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Why developing countries need to focus on HACCP

Food Safety has been a matter of concern for many years. It has strongly surfaced every time there has been a food borne illness outbreak anywhere in the world. Today the European union is one of the few places that can boast of a sound food safety system - a result of assiduous work done by European Food Safety Authority [EFSA]. EFSA inturn has successfully built on the foundation work done by Pillsbury, NASA, and US Army’s Natick Research Laboratory who had come together to develop a food safety system for astronauts, now adopted worldwide. Through this, the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points System, HACCP, was first developed in the late 1950s. The HACCP focused on the critical points for ensuring food safety. The methodology was used for selecting the right contractors and for eliminating critical failure areas in producing food for the manned space expedition.

The system was adopted for the Pillsbury’s business some time in 1972 for controlling potential hazards in food production. HACCP identifies the potential hazards in each process involved from receipt of raw materials to finished product. These are the steps at which control can be applied and is essential to prevent or eliminate a food safety hazard or reduce it to an acceptable level. The system controls, monitors and eliminates such potential hazards to improve food safety. HACCP has now been accepted worldwide as a successful tool for food safety and has acquired a global acceptability in all food safety standards.

Today HACCP, has acquired endorsement from WTO, WHO, FAO and many other agencies, certifying bodies and trade association. It has been accepted by Global Food safety Initiative [GFSI] and has been an integral part of FSSC 22000 standard, an international norm for food safety assurance. Many countries have made it mandatory while few countries have kept it optional.

HACCP is a preventive tool, that shifts focus away from inspection and testing of product and towards prevention of hazards and monitoring the processes. This is a critical advantage of HACCP as it precludes possible damages to food in the first place rather than acting retrospectively. The hazard analysis identifies various potential threats from microbiological pathogenic organisms, chemical contaminants like pesticide residues and physical contaminants like glass particles. It is followed by determination of Critical Control Points [CCPs] and identification of its limit values which are monitored for a safe food production.

“Global food chains are spread all over, cutting across national and continental boundaries. Varying degree of food safety levels and concerns in different parts of the world is a challenge often faced by food ingredient sourcing agents and other players in the supply chain.”

- Anjali Hardikar, Managing Partner, Kokan Organica LLP, India

Global food chains are spread all over, cutting across national and continental boundaries. Varying degree of food safety levels and concerns in different parts of the world is a challenge often faced by food ingredient sourcing agents and other players in the supply chain. While the West has a better developed and well-conceived food safety system, the developing countries are seen lagging in many aspects. In the era of globalization, the food safety cannot be seen in isolation, rather it has a built-in interdependency across the supply chain.

The success of HACCP in the West is primarily attributed to the cooperative efforts between industry and Government. Also, an important consideration in implementing HACCP is in recognition of critical relationship between HACCP and its Prerequisite programs [PRPs]. PRPs are the procedures, including Good Manufacturing Practices, that address operational conditions providing the foundation for the HACCP system. It is these aspects which are often seen missing in the developing countries. While many of countries have placed legislations to create legal framework, often the PRPs are missing. Additionally, Universities may not have extension services of creating faculty and industry interactions. As a result, industry-Government-Faculty tends work in isolation from each other.

Codex principles for establishing microbiological criteria for food safety requires database for risk analysis of foods and ingredients. If a country does not have the database, the subsequently enacted laws will be without a base. Laws may even be enacted but the training for the operators may be missing. The limits identified without a database to back it up can push up the cost of production to unreasonable levels.

The Government in these countries acquires a role of controller rather than one in which it can work with the industry. Also, it tends to create laws which protect its own industry rather than harmonizing with the other countries connected by the supply chain. The industry in developing world tends to rely more on the testing services as a proof of good product quality rather than building a reliable preventive mechanism.

Historically, many outbreaks of food borne illnesses are traced back to human failures in controlling food processing and the inherent weaknesses in management systems to prevent damage to it. These are lessons for the developing countries to learn. Building a reliable food safety system would effectively help prevent food and resource wastage and bring down the cost and strain on public health systems in these countries. Reduction in risk of food borne diseases will improve quality of life and create trade opportunities by opening new market access. HACCP is an amazingly effective tool for achieving this goal.

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Anjali Hardikar

Managing Partner, Kokan Organica LLP, India