As we move on to celebrate the Eid Al-Fitr or the end of fasting month, let me just share with you a thought as I threw away a mineral bottle of a well-known brand.
Like a lot of well-known brands, they do come short in some qualifications. I will explain a bit later in this article as I type-out my thoughts.
This long-winded article is not about information technology but related to food safety. I meant to share with you the real behind-the-scene findings which you are entitled to know.
People in business who have met me for the first time, understood the work that I do, and the first question often out of their mouths is – what good business to venture now, today?
Often I know that this is merely a pursuit to bolster their own personal and business investment reasoning rather than to participate in what I would rather like them to be involved in.
Currently business people are interested in new platforms for their endeavor – whether it is RM 1,000 or RM 1 million, it is to platforms such as
- a crypto-currency mall where 200-300 shops only accept virtual currencies for their daily trade. Which translates more money for those on top of pyramid schemes and that they will be able to go off and invest elsewhere with a new hybrid system;
MBI and cryptocurrency
- an autonomous vehicle not only to ease our lives in traffic-jam snarls but also to house all the various apps to make our lives more “comfortable”, “you-don’t-feel-like-a-slave” and “highly entertained”. Which translates to more sales for tech companies.
Are the above essential to our human survival and is our basic needs?
Which will then lead me to ask, have you seen a hypermarket or a grocer where it will only insist on food safe or social responsible safe (forest stewardship) certified products?
Well, there are.
Where the application forms to place your products on the shelf, you need to be have minimum certification such as MeSTI, GMP or HACCP.
Our Malaysian’s Ministry of Health has done a good job with this edition of food safe, food hygiene certification that is short of Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP). Previous attempts at sponsoring and promoting food safety issues fell into deaf ears and very little impact even when it was (and still is for some) freely provided at the MOH’s expense.
A lot of small companies and large ones have taken MeSTI and they are regularly audited. Large companies making millions even undertake GMP and HACCP certifications at very minimum cost to their large revenue.
However, my grouse remains in 3 challenges.
- Why minimum certification?
- Holding others as hostages.
- Buyers must be wiser.
First grouse: Why minimum certification?
More often top management complained about the unnecessary and non-usefulness of these certifications. For those who do have these food safety certification, some chose to leave out information that can bind them to legal objections or to choose consultants and food safety auditors more favorable to their business – where money is concerned.
Sure, like any businesses, it takes time and money to invest into making a proper business, proper. Same as hiring degree-laden staff with food technology background and so on. At a higher salary compared to minimum wage workers.
Unless and until market forces gave them no choice but to obey, then they do what is necessary.
As one owner will put it, my brand-name is enough to generate sales that no food safety certifications can do for me. (And back to investing crypto-currencies, multi-level marketing – investment is a risk so we understand if it fails)
Humans can fail, that’s their problem if there are nuts and allergen inside the food processor mix. Food manufacturers are not charitable hospitals.
Second grouse: Holding others as hostages.
There was Group 8 for accounting, there is Group 8 Australian universities and of course in oligopoly of things, the 8 biggest food companies – Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) where the pareto-effect comes into play 80:20.
As giants become more social responsible (not all), they setup awareness and foundations for safe food. Between last year and this year US FDA had unleashed series of even tougher regulatory requirements for exporters to meet.
But what does it translate to at individual country-level? Here’s the actual scene.
Notification well in advance:
By 1 December, all of our suppliers must obtain ISO 22000.
Answer: We are willing to lose this contract and focus on other profit activities. Let others [manufacturers] do it.
What others in Malaysia that do the same type of business as this main supplier do and at the organisational size level? None.
In other words, when it comes to food safety be it sponsored, shared-cost and so on, no one top management level cares (try asking about quality and safety with large construction companies and see what answers you get).
If it doesn’t help to shore up the bottom-line of 80% EBITDA, forget it.
Of course, this year – things are changing to the globally food market.
Finally, buyers must be wiser.
Buyers do have power but they are still very far from being the stronger voice.
The Government agencies, the industry leaders and the individual companies can still overcome any buyer-initiated resistance to change. Most unfortunate but true.
It needs to have the size of Grenfell tragedy, a series of bullying cases or more school-children deaths especially involving the children of a Federal Minister before someone looks up from the desk and says, lets not talk about Ringgits and Sens anymore. Lets not talk about platforms for currencies, games and social entertainments – lets talk about food that we eat are meaningful and being safe. Lets not talk about certifications and paperwork. Let’s not talk about Puasa. Let’s talk about what food gets laid on the table today and that it is guaranteed safe.
Lets talk about plan to make food safe, people working smarter, more efficient and effective – lets talk about positive change before marketing cost.
Buyers must stop buying from less-certified food processors however big they are and insist to see proofs that work is done to make sure unhygienic, improperly prepared and unsafe food do not get into our daily intake system.
As for street-food, a 65-year old investor had this to say:
We cannot win all the time. That is why it is called investment.
“Investment comes with risks,” he said.
Erasmus KL Koay is a FSSC 22000 certified Lead Auditor.