With today’s global food supply chains, foodborne illnesses can travel faster than ever, causing widespread damage for both consumers and suppliers. Businesses should never overlook their food manufacturing equipment.
The consequences of contaminated food can be severe. It can lead to disease, hospitalization, and even death, resulting in litigation and damage to a business’s reputation and bottom line. According to the CDC, foodborne illnesses cost the United States more than $15.5 billion every year.
The damage to a business as a result of food contamination can be catastrophic for processors, suppliers, retailers, and other food-related companies.
Costs of food contamination
Contaminated food costs businesses money. Not only does the company incur the cost of destroying and disposing of the foods, but they must also consider the lost value of the discarded product from withdrawing it from the market. Food-recalls are time-consuming, expensive, and can lead to additional claims from consumers.
Despite best efforts, any business that manufactures, sells, or serves food may be the target of a food-contamination claim. The impact of claims can be significant, affecting companies at any level of the food supply chain, from farmers to restaurants, grocery stores to food processors, and manufacturers to retailers.
Don’t forget the damage to a company’s reputation. Consumers don’t want products they believe will make them ill. Food-related businesses need to take proactive steps to prevent any of the above from happening.
Well-known cases of food contamination claims
In 2019, Taco Bell recalled 2.3 million pounds of seasoned beef from restaurants in 21 states across the Midwest, northern Southeast, and Northeast regions amid concerns that the beef was contaminated with metal shavings. While there were no confirmed reports of adverse reactions to the tainted meat, the cost to the restaurant was high.
In 2016, ConAgra Grocery Products, LLC, pleaded guilty to a criminal misdemeanor charge for selling peanut butter linked to salmonella poisoning in 2006 and 2007. The outbreak was traced to label peanut butter produced and shipped from a plant in Georgia that caused more than 700 cases of salmonella.
Concerns over food contamination have resulted in federal legislation and world-wide regulations. Today, the dominant standards are those set by the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI), which are enforced through audits of business in the food industry.
Don’t overlook food manufacturing equipment
Contamination from equipment is one of the most common yet unrecognized forms of cross-contamination. Raw, undercooked food or improperly washed food can harbor vast amounts of bacteria that can harm a person’s health if consumed. Harmful bacteria will continue to populate anytime contaminated foods are added to non-contaminated foods.
Primary sources of food contamination include processing equipment, tools, and operators. Bacteria can survive for long periods on food manufacturing and processing equipment.
For business owners and operators, food processing equipment must be cleaned and maintained regularly. Food-related businesses should evaluate their equipment, and food products supplier equipment.
Train employees on how to prevent food contamination
Employees who process food should wear clean garments that are appropriate for their activities. Gloves need to be impermeable and clean and sanitary during use. Hair needs to be covered, and employees must properly wash their hands before commencing work and after using the restroom.
Education is a crucial component in preventing foodborne illness. Employees should be trained in appropriate procedures to avoid food contamination, including proper food handling techniques and food allergies. They must understand the consequences that can occur due to cross-contamination or mislabeling of food.
Fill in potential gaps in coverage
Claims of foodborne illnesses are some of the most significant financial risks to businesses that operate in the food industry. Proper insurance can help manage these risks and protect companies against food contamination claims.
Those who work in the food industry should pay close attention to avoid having a claim not covered by a general commercial liability insurance policy. To protect themselves, business owners should consider excess insurance policies to fill in potential gaps in coverage.
Investing in an umbrella insurance policy is a wise business practice. It further protects corporate assets and meets federal, state, and local regulatory requirements.