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To Ensure Safety, Food Makers Must Police Themselves -- and Each Other

If you dig beneath the fluff in Food Processing magazine's coverage of food-safety issues, you can find a lot of helpful advice.

A recent article proclaims that "the supply chain is in the capable hands of processors." But of course, if that were the case, Food Processing wouldn't have to regularly publish articles on the latest food-safety scare, or tips on how food companies can avoid sickening their customers.

The "capable hands" article mostly avoids the bad news â€" which is mounting every day â€" and focuses instead on what it calls successful safety efforts of various companies. They range from the drastic (retailer Trader Joe's last year started phasing out all end-products made in China) to the more circumspect (natural-foods maker Barbara's/Weetabix stepped up self-inspections and started requiring more certification from suppliers).

In the effective absence of regulatory rigor from the understaffed and highly politicized Food and Drug Administration, self-regulation is the industry's only option. That doesn't mean each company must police itself â€" it means they also have to police their entire supply chain. That's easy for a giant company like grain-processor Cargill, which owns a huge part of its own supply chain, and has the power and resources to compel compliance from outside suppliers.

For small companies, it's more of a challenge, but no less of an imperative. Smaller outfits "often must use copackers and contract manufacturers and still guarantee food safety and quality," said Robert Hurlbut, CEO of Attune Foods, a venture-capital-backed maker of "functional foods" such as energy bars. "Attune Foods invests heavily in controls that are designed to prevent worst-case scenarios," he said. "Recent outbreaks have raised customer awareness of ingredients and source verification is critical to maintain consumer trust."

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