Taking food safety to a higher level

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By Ann Brady
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Can we trust current food security systems and are they sustainable? Some of the specialists involved in the revision of ISO 22000 explain why the new version of the standard is a timely response, for humans and animals, to the growing global challenges to food safety.

Technology has transformed our lives – from how we live to what we eat. Indeed, technology has transformed global food production, lifting people around the world out of poverty and starvation. That is the good news. The not so good news is that the use of fertilisers, agrochemicals and sophisticated irrigation techniques has resulted in a growing dependence globally on high-yielding crops, such as wheat, maize and rice, leaving us vulnerable to any failure in their supply chains.

More than seven billion people rely on these crops and with the United Nations projecting that figure to reach 9.8 billion in 2050, the pressure on our food systems will also grow. According to Prof. Sayed Azam-Ali, CEO of Crops for the Future, demand for food and animal feed is set to at least double over the next three decades. As we go deeper into the era of the so-called Fourth Industrial Revolution, we will need to leverage its new technologies – such as drones, artificial intelligence, robotics – to feed the world in a sustainable and affordable way and protect the planet’s natural resources.

Worker in a greenhouse

Food safety in the balance

The issue made it on to the menu at Davos. In a special session at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2018, leaders from the food and agricultural industry, government, civil society, and meat and food technology companies recognized the triple pressures of rising middle-class demand, health issues linked to both under- and over-consumption of meat and protein around the world, and environmental sustainability, which requires changes to the global system of meat and protein production.

On the back of this, a new initiative was launched to shape the agenda for global meat and protein production to ensure a range of universally accessible, safe, affordable and sustainable meat and protein options to meet tomorrow’s demand.

Big business has been paying attention. IKEA, for instance, has been experimenting with sustainable food of the future – insects. The flatpack giant’s test kitchen in Copenhagen has been cooking up bug burgers – a recipe that combines beetroot, parsnips and mealworms – and algae-based hotdogs. The facts stand up: insects can help to take the pressure off overused food systems. And the animal feed industry can also benefit. From next year, the European Union is expected to allow insects to be used to make livestock food for poultry and pigs.

The need for food security is greater than ever. An outbreak of E. coli in the United States in April this year, for example, was linked to bags of romaine lettuce, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the country’s leading public health institute. The New York Times reported that nearly 70 % of people who were unfortunate enough to be infected were hospitalized with a toxin-producing strain of E. coli, and several developed kidney failure. And recent research at Queen’s University Belfast indicated that nitrates used in the curing process for processed meats can produce chemicals that cause an increased risk of colorectal cancer.

Add to the above an ever more complex food supply chain, a burgeoning global population, and the consequent strain on the world’s already stretched resources, and it’s not hard to see why the challenges to global food security and safety are causing concern and why leaders from all sectors are looking for solutions.

Bamboo caterpillars fried on a wood dish.

Meeting requirements

So how can we ensure a systematic way for food manufacturers to produce safe food for humans and animals? One such solution to help inspire confidence is ISO 22000, Food safety management systems – Requirements for any organization in the food chain. As we have seen, there have been many food safety challenges for users along the supply chain since the International Standard was first published in 2005, prompting the need for a revision.

Jacob Faergemand, Chair of technical committee ISO/TC 34, Food products, subcommittee 17, Management systems for food safety, and CEO of Bureau Veritas Nordic, an international certification agency, explains the major changes to the standard, which include modifications to its structure as well as clarifying key concepts. He says: “To meet the market needs for food safety, ISO 22000 is created by stakeholders who are involved in food safety organizations: governance, consumers, consulting, industry and research. When a food safety management system is developed by the users of ISO 22000, you make sure that requirements from the market are met.”

Faergemand cites the ISO 22000:2018 connection to Codex Alimentarius, a United Nations food group that develops guidelines for governments, as an important example of meeting market needs. “Due to Codex status and reference in national law, ISO 22000:2018 has maintained a strong link to Codex standards, which enables governments around the world to refer to ISO 22000:2018 in government inspections and as national requirements.”

He highlights a specific desire from food safety organizations to have a clear description of the differences between some key definitions – such as Critical Control Points (CCPs) and Operational Prerequisite Programmes (OPRPs) – which maintain alignment with Codex definitions as much as possible. Faergemand admits that it was challenging to find consensus on this important task, “but we have worked very hard and been very dedicated to developing this clear distinction to benefit the users of the standard”.

Bottling plant

Ready for risk

One significant change to the standard was the introduction of the High-Level Structure (HLS) common to all the ISO management systems standards. As Faergemand explains, “this will benefit the organizations using more than one management system”. It also benefits organizations to take a different approach to understanding risk. “As a concept, risk is used in various ways and it is very important for food businesses to distinguish between the well-known hazard assessment on the operational level and the concept of business risk (presented in the new structure), where opportunities also form part of the concept.”

The new version of ISO 22000 also clarifies the Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) cycle by having two separate cycles in the standard working together. “The two PDCA circles operate one inside the other – one covering the management system and the other, within it, the operations, which simultaneously cover the principles of HACCP defined by Codex,” Faergemand says.

HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points), referred to above, is a system of principles that helps food business operators look at how they handle food and introduces procedures to ensure that the food produced is safe to eat. According to Hanne Benn Thomsen, a Senior Quality System Specialist at Chr. Hansen A/S, a global bioscience company that develops natural solutions for the food, nutritional, pharmaceutical and agricultural industries, the revised ISO 22000 standard goes beyond the “classical” HACCP principles, “increasing the focus on the risk elements when producing a food, to look at the supply chain more broadly ”.

She believes the strength in ISO 22000 is that it is acknowledged worldwide. “All companies within the food chain, directly as well as indirectly, can be certified against this standard and it is issued by an independent, non-governmental organization. By using this standard, we have a shared food safety language, which is commonly accepted worldwide.”

Chefs preparing salads.

Partners in food

Benn Thomsen says that the new version of ISO 22000, as “a very generic standard”, is helping to set the framework for the systems that must be implemented to ensure food safety. Equally important, she adds, “it is also giving food organizations the tools to assess, identify and evaluate food safety hazards and, if an unlikely hazard should occur, how to reduce the impact on consumers as much as possible by being able to gain control of the impacted products”.

It is clear that government policy and international cooperation are key – in both the developed and developing markets – to push public-private cooperation on building a portfolio of protein solutions to meet tomorrow’s demands in line with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The new version of ISO 22000 is playing a key role in helping to meet SDG 17: “Partnerships for the goals”. Paul Besseling of Précon Food Management, and the official liaison officer from SC 17 in Codex Alimentarius, says: “For consumers and society as a whole, it is very important that authorities and businesses are using the same principles and approaches towards food safety. Alignment between laws and business standards must have high priority in food safety policy. The European Union supports the developments in ISO 22000.”

He underscores the significance of ISO 22000’s alignment with the Codex Alimentarius General Principles of Food Hygiene (GPFH), despite their inherently different roles. He says: “The purpose of the GPFH is to support and harmonize food safety authorities worldwide in creating their laws and subsequent official control or inspections. The purpose of ISO 22000 is to support food-business operators to comply with these laws, to meet customer requirements and to continue and improve their business.”

Building trust

Many people around a table, eating at a Cuisine Buffet Party Concept.Besseling says the new version of the standard has a better focus on external stakeholders of the food business. “This will help operators to understand the risks of unsafe food in terms of their business risk and will strengthen their position in the food supply chain.” In turn, for food safety authorities, the alignment is important because “it will support their work and makes their job easier”.

And finally, he says, for food-business operators, “it is very important that they can trust that their food safety management systems comply with relevant legislation and, ideally, legislative authorities are confident that food-business operators comply with the legal requirements when using ISO 22000 as their management system”.

Elizabeth Gasiorowski-Denis
Elizabeth Gasiorowski-Denis

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Elizabeth Gasiorowski-Denis
Editor-in-Chief of ISOfocus