Food Industry — We Have A Problem

The American Society for Quality (ASQ) conducted a survey on Food Safety (ASQ, 2009) revealing 93 percent of adults say food manufacturers, growers or suppliers should be held legally responsible when individuals are fatally sickened by tainted food. Other findings included: 

  • 61 percent of U.S. adults feel the U.S. food recall process is only fair or poor.
  • 73 percent of adults say they are equally as concerned about food safety as the war on terror.
  • 82 percent of adults believe that the food industry should be required to follow international standards on food safety.

Recent headlines (Associated Press, 2009) indicate that the attitude has not changed. The Associated Press reported a story with the following headlines:  “Salmonella victims are angry over no prosecutions – Contaminated peanuts were linked to hundreds of illnesses and nine deaths.”

Figure 1Recalls of FDA regulated food products

Source: Cheney, 2007

There is good news about the safety of food.  A brief look at the facts indicates that there has been a decline in the number of recalls from 2002 to 2006 (Figure 1). In 2008, the FDA reported that there were a total of 311 food recall events (FDA, 2009a). In 2009, the Peanut Corporation of America was a unique recall incident in that one recall event lead to the recall of over 1000 companies recalling over 3900 products (FDA 2009b). 

So the question becomes: How does the food processing industry regain the confidence of the consumer with respect to the U.S. food supply? To do this we need to go beyond the positive press releases. The industry needs to focus on meaningful results that will lead to reducing the incidence of high profile Class I recalls.

Figure 2: Causes of FDA Class I and II recalls from 1999 to 2003

Source: Surak, 2009

The FDA conducted a survey of the causes of Class I and II recalls (Figure 2). A review of the data indicates that the primary causes of recalls are failure in GMP and human error. 

Several best practices that can bring large gains to food safety include:

  • Companies need to look at increasing the effectiveness of HACCP systems. This can be done by implementing a food safety management system.
  • Companies need to practice the basics of food safety every day.
  • Companies need to building food safety into the product design and manufacturing process
  • Companies need to use process control techniques to monitor performance of internal processing systems and supplier performance.

HACCP has evolved over the last 50 years. It started as just three principles. By 1987, HACCP consisted of five preliminary steps and seven principles (or 12 steps of Codex HACCP) that are supported by prerequisite programs. Since the late 1990s, food safety scientists identified the need to develop a formal food safety management system that used the concepts of Codex HACCP and ISO 9001. One of the standards that evolved from this development process is ISO 22000.  

ISO 22000 focuses on the critical elements needed to build a food safety management system. The FSMS is built on the 12 steps of Codex HACCP. The prerequisite programs that support operations must be constantly verified for effectiveness. In addition, there is a there is a need to analyze the results of the verification activities. The company must trends that can lead to the production of potentially unsafe foods. When done properly, this allows the company to take actions to improve process prior to the production of unsafe food.        

The most important goal of ISO 22000 is to strengthen the management of food safety. This is done through a number of elements. The company must develop a food safety policy and food safety objectives. The food safety objectives must be measurable and linked to business objectives. 

Next, food safety communications is required for the success of the FSMS. These communications include both external and internal communications. The internal communications are more than speeches and signs. A critical part of the communications includes the day to day actions management must take to support food safety, or in-short, management’s actions must constantly support the food safety policy and food safety objectives. 

The concept of training is important to the success of the food safety management system.  However, the Standard stresses that all personnel that can impact food safety must have the necessary competencies. Thus, training and refresher training efforts must lead to personnel competencies. 

Food processors need to identify sources for training. This can be done either internally or externally.  Professional organizations such as ASQ ( offer a number of courses on ISO 22000 to help food processors implement and audit food safety management system.


Food processors can not be complacent with regard to food safety.  Recent high profile food recalls, have reduced consumer confidence in the U.S. food supply. Confidence can be regained by demonstrating with actions, that the U.S. has the safest food supply in the world. This can be done by ensuring the basics are practiced 24/7, and by upgrading the HACCP system to a food safety management system. 


John G. Surak, PhD, is an internationally recognized expert in the areas of food safety and quality. He is the head of the U.S. delegation to the ISO working group that is responsible for revising ISO 22000. In addition, he teaches several ISO 22000 short courses for ASQ, serves on the ASQ Standards Committee and the ASQ Food Drug and Cosmetic Board. He can be reached at

Associated Press, 2009, Salmonella victims are angry over no prosecutions – Contaminated peanuts were linked to hundreds of illnesses and nine deaths last accessed Nov 29, 2009.

ASQ, 2009, Food Safety: Majority of Americans Feel Industry Doesn’t Do Enough last accessed Nov 29, 2009.

FDA, 2009a.  Chapter 10 – Enforcement statistics, 
Last accessed Nov 29, 2009

FDA, 2009b, Search recall products, last accessed Nov 29, 2009

Surak, J.G., Gombus, K.L. 2009. GFSI's Role in Harmonizing Food Safety Standards, Food Safety Magazine 15 15: (3) 36 
Cheney, S. M, 2007 Food recalls and the FDA

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