Food Manufacturers Address Risks Of Suppliers From China

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ChineseFood Suppliers

Reports of tainted food from China and the recent government-ordered closing of nearly 200 food manufacturing plants in the country have stirred concerns of safety around the world and fears for businesses throughout the food and beverage supply and distribution chain.

In the wake of a series of warnings about the safety of food and drug products from China, that country's Food and Drug Administration announced plans to issue rules requiring companies to take back tainted or otherwise unsafe products or face possible blacklisting. Also, in June Chinese officials closed 180 food manufacturing plants -- mostly small and unlicensed facilities -- for using various illegal ingredients and for other food safety violations. Last week, President Bush established a new Import Safety Working Group to recommend steps to guarantee the safety of food and other products and to improve U.S. policing of those imports.

Regardless of the intent of Chinese and U.S. regulations, the truth remains that food manufacturers around the world cannot rely on their suppliers to be on the right side of the law, according to Gary Rushlo, client business partner at SoftBrands, Inc., who consults with manufacturers on issues such as lot traceability and product recalls.

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"Manufacturers and distributors need to take the reigns and do all they can to vet their suppliers. Then they need to be prepared to act quickly if a crisis strikes," Rushlo said.

"These news reports and food-safety scares are making food companies realize they can't rely on outdated processes for tracking and recalling products," Rushlo said. "At the same time, media reports are talking about how U.S. FDA data says federal inspectors have stopped more food shipments from India and Mexico in the last year than they have from China. Product safety is not just a China issue. It's a universal issue."

SoftBrands consultants and support staff have been speaking with customers in China, and those customers have expressed some concerns over product safety issues in general as well as how the software systems they have in place can help them in light of China's new regulations. These companies -- many of which are Chinese units of U.S. companies -- also recognize their responsibility to ensure the quality of their own ingredients and products.

"Our customers in China know that food safety and recall issues are hot topics in the industry and in the news media," said Tim Farey, vice president of the SoftBrands' Asia operations. SoftBrands has operated in China since 1989 and has more than 400 customers there. "The Chinese government is introducing rules and procedures that require companies to trace and collect food products that pose health risk, but that's only a small start. The marketplace really needs companies that strive for the highest level of quality and safety they can get, not just the minimum as defined by the government."

That difference is important for food manufacturers dealing with suppliers and partners in China or that simply want as much assurance as possible that their customers are safe from dangerous products.

"It means a lot to these manufacturers to be able to track down potentially hazardous products quickly and reliably," Farey said. "You can't prevent every possible mishap, but you can be prepared to make the difference between solving the problem and becoming the next 'what not to do' example."

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