Core Guiding Principles of a Food Control System: Part 1
During food safety month, the Food Safety Network is releasing an eight-part blog series on different technical topics from the Food Safety Distance Learning Module, focusing on the core guiding principles of a food control system. While food control systems will differ among economies based upon their available resources and capacity, establishing a modern control system that is harmonized with the internationally accepted guidance of Codex and founded upon the work of the World Health Organization (WHO) and Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) can create an enabling environment for equivalence assessment and system recognition. In Part 1, we will be exploring the concepts of protection of consumers, whole food chain approach and transparency.
Food control systems are vital frameworks that protect all food that is produced, processed and sold domestically as well as foods imported for consumption. From farm to table, national food control systems exist to protect the health of consumers from food hazards that exist throughout the life cycle of food products. A country’s public health status, as well as its economic livelihood, may rest on its ability to operate a food control system that inspires confidence in the safety of the food supply both domestically and with international trading partners.
Assuring domestic food safety is becoming increasingly challenging with the growing demand and complexity of agricultural production. From improper agricultural practices to misuse of chemicals to poor hygiene during processing, there are a multitude of factors that contribute to food being unsafe. With every country at a different stage of economic development, and with differing priorities related to food safety, the process for enhancing or modernizing one’s food safety system looks vastly different around the globe.
The overarching objective of a national food control system is to protect the health of consumers and ensure fair practices in local, domestic and international food trade. When enhancing or establishing a modern control system, it is important to take into consideration the work of the WHO and FAO. Harmonizing one’s control system with their work along with the internationally-accepted principles of Codex can provide the basis for a scientifically sound food safety system and can also create an enabling environment for equivalence assessment and system recognition.
The international food safety standards, guidelines and codes of practice of the Codex Alimentarius (Codex) provide a basis for harmonization. The WTO Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS Agreement) explicitly references Codex as the international organization to provide food safety standards. Codex nonsafety standards (e.g., labelling, food composition), falling under the WTO Technical Barriers to Trade Agreement (TBT Agreement), are also used in resolving WTO disputes. Codex promotes harmonization of international food standards, which was one of the key drivers for its creation. Prior to Codex, the differing sets of standards among countries were creating trade barriers, and the removal of these barriers was seen as necessary for creating a level playing field and expanding trade opportunities. Codex standards can be utilized by economies to determine and refine policies and practices to serve as the basis of their national food control systems. In doing so, an economy helps assure the safety and quality of its food production, both protecting its own consumers and facilitating its food trade. By reducing the need for producers to comply with different standards in different markets, harmonization is a powerful tool to make trade in safe food less costly. When developing a plan to modernize existing food safety regulatory measures, economies are encouraged to harmonize food safety standards with internationally-accepted standards.
When looking at the work of the WHO, FAO and Codex, there are thirteen core guiding principles one should consider when enhancing or modernizing a food control system. Today, specifically, we will talk through: protection of consumers, whole food chain approach and transparency.
Protection of Consumers
At its core, a nation’s food safety control system should be created with the consumer in mind. From its initial design to its implementation and overall maintenance, the primary goal of a country’s food safety system is to ensure safe food for all consumers. Even in the event of a conflict with other prospective interests, priority should be given to protecting public health.
Did you know?
In 2011, in the United States, the Food Safety and Modernization Act (FSMA) provided the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) with new enforcement authorities related to food safety standards, gave the FDA tools to hold imported foods to the same standards as domestic foods and directed the FDA to build an integrated national food safety system in partnership with state and local authorities. Through these measures, not only was the U.S. Food Safety System strengthened, but it also shifted focus to preventive controls, encouraged stronger enforcement and accountability and increased the frequency of inspections. All of these actions have resulted in further protection of domestic consumers.
Whole food chain approach
The strongest national food control systems are evidenced by active cooperation and participation among all stakeholders to integrate a preventive approach and strategy that addresses the whole food chain. From farm to fork, it is imperative that controls are set in place throughout this continuum to ensure that risks are mitigated and incidents do not happen. There are several preventive strategies that can be put into place that can support the development of a strong, national food control system:
- During development, request feedback and input from stakeholders. Government authorities should share expectations and clearly communicate their goals.
- Controls should be applied at the point or points in the production or supply chain where hazards can be most effectively mitigated.
- Coordination and communication is key. The competent authority plays a pivotal role in providing leadership and coordination in the development, operation and evaluation of the system. When more than one competent authority is involved, outline and define roles and responsibilities to ensure consistency and avoid gaps or overlaps in duties.
To inspire consumer confidence and commitment to control system goals, all aspects of a nation’s food control system should be transparent and open to the input and critical feedback of all stakeholders, both locally and abroad. However, there is also a responsibility to be respectful of legal requirements and protect confidential information as appropriate.
There are many ways that one can achieve transparency during the development process. Actions can include but are not limited to the following:
- Clear documentation and communication of the scope and operation of the system.
- Clearly defined descriptions of the roles and responsibilities of all stakeholders.
- Collaboration with trading partners on prospective corrective and preventive measures.
Consideration of these three guiding principles is just the beginning when working through the development process. Stay tuned each week as we explore the rest of the guiding principles throughout our eight-part series. Want to learn more about concepts within food safety? Check out our free, self-paced, online Food Safety Distance Learning Module which explores the history of the United States food safety system, the value of a modern food safety system, all of the core principles of a national food control system and concludes with a case study that allows learners to walk through a fictional country’s journey to modernize their food safety system. Visit spscourses.com today to sign up for a free account and access this module and so much more! Visit the FSN home page to learn more.