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Food Safety

Why food safety risk matters 

Food safety refers to the practices that are observed during the handling, processing and distribution of food to ensure contaminants that can cause foodborne illnesses are not present.[1] It affects the industry directly and incurs indirect costs to the wider economy and governments. 

For example, the cost of food poisoning in the UK is estimated at £9 billion each year.[2] The cost of recalling a product is estimated at more than USD $10 million, driven by the expense of logistics, transportation, increased labour, and indirect costs associated with lawsuits and a company’s damaged reputation.[3]  

Demand for protein in all its forms is expected to grow significantly as an increasingly affluent global population top nine billion by 2050.[4] The rising demand for animal proteins means food safety concerns associated with human and animal diseases are also likely to intensify.


Regulatory developments in food safety  

The table below outlines major events around food safety since 2018, as well as examples of regulations designed to tackle the risks. It underscores why food safety is rising up the agendas of governments and consumers – and, crucially, protein producers. 

Selected events and regulations related to food safety since 2018  





An outbreak of listeriosis in South Africa leads to the recall of cold-cut meats and causes heavy damage to the country’s pork industry. Producers report a 36% drop in profits and a 75% drop in demand for processed meat products.  Food safety is a key concern in China, given the number of scandals in preceding years. African swine fever (ASF) spreads rapidly in China. 

The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India outlines new packaging regulations to adopt standards around different components across the packaging supply chain.[5] 


The 2019 edition of the Coller FAIRR Protein Producer Index reports 18 food-recall events involving beef products in the US since March 2018. They include major recalls by JBS due to E. coli contamination.  Poultry and eggs remain the major source of food poisoning in the US. The country’s largest egg producer, Cal-Maine Foods, has no discussion on food safety risks or certifications.  Tyson Foods recalls 69,000 pounds of chicken strips. Six weeks later the company recalls another 12 million pounds.  ASF results in a quarter of the world’s domestic pigs dying from disease or being culled. China sees numbers halved, with supply in 2020 expected to slump to a 27-year low as a result. 

New government rules in the US delegate more control over food safety oversight to plant owners, with no plans to test for salmonella or E. coli. The rules remove any caps from slaughter-line speeds, which were previously restricted to 1,106 hogs per hour. Advocacy groups document instances of faecal contamination and diseased carcasses being allowed to pass through as a result. China’s State Council releases regulation on the implementation of the Food Safety Law of the People’s Republic of China. The regulation optimises standards and risk-monitoring systems to ensure food safety and better protect “the health of the people”.[6] 


The COVID-19 pandemic takes hold. 

In light of the pandemic, the FAO issues guidance for food businesses. It highlights additional measures intended to maintain the integrity of the food chain and ensure adequate and safe supplies are available for consumers.[7]  The European Commission uses its Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed to track food safety controls. It also supports the agri-food sector by providing a package of exceptional measures, including private storage aid, flexibility for market support programmes and temporary derogation of EU competition rules.[8] 


China imposes market bans on processing facilities owned by four Index companies – Cherkizovo, JBS, Minerva and Cranswick – after the COVID-19 virus is found in frozen meat packaging. 

The US government announces the Protecting America’s Meatpacking Workers Act,[9] which aims to provide stronger workplace protections for meat and poultry processing workers and help with biosecurity.  Food safety standards related to infant formulas in China are updated.[10] The major changes include separate standards for formulas for older infants and young children. New minimum/maximum limits for some nutrients are established. 


Three-quarters of the pig population is at risk from ASF.  Highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI)* A (H5) viruses have been detected in US wild aquatic birds, commercial poultry and backyard and hobbyist flocks beginning in January 2022.[11] More than 52 million birds in the US have been affected by an avian influenza outbreak.[12] 

China introduces new rules on import and export food safety.[13] These require domestic food importers to establish an “audit system” for overseas exporters and producers, focusing on examining the formulation and implementation of food safety risk control measures and whether products comply with China’s laws, regulations and standards. The UK invests £1.6 million in a new Food Safety Network.[14] The FDA issued draft guidance for action on levels of lead in infant foods as part of its “Closer to Zero” strategy on contaminants.[15] A joint bill was introduced to remove responsibility for food safety from the FDA and create a new agency under the Health and Human Services (HHS) department.[16] It did not progress but was followed by The Reagan-Udall report; the FDA Commissioner's findings and recommendations are under review.[17]  


The 2023 edition of the Coller FAIRR Protein Producer Index identifies 12 companies that reported one or more product recalls. Recall events were due to labelling and packaging issues, such as undeclared allergens, detection of bones/foreign objects and pathogen-related incidents. One company reports a product recall in Romania due to an ASF case. 

The UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) releases a revised Food Law Code of Practice for England and Northern Ireland. It will be implemented in phases from summer 2023 onwards. It intends to support authorities to take a more risk-based approach to inspection, directing officers to more frequently check businesses where non-compliance is likely.[18] China’s Food Safety Standards Monitoring and Evaluation Department of the National Health Commission (NHC) call for comments on its 2023 Plan for National Food Safety Standards.[19] It proposes formulating and revising 39 national food safety standards that focus on risk controls (e.g., for contaminants and microbial testing methods). The US Food Safety and Inspection Service (USDA-FSIS) has proposed a new regulatory framework to reduce Salmonella illnesses attributable to poultry.[20] Further, it issues new inspection directives regarding regulating cell-cultured food products. Sesame officially joins the FDA’s allergen list.  

How FAIRR evaluates Food Safety 

FAIRR assesses the percentage of company-owned and supplier facilities certified by a Global Food Safety Initiative [GFSI] recognised scheme, disclosure on audits and corrective actions and food safety innovation. FAIRR also assesses the level of detail and disclosure around product recalls and market bans, along with the company’s product recall system and mitigation measures. 

GFSI certification as a basic practice 

The number of companies disclosing that a percentage of owned facilities have GFSI-recognised certification is growing at a gradual pace - but slowly: 82% of Index companies now have some level of GFSI-recognised certification in 2023, compared to 68% in 2019. Along with certification, companies are also encouraged to disclose market bans and product recalls. 

There has been less progress in the increasingly important field of consumer-facing technology to provide traceability to the end customer. Since the food industry has a long and complex supply chain, a lack of traceability leads to more risks of foodborne illnesses.[21] This was identified as a major challenge in 2021 and remains so today. Out of 60 Index companies, 18 have implemented or developed blockchain technology and QR labelling technology to create consumer visibility and accountability in 2023. 


[1] Njunina, V (2021) Food safety definition & why is food safety important. 

[2] Food Standard Agency (2022) New UK Food Safety Network to tackle £9 billion food poisoning challenge. 

[3] Grace, D. (2015) Food safety in developing countries: An overview. 

[4] Porritt, J. McCarthy, M. (2015). The Global Protein Challenge. 

[5] FSSAI (2019) FSSAI notifies new packaging regulations, replacing packaging requirements in FSSR.  

[6] The State Council of the People’s Republic of China (2019). Revised implementation rule on food safety law to begin Dec 1. 

[7] FAO (2020). Covid-19 and food safety: guidance for food businesses. 

[8] Marti, L. et al., (2021) The effects on European importers’ food safety controls in the time of COVID-19.  

[9] [10] The US Congress (2021). Protecting America’s Meatpacking Workers Act of 2021. 

[11] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2022). Current Bird Flu Situation in Wild Birds. 

[12] Katherine, U (2022). More than 52 million birds in the US have been affected by an outbreak of avian influenza. 

[13] The General Administration of Customs of the People's Republic of China (2022). Decree of The General Administration of Customs of the People's Republic of China (2022). 

[14] Henderson, B (2022). FSA Launches UK Food Safety Network to Address Foodborne Illness.  

[15] FDA (2023). Environmental Contaminants in Food.  

[16] Fusaro, D (2023). Food Safety Priorities for 2023.  

[17] Reagan-Udall Foundation for the FDA (2023). Evaluation of FDA’s Human Foods Program - Independent Expert Panel submitted report to FDA Commissioner. 

[18] Food Standards Agency (2023). Consultation on the Food Law Code of Practice to introduce the new Food Standards Delivery Model.  

[19] Food Safety Standards and Monitoring and Evaluation Department (2023) Letter from the Secretariat of the National Food Safety Standards Review Committee soliciting opinions on the 2023 National Food Safety Standards Project Plan (Draft for Comments).

[20] US Department of Agriculture – Food Safety and Inspection Service (USDA-FSIS,2023). Proposed Regulatory Framework to Reduce Salmonella Illnesses Attributable to Poultry.  

[21] World Economic Forum (2019). 5 ways traceability technologies can lead to a safer, more sustainable world.