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Categorisation of food scares

The food sector is now a world market with products sourced from all over the globe to meet the growing demand from consumers for diverse food stuffs regardless of seasonality. Fulfilling this demand has led to the creation of complex food supply chains, which have limited traceability and accountability mechanisms, increasing the likelihood of food scares.

Researchers at the University of Surrey worked with industry experts to develop a new comprehensive categorisation of food scares [3], having found that existing schemes were too simplistic and did not allow for cross categorisation of factors, which could compromise the food chain. The new categorisation could be useful in developing strategies for reducing the frequency and severity of scares.

Unlike previous systems, the new categorisation structure enables a food scare to be classified according to both its physical manifestation (chemical/ physical or biological contamination) and the origins of the scare (wilful deception and/or transparency and awareness issues). By highlighting where and how the nature of different types of food scares overlap, this classification will enable risk management teams to address categories of potential scares in a systematic way and develop effective strategies to avoid future occurrences.

During the study the researchers also found current definitions of the term‘food scare’ to be inadequate as they fail to acknowledge consumers’ lack of trust in the food chain. Researchers pointed to the 2013 horse meat scandal, which although was not harmful for human consumption, created a wariness amongst consumers of the food and supply chain. Consequently, they developed a new definition of a food scare, which takes into account the fact that consumer purchasing decisions elevate a food incident to a food scare:

‘A food scare is the response to a food incident (real or perceived) that causes a sudden disruption to the food supply chain and to food consumption patterns.’




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