luxury. The public and private sector have different roles and responsibilities but a common goal on food safety,” she said.

“The COVID-19 crisis has highlighted and exposed inequality between and within countries. Millions of people are exposed to hunger, unsafe food, sickness or poverty. Unfortunately our food system puts safe food and healthy diets out of reach of millions. The COVID-19 pandemic has been an exceptional challenge for public health and food systems but it has also been an opportunity to reimagine safer, more resilient and sustainable food systems.”

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