Food Safety

Food safety and HACCP Certification

The globalization of the food trade has necessitated a transnational system of production for foods. As a result, global sourcing of raw materials is increasing and the need for food safety for perishable products at the origin, after semi-processing and during distribution, has become important. To meet the rising demands of transnational production systems, there is a growing thrust on HACCP amongst the food industries and more and more nations depend on food produced elsewhere in the world.

The SPS Agreement under the WTO Agreement makes it mandatory for all countries to maintain measures to ensure that food is safe for consumers and to prevent the spread of pests and disease among animals and plants. The HACCP system is a food safety management system recognized under the Codex Alimentarius Commission, which is the internationally recognized standard for world food trade under the WTO Agreement.

Many industries in the country are gearing up to the HACCP system in order to be able to meet the requirements of the exporting countries, which are recognizing the HACCP system as the most effective means of managing food safety in food industries and establishments. This is more prevalent in the high risk sectors such as fisheries, poultry, meat, milk and milk products. Some high-profile industries, which appreciate the importance of safety and enjoy consumer confidence, have also started implementing the HACCP system.

The Premises of HACCP System
The HACCP system is a proactive food safety management system, with focuses on prevention. It encompasses the key elements of good product management, good hygiene conditions and good manufacturing practices and calls for: (1) critical examination of raw materials, processes, products; (2) hygienic conditions from origin to consumer; (3) identifying stages/processes where hazards could occur; (4) instituting and maintaining controls at identified stages/processes;(5) documenting the HACCP process and keeping records; and (6) ensuring that the system continues to work effectively.

A well conducted audit both as an in-house activity and a third party assessment provides an objective view of operations of an organization. It reveals the strong and weak points and also the non-conformities in the documented system and in its implementation. Either way, it affords opportunities for improvement. An audit is therefore, a constant measure of achievement of food safety goals and objectives set out by the management in their quality policy. The management gets an objective feedback based on facts, enabling it to make informed decisions towards improvement. There are basically three types of audit, i.e. internal, external or third party.
Process of Audit
Process 1⎯ Opening Meeting
Process 2⎯ Initiation of Audit
(a) The main aspects of evaluation include:

Checking currency of documents being used in the department and document control system in operation;
Quality and HACCP monitoring records and how are they maintained and disposed off after retention period is over;
Selection of CCPs;
Review of CCP procedures, practice and records;
Examination of test results and comparing with the contract/specified requirements. This would reveal quality and food safety status of product / service;
Occurrence, review and disposition of non-conforming products;
Internal audit reports and corrective action on non-conformities.
(b) After the initial discussion with departmental head, the auditors move on to the actually performing personnel and gather information from them regarding:

Finding out what actually happens and how activities are performed;
Speaking to personnel at the work place gives them a feeling that auditors are concerned with fact finding;
Level of understanding of the system and training.
(c)Process of Information Gathering

Interviewing people
Witnessing operators and verification of facts
Recording facts.
Process 3⎯Collection of Findings
(a) Identifying non-conformities
(b) Non-fulfillment of specified requirements is termed as a non-conformity. A
non-conformity could be due to one of four reasons:

The auditee’s documented systems do not comply with the specified requirements;
The auditee has not implemented documented systems;
The documented systems implemented are not effective;
The statutory requirements have either not been addressed or complied with.
(c) Recording non-conformities
(d) Categorization of non-conformities
Based on the extent to which a non-conformity has impact on the system, it is classified into two categories:
*Minor non-conformity

An isolated minor incidence of failure to comply with procedural requirement;
A minor departure from quality management or HACCP systems requirement;
A witnessed minor problem area in the system operation.
*Major non-conformity

A significant departure from a specified requirement in the relevant standard (ISO 9001 and HACCP);
A complete break down of operation of the documented system;
Absence of a quality or food safety management system requirement;
A number of minor non-conformities of similar type spread in most of the activities constitute a major nonconformity.

Process 4⎯Evaluation of System Effectiveness
The information from the findings during the audit, when analyzed in a decision-making sequence, provides the necessary basis to arrive at a reasonable conclusion. These may include:
a) Number of system non-conformities violating specified requirements against
which system is evaluated;
b) Number of implementation non-conformities suggesting that stated system
exists but is not operating effectively;
c) Number of non-conformities against each criterion which would indicate
weakness with respect to certain requirements;
d) Number of non-conformities in each functional area or department suggesting
lack of effectiveness of practices; and
e) Number of non-conformities indicating deviations on CCPs.

Process 5⎯ Closing Meeting
A closing meeting is held with the executive management and managers responsible for the functions audited, i.e., HACCP team. The objective of this meeting is to present the audit observation in such a manner that the organization clearly understands the outcome of the audit.

Audit Report
The audit report provides the findings and recommendations of the auditors in an impersonal form. The final recommendations are based on the findings of the audit. The team either recommends the granting of a certificate or specifies conditions to be complied with by the audited prior to granting of certification.

Surveillance
Once a unit is granted certification, it is maintained through periodic surveillance audits of identified areas in order to ensure that the unit continues to follow the systems. The license renewed every three years.

Reference: Quality Enhancement in Food Processing Through HACCP, ©APO 2004, ISBN: 92-833-7041-4