Building Consumer Trust through Food Safety

and last updated on October 23, 2020 02:34 PM

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Author: Sara Mortimore, Vice President, Global Food Safety at Walmart

In the midst of so much global uncertainty, one of the backbones of day-to-day life is trust in the food system. Consumers expect high-quality, affordable food; and to meet those expectations, food safety has to be a top priority throughout the supply chain.

But earning customer trust isn’t easy.

As we celebrate World Food Safety Day, I’ve been thinking about the ways we, as food industry professionals, can continue to earn and improve consumer trust in the food system.

1. Transparency Through Technology

Customers want transparency. People want to know their food is safe and sustainably made. And increasingly, customers want to know more about where food comes from, who grew it, and how. The nature of the global supply chain makes it difficult to track food to its source, but making transparency a priority with your customers can increase their trust in these products. That’s where embracing innovative technologies can help.

Technology has changed the way we manage food safety. We’re reducing reliance on lagging indicators, using remote sensing, robotic process automation, machine learning, and artificial intelligence. As a result, we’re better utilizing data and enabling predictive analytics to provide insights and prevent future failures. But technology can also help us better understand the food system.

For example, Walmart began a blockchain technology pilot in 2017 to increase transparency in our supply chain. Now, with more of our produce suppliers on the platform, blockchain is helping us improve food traceability, allowing us to not only identify contaminated products faster, but also identify bottlenecks in the supply chain.

2. Stay paranoid.

We can never be complacent. A strong food safety culture thrives on “productive paranoia”—on constantly looking for the next food safety hazard. We have to test and retest the controls we have in place, plan for outbreaks that haven’t yet happened, and ensure our team members at every level of the food system are taking ownership of food safety standards and behaviors.

3. Competition + Collaboration.

The food industry is one of the most competitive arenas around the globe, but in food safety, we win by working together. Our supply chains have been challenged in new ways during this pandemic, and we’ve worked in in highly collaborative way to find solutions. Everyone has a common goal: ensuring we are trusted to supply safe, affordable food to people everywhere. We’ll only be as good as the next link in the supply chain, which is why it’s imperative that we are able to share ideas and knowledge, learning together for the common good.

In 2016, Walmart created the Food Safety Collaboration Center in China to bring together stakeholders across the industry—from government to academia—to help identify and address the root causes of foodborne illnesses. Other organizations have undertaken similar ventures. Working together, we can lift the entire food system, continue to earn our customers’ trust, and ultimately help improve the lives of people around the world.

So many factors outside of our control can erode trust in the food system, but there is much we can do to earn consumers’ trust, as well. By being transparent, embracing innovation, staying ahead of risk, and working together, we can continue to strengthen our food safety standards and improve the entire system. We have much to celebrate!

About the Author:

Sara Mortimore is the Vice President of Food Safety Compliance, Global SME at Walmart, Inc. In this role, Sara is responsible for the global development and oversight of the Food Safety programs and initiatives for the company. Sara is a Food Scientist with over 30 years of practical experience.

Prior to her joining Walmart, Inc., in May 2019, Sara held the position as Vice President of Product Safety, Quality and Regulatory Affairs with enterprise wide responsibility at Land O’Lakes, Inc. In this capacity, she covered both human and animal foods as well as supporting the non-profit international development work.

Sara began her career with Glaxo SmithKline as a Research Technologist in R&D. Following that, in 1989 she joined Grand Metropolitan Foods which later became Pillsbury and subsequently was incorporated by General Mills Inc.

Sara is a graduate of both Seale-Hayne Agriculture College in the UK (now incorporated into the University of Plymouth), and Leicester University and is the co-author of multiple successful books on HACCP and food safety management. She has served on the board of trustees for the Royal Society of Public Health and the BRC International Advisory Board, and is currently on the board of GFSI.