Today’s 24-hour news delivered to our smartphones and tablets means consumers are more aware of food quality issues, reveals a new survey by food packing machinery maker Ishida.
The impact of social media is “the biggest change that’s happened in the past 20 years” in food safety, according to Torsten Giese, marketing manager at Ishida.
“For us, as a supplier, it’s an opportunity to sell equipment, but for the manufacturers and food service providers it’s an opportunity to say ‘we need to do something to prevent these issues from occurring on a regular basis’.”
His comments came after a survey of 1,000 adults across the UK aged between 18 and 55 by the food packaging machinery maker revealed that consumers expect the highest quality and safety standards in their pre-packed foods.
Ninety-five percent of respondents considered checks as critical or nice to have in major sectors including meat and poultry, salads and sandwiches, dairy, ready meals and cereals.
Over 90% of consumers questioned said they would be reassured to know that their pre-packaged food had been suitably inspected.
This underlines the fact, said Ishida, that food safety and effective quality control were big winners in helping to establish and maintain brand reputation in consumers' eyes and the importance placed by nine out of 10 people on checking their food.
“The product recall is expensive, but the biggest impact is the brand impact,” added Ciaran Murphy, Ishida Europe’s Business Manager EMEA – Quality Inspection Control. “Now that social media has made it so easy to go on your Facebook page and show a picture of what you’ve found or Twitter, it can spread like wildfire and before you know it that’s a massive impact on your brand.
“Our partners have become increasingly interested in quality inspection not because of just the product recall and the practical cost – it’s the brand cost that they are concerned about.”
While inspection of packaged food provided reassurance to consumers, the percentage of packs inspected was also key, according to the survey.
If a company inspects just 50% of its production, only 6% of respondents reported that they would be suitability reassured about its commitment to food safety. However, the level of reassurance rose to 74% when 100% were inspected. Ishida said this may suggest there are other quality issues such as allergens or freshness that are additional concerns of consumers. “Clearly the majority of consumers equate food safety with both the level and consistency of inspection.”
‘Product contamination still a very real issue’
Product contamination was still a very real issue, according to the consumers questioned by Ishida.
Over half of respondents had first-hand experience of a foreign body in their pre-packaged food, with a third reporting contaminants in meat and poultry, and over 40% in ready meals / food on the go combined, the research discovered.
Respondents, meanwhile, reported problems in all food sectors, highlighting that unwanted contaminants were an issue across markets. Nearly a third of those questioned had found foreign materials in meat and poultry products.
Your brand is on the line
According to the survey, 35% of UK consumers said they would not buy a product again after a recall. Only 5% of consumers reported that they felt food checks were not required.
“The demand for inspection across packaged food sectors is clear,” said the report. “The impact of product recalls on public perception of brands is clear to see and this underlines the importance that today’s consumers place on quality and safety in the packaged food they buy.”
Murphy said the survey highlighted the need for more education. “What we’ll be trying to do from this is improve education among our clients about the importance of foreign body detection and indicating to them the range of solutions that they’ve got,” he said. “Metal detection only does metal contaminates, then you’ve got x-ray technology which can look at different form of contaminants. Sometimes food producers have concerns about the cost and complexity of implementing solutions but it’s simpler and more cost-effective than they imagine.”
Ishida opens dedicated a Quality Control Demonstration Centre
Ishida Europe has opened a dedicated Quality Control Demonstration Centre at its UK headquarters Birmingham that displays the company’s entire range of quality control and inspection equipment including x-ray inspection systems, checkweighers and seal testers.
Ishida said the new centre enables food manufacturers to see equipment in action and undertake trials for specific products and applications.
“We believe our Demonstration Centre is unique in the number of machines on display and the availability of other equipment to demonstrate complete and integrated lines,” said Murphy.
“The facility gives customers the opportunity to ‘try before they buy’, discuss their requirements in detail and undertake product trials to ensure they select the right model for their application.”
Equipment on display at the centre includes the company’s IX-EN entry-level and IX-GN high sensitivity X-ray inspection systems, along with the specialist dual energy G2 model that can identify small bones in chicken fillets.
Checkweighers on show comprise models capable of handling from 150 to 400 packs per minute at the highest accuracy. Leak detection models include the award-winning AirScan for MAP products and QC220 pressure seal tester for packs without gas flushing.