Samim Saner, the President of Turkish Food Safety Association, said, “Fake news distracts customers from real threats. We witness that [the media] puts much more emphasize on subjects that do not pose a significant risk while disregarding subjects having high risk that customers should be afraid of. Thus, we have shifted our priority by dealing with artificial risks instead of real threats. In this way, the customer’s priorities also change the priorities of the state and sector and this situation harms all of us.”
As production techniques and technology have changed, the food safety has been gaining importance every day. Fake and adulteration tricks from olive oil to spices, from meat to yoghurt, from honey to food supplement made people suffer. Samim Sener, the President of Turkish Food Safety Association, said the existence of fraudulent food sometimes put spotlights on a single sector or the food category, adding that this approach is not helpful while stressing that although some companies tries to cheat, the number of companies fulfilling their legal obligations are much more.
We talked with Mr. Saner, whose association has carried out important activities to raise the awareness on food safety. Saner called on people to be conscious consumers and shun illegal and non-traceable foods.
What are the main factors threatening food safety in Turkey and in the world?
The food safety means all measures taken from field to dinner table to ensure that foods are produced in a way to prevent them from causing harm to the people. It involves physical, chemical and biological threats. These threats may infect the food during production, processing, carrying, preparation and cooking stage. The food safety is under threats from many risk factors like unregulated use of plant protection products, i.e. pesticides and veterinary medicines, mold-induced toxins caused by improper storage / handling conditions, zoonotic disease, harmful chemicals produced by high temperature baking and contaminated chemicals.
What should the state do to ensure the food safety?
The law no. 5996 regulating the food safety says, “The food establishments are responsible for ensuring the food safety.” This is also the basis of the European Union food legislation. However, this does not mean that the state has no responsibility. The same law regulates what the state should do. In this scope; the public authority should publish the rules and criteria to be applied in ensuring food safety as legal regulations. When these regulations are made, it is important that they are scientifically based, to take into account the risk assessment made by independent food authorities, and to be participative and transparent. In the same regulations, penalties for those who do not comply with the rules are also published. The next thing to do is to establish and operate a strict and effective control system for production, marketing and consumption in accordance with these regulations.
FAKE NEWS DISTRACTS CUSTOMERS FROM REAL THREATS
According to the European Food Information Council’s “Drivers of Choice: What Motivates Consumer Behavior” study, Turks have difficulty in making healthy choices about food due to conflicting information. Is there really an information pollution?
Yes, customers are subjected to wrong and biased information. In fact, scientific studies and developments are making great benefits in the field of food as it is in every area. These studies and developments make food safer and allow them to be presented to customers. Now, we can analyze the risks better. Of course, as in every sector, there are people who try to make money by doing illegal activities in this sector. It is important that the consumers keep themselves aloof from these people. This starts with consuming products that are registered and certified, branded, tagged.
It is also important to believe in corporate statements rather than individual statements. Only this helps us to prevent wrong information reaching customers. There are 2-3 people that blame food. Would it be possible that hundreds of thousands of academics and experts are traitors? Consciousness of the Consumer is very important. Customers should not believe in every information they hear. Fake news distracts customers from real threats. Although high level threats are not considered by customers, we witness that subjects that do not pose a significant risk in reality are constantly on the agenda. Thus, we shift our priorities by dealing with artificial risks instead of the real ones. In this way, the customer’s priorities also change the priorities of the state and the sector and this situation harms all of us.”
We always read that we waste so much bread and vegetables-fruit. What do you think is behind this waste? Do these items really have the biggest share in wasting?
Food waste is a really important problem in Turkey and around the globe. Bread and vegetables-fruit are on the top that are being wasted. However, we witness that everyday more and more food is wasted. Cultural habits in shopping and consumption, lack of information on food preservation and sometimes bigger portions on our tables cause a bigger amount of food wasting. In domestic consumption, it is very important not to buy more than necessary, to preserve them properly and later to prepare and cook them in an appropriate way. Thus, it will be possible to extend the time that food can be consumed safely and without deterioration.
• Food should be purchased in quantities that can be consumed.
• Food should be cooked or heated in the amount that can be consumed within two days.
• Products that were freshly bought and wanted to be kept in freezer should be divided in a usable fashion.
• Bread should be bought as needed and if ambient temperature is too much, it should be stored in a refrigerator
• The existence of big portions at restaurants and hotels, non-existence of smaller portion and open buffet in which customer take whole varieties of food in a single time are among reasons to increase food waste.
• The development of waste assessment policies will contribute to waste prevention.
NUMBER OF MIDDLEMEN IN THE SUPPLY CHAIN SHOULD BE LOWERED
What precautions should be taken to prevent the loss of a product from the field until a dinner table?
Enhancements in a few key areas such as monitoring program to ensure the food safety and to increase food variety and amount in agricultural production, good agricultural applications, good husbandry application and the use of new method and technology in food reservation will minimize the food waste. Additionally, good storage, packing and delivery will increase food safety. Also, reducing the number of middlemen in supply chain and organization of agricultural producers will help to decrease the loss.
CHEATERS SHOULD BE NAMED AND SHAMED FOR A LONG TIME
Fraudulent food is one of leading reasons that make people suffer. Do you think that inspection and sanctions by the Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Livestock are enough?
As a result of an inspection, the ministry publishes a list of fraudulent foods and companies producing these foods and take action against them. Publicly naming and shaming these companies have more deterrence power. However, the inspection is very difficult in Turkey since there are many enterprises in agricultural and industrial production, food sale and service. The ministry’s work in this area will become more efficient if they improve their structure, personnel and their infrastructure. Moreover, the ministry should widen its announcement by including food safety problems and extends the duration it publicly names and shames such companies. Generally, fraudulent foods include the addition of foreign materials into food for economic gain. On the basis of fraudulent food lies illegal income, deceiving the consumer, and stealing money.
In which production do you see more fake and adulteration? What precautions can people take to keep themselves away from this danger?
As a result of the ministry’s inspection and academic studies, we see more fraudulence in olive oil, dairy products, honey, meat and meat products, seafood, spice and food supplements. These products are expensive and the fraudulence cannot be detected easily. The existence of such foods sometimes put spotlight on whole sector or a food category. This is not a healthy approach. As in all sectors, there are also companies in the food sector that are engaged in illegal ventures. But, the numbers of companies fulfilling their legal obligations are much more. Customers should keep away from non-legal and non-traceable foods.
BE AFRAID OF THOSE WHO SAY “VILLAGE PRODUCT”, “NATURAL”
The biggest risk in food cheats lies with products that have been produced under the counter, meaning that these producers are not registered or did not get permission from the ministry. Unregistered companies are not examined since they do not have records at the ministry. The rate of fraudulent foods having label like “village products”, “natural” and being sold on the road or peddler or without any label is much higher. Vital information like who produced and where, the batch number, origin, special consumption conditions and allergen information is printed on labels. Thus, it is vital to consume packaged and labeled product. Consumers should keep away from products having far below prices on the market.
Lastly, can you give some information about the 6th Food Safety Congress that you will organize in May this year?
I would like to take this opportunity to invite everyone who is interested in food safety to the 6th Food Safety Congress, which will take place on 3-4 May 2018. The Congress has an important mission of bringing all relevant parties, such as producers, universities, ministries, consumers together under the common ground of food safety. There are different food safety issues at all stages of the Congress, from primary production to consumption. There will also be a number of interesting topics such as fraudulent food, climate change, food safety and healthcare, new threats to food safety and new technologies. In this congress, the relation between climate change and food safety and the relation between food and health/disease are determined as the subjects of the session. Besides, in the second part of the congress, there will be a restless discussion titled “Processed Food in Various Aspects”.