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It is unimaginable to think of the food industry without the implementation of Food Safety Standards.  We all know that Food Safety Standards play the most crucial role in ensuring the supply of safe food. However, to do so, it is preconditioned that these standards are understood by everyone in the organization and that these should be implemented in its entirety.

Ensuring food safety should be the primary objective of each and every food establishment. This is key for any regulatory requirements. Governments and other international organisations such as WHO, Codex, ISO, GFSI, etc. are constantly working on setting up requirements, standards, code of practices with the ultimate objective of establishing a safe and sustainable food supply chain system. The challenge, however, is how much these standards / regulatory norms have been understood and then implemented by Food Business Operators (FBOs). It has been observed that FBOs may either not implement any of the food safety standards or, in some situations, may implement many of the internationally known food safety standards without clearly understanding the real purpose of the standards (review of a FBO company profile; the company had certified for ISO 22000 : 2018, FSSC 22000, BRC GS, HACCP and GMP).

When an establishment has implemented any one of the globally recognised food safety standards, what is the need to implement other standards which are either the part of these standards (like GMP, HACCP) or having the same purpose (like BRC GS, FSSC 22000, SQF, IFS, etc.)?

You may likely agree with us that it is not by having multiple standards that food products are safer. These situations may result from various drivers (clients, marketing, trade, industry, site locality, food sector operations) which focus on solving specific needs or reaching certain goals and not specially focused on a robust and reliable food safety system. These types of situations may also be an indication that the organization (particularly its top management) is not knowledgeable about the definitive purpose of food safety standards and is more focused on getting the site(s) certified so that more and more certifications may be mentioned on the company website and displayed at the corporate meeting room.

It is unimaginable to think of the food industry without the implementation of Food Safety Standards.  We all know that Food Safety Standards play the most crucial role in ensuring the supply of safe food. However, to do so, it is preconditioned that these standards are understood by everyone in the organization and that these should be implemented in its entirety.

 

HACCP provides a framework to assure safe food

 

There are some very important questions every FBO top management should address:

 

Question 1 –  Is it likely that unsafe food supplied to the market may cause adverse health effects,  sickness, hospitalisation or death of consumers?.

 

Answer- Yes, this is well known fact, if not handled properly food may cause adverse health effects. World Health Organisation (WHO) says1;

  • Unsafe food containing harmful bacteria, viruses, parasites or chemical substances, causes more than 200 diseases – ranging from diarrhoea to cancers.
  • An estimated 600 million – almost 1 in 10 people in the world – fall ill after eating contaminated food and 420 000 die every year, resulting in the loss of 33 million healthy life years (DALYs).
  • US$110 billion is lost each year in productivity and medical expenses resulting from unsafe food in low- and middle-income countries.
  • Children under 5 years of age carry 40% of the foodborne disease burden, with 125,000 deaths every year.
  • Diarrhoeal diseases are the most common illnesses resulting from the consumption of contaminated food, causing 550 million people to fall ill and 230,000 deaths every year.

 

Question 2 – How can we ensure that each and every FBO site supplies safe for consumption?

 

Answer: The answer is IMPLEMENTATION of HACCP based on food safety standards. These standards may be any of the GFSI recognised standards. This is in addition to the regulatory norms which are mandatory to be followed as per law of land.

 

Question 3 – Are globally recommended food safety standards available ?

Answer – Yes, there are global organisations working consistently to review the existing standards or develop new standards, code of practices, etc., and their purpose is to give confidence to the FBOs, Government, Regulatory bodies, Consumers, and other stake holders.

There are consistent efforts by the governments of respective countries to make standards and code of practices. There are constant-consistent efforts by international organisations such as ISO and Codex to review existing standards, to make new standards, provide guidance and to develop various related works. Global Food Safety Initiative GFSI consistently sets global  benchmarks to ensure that various food safety standards are at par with expectations, challenges, goals and targets. The ultimate objective of everyone is to protect human health.

We may surmise that the probability of a FBO with NO semblance of a HACCP Based food safety standard supplying unsafe food is much higher compared to a FBO which has implemented any of the internationally acceptable standard as shown in the table below (wouldn’t it be great to have relevant data to back up this conclusion? We will come back to this later…)

 

 

It is well known fact that the company ‘A’ cannot exist in today’s global era market. However, the challenge for company ‘B’ is to implement HACCP based Food Safety standards for the right reasons (assuring safe and nutritious food) and not with the sole purpose of passing audits to use certifications as marketing tools (in this scenario, there is limited control on unsafe food).

 

 

Certainly, there will be significant improvement when company top management and their HACCP team understand the importance of food safety requirements and accordingly:

  1. Choose one of the internationally recognised food safety standard with a clear objective to supply consistently safe food and then implement.
  2. Learn and become competent with the HACCP based food safety standards and implement the standards and requirements
  3. Conduct a daily food safety walk-through of the plant floor and observe the process activities
  4. Bring food safety standards from documents to the plant floor
  5. Establish a robust Food Safety Culture to ensure food safety. This will reduce REJECTIONS, Product Recalls, WASTE, thus assuring Food Security as well.
  6. Competency train the FBO personnel on the food safety standards so that ensuring food safety is “doing the right thing even when no one is looking” and the company’s way of life.
  7. HAZARD Analysis should be openly discussed among HACCP team members and then CCPs and CAs can be determined wisely.

Implementation of Food Safety standards when adopted by HEART (genuine concern for consumer health) , bring major cultural changes in the establishment and ensure consistent supply of safety food, a duty and responsibility to society.

 

How many lives are being saved?

 

Recently at the 2022 GFSI Conference, during a presentation entitled “Food Safety is Everyone’s Business”, a representative from Codex Alimentarius Commission commented that Codex is making a study to be published by the end of the year to understand the impact of Codex regulations. After all, how many lives are being saved?

Visit www.iamaslo.com to know about the movement I started back in 2019 to inspire food safety professionals to become their organization’s SLO (Saving Lives Officer).

 

This is a very important question. As mentioned above, we all know that HACCP based food safety systems contribute to safe food and therefore prevent foodborne illness and save people’s lives. The question is, can this be quantified?

 

Wouldn’t it be great to have an independent study that assessed how having HACCP based Food Safety Standards reduces the health burden of consuming unsafe food? Taking a step further, what about searching for evidence that organizations that implement a food safety management system (on top of HACCP) provide higher protection than the basic HACCP?

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This article was written by:

Nuno F. Soares

Disclaimer: The information contained on this article is based on research done in the last months and the authors personal experience and opinion. It is not intended to represent the view of any organization they work for or collaborate with. The authors will not be held liable for the use or misuse of the information provided in the article.

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