A recent consumer study, carried out by SGS, highlighted consumers concerns relating to food safety, product claims, labeling and animal welfare. These responses, collated from 1,000 consumers questions for the survey, confirms anecdotal evidence that product safety is perhaps the most important factor when it comes to food purchasing decisions.
In the survey, carried out in 2016 1 and interviewing 1,000 residents of Germany, discovered that 66% of respondents worry about pesticide residues contaminating food products, while 52% worried about the welfare of those animals bred to supply meat, eggs and dairy products. Risks to human health were the third most commonly cited – with additives (flavor enhancers and dyes), genetically modified ingredients, health ‘claims’ and pollutants polling 51%, 49% and 48% respectively.
The outcome of this questioning revealed that while 50% of respondents worry that ingredients and contaminants could pose a risk to their health, a surprising 71% 1 are prepared to pay more for food products that have been independently tested.
It is also apparent that consumer concerns focus particularly on food products for more vulnerable sectors of society, such baby foods and food supplements. For sensitive products such as these, manufacturers must ensure quality and cannot allow any defects.
Beyond the German consumer survey, conducted by SGS, an international study involving several thousand consumers from the USA, UK, China, India and Japan demonstrates that concern about sub-standard food is not only an issue in Germany. Product safety plays an equally important role in other food markets. Globally, 67 % of customers 2 make their purchasing decisions based on this, and it is a growing trend. Many consumers place greater significance on product safety than on a well-known brand name.
Particular Caution Required
Food safety is particularly crucial in sensitive product categories. For example, baby food, such as breast milk substitutes, follow-on formula or complementary baby food. Or products for weight-control diets or sports nutrition, which replace meals or entire daily rations. If these products have quality defects, they can present a health risk.
Consumers, whether children or adults, get some or all of their nutrition from food products – including some or all of the above. If they do not contain enough in the way of nutrients, vitamins and/or minerals, this could result in deficiencies. In addition, any contamination with harmful substances would have significant consequences if an affected product is consumed in large quantities.
Better Safe Than Sorry
With this in mind, quality assurance must be of particular importance to manufacturers and retailers of baby food and food supplements. Establishing quality assurance should be a two-pronged approach.
Firstly, you should ensure the continuous monitoring of crucial quality parameters. Do you know whether a specific product is correctly labeled? Is the vitamin content correct? Do the mineral, trace elements and vitamin contents meet legal requirements? Have the declared nutritional values, including those for the fatty acid and amino acid spectrum, been adhered to?
Secondly, and in addition the aforementioned aspects, you should reinforce your quality assurance regime with inspections for unwanted contaminants. These could include tests for:
- Microbiological impurities
- Pesticide residues
- Genetically modified organisms
- Chemical contaminants, such as heavy metals
Plant products need extra care. Natural contaminants, such as pyrrolizidine alkaloids may occur, as a result of self-preservation – certain plant species make these substances to ward off predators. Exposure to monochloropropanediol (MCPD) and its esters are inadvertently produced in the production of food, by heating, toasting, smoking or refining. These compounds are undesirable because they are deemed a risk to human health, especially in vegetable and animal oils, as well as in baby foods. Additionally, contamination of food with mineral oil components Mineral Oil Saturated Hydrocarbons/Mineral Oil Aromatic Hydrocarbons (MOSH/MOAH), especially from recycled packaging, is a problem.
Quality & Best-Before Dates
It is a legal requirement that food and dietary supplements meet the required quality parameters until their best-before date. For example, if baby food is to be stored for a long time, it must meet the prescribed quality until the best-before date.
When stored, the nutrients in a product must only degrade within permissible tolerance levels. In addition, microbiological stability must be ensured. For this reason, special tests are recommended in which storage for an extended period of time is simulated, in order to test the stability of a product by means of comprehensive laboratory analysis. The suitability of the primary packaging material for contact with food is also to be tested.
Additional important issues within the context of quality assurance include food fraud, i.e. deliberate deception, as well as incorrect declarations or the addition of defective ingredients. This can have many causes. It may be criminal intent.
More commonly though these issues arise due to accidental mistakes in production, a lack of know-how in monitoring the supply chain, or inadequate inspection of raw materials. At the same time, regardless of what caused adulteration or contamination, manufacturers and retailers still bear responsibility, endanger their reputation and possibly even the health of consumers when things go wrong.
SGS specializes in testing health food products. Customers can have tests carried out on dietary supplements, balanced diets, weight control products as a daily ration or meal replacement, and sports nutrition. There is also a focus on baby food, including infant and follow-on formulas, cereals and complementary baby foods.
However, the expert team does not just carry out laboratory analyses. For products in the health food segment it is particularly important to professionally differentiate them from drugs, evaluate novel food ingredients and identify and quantify adulteration.
Furthermore, our global specialists also provide assistance with certification relating to standards including HACCP, IFS, BRC, FSSC 22000 and c-GMP. In addition, SGS offers training, acts as a contact for troubleshooting and helps with declaration tests, food regulatory approvals and analyses for export.
For the complete range of SGS services and support visit SGS Food Safety.
SGS Global Food Supplement Business Development Manager
t: +49 30 34607-746