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Food safety through recognised certification

Certification bodies play a critical role in improving the food and drink industry’s safety management systems. Sterling Crew explores some of the third-party accreditation systems, which drive continuous improvement and help to give assurance that consumers can enjoy safe, healthy, and nutritious food and drink.

The need for certification

From horsemeat to dangerous pathogens to chemical contamination, it seems food scandals and scares are never far from the headlines. These high-profile cases dent consumer confidence creating unprecedented challenges for the food industry and yet food consumed in the UK is amongst the safest, most authentic, and nutritious in the world.

Certification bodies have made a significant contribution to improving food safety management systems (FSMS). FSMS are voluntary tools that food businesses use to enhance trust and to provide consumers with assurance that the food they buy has been manufactured safely from traceable ingredients from a secure supply network. They provide a structure for the development of safety management systems, help to mitigate risks and provide a common nomenclature and a globally harmonised approach.

The need for food and drink businesses to demonstrate competence through recognised standards and audit is now widely established within the industry and related sectors. FSMS certification is a means of strengthening due diligence and governance systems, satisfying customer requirements for manufacturers to verify their HACCP plans and demonstrating compliance to their codes of practice. Not least they provide independent endorsement of internal practices and allow food businesses to carry out their own internal ’health checks’.

The need for food and drink businesses to demonstrate competence through recognised standards and audit is now widely established within the industry.”

Global Food Safety Initiative

The Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) is the pre-eminent food industry programme, which provides leadership, guidance, and harmonisation on FSMS across the worldwide food supply network. Its mission is to deliver continuous improvement in FSMS to ensure confidence in the delivery of safe food to international consumers.

The GFSI was established against a backdrop of low consumer confidence along with food industry audit fatigue, as retailers and brand manufacturers audited factories against their own bespoke in-house standards. Each of these standards was developed in isolation with little or no consideration of consistency or unnecessary duplication. Conducting fewer audits increases efficiency, reduces downtime and frees up resources from customer visits to focus on innovation and new product development.

The GFSI’s objectives are:

• to reduce food safety risks by delivering convergence between effective FSMS

• to manage cost in the global food system by improving operational efficiency

• to develop competencies and capacity building to create consistent and effective global FSMS

• to provide a global stakeholder platform for collaboration, knowledge exchange and networking

GFSI recognised food safety management schemes are shown in Table 1. The leading certification programme in the UK is BRC Global Standards. The BRC Global Standard for Food Safety is used by over 23,000 suppliers in 123 countries, with certification issued through a worldwide network of accredited certification bodies. The Standard is a fundamental requirement of some leading retailers.

The Standard is continuously evolving and the inclusion of methods for measuring a business’s food safety culture is under consideration. Food safety culture is increasingly cited as a significant emerging risk factor in food safety incidents and outbreaks. ISO 22000 is also a member of the GFSI family of standards. It is a scheme dealing with food safety developed by the International Organization for Standardisation and is a derivative of ISO 9000.

Other FSMS schemes

There are several other FSMS schemes that are not part of the GFSI programme, which can provide valuable assessment of food safety risks and quality assurance. The Campden HACCP Audit Scheme (CHAS) is the leading means of independently strengthening due diligence regimes and satisfying customer requirements by assurance of the appropriateness of HACCP plans. It has a relentless focus on HACCP. Similarly, the AIB International scheme, provides an excellent insight into a factory’s hygiene and GMP standards. The Sedex ethical scheme, although not FSMS based, can increase awareness about an organisation’s culture and the attitude of employees. Unsafe people make unsafe food. All these standards play their part in guaranteeing the standardisation of quality, safety and operational criteria and ensuring that manufacturers fulfil their legal obligations and provide protection for the end consumer.

Audits

Third party audits are a crucial component of maintaining food safety standards and certification. They are external audits performed by independent organisations, such as certification bodies or regulators, and are carried out to verify conformance to the standards through review of objective evidence. They are also an important management tool for driving continuous improvement in an organisation. However, audits can give a false sense of security. The audit is a snapshot in time and at its best is a sampling exercise. It is not necessarily an indicator of future performance. Although control measures are put into auditor training and calibration, there is still a possibility of some inconsistency in focus and interpretation. Audit outcomes require action and closure. Repeating the exercise without taking action is pointless. For added assurance and credibility there is an option of unannounced audits. It encourages a business to be audit ready every day and mitigates the potential peaks and troughs in factory standards, which can be driven by the audit cycle.

Over time food supply chains have grown ever more complex and many are international in nature. This creates more opportunities for unseen, unsafe food practices and for criminality. To be effective, the certification needs to be farm to fork, to cover every link in the food supply chain and to have complete and full traceability.

Third party audits are a crucial component of maintaining food safety standards and certification.”

Legal compliance

The current economic climate has resulted in budget cuts a both the Food Standards Agency and at Local Authorities. It will inevitably impact on their ability to maintain high levels of food safety and hygiene across the food network. This challenge must be met with new ways of thinking and working. Greater emphasis will be placed on self-regulation and earned recognition, with regulators adopting a risk-based, intelligence-lead approach in which businesses can demonstrate their ability to comply with food law. Strategies covering legal compliance as a minimum requirement, such as recognition of independent third party accreditation schemes, can be adopted to ensure better targeting of resources.

• BRC Global Standard for Food Safety (Seventh Edition)

• BRC-IOP Global Standard for Packaging and Packaging Materials Issue 5

• BRC Global Standard for Storage and Distribution

• Canada GAP (Canadian Horticultural Council On- Farm Food Safety Program)

• FSSC 22000 Food Products

• Global Aquaculture Alliance Seafood – BAP Seafood Processing Standard

• GLOBALG.A.P. Integrated Farm Assurance Scheme Version 5, Product Safety Standard Version 4 and Harmonized Produce Safety Standard

• Global Red Meat Standard (GRMS) 4rth Edition 4.1

• IFS Food Version 6

• IFS Logistics Version 2.1

• IFS PAC secure, Version 1

• PrimusGFS Standard (v.2.1 - December 2011)

• Safe Quality Food Code 7th Edition Level 2

Table 1 GFSI recognised food safety management schemes

 

Sterling Crew  FIFST, FCIEH, FRSPH, is Head of Technical at Kolak Snack Foods Ltd, Vice President of the Institute of Food Science and Technology and Chair of the IFST Food Safety Group.

Email: Sterling@Kolak.co.uk Web: www.ifst.org

 



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