Can consumers ever be sure that the food they eat is 100% safe? In short, the answer is, no. We live in an environment where we are constantly exposed to bacteria. However, the recent deadly listeria outbreak, which killed over 200 people in South Africa, has been a major eye opener. Consumers are not only questioning food safety standards, but rightly insisting on a tougher approach to food safety.
Our FREE downloadable guide ISO 22000:2018 Food Safety Management Systems Implementation explores the steps necessary for a successful compliance.
After months of testing and cleaning at its Polokwane facility, Tiger Brands CEO Lawrence MacDougall has said that they will probably never know how the deadly ST6 listeria strain entered the facility. He has confirmed, however, that the factory followed all existing protocols and requirements in SA. Since the outbreak Tiger Brands has worked with international and local experts to further improve safety and prevent another outbreak, including changing the way its factories are arranged, and adopting technologies to reduce bacteria loads. Fallout from the listeria crisis has caused immeasurable harm to the brand, and this is the type of storm that only a giant like Tiger Brands can weather. For smaller food producers and suppliers in the value chain, the impact has been huge.
While the root causes of the listeria outbreak continue to puzzle scientists and industry experts, the frequency of these tragic food poisoning incidents, and loss of life, points to serious problems in the food supply chain. Head of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Food Safety and Zoonoses department, Dr. Kazuaki Miyagishima, reduces food contamination in Africa down to:
- Poor food preparation;
- Poor hygiene;
- Inadequate conditions in food production and storage;
- Lower levels of literacy, education and training; and
- Insufficient food safety legislation or implementation of legislation.
If consumers want safer food – and they do – where do we begin to find answers to solve these problems?
Improving Food Safety and Quality in South Africa
Food regulatory systems are the cornerstone of public health the world over, and South Africa is no exception. Numerous food-related regulations, grouped under the National Foodstuffs, Cosmetics and Disinfectants Act, are in place to protect consumer health. Government has also tightened industry regulations following the listeria outbreak, and processors of ready-to-eat meat products are now required to implement a hazard-analysis and critical control point system, by March 2019. While not all of these food safety regulations and systems apply to all sectors in the food industry, the following levels of protection should be in place where applicable.
A valid certificate of acceptability
A valid certificate of acceptability is issued by the local municipality in terms of Regulation 962 of the Foodstuffs, Cosmetics & Disinfectants Act. Its general hygiene requirements are basic, and it should ensure a facility is adequately designed and constructed to handle food. The regulation emphasises the importance of training food handlers, which is often a weakness in food safety systems. It also places the full legal liability for food safety on the person in charge. New requirements of the draft regulation known as R364, are far more stringent, and bring South Africa in line with the US and Europe.
The majority of food hazards can be controlled by PRPs, which are the foundation for the HACCP system. Once the PRPs are in place, HACCP based procedures focus on controlling the steps in the production process which are critical to ensuring the preparation of safe food.
Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point System (HACCP)
Any company involved in the manufacturing, processing or handling of food products should use HACCP to minimise or eliminate food safety hazards in their product. The HACCP system reduces the risk of safety hazards, and requires that potential hazards are identified and controlled at specific points in the process. As mentioned earlier, the HACCP regulations have been amended to include ready-to-eat meat and poultry processors, which have until 14 March, 2019 to comply.
FSSC 22000 Food Safety System Certification
The FSSC 22000 Food Safety Management System Certification Scheme uses the ISO 22000:2018 Food Safety Management Systems requirements for food safety, and the ISO Technical Standards for PRPs. Certification is recognised by the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI), and it affords food producers and food packaging manufacturers worldwide recognition for their food safety systems.
British Retail Consortium Food Safety Standard
The BRC Food Safety Standard provides prescriptive guidelines as to how food safety should be addressed. ISO FSSC 22000:2018 offers a good framework against which an organisation can develop its own food safety management system, and allows the organisation to choose the best way to control its own system.The BRC has a simple certification process, and only requires an onsite audit, whereas the FSSC 22000 certification standard requires a stage 1 and 2 audit, both to be done on site, plus periodic surveillance and unannounced audits. The role of certification bodies in supporting the food safety system has been identified as an area for improvement in the lessons learned from the listeria crisis.
Food Growers and GlobalG.A.P
GLOBALG.A.P. (Good Agricultural Practices) is a farm assurance programme, and a partnership between agricultural producers and retailers that endeavours to establish accepted standards and procedures in the agricultural sector. It is widely-used, and many customers for agricultural products require evidence of GlobalG.A.P certification as a prerequisite for doing business. The standard was developed using the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) guidelines, and is governed according to ISO/IEC 17021-1:2015 for certifications schemes.
ISO 22000:2018 Food Safety Management System
As we have discussed, food safety is all about preventing, eliminating, or controlling foodborne hazards so that food is safe to eat. There are many guidelines to follow and legal requirements in place. However, there has not been a single, internationally recognised food safety systems standard that applies to every link in the supply chain, and that worked regardless of local laws and customs. That is, not until June 2018, when the ISO 22000:2018 Food Safety Management Systems Standard was released.
In the short time since its release, ISO 22000:2018 has become synonymous with food safety worldwide. The ISO standard renders food safety management into a process of continuous improvement, which aims to prevent or eliminate food safety hazards or, if they can’t be completely eliminated, bring them within acceptable limits. It integrates the principles of the HACCP system, and incorporates steps developed by the Codex Alimentarius Commission, a subgroup of the WHO. Furthermore, ISO 22000:2018 combines the HACCP plan with prerequisite programmes. To have a complete quality management system in a food organisation, ISO 9000:2015 and ISO 22000:2018 can be integrated.
Food safety is not guaranteed by virtue of a standard. However, with compliance to ISO 22000:2018 throughout the food supply chain, consumers can have greater confidence in the safety and integrity of the food supply system, and can be reasonably assured that the food they purchase is safe for them and their families to eat.
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