SGS Health Food Solutions - Quality concerns affect buying habits

A 2016 survey of more than 1,000 people showed food safety concerns are increasingly affecting the purchasing decisions of consumers. Worries included pesticide residues, which affected 66% of respondents; 52% were concerned about animal welfare; 51% about risks to human health from additives; 48% about genetically modified crops; and 48% were concerned about pollutants and false 'health' claims. The survey also showed 71% of consumers would pay a premium price for food products that had been independently tested against these risks.

A global shift

These findings in Germany confirm those of an international study covering several thousand consumers in the US, UK, China, India and Japan. This report showed 67% of consumers were now actively making purchasing decisions based on fears over substandard foods and safety concerns. This global trend has resulted in a reduction in consumer confidence for well-known brands, in favour of an increasing reliance on independent safety assessments.

Consumers are particularly concerned about food products for the more vulnerable sectors of society. They have high expectations for sensitive products; for example, baby foods and breast milk substitutes, weight-control and sports nutrition aids, and replacement meals.

Lapses in quality control can present a threat to human health, especially if the product is the primary source of nutrition. Whether they are purposefully or accidentally deficient in nutrients, vitamins and/or minerals, or have become contaminated, the result can be significant.

Better safe than sorry

Quality assurance is a vital step in protecting consumers and brand reputations. The first step should be continuous monitoring of crucial quality parameters: are products labelled correctly? Is the vitamin content correct? Do the mineral, trace elements and vitamin contents meet legal requirements? Have the declared nutritional values been adhered to?

Secondly, manufacturers must reinforce their quality assurance regimen with inspections for unwanted contaminants. These include tests for microbiological impurities, pesticide residues, allergens, genetically modified organisms and chemical contaminants; for example, heavy metals.

This two-pronged approach provides surety to consumers that products are safe and accurately labelled. Extra care must be paid to plant products - natural contaminants may occur because of selfpreservation responses; for example, pyrrolizidine alkaloids, or as a result of food production processes, such as monochloropropanediol (MCPD) and its esters. These compounds threaten human health, especially in vegetable and animal oils, and in baby foods. Manufacturers should also consider mineral oil contamination (known as MOSH or MOAH) especially from recycled packaging.

Food and dietary supplements must legally meet their quality requirements until the best-before date. During storage, nutrition decay must be within permissible tolerance levels and microbiological stability must be ensured. To ensure compliance, special tests can simulate extended periods of storage and assess the suitability of primary packaging materials in contact with food.

Failures in food quality may be accidental or may come about because of food fraud, either through deliberate deception, incorrect declaration or the addition of defective ingredients. Accidents often occur because of inadequate monitoring of raw materials and the supply chain. Whether the failure is accidental or criminal, the result is the same - poor-quality products risking consumer's health and endangering the reputations of manufacturers and retailers.

Expert advice

SGS offers specialist testing services for a wide range of health food products and baby foods. Its experts differentiate health food products from drugs - an important legal distinction - and help evaluate unusual food ingredients, and identify and quantify adulteration.

Furthermore, SGS's global specialists also assist with certification against many standards, including HACCP, SQF, IFS, BRC, FSSC 22000 and c-GMP. The company also offers training and troubleshooting services, and can help with declaration tests, food regulatory approvals and analyses for export.

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