Note: This guest blog is part one of two.
Food safety refers to procedures and regulations to prevent the contamination and poisoning of food products. At February’s Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) conference, the emerging challenges discussed were diverse. Topics touched on supply chain integrity, capability building in developing markets, innovations in technology and data management, allergen management, the changing face of the international retail marketplace and the accelerating growth of third-party certification.
By applying commonsense protections from farm to fork and by selecting the most appropriate food inspection technology for the application, transparency can be enhanced and the risk of physical contaminants entering the food chain prevented.
New rules and regulations
Changes to food safety are largely driven by U.S. legislation, with most countries now converging toward FDA’s Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) standards. Rather than targeting specific foods or hazards, the FSMA rules focus on implementing mitigation strategies in registered food facilities. Food imports are a big focus.
With as many as 15 million shipments of imported food expected to enter the United States in 2019, the FDA recently announced new plans and a multi-layered data-driven safety net to limit risks (https://www.fda.gov/food/guidanceregulation/fsma/ucm361902.htm). It now applies to both human and animal foods and helps to ensure imported foods meet the same safety standards as U.S. domestically produced foods.
The FDA recognizes countries that have comparable food safety programs, including New Zealand, Australia and Canada. This is helping the FDA to focus efforts and border screening for countries deemed a higher import risk. The FDA is currently working with the European Union to reach a mutually compatible arrangement.
Canada, too, recently updated its food safety system, implementing the new Safe Foods for Canadians Regulations at the start of 2019 (http://www.inspection.gc.ca/DAM/DAM-aboutcfia-sujetacia/STAGING/text-texte/regs_safe_food_regulations_handbook_business_1531429195095_eng.pdf). In addition to Canadian companies, companies that export to Canada, especially the United States, may observe some significant changes.
Canada’s new rules place greater emphasis on hygiene and hazardous-based preventative controls. This includes a new standard on recording the chain of custody from the start of production to the shelf. How data are captured and analyzed is critical. Adapting to common standards can help, for example, with an automated record-keeper to monitor and maintain record logs for rejects, tests, settings etc.
Issue 8 of the British Retail Consortium’s Global Food Safety Standard also went live Feb. 1, 2019 (https://www.campdenbri.co.uk/blogs/brc-8-key-changes.php). With this latest version, there is also a strong emphasis on hygiene and pathogen contamination, as well as fostering team accountabilities.
In most westernized economies now, processors document all potential product risks, including naturally occurring hazards. To facilitate this traceability, certain metal detector systems, for example, can offer automatic logging of information to show the system is operational and working correctly. This helps to narrow the time frame during which a problem can go undetected and reduce the amount of suspect products that must be discarded or recalled in case of an incident.
HACCP or HARPC?
The FSMA law impacts the longstanding Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) principles, which have been superseded in the United States by Hazard Analysis and Risk-Based Preventive Controls (HARPC). It now applies to almost all food processing facilities in the country.
The biggest difference in the HARPC standards is that they extend beyond critical control points. Now, food processors are mandated to document all potential product risks, including naturally occurring hazards and anything that might intentionally or unintentionally get introduced to their facility. This includes planning for potential terrorist acts, intentional adulteration and food fraud. Additionally, cleanliness and sanitation are key preventative steps that need to be controlled in HARPC.
Retailer Codes of Practice
As well as legislative standards, when investing in inspection equipment, food producers and contract packers need to stay mindful of the latest retailer Codes of Practice (COP).
System upgrades of existing machinery can help to stay compliant with future COP curveballs, as it only sets a processor back several hundred rather than thousands of dollars. The cost can be offset through the maintenance budget instead of eating into capital expenditure. What’s more, manufacturers can achieve instant compliance without having to wait for a new machine to be built and installed.
Listen to a recent food safety podcast by the author here.