The Global Harmonization Initiative (GHI) has launched a place for whistleblowers to report food safety incidents.

The international non-profit network of scientists said the anonymous platform was for anyone who works in the food and beverage industry and is concerned about the safety of a product or process at a company. It is currently only available in English but other languages are planned.

Sometimes food is produced, by accident or on purpose, that does not meet required safety standards. GHI said this was a serious concern and something the group would like to help prevent.

Food safety issues can be down to careless practices such as not following procedures or not having correct processes in place. Deliberate fraudulent activities include using inferior or banned ingredients to increase profits which poses a risk of causing harm to consumers.

Official national whistleblower schemes exist in some countries but they vary in the level of protection they can provide to people. The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) aims to ensure workers can disclose food safety concerns without fear of retaliation by their employers. Complaints can be filed with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

In 2019, the European Union passed the Whistleblower Protection Directive which businesses with 250 or more workers need to comply with by Dec. 17, 2021.

Scale of problem
Huub Lelieveld, GHI president, said web-based privacy safeguards have been taken to ensure it is anonymous.

“While filling in the online report, the reporter is also frequently reminded not to reveal anything that would make it possible to identify themselves,” he said.

“Across the world, most food industry employees dare not report information about safety concerns externally because of the consequences of their employer finding out who they are. Some employees follow their conscience and the consequence is, that while saving people from harm, they often lose their job and may possibly suffer worse consequences. That is still the fate of many whistleblowers.”

Food safety issues are a threat to public health with the potential to cause harm to consumers. Reporting of food safety incidents is on the rise due mainly to improved surveillance and reporting systems. There is also increased awareness from consumers and by people working in manufacturing, processing, and the supply of foods and drinks.

GHI said reported food safety incidents are only the tip of the iceberg with many unreported issues happening every day in countries worldwide.

All incident reports that GHI receives will be evaluated by a team of food safety experts. For those judged seriously due to the harm they could cause consumers, GHI will inform authorities in the country of interest and ask them to investigate. The facts submitted will be checked to ensure the report is real and not intended to take revenge or as a joke.

The form assumes the whistleblower has reasons for not reporting the food safety incident internally or did do this but no action was taken.

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