Food quality and safety are on the minds of nearly everyone these days, from consumers to growers, government and, of course, the processors who are on the front line of defence against food contamination. There are many quality assurance programs out there for processors to look at, and over the years a lot has changed.
According to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, the Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) is an approach to food safety that is systematic and preventive. Recommended by the Codex Alimentarius Commission, the United Nations international standards organization for food safety, HACCP is used widely around the world since the 1960s. HACCP is referred to as the prevention of hazards rather than finished product inspection, and the system can be used at all stages of a food chain, from food production and preparation processes including packaging, distribution, etc. It is a process that identifies where potential contamination can occur (the critical control points or CCPs) and strictly manages and monitors these points as a way of ensuring the process is controlled and that the safest product possible is being produced.
Developing, implementing, and maintaining a HACCP system is industry’s responsibility. Market forces continue to drive HACCP implementation throughout the food industry. In many cases, buyer demands and foreign governments require HACCP implementation to maintain market share and/or gain access to previously inaccessible markets. As HACCP systems are accepted worldwide, Food Enhancement Safety Program (FSEP), which is the Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s (CFIA) approach to encourage and support the development, implementation, and development of HACCP systems in all federally-registered establishments helps the Canadian industry to maintain and expand its international markets.
Establishments that have implemented a HACCP system also provide buyers and consumers with a greater degree of confidence that the facility is producing a safe food product.
There are seven universally accepted HACCP principles, and every country that uses HACCP follows these same principles. But beyond implementing HACCP, the processor needs to also have certification from a well-recognized certifying body.
The seven HACCP principles, for example, are included in the international standard ISO 22000 FSMS 2005, one of the most widely used certifications. ISO 22000 integrates the principles of the HACCP system and application steps developed by the Codex Alimentarius Commission to establish an auditable set of requirements for a food safety management system, the key elements of which are interactive communication, system management, prerequisite programs and HACCP principles.
Another widely used certification body is the British Retail Consortium based in the United Kingdom. BRC developed the standards in 1998 to assist retailers and owners to produce quality food products that are consistently safe. The certification is now considered significant for suppliers not just in Europe but also North America. The standard is divided into seven areas: Senior Management Commitment and Continual Improvement; The Food Safety Plan; Food Safety and Quality Management System; Site Standards; Product Control; Process Control; and Personnel.
Programs have a wide range of efficacy and complexity levels. According to John Kukoly with BRC Global Standards, “Most programs traditionally fit into one of two molds; the supplier audit, where someone from the retailer or manufacturer would audit their suppliers against their own expectations, and the third party audit, where an auditing firm would develop their requirements and expectations based on experience and customer needs.” These programs are generally supplier approval and monitoring tools. What kind of a food quality program is best suited to a manufacturer is dependent on the processors needs. “One of the most important issues to keep in mind is a biased opinion.” Kukoly recommends always getting a broader perspective by consulting with numerous people. “If you are asking a consultant, trainer, certification body or other similar candidate, ask first what they are qualified to deliver, then ask for the opinion on that. If I only trained on one scheme, I would obviously be biased to that one alone.”
Fred Andersen, a Certified Management Consultant (CMC) with the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC), says that when implementing a quality assurance program, it is important for a processor to first research the current regulatory requirements. Andersen has been involved in food safety and quality assurance in Western Canada for over 20 years, and BDC helps processors develop plans that make sense for their operation given the number of different standards and schemes out there. Once a company has implemented a system, BDC will conduct an internal audit to make sure the system is within standards based on ISO 22000 guidelines. “We selected ISO 22000 because it is globally recognized and that is the focus of the BDC,” said Andersen.
“We prepare companies, and conduct internal audits to prepare for certification. With a successful audit your certification is recognized worldwide, and by customers as well.”
Andersen brings specific attention to the issue of product traceability and the necessity these days of keeping very detailed records. “How quickly and effective your record keeping system is will have direct impact on how quickly one can recall or withdraw a product,” said Andersen. Record keeping is now essential to manage this risk because recalls and withdrawals have a significant impact on a company and the customer.
BDC covers both consulting and financing, one of the only firms in the country to do so.
While it may seem like a huge undertaking and responsibility, today it has become necessary for food processors to have a quality assurance program and, more importantly yet, an auditable one recognized internationally, particularly if you are an exporter. Quality assurance employees need the tools to strengthen the food quality and safety systems that keep consumers and processors safe and protected.
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Western Food Processor Magazine – Fall 2013 Issue