We caught-up with Stuart Williams, Co-op’s Scientific Advice and Legislation Manager, who told us about the work we do to make sure our products are not only delicious, but also safe.
It’s important we protect our customers’ health and best interests when they buy products from our shops. Food Safety doesn’t often take centre stage, but rest assured there’s a dedicated team working to make sure our products remain safe and delicious.
Food safety is important at the Co-op
“When it comes to talking about Food Safety, ‘no news’ is ‘good news’.”
We’re thinking ahead and making the right plans so that we keep our customers and colleagues safe. If we did get it wrong we could risk our customers’ health and face fines so it’s vital we make sure our products comply with legal requirements and are safe for our customers to consume.
To put it into perspective, back in 2005, one of the biggest food issues within the UK involved Sudan Red 1 – a dye which is normally used in wax, petrol and floor polish which is banned from use in food in Britain. It had been added to chilli powder before it was imported from India to enhance the colour of the food. In total, over 300 food businesses were implicated and had to take action to protect customers.
Putting it into practice
Our Scientific Advice and Legislation Team are on the case and monitor everything that could possibly adversely impact our products. From additives in our products to concerns over pesticides used on our produce. It’s a sizable challenge and we can’t take our eye off the ball.
There are over 2000 pieces of UK and European legislation we must keep track of and understand how they affect our products. There’s also Scottish and Welsh legislation which includes additional localised restrictions and considerations.
Sometimes we have to respond really quickly – for example, we might have to review a new piece of legislation, make changes to our systems and upskill our colleagues in the space of three weeks to make sure we’re compliant.
I work alongside our Technical and Quality Control teams who connect with our suppliers, depots and store teams to make sure the products we sell are safe to eat. They perform product quality assessments to make sure the products destined for stores are the best they can possibly be.
“The team are responsible for making sure 3,800 Co-op own brand products from over 950 manufacturing sites across 45 countries are safe and legal.”
They monitor customer complaints – this is really important to make sure issues are identified quickly and fixed. In extreme circumstances if there’s a risk to our customers, we withdraw products from both our supply chain and the shelves in our stores.
We also make sure our products meet our authenticity requirements such as origin, species, variety and breed, as well as working with store colleagues to make sure our products are stored, prepared and displayed correctly, within their shelf life.
An example where we’ve had to work with a complex requirement which cuts across lots of colleagues at the Co-op
We all have a part to play in keeping our products safe and legal. We recently worked together with our suppliers to mitigate a potential health risk.
Acrylamide is a chemical which can form in potato and bread products during cooking when high temperatures are used. It can be dangerous if consumed in large quantities. Updates to legislation meant we needed to make business-wide changes so our suppliers and store teams were doing as much as they could to keep levels of acrylamide as low as possible, keeping our customers and colleagues safe.
In response we put a testing programme into place across our product and provided guidance for our suppliers. Where we prepared and cooked products in our stores, such as in-store bakery, we provided new production guides to show what good products looked like and why it was important to not over-cook.
It’s a huge challenge daily, but as one team we’re committed to keeping our customers and colleagues safe.
Read more about food safety here: Food Standards Agency – National Food Safety Week
Scientific Advice and Legislation Manager