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Food safety, a relevant factor in international trade

To address foodborne disease, governments and international organizations have created HACCP, a system based on seven principles to ensure food safety.

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Published by ConnectAmericas

HIGHLIGHTS

  • The solution to the problem of foodborne disease starts through joint action between governments and producers 
  • Governments have executed agreements to adjust their food safety regulations to international standards

En los Estados Unidos, uno de cada seis habitantes se enferma cada año como consecuencia de haber ingerido un alimento contaminado. A nivel global, y especialmente en otros países menos industrializados, se estima que la cifra es mucho mayor. Y, lo que es aún peor, la Organización Mundial de la Salud (OMS) sugiere que existe un “aumento significativo en los últimos años de enfermedades relacionadas con los alimentos”, dato que preocupa cada vez más a las autoridades sanitarias, a la industria alimenticia, y a los consumidores alrededor del mundo.

Además, según explica Maged Younes, director del Departamento de Inocuidad de los Alimentos de la OMS, “la rápida globalización del comercio de alimentos ha incrementado el riesgo de incidentes internacionales por alimentos contaminados. La contaminación puede producirse en numerosos puntos de la cadena alimentaria. Como la producción de alimentos está a menudo centralizada y estos productos se distribuyen ampliamente por todo el mundo, cualquier incumplimiento de las prácticas de fabricación adecuadas puede tener gran repercusión en la inocuidad de alimentos consumidos por gran número de personas”.

One in six people in the United States get sick every year from eating contaminated food. Globally this figure is much higher, especially in less industrialized countries. Even worse, the World Health Organization (WHO) reports that “there has been a significant increase of foodborne disease in recent years”, information of growing concern for health authorities, the food industry and consumers around the world.  

Furthermore, according to Maged Younes, Director of the Department of Food Safety at the WHO, “the rapid globalization of the food trade has increased the risk of international incidents involving contaminated food. Contamination can be introduced at many points along the food-chain. Since the production of food products is often centralized and these products are widely distributed around the world, a breach of proper manufacturing practices can have a major impact on the safety of food consumed by a large number of people.”  

Experts agree that the solution to this problem starts through joint action between governments and producers: States should set out rules stipulating precise and equal standards for ensuring production safety; and producers must comply with these regulations, ensuring that their facilities are clean and that the necessary details for ensuring fresh products have been taken care of. 

Fortunately, governments have reacted. The treaties establishing the World Trade Organization were signed in 1994, regulating international food trade, among other matters.    

According to a publication by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the agreements call on all States “to harmonize national food safety measures or base them on standards, guidelines and recommendations developed by international standardization entities.” In other words, States have the obligation of progressively adjusting their food safety regulations to international standards.

The HACCP

The standards or guidelines referred to in the WTO agreements already existed at the time of signature. In 1992, the Codex Alimentarius Commission – a body formed by a group of experts from the WHO and FAO that was established to design international food trade standards -, adopted a “Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point System” (HACCP), a set of principles for ensuring food safety.   

According to a document from FAO, the HACCP is “a systematic and preventive procedure, internationally recognized to address biological, chemical and physical hazards though anticipation and prevention, rather than through end-product inspection and testing.” 

The rapid globalization of the food trade has increased the risk of international incidents involving contaminated food

The HACCP is important for producers, especially for small and medium producers for two reasons. First, because many countries have adjusted their domestic regulations and demand compliance with these principles for trading food products within their territories. Second, it is a practical guide that enables small and medium producers – who typically are not equipped with large scientific teams or quality control units-, to still ensure the safety of their merchandise.

The principles

The system is based on the following seven principles, aimed towards preventing health hazards in the production of food:

  1. Perform a hazard analysis. FAO explains that producers must “identify the potential hazards associated with food production at all stages, from primary production, processing, manufacture and distribution until the point of consumption.” This includes “assessing the likelihood of occurrence of the hazard (s) and identifying the measures for their control.”  
  2. Decide on the critical control points (CCP). Sometimes there are greater risks of product contamination. The CCPs are “points, procedures or operational steps that can be controlled to eliminate the hazard(s) or minimize the likelihood of occurrence”.
  3. Determine the critical limit/limits. Once the CCPs have been established, the limits to identify the hazards must be established.
  4. Establish procedures to monitor CCP. Subsequently, “a system to monitor control of the CCP by scheduled testing or observations” should be established. 
  5. Establish corrective actions when the monitoring indicates that a certain CCP is not under control. According to a document prepared by FDA, the United States food regulating agency, in this step the producer should “decide what type of corrective action to take if a critical limit is not met by asking the following questions: What measures do you expect employees to take to correct the problem? Do your employees understand the corrective action? Can the corrective action be easily implemented? How will these corrective actions be documented and communicated to management so the system can be modified to prevent the problem from occurring again?”
  6. Establish verification procedures to confirm that the HACCP system is operating effectively. The FDA explains that “because HACCP is a system to maintain continuous control of food safety practices, implementation of the system should to be verified. Verification is simply making sure that you are performing the activities as described in your food safety management system.” 
  7. Establish a documentation system on all pertinent procedures and a system for recording these principles and how they were applied.   
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