Changing the Game: Risk-Based Food Safety Inspection Systems in Latin America and the Caribbean
Risk-based food safety inspection systems are a game changer for protecting public health — boosting trade and driving agricultural exports in Latin America and the Caribbean. Take Guatemala, for example. After nearly a year of technical assistance from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Foreign Agriculture Service (FAS), the Ministry of Public Health and Social Assistance of Guatemala finalized the official Procedure for Risk-Based Inspection of Meat and Dairy Establishments, to be implemented in 2024 by its Department of Food Regulation and Control Monitoring Surveillance and Control Unit. The technical document will serve as the groundwork for initiating a Ministerial Decree that will mandate the application of risk-based approaches for the inspection of all processed food establishments in Guatemala.
The need to boost safe trade
The Guatemalan success story demonstrates that through collaborative work, strengthening food inspection systems in Latin American and Caribbean countries is an achievable goal. Inspecting establishments or import shipments in response to a food safety incident, such as recalls, outbreaks or international alerts, is problematic because regulators can only identify and address problems after they have already occurred. In contrast, risk-based food safety inspection systems are a proactive approach to preventing foodborne illness, boosting agricultural exports from Latin American and Caribbean countries and enabling compliance with U.S. food safety regulations. Historical data, including biological and chemical hazards, among other criteria, are used to identify high-risk situations in the food production and distribution chain, and then resources are identified to address those hazards. This makes the most efficient use of available resources, which can help facilitate trade and protect public health. Strengthening the capacity of regulators to adopt risk-based food safety inspection systems has the potential to increase producer market access, increase exports and reduce food safety risks. Countries with a proactive approach for inspections may face decreased scrutiny from their trading partners, which can lead to increased exports and revenue.
What we’re doing
In 2020, USDA FAS started hosting biweekly virtual working sessions and in-person food safety trainings to promote the adoption of risk-based food safety systems in Latin America and the Caribbean. The sessions, which are ongoing, train small groups of technical personnel from government food safety inspection institutions in partner countries, including Guatemala, Dominican Republic, Peru and Ecuador. Since 2020, the program has reached 2,858 individuals on a variety of topics, including Preventive Controls of Human Food for Qualified Individuals (hazard analysis and critical control points (HACCP)) and Good Agricultural Practices (GAP). The trainings provide a more personalized contact with the stakeholders to learn from the country context and empower the recipient to develop their own tools and implementation practices. The locally adapted approach has shown to be effective in facilitating the uptake of food safety by small farmers.
Since 2020 until now, five major new policies/regulations have been advanced in the partner countries. More than 2,500 technical specialists in food safety practices from the government, civil society and private sector in partner countries have participated in the USDA FAS training, who, in turn, each trained (on average) hundreds of farmers. Financial benefits to farmers have proven significant, with 90% of farmer organizations reporting noteworthy economic benefits. The food safety trainings have played an important role in promoting the expansion of agricultural exports regionally and internationally.
This blog was written in collaboration with Sonia Allauca-Saguano, international program specialist, Trade and Scientific Capacity Building Division, USDA FAS.