Safe, high-quality food – What measures are in place?

The key question is: What measures do governments and private individuals take to ensure the safety and quality of food products, also in the light of illegal food transport, and how do these measures contribute to food risk management?

Food safety and risk management: I look at the situation as it is in Belgium, and internationally. This includes threats, opportunities and wicked problems. I look at this issue partly from the acronym PEST: Political, economic, social and technical. But also from a health point of view.In this post I give my own opinion, not that of any organization.
Author: Manu Steens

What is safe and quality food?

Safe and high-quality food is food that meets the nutritional needs of the population without harmful effects. The following words are important in this: nutritional needs, and harmless. That is why I am subjecting this question to a strategic method of analysis. After all, a breach of these two requirements only has to occur once to have serious consequences for several parties.

When is food safe and high-quality for health?

Note that safe and quality go hand in hand. For health, several aspects come to the fore.

The nutritional value as a quality characteristic requires that the food has variety and is balanced. To this end, a mix of vegetables (fiber), carbohydrates, lean proteins and healthy fats is important. You balance these by expanding the main meals, often based on carbohydrates, proteins and fats, with a piece of fruit and other sources of vitamins and minerals.

Preferably choose fresh products, grown with a minimum of pesticides and chemicals or without them. If you know the farmer personally, you may also have a better idea of what was used in the growing process.

When it comes to preparation, hygiene is an absolute must. The best way to kill bacteria is to prepare the food at a high temperature and store it at a low temperature.

For obvious reasons, avoid fast food, which is often addictive due to the ‘ideal’ combination of fats, sugars and salt.

Finally, adapt your diet to your state of health. For example, if you have gout, you should be careful with red meat and other animal proteins. For other conditions, other foods may be best avoided. Discuss this with your doctor, and with a dietician. What is also useful in many cases is moderation of soft drinks and alcoholic beverages.

What is safe and quality food from a technical/chemical point of view?

An important requirement is that the composition of the food consists of harmless substances and natural ingredients. All traces of pesticides, insecticides, bacteria, heavy metals,… must therefore have been removed in production. There should also be no spoilage, and it is best to state the correct expiration date on the label, including how best to store the food. Technically, the food you prepare at home is quite minimally processed. To this end, the producer takes hygienic measures into account. For safety reasons, when a situation occurs, one ensures that one knows the origin of the food, through traceability. This is a help to limit any consequential damage through product recalls. It is becoming increasingly important for consumer safety to identify allergens and to list them on the labels.

A first aspect that is important to the citizen from this point of view is comprehensive legislation, which sets standards that producers and sales must meet. The government checks whether the supply chain from food production to the plate adheres to safety rules. This also includes the traceability mentioned above. This means that companies in the supply chain can also be held liable for the safety of their products.

A second aspect from a legal point of view is to provide the correct information about the product. This means that the correct ingredients must be listed on the label, expiration date, nutritional value, and storage instructions. These things must be scientifically verifiable.

Finally, there is the direct protection of the consumer against harmful substances, as mentioned earlier. The government also guarantees legal remedies, such as compensations.

What has come to the fore more and more in recent years is the sustainability of food production, and animal welfare.

What is safe and quality food from an environmental point of view?

The following aspects of food are useful for the environment:

First, there’s sustainability. More and more attention is being paid to food production with a low ecological footprint. This includes reduced use of pesticides, fertilizers, and efficient use of water. Pesticides and fertilizers pollute water sources, which puts a mortgage on the health of future generations.

Secondly, preventing or reducing food waste, composting of food waste, is also part of the process.

Finally, a choice of local products also ensures a lower ecological footprint, because less transport is involved. That is why it is useful to buy from a local farmer or horticulturist with the cargo bike.

Multi-cultural production, as opposed to a monoculture, can also be useful in this respect, as it does not harm biodiversity. Opting for a focus on plant-based seasonal food with local production reduces the CO2 footprint. That, in turn, is climate-friendly.

In the periphery, I note that in some countries there is still deforestation to create agricultural land. This leads to severe loss of biodiversity.

What is safe and quality food from a food security standpoint?

In addition to the food itself, food security is also needed. Ensuring that the food is available at all times and in sufficient quantities.

A prerequisite for this is the physical availability of food through the supply chain. This ensures that the food is accessible to the population so that they can buy and transport food. In this way, the supply chain supports general public health, but also the economic health and continuity of society. The supply it provides must be diverse, because of the health requirements of quality and safe food, as discussed above.

A second requirement, of course, is that the supply chain does not exist on an ad hoc basis, but has its own stability, provides its own continuity. In addition, the global nature of the supply chain can ensure its own continuity despite natural disasters such as extreme weather conditions, economic crises or wars in production areas such as Ukraine. It must continue to do so, at a reasonable price for the consumer.

A third certainty that the supply chain must provide is the safe use of supplied products. These include food safety (no harmful substances), good nutritional values and diversity (including plant-based foods, without a focus on fast food), and preventing food waste on the way from production to the consumer’s plate. Information has become a must.

Finally, it is an important task to provide a food bank for the less fortunate. Initiatives such as ‘too good to go’ and ‘social deal’ are also useful and necessary.

What are key success factors on a political, social, economic and technical level?

From the previous discussion, we can deduce a number of key success factors


  • Implementation and enforcement of strict food safety standards and regulations.
  • International cooperation to combat and trace food-related problems.
  • Investments in food safety through safety programs and research.
  • Political will to make food safety and security a priority.
  • Putting a focus on sustainable agriculture in policy.


  • Information and education on safety and hygiene.
  • Behavioral change to safe practices. For example, by involving all stakeholders in the development and implementation of food safety policies.
  • Community-based initiatives that ensure food security. ‘Buy Locally‘.


  • Supporting sustainable agriculture and smallholder farmers.
  • Access to food, including for vulnerable groups. Through affordable prices, or food packages for the most vulnerable.
  • Sustainable finance: a long-term investment is needed. Sufficient food must also be available and accessible for future generations.
  • Reducing food waste from production to plate. Among other things, through better infrastructure for storage and transport.


  • Food safety systems and Early Warning Systems are important to quickly find or control a contamination, within every link of the supply chain.
  • Traceability systems that record the origin of food and make it transparent. Also for the purpose of recalls when a certain batch of food would be contaminated.
  • New technologies. For example, with a focus on food safety to avoid cross-contamination of food with foreign allergens.

One key factor that is important for achieving success in all four areas:

  • Capacity building. There must be sufficient people and resources for doing the work throughout the supply chain, now and tomorrow. In developed and developing countries.

When is a food transport illegal?

While the supply chain must ensure a healthy and high-quality and guaranteed supply for the consumer, this must of course be done correctly and therefore legally in that supply chain. A number of problems can occur in this process.

First, the transport and storage must have the proper permits, certificates, and documentation, such as invoices, temperature records, and proper labeling.

Second, the supply chain must meet the requirement of hygienic production, transportation, and storage conditions. This also includes an approach against pests and external contaminants.

It is extremely important for certain types of food not to interrupt the cold chain.

A fourth point of attention is that of forbidden food: certain types of food sources may not be used for certain types of end products (e.g. because of adulteration) or local products must only be sourced from certain locations. For example, as a tourist, from many countries you are not allowed to import food, animal or vegetable.

For some products, in some countries, one must also follow a pre-agreed route, with only pre-approved stops by authorized persons with suitable means of transport.

Which players are there in Belgium and how do they work together internationally?


In Belgium, the Federal Public Service Health, Food Chain Safety and Environment is responsible for food safety. The Federal Agency for the Safety of the Food Chain enforces the food safety standards, while the Food Chain Control Service carries out inspections to ensure compliance with food safety standards.- In Flanders, the Department of Care (Departement zorg) is responsible for food safety in healthcare institutions.


Internationally, the World Health Organization (WHO) is responsible for developing international standards for food safety. While the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) helps countries develop and implement food safety systems. The World Trade Organization (WTO) regulates international trade in food and agricultural products.

None of this can be done effectively without international cooperation. This is done through various government and private organizations.

Such actors share information on food safety risks and incidents, carry out joint risk assessments,  harmonise international standards together, and provide technical assistance to countries to improve their food safety systems.

What are the opportunities?

Economic opportunities of food safety:

Food safety offers economic opportunities:

A first opportunity is increased productivity. In the first place, by reducing food waste throughout the supply chain to the consumer’s plate. Preventively, there is a better health of the population, which results in better economic performance due to lower absenteeism.

A second preventive and protective opportunity lies in maintaining and increasing trading opportunities. By complying with international standards, one can continue to meet local standards of the trading partner, which perpetuates the continuity of sales. But in addition, other countries will open their borders to our products, creating more employment opportunities in both countries. Both depend on strong consumer confidence and political goodwill on both sides.

A third protective opportunity is that of blue oceans: new markets are created and therefore new jobs due to the development of innovative technologies in food production, which meet the requirements of safety.

A fourth opportunity is one that depends on the individualism of tourists: they are more inclined to visit countries where it is safe to eat local food.

Fifth, sustainable agricultural practices will improve the use of natural resources, which increases relative profitability.

Sixth, consumer confidence is improving, which means that companies with a good reputation attract and retain more customers. This also strengthens the brand of such companies.

Opportunities of food safety at the political level:

It improves public health, which leads to a reduction in health care costs and is therefore an indicator of better population resilience. It can manifest itself on a physical and psychological level. In addition, it ensures economic growth by  increasing exports and creating new jobs, in which politics also has a hand by maintaining good diplomatic relations. Furthermore, safe food increases consumer confidence in the food supply. The government also has to get involved in this area by drawing up emergency plans for food supply. Finally, there is international cooperation, because this is a global problem that requires cooperation between countries and therefore good diplomatic relations.

Some concrete examples of food safety opportunities at the political level include introducing regulations to  protect public health, providing subsidies to farmers to invest in food safety measures,  or working with other countries to address food safety issues, including by supporting supply chains, by drafting legislation for population self-reliance, by drawing up contingency plans for supplies in times of emergency,…

There are several factors that are important for policy makers: strong political will, the use of scientific evidence, stakeholder participation to psychologically make the requirements ‘theirs’ and to convince them to participate by convincing them of the benefits of security and ensuring funding to be able to realize the initiatives that are conceived or put in place. Finally, there is the need to enforce the standards with inspections.

Are there any examples of dangerous applications of advertising to poor dietary habits?

The tobacco industry’s marketing methods were applied to the fast food industry and confectionery industry.

Yes, for example, there are misleading claims by using terms such as “healthy”, “natural” or “responsible” on unhealthy products. Exaggerating the health benefits of certain nutrients such as vitamins or minerals. Or actively hiding the negative consequences of an unhealthy diet.

In addition, there are the attractive packaging with the use of bright colors and images that appeal to children and packaging that focuses on emotions.

Frequently used is the sponsorship of events and sports teams, which creates a link between unhealthy products and positive activities.

Just as important as sports teams is what is called ‘influencer marketing’ to get unhealthy products promoted by celebrities. Or through collaborations on social media without clear but suggestive labeling.

Targeting vulnerable target groups is downright dangerous. In addition, advertisements are often targeted at people who are unable to understand the health risks of unhealthy food.

Nowadays, targeted advertising on social media is much more used through the use of algorithms to show advertisements.

What measures are there from the government and from the private sector to guarantee safe and high-quality food?

Government measures for safe and high-quality food:

Government measures can be taken in the field of regulations, of carrying out inspections, of providing information.

In terms of regulations, the government can set strict rules for each link in the entire food supply chain. These rules are scientifically evidence-based and are based on proven standards. They are also different according to the origin and type of food. The Federal Agency for the Safety of the Food Chain (FAVV) carries out checks on this. These checks include inspections of  the production and business premises, the production processes and the inputs and the finished products themselves. The FAVV can impose sanctions if necessary. Consumers can submit complaints about companies and their products via the FAVV.

In terms of the provision of information, the government communicates with the ultimate consumers, for example through various websites, brochures and campaigns.

Some examples of government measures:

  • Mandatory HACCP certification
  • Imposing traceability
  • Indication of nutrition information and allergens on labels
  • Mandatory pesticide residue controls
  • Inspections of slaughterhouses

Measures from the private sector:

Measures taken by the private sector are based on quality management systems, such as those described by ISO or a national standard. But they can also carry out their own checks if they are more stringent, for example through very precise laboratory tests, or a higher frequency of quality checks, safety checks and audits. In agriculture, mechanical methods can be used instead of chemical methods to control weeds, or animal-friendly methods can be introduced where this is not yet the case.

But the private sector can also work with the government to promote safety and quality. This can be done, for example, by proposing measures for a new type of production that is not yet regulated that radiate caution, proportionality, effectiveness and efficiency, or by sharing expertise with the government.

Some examples of measures for food safety and quality from the private sector:

  • Investing in new technologies to demonstrably improve safety
  • Development of alternatives to e.g. fast food with healthier and more sustainable food products
  • Honest and verifiable information to consumers
  • Collaboration with third parties (NGOs, food banks,…) to reduce food waste


A lot is done to get the food from the production stage, through the processing, to the citizen’s plate.

The governments are taking regional, national and international initiatives with regard to supply chain security that should not be underestimated, and with regard to the flow of information about food quality and its health consequences for the unsuspecting citizen.

But outside of governments, there are also a number of initiatives from the private sectors at the front of the queue to give the best of themselves.

Nutrition touches on many types of risks:

  • Health risks, such as particulate matter with too much transport, or obesity with incorrect (amounts of) food. This also poses risks to the resilience of a state and its population.
  • Technical risks such as production errors that can leave chemical residues of pesticides, etc.
  • Legal risks and fraud risks, and therefore financial risks such as counterfeiting beverages or popular food products.
  • Financial risks, when agriculture is in danger of going under.
  • Famine, due to climate change…

It is therefore normal for a state to demand the best for its citizens in terms of food. And that it does so in a scientifically sound manner.

Manu Steens

Manu works at the Flemish Government in risk management and Business Continuity Management. On this website, he shares his own opinions regarding these and related fields.

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