Global Food Supply Chains – New Complexities Need New Solutions

Food is now a truly global commodity. It is difficult or indeed close to impossible to know where our food is grown, how it gets transported around the world as ingredients or finished products, and whether the components of this food are safe to consume. 

“With this globalisation has come great benefits in terms of access to a much wider range of foods, and the huge international competition helps drive down the costs,” explains Professor Chris Elliott, Director of the Institute for Global Food Security at Queen’s University Belfast.

He continues, “However, such complex supply systems are not without problems and the integrity of what we eat can be challenged in many ways. The accidental or deliberate contamination with chemicals or other substances is one area of huge concern as this can affect the safety, quality, and the authenticity of many products.”

Professor Elliott, who led the independent review of Britain’s food system following the 2013 horsemeat scandal, as well as co-ordinating and participating in multiple European framework research projects, will present at Food Science Asia 2015 in Singapore this October on how science is helping deliver innovative solutions to overcome these challenges.

Many common food stuffs can be overlooked due to their occurrence and familiarity within a certain culture or society. Raw duck and mung bean sprouts, which are used extensively in Asian cuisine, are now well recognised to harbour Salmonella spp., and have been implicated in some human salmonellosis recently.  

For example a 2014 investigation by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) along with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that a multi-state outbreak of Salmonella infections, infecting 115 people across 12 states, was linked to mung bean sprouts from a company operating out of New York.

Fast but accurate screening methods are of great use and ensure the safety of these products. Assistant Professor Yuk Hyun Gynn for the Food Science & Technology Programme of the National University of Singapore says, “Standard screening methods for Salmonella are laborious, but recent advances using real-time Polymerase-Chain Reaction (PCR) methods combined with immunomagnetic separation, or centrifugation techniques, detect low number and injured Salmonella.”

Advances in novel rapid detection tools and methods would aid food safety and integrity by ensuring that food standards can be met at all possible milestones along the food chain, from procurement and packaging to delivery. 

Doctor Alvin Lee, Director of the Centre for Processing Innovation at Illinois Institute of Technology (USA) who is currently pioneering research in Food Virology states that, “Enteric viruses are the most common cause of food borne diseases and can occur throughout the farm-to-fork chain by exposure to contaminated waters, surfaces, and/or human handling. Virus detection methods are less well developed and there is a need for standardised, efficient and inexpensive methods to be created. 

He continues, “Many laboratories are attempting to both improve and use detection technologies to better understand the transmission and control of viruses in the food chain.”  

Dr Siti Abdul Malek, Head of Scientific & Regulatory Affairs at Food Industry Asia (FIA) said, “In Asia, the challenges in achieving high standards of safety in an increasingly complex food supply chain range from availability of equipment, to selection of methods of analysis, to skills of laboratory personnel, and the quality of the result.

She continued, “Through collaboration with groups such as the Product Working Group on Prepared Foodstuff (PFPWG) in ASEAN, we are working to address these challenges.  For instance, within the scope of the PFPWG, ASEAN has set-up a series of Food Reference Laboratories which are the designated to provide technical support in building competency in specific areas of expertise. It is envisaged that the effort focused on achieving standard testing procedures through reference laboratories will help strengthen the safety of food supply chain in the region.”  

Professor’s Elliot and Yuk, and Doctor Lee as well as a selection of other global thought leaders involved in food safety, will present at the Food Science Asia 2015 conference in Singapore on 27th October 2015.  The conference will look at how to address some of these key analytical, quality, safety, and regulatory issues faced by food manufacturers, suppliers, and laboratories around the world.

More information about the conference can be found at

FIA issues regular e-bulletins with analysis on relevant food and beverage industry issues across the region. To subscribe to this service, please click here