Food Quality Integrity

By Peter Thor, President, Bellissimo Foods

The clamor of our people for cheaper food, for cheaper wear, and for cheaper everything has had a pernicious result on the purity of articles offered for sale…” [Wisconsin Dairy and Food Commission Report, 1890]. This long ago quote seems so appropriate for today. Indeed, the US Chamber of Commerce has seen an unprecedented surge in consumer lawsuits against food producers and restaurateurs. We, as an industry need to recognize the importance of “food quality integrity” as the lifeblood of our industry and support reasonable manufacturing, transport, handling, and labeling requirements.

The American food industry is undoubtedly the best in the world considering abundant supply, market demand, cost to consumers, and quality. In cost alone, consumers in the USA spend less than 10 % of their disposable income on food, the lowest of 83 countries according to the Gates Foundation and the USDA. This amazing statistic is driven partly by higher average incomes in America and partly due to increasingly efficient food production and logistics costs.

On the positive side, this means that more disposable income is available for foodservice purchases and dining out which continues to grow. The average American now spends about 50% of their food budget “away from home” compared to only 25% in 1960. Driving this growth is consumer preference for convenience and quick serve.

Threatening this rosy outlook is the dirty truth that food quality integrity has for good reason become suspect, and with it consumer confidence and trust in food purveyors. While this warning may seem distant for many who read this, food quality integrity is the foundation upon which our industry stands. Consider the “Chipotle Effect”, a term coined to describe what happens when consumers lose confidence in a food product or supplier. While Chipotle has received much of the bad press, they are merely representative of a larger problem.

In recent years lawsuits and negative publicity have risen dramatically for real problems in all segments of our industry including restaurateurs, distributors, producers, and farmers. Beyond Chipotle, such well known retail names as McDonald’s, Kraft, Heinz, and Wal-Mart have plead guilty to adulterated and/or misbranded products including cheese. Sysco Foodservice was found to have stored and transported products without refrigeration, and Foster Farms chicken plants were shuttered multiple times for a variety of sanitation and health code violations.

Others including olive oil producers have been accused of adulterating and misbranding olive oil for sale; and peanut and ice cream suppliers pushed to bankruptcy for knowingly selling contaminated products. We could go on, but the point is that the public is becoming increasingly distrustful of the food supply which in part is driving the hysteria and misinformation surrounding GMO and organic product labeling.

If we cannot rebuild and restore the public’s trust in the integrity of food quality in foodservice, the “Chipotle Effect” and “guilt by association” may push the foodservice industry into recession. We maintain that food quality integrity is an industry issue that is important enough to everyone that it deserves our attention. Food integrity is intrinsic to food safety and food ingredients at every level. Taking chances in terms of knowingly violating standard food manufacturing, handling, or preparing can affect our entire industry and have disastrous local consequences.

Without a doubt the food industry and our pizza segment is evolving and probably more complex than ever. Regulating the safe and healthy production of foods at both micro and macro levels is perhaps impossible. This makes it all the more important that each of us take our responsibility seriously as a keeper of the public trust and wellbeing. Preparing and serving quality products that taste better and are better than inferior quality mass chain fare is our point of difference and competitive advantage, and yours!

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