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FOOD SAFETY RISK ASSESSMENTS

 

Protecting our global food supply chain 

 

With our increasingly complex food supply chain, it’s no longer enough to assess the risks involved in your own manufacturing plants. The hazards bought in, from ingredients to packaging materials, include many unknown risks. In this special report, we share some of the latest information resources to help you safeguard your processes.    

 

 

The importance of traceability


In three separate incidents between 2007 and 2010, melamine was found in the human food chain. In all cases, it originated in Chinese food production, in milk powder and in pet food that was then fed to farm animals, and subsequently used as an ingredient in processed foods such as sweets, pizzas, yoghurt and crackers.


The contamination of milk powder led to the deaths of at least six infants and 300,000 cases of illness in China and a global recall of foods made with Chinese dairy products. This could very easily happen again. In this case, it was a matter of economics. Melamine was used to cheaply boost protein readings, so higher profit margins could be achieved. As it can bind with other chemicals in urine, it can cause kidney stones, bladder infection and in extreme cases kidney failure.


As well as ingredient substitution for economic fraud, there is the risk of contamination as a ‘bioterrorism’ strategy, or more likely by a disgruntled employee. So how do we develop an adequate global framework for food defence?


Clare Winkel has spent over 25 years working in the food industry, and manages food safety and ethical auditing for NCS International in Australia and the US. She says that while Australia leads the world on food safety protocols, we need to be wary of the potential biological and chemical hazards we bring in.
“The melamine contamination was a wake up call for food importers – it affected many global brands,” she says. “What we need to do now is make sure we’re aware of all sources of information, and look beyond micromanaging what’s inside the plant to identify any potential hazards we’re buying in.”

 


How do we assess risk?


Microbiological and chemical hazards pose serious risks to human health, and managing the risk involves six key steps, as HACCP principles dictate:
1. Hazard identification
2. Estimation of the likelihood
3. Estimation of the severity
4. Calculation of total risk
5. Determination of risk acceptability
6. Risk reduction


The first step is not as simple as it sounds, as these hazards change continually. Assessing their significance requires a detailed assessment of both the hazard’s known severity (for example, is it lethal?) and its expected likelihood of occurrence (for example, once per shift or once every 20 years?) 


Control measures also involve the risk of human error, so even if control measures are in place, you still need to consider that hazard.


Every time a food safety standard is revised, on an annual basis, these requirements increase.  Australia is a world leader in the implementation of risk assessment for food safety hazards in the food processing sector. Versions of the 5 x 5 matrix are commonly used, but there are other comprehensive options to help you take into account potential sabotage, supply chain failure (from flood, earthquake, tsunamis or cyclones), the failure to detect hazards present, and the failure of a product identification and traceability system.


Clare suggests two other methodologies could be used to manage food safety risk effectively:


• Failure Mode and Effects Analysis, commonly used by engineers, reviews the cause and effect of each hazard, and provides a qualitative and qualitative risk assessment.


• CARVER, designed by the US military, to analyse and control risks concerning the vulnerability of products (mainly food) from criminal activities.


In both cases, Risk is defined as: Risk = Level of exposure X Hazard severity


This determines where the vulnerabilities are, and what the potential threats could be.

 


Why is it so important to get this right?


Although we have high levels of regulation around food safety, and the recently updated BRC, SQF and Woolworth’s food safety standards require the highest levels of risk assessment, it is not enough to simply tick the required boxes. Consumers demand more from us, for a start – they expect to receive food that is fit for consumption, and will not tolerate occasional bouts of food poisoning.


The Wallis Lakes oyster class action certainly demonstrated this. In 1997, 400 people contracted Hepatitis A after eating oysters cultivated in Wallis Lakes. One man died. A class action against the NSW government, local council and oyster producers eventually found that they had all been negligent, and $15 million was awarded to the victims.


The lesson for producers and suppliers was that it was not enough to follow the letter of the law. In summing up, the Judge stated that; “Producers must do everything reasonably in their power to avoid a risk of food contamination.” In this case, heavy rain had caused faecal pollution and the producers had knowledge of the potential risks to health from consumption.


The risk of litigation is real. The potential loss of income that results from a food safety scare is also real. We are all increasingly vulnerable to unknown risks, and the only way to manage this is by becoming better informed.

 

 

Forewarned is forearmed

 

It’s clear that the biggest risk for food safety could be the tension between commercial drivers and comprehensive hazard assessment. So it is vital to stay informed of the latest developments and ensure you understand the risks at every stage of your supply chain, not just the processes within your business. Prepare your business for future changes to food safety risk assessments by learning more about the current issues.

 

Here are some useful online resources:

  • Codes of Practice:

These are available at http://www.codexalimentarius.org/ specifically:

• Recommended International Code of Practice for General Principles of Food Hygiene - CAC/RCP 1-1969, Rev.4 (2003)
• Code Of Hygienic Practice For Refrigerated Packaged Foods With Extended Shelf Life - CAC/RCP 46-(1999)

 

  • Subscribe to Food Safety Newsletters:

- Australia: http://www.foodscience.csiro.au


- United Kingdom: Campden & Chorleywood; Leatherhead Food Institute; The Chilled Food Association

 

- USA: Fish and Fisheries Products Hazard & Controls Guidance; The International Meat Poultry HACCP Alliance

 

  • Changing consumer expectations:

In Europe, the TRACE project investigates food authenticity and the origins of food, and has developed best practice guidelines on food verification and traceability systems. You can find out more about these traceability guidelines and the TRACE project online.

 

  • Keep up to date with recall alerts:

There are many national databases for recall notices, including:
• Australia: http://www.foodstandards.gov.au
• EU: http://ec.europa.eu/food/food/rapidalert
• UK: http://www.food.gov.uk
• Ireland: http://www.fsai.ie
• France: http://www.afssa.fr
• Germany: http://bfr.bund.de/cd/3992
• Canada: http://www.inspection.gc.ca

 

  • Know your limits:

Microbiological and chemical testing limits are listed in the Australian Food Standards Code 1.6.1. FSANZ Guidelines for ready-to-eat foods are also useful. If you are exporting food, make sure you’re aware of European food standards.

 

  •  Review current literature:

• www.thelancet.com 
• International Journal of Food Microbiology
• Food Control


There are many other publications that may be relevant to your industry, so take a look at the Safe Food website and the Department of Health

 

If you would like any advice or further information, please speak with the

NCSI Food Division Manager, Marc Barnes on: 

Ph: 03 9817 7319 | Mobile: 0404 806 451 | Email: Marc.Barnes@ncsi.com.au

 

 

 

 
 
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