Food safety, security and quality are all critical to food processing companies, retailers and food service.
Food safety, security and quality are all critical to food processing companies, retailers and food service. In our last Tech Talk, we discussed the technical and scientific side, as well as root causes of concern relating to food safety and security. This article will address the various programs that enable food manufacturers and handlers to protect food from contamination. In addition, we will discuss some aspects of food quality and how it relates to food safety.
Various programs have been developed over the years that help the food industry to effectively manage food safety and quality. These programs are often voluntary but at the same time necessary to safeguard companies from disastrous situations and ultimately protect the consumers. As we all know, legally it is the responsibility of the food manufacturer to produce and sell safe food.
Food safety programs are becoming more and more important for many reasons. The earth’s population has increased dramatically and the business of food is now global. Contamination of food is also global and affects both ingredients and finished products. Consumers demand convenience and with that, food processing becomes more complex with many production steps that provide opportunities for contamination.
The basic practices, policies, pro-cedures and rules that promote effective hygiene and the production of safe food in the food chain are collectively referred to as “Good Manufacturing Practices” or GMPs. These include day-to-day activities that control hazards associated with people and plant operations and environment. These are also called “Prerequisite Programs.” The GMP program provides the framework around which all practices are developed. It includes written programs that describe policies, procedures, frequency, records and other details of the various food-safety activities. It will also include training documents and records that prove employees have been trained. In addition, it will include verification documents and records that show activities were carried out according to the GMP. In general, the program dictates and documents the day-to-day handling practices of everyone in the plant and provides the basic conditions to ensure safe food production. Such policies and procedures include raw ingredients and product flow within the plant, personal hygiene practices, general sanitation and others in order to minimize cross-contamination of finished food products. For example, the FIFO principle (which means “First In First Out”) of ingredients and products is a practice that ensures safety, maximizes quality and minimizes waste and loss of profits. Other programs include shipping and receiving, storage and handling, sanitation, pest control, preventive maintenance and recall.
An allergen control program is another important aspect of food safety. This is of paramount importance because allergies can be fatal. An allergen control program will apply to product development and formulation, purchasing and receiving of ingredients and labels, weighing, blending, mixing and other formulation pro-cedures, use of rework, finished product labelling, disposal of obsolete materials, procedures to prevent cross-contamination and any other activities that potentially can allow an allergen to enter the food product. Many more practices can be described here as part of the GMP program. We must remember that the ultimate responsibility of consumer food safety is with the manufacturer; thus, these programs are very important.
Beyond the GMPs, the actual production of food requires additional tighter monitoring in its own program, which is the Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point system (HACCP). HACCP identifies the risks associated with different points of production and allows us to take corrective actions. In some countries, food manufacturers are legally obligated to have a valid HACCP plan for the production of low-acid canned foods, juices and seafood, among others. Guidelines exist identifying what critical control points should be established in the production of these products.
There are no such guidelines for baking. Although baked goods are generally considered safer due to the application of heat to the finished product, there still a danger of cross-contamination and an HACCP plan is still an asset. Also, your corporate clients are likely to demand it.
An HACCP plan is normally based on the following seven principles:
- Conduct hazard analysis: this begins with a flow chart of the process. For the baking plan it may begin with the weighing of flour and other ingredients, blending, mixing, forming, resting, proofing, baking, cooling and packaging. The possible biological, chemical and physical hazards would be identified for each step of the process.
- The critical control points on the process are identified.
- The critical limits for each point are established.
- Monitoring procedures for each point are established.
- Establish corrective actions for the deviations from each critical limit.
- Establish verification procedures for the control points. This involves making sure that the parameters you are measuring at each point are accurate and correct.
- Establish an effective record-keeping system.
Baked goods are exposed to heat during baking and are normally low-moisture products and may not support growth of pathogens; however, post-baking contamination and the addition of fillings and icings would present a risk. Because physical and chemical hazards are not affected by the heat and moisture, a bakery HACCP plan should take into consideration such possible sources of hazards.
Food safety efforts are embraced by the global community and various programs are attempting to harmonize them. One such effort is the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI). The various food-safety programs constitute an important part of any company’s safeguard against potential harm to the consumer and ultimate losses or damage to its brand’s image. In addition to safety, these programs help ensure the quality of the food. Such quality is perceived by the consumer based on the five senses and is a determinant factor for their buying habits. Vision, smell, taste, feel and hearing all contribute to the sensory parameters that determine the overall quality of the product.
For more information, or fee-for-service help with food technical and processing issues and needs, please contact Dr. John Michaelides at John Michaelides & Associates at 519-743-8956, or at Bioenterprise at 519-821-2960, ext. 226, or by e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Bioenterprise is a company of experienced professionals that coach and mentor emerging agri-technology companies from planning to startup to profitability and beyond.
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