While we can all agree on the importance of food safety, few understand that it is a scientific discipline that draws from a wide range of academic fields that including chemistry; microbiology; and engineering. It aims to address all hazards – whether chronic or acute, that may make food injurious to the health of the consumer and lays out a systemic approach to hygiene and lability that covers every facet of the global food industry. Food safety is of such paramount importance that any breach can break a brand or a company. The impact of simply serving awful-tasting food is not even comparable to the fallout of a food safety incident.
In this day and age, where markets are becoming increasingly globalized and the population continues to grow, the food supply chain will only increase in scale and complexity. In view of these megatrends influencing the production and distribution of food, food control, and food safety compliance have never been more salient. And as listed by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), food control encompasses the following main aspects:
- Microbiological hazards
- Pesticide residues
- Misuse of food additives
- Chemical contaminants, including biological toxins
Each of the above hazards is as important and would deserve a mention of its own. For the rest of this article, the focus will be on microbiological hazards. In dealing with microbiological hazards, food manufacturers typically either resort to the use of preservatives, or heat and pressure treatments such as canning; retort; pasteurization, or a combination of both.
Despite being valued for decades for its antimicrobial and anti-fungal properties, controversies revolving about the toxicology of some of the synthetic preservatives continues to beleaguer its use. It comes as no surprise that food regulators across the globe have enforced a usage limit on synthetic ingredients such as potassium sorbate and calcium propionate in food applications. This stymies the use of preservatives to achieve the shelf life targets of food manufacturers. In most countries, food additives such as potassium sorbate have to be declared by giving their function followed by either the specific name or the INS (International Numbering System) number of the substance used – something that recent clean label trends have successfully stigmatized, further spurning potential consumers.
At the heart of clean labeling, is the use of ingredients that appear wholesome and natural, something that synthetic ingredients would not be able to achieve.