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Monitoring systems and optimizing the use of energy and water to maintain food safety systems are also huge considerations for food safety professionals, and collaborations with sustainability and facility management teams should be considered to optimize these results

In March 2022 the GFSI conference topic was “Delivering Impact for Safe Sustainable Food”. Sustainability in I loved this theme and it brought to my attention the overlapping between Food Safety and Sustainability. Previous to that, in 2015,  the United Nations adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. “Member States pledged their commitment to 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and 169 targets intended to ensure that all human beings can fulfill their potential in dignity and equality and in a healthy environment”.

 

This is a very important topic for mankind and we all must find a way to contribute. In our personal life there is so many we can do towards a more sustainable world but we should also look for ways to contribute in our professional life. How can we, food safety professionals, contribute to sustainability in our daily work? To help me reply to this question I joined Lisa Spick, Director of Sustainability Consulting at NSF, to chat round this topic. I bring you below a resume of our talk.

 

What is the relationship between Food Safety and Sustainability?

 

Food Safety and Sustainability have a variety of strong connections.

 

Before going discussing more, let’s level-set on what “sustainability” means in broad terms. Sustainability is also referred to as ESG: Environment, Social and Governance. If a company is working to be more sustainable, they must focus on improving their environmental (E) and social (S) practices, as well as how they govern (G) themselves to ensure an ethical, scaled and accountable approach to actions across the whole company. Governance includes items like the development and integration of policies, management practices and goals for the company that operationalize and perpetuate positive social and environmental activities across the company.

 

Both Environmental and Social factors have a strong connection with food safety. When you talk about social factors and sustainability, your workers are important, the community around your organization is important and so are your consumers. If you’re not paying attention to food safety then you’re disenfranchising your consumers and their health.

 

From the triple bottom-line perspective of sustainability: People, Planet and Profit – profitability is hugely affected if you’re constantly delivering unsafe products to the consumers. That is a strong connection there.

 

Another connection to the environmental aspect is that if poor food safety practices lead to food spoilage. Food spoilage means you’re going to be throwing away products that could otherwise have been sold to the consumer. This in essence doubles the greenhouse gas emissions associated with food production—because the emissions associated with its production are “wasted,” and the inefficiency of sending them to landfill also create more emissions than if they were consumed, or at least composted.

 

September 12th starts the FFSC & ISO 22000 BluePrint Free Mini-Course. After the 5 sessions, you will have a clear idea on how these Food Safety Management Systems work, what are the main requirements, how they interconnect and why so many organizations use them to support and structure their food safety efforts. Register for free here ->

When food safety professionals do their job correctly are they already contributing to sustainability?

 

Yes, in the sense that they are looking out for consumers’ health. That is a given. However, when we talk about sustainability, food safety practices tie into a variety of traditional sustainability and operational management focus areas, including climate and resources efficiency. Reducing food waste through food safety protocols (temperature control, reduction of microorganisms, etc.) mitigates climate impacts by reducing the emissions associated with food’s life cycle. Monitoring systems and optimizing the use of energy and water to maintain food safety systems are also huge considerations for food safety professionals, and collaborations with sustainability and facility management teams should be considered to optimize these results. Opportunities include efficient cleaning and monitoring programs, use of renewable energy, and more.

 

 

I would also like to know your opinion on the balance between food safety and sustainability.  What is your advice to achieve this balance?

 

This is a great question! You’re 100% correct that companies can make changes in food safety procedures to try and improve our impacts on climate or resource utilization. In fact, larger companies all over the world are becoming sensitized to water scarcity and climate emissions, and how to reduce water (resource impacts) or energy (climate impacts) use while maintaining high levels of food safety.

 

 

Some companies have taken things too far too fast—and the result is of course impact on food safety and quality. This does NOT mean it’s a “bad” thing to try and improve our impacts on the earth. What it does mean is that companies should focus on integrating a measured analysis of sustainability considerations in the design phase of their many different functional areas.

 

This plays out differently for every company, but for now suffice to say that changes in packaging, cleaning procedures, or food production equipment should all consider, at a minimum, water, food waste, and energy use. Any changes – especially in cleaning procedures—should be piloted and monitored adequately to ensure no surprises down the road occur with food safety.

September 12th starts the FFSC & ISO 22000 BluePrint Free Mini-Course. After the 5 sessions, you will have a clear idea on how these Food Safety Management Systems work, what are the main requirements, how they interconnect and why so many organizations use them to support and structure their food safety efforts. Register for free here ->

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This article was written by:

Nuno F. Soares

Contributing Editor: Jocelyn C. Lee, Food Safety Consultant

Disclaimer: The information contained on this article is based on research done in the last months and the authors personal experience and opinion. It is not intended to represent the view of any organization they work for or collaborate with. The authors will not be held liable for the use or misuse of the information provided in the article.

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